Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

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Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby JTracyII » Tue Feb 06, 2018 12:30 pm

As I ponder training my current young female pup (an 11 month old pup named "Oxbow's Kindle the Fire") for Utility I decided to look up a past thread where Steven (a guy who used to be in my Oklahoma NAVHDA Chapter and former frequent poster on this forum) responded to a question regarding how to train Finn, my male pudelpointer, several years ago. I believe the thread was entitled "Utility- Plan of attack" for those that want to look up the original thread. I did eventually test Finn and he scored a 190 pts Prize III. I am reposting this response from Steven because it to me seems like a very concise and well thought out training plan for folks who are training their first dog for Utility. There is no perfect plan and not every plan will work for every dog (sometimes a person has to improvise for a specific dog), but I figured this would help folks who feel lost in their quest to train their dog to this level. What other specific thoughts might you all have for folks training their first, second, or 50th dog for Utility? We can all learn something, perhaps? Also, what training techniques have you tried that worked that may not be listed in Steven's thoughts below?

Steven wrote:I think you are on the right track, Jack. Here are some thoughts of mine to help clarify some of the details that you might want to consider.

FF'ing before Steady to W-S-F training is how I'd approach it because when you do start to shoot birds over Finn in the latter phases of Steady work, you want his retrieve crisp.

Your FF effort will not be complete in Mid-March. You should continue building on this work well into the summer because it is the foundation of several subjects. Here's how I would approach it.

Duck Search & Drags:
- Follow whatever program through Force to Pile (FTP). Upon completion of the short pile, you need to build distance on land and get a basic establishment of lines, but they don't have to be pretty. If they are, great. If not, then no big deal. I think lining can be more beneficial, and maybe more necessary, for the dog that won't naturally expand it's search. A dog that will expand, just needs to know to go get out there and look. I'd say 150 yds on land will be sufficient.
- After you've added some distance to your land piles, then go to pile work across the water. You'll have to start short again and work out to whatever distance you want. 70-80 yds will be more than enough for our test grounds and probably most others, too. When he's doing bumper piles across the water, start putting ducks over there.
- Then, start putting the first duck at the point you are sending to and drag the others in opposite directions in the water away from where you send the dog to. This will encourage them to get to the point sent and then start following a scent trail. Over time, you remove the duck in the middle and then start beginning your water drags further away from where you are sending the dog to. It should be learning that if it goes to the other side and starts searching along the edge of cover, it will pick up a trail to follow to the duck.
- During this water work training, you can help emphasis it's tracking on the water with drags and encourage reliability of retrieve. Start where you can see the dog pick up the duck in order to make any necessary corrections and progress to where the dog will follow a track with several turns in it and at a distance greater than the test distance. Why not double it and go 300 yds. That should be easy for any dog worth it's salt.
- When you are doing your pile work, I would suggest incorporating a shot gun blank on the first release. The reason being is that I didn't do much of this because the JGHV system, they don't use a shot prior to sending the dog. But of course, there was always a shot when hunting. Well, what that created in Chief was a desire to first look on the water and then go search 20-40 yds out in the open water before he would expand out and then begin doing a good search. When he heard a shot, he expected to find a duck in shotgun range on the open water in front of us. Somehow you need to avoid that.

Steady to W-S-F:
- Don't try to train this off of points!!!
- First I like to get him WHOA'ing in the yard and throwing pigeons over him while he stands to firm up his WHOA response. Even put some down on the ground and have him watch them walking around a comfortable distance away for his training stage.
- Use your pigeons and train him Stop to Flush, first. After your WHOA is solid (you can stop him on a run in a field where he thinks he's hunting), then you transition the WHOA command to a bird flushing. Start by having him out running, get his attention, throw a bird in the air and command him to WHOA. If you want to use my approach, train him Stop to Nick first and then don't use the verbal WHOA, use a non-verbal light nick on the collar to stop him. Either way works fine. I like my approach because I can hunt entirely silent, stopping him when I want to and recalling him with the beeper when I want to. Those two commands cover 90% of my needs. Rinse and repeat until he stops when you throw the bird without any command. It won't take long at all. 3-5 training sessions I'd guess.
- Next step in Stop to Flush work is to plant the pigeons in a launcher, but work in into the launchers so the wind is at his back. We don't want him smelling the bird. You're no longer in this picture so release the first one out ahead of him a pretty good ways. He's going to want to chase it since you aren't in proximity to the bird. Stop him with a command. Do this until you can flush birds in relative close proximity to him and he stops without a command.
- Stop to Shot - While you are working on Stop to Flush, you can also transition the verbal WHOA command to an audible gun shot so that the shot means WHOA. Start in the yard if you can shoot blanks at home without causing a problem with neighbors and then progress to him running in the field and stopping and standing upon the shot. This is also a good time to throw a bird or two over him while he stands after the shot just to reinforce you want him to stand steady when he hears a gun shot regardless of the distraction.
- With these two fundamentals in place, he can now be put back on birds. He has the tools in place to point and remain steady on a bird. Don't expect perfection though and be prepared to correct him. At first, you only want to blank birds and have him watch them fly off. Once he's reliable with that, you start shooting them. When you shoot birds, he only gets about half the retrieves so he knows he must wait on the command and doesn't begin anticipating the release and self-releasing. NEVER does he get a retrieve if he requires a correction during any part of the sequence. If he breaks anything prior to the shot or fall, you shouldn't kill the bird. Once you pull the trigger on it, though, if he breaks, he doesn't get that retrieve for sure and gets a correction.
- Once it's like clockwork on pigeons in launchers, start using pigeons out of launchers and/or game birds in launchers. The launcher is recognized as a training scenario and doing these two things help to transition to free planted game birds, especially a dog that's been hunted alot with standards that aren't the same as when training. I talked to one guy this weekend who said his dogs are rock solid on chukar but 50/50 on quail . . . . . . well that's because the dog has only ever seen chukar in a training setting with the high standards of expectation but it's been hunted on quail with lower standards being enforced by the handler. You want to avoid that.

Steady by Blind Sequence:
- The great thing about Stop to Shot is that it also reinforces the steadiness by the blind in test.

There you have it . . . . my approach and I think it covers all the test subjects. Watch him through-out your training. If he isn't ready, he isn't ready and don't rush it. If you train often, there is no reason you couldn't be ready. None of this has to be high pressure training unless he's just really high drive and uncooperative. Then you'll have to decide if he has the fortitude at his age to handle the level of pressure needed to get the job done or take a different approach. It's very scale-able to the dog.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby AverageGuy » Tue Feb 06, 2018 1:22 pm

Yes it is a very nicely laid out plan. I like the last paragraph in particular and think my Spud dog is a good example of adapting to the dog.

I used alot of dead birds in my force to pile and lining work as Spud would quickly burn out on bumper work. Particularly when working where there was attractive cover nearby to search for something more interesting than a bumper. The dog I trained just prior to Spud had a much higher drive for bumpers and would easily tolerate force and remain enthusiastic to go get one. If I had not adapted to the dog in front of me, and instead jumped to more force around bumpers I would have ruined Spud. I also took my time on the Steadiness training such that he always knew what was being asked of him before we worked it around birds. It retained his natural style/intensity on birds which is far more important to me than a one day in his life hunt test.


Following on his point about transitioning to other birds and away from Launchers, I used wire tip up cages as the next step. It was a precaution against a train wreck of a caught bird which depending on the dog can be a real setback to steadiness training.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Fun Dog » Wed Feb 07, 2018 12:16 am

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Last edited by Fun Dog on Wed Feb 07, 2018 12:20 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Fun Dog » Wed Feb 07, 2018 12:19 am

Very nice plan. Also, don’t forget about heel. It’s quite disheartening when a dog excels at everything and then falls apart at the heel segment. Heel to and from training. Heel off birds and be sure to heel through stakes.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby JTracyII » Wed Feb 07, 2018 9:15 am

Good point AG. I agree that even if your dog does not get bored with bumpers it is helpful/important to use a dead pile of birds for FF work as dogs seem to get all fired up and forget what they have been taught if only taught on bumpers. Once a dog is reliably fetching (not running around, mouthing, picking feathers) birds, going straight out and straight back they are ready for shot birds. What good is it if a dog reliably fetches bumpers with good mouth habits if we do not ensure it is understood that the same is expected on birds?

Fun Dog, Your right. Heeling work is important as well and can sometimes be overlooked in training and cause a dog to get a a lesser prize or no prize at all.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Coveyrise64 » Wed Feb 07, 2018 9:45 am

JTracyII wrote:.....Heeling work is important as well and can sometimes be overlooked in training and cause a dog to get a a lesser prize or no prize at all.


Steven has had first hand experience with the importance of heeling....it cost him big time!

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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Densa44 » Wed Feb 07, 2018 12:36 pm

I'm training a dog for the UT right now and I don't have access to water (it is all frozen) and in addition to all the points that have been mentioned, to get a UT 1 prize you need a 4 in duck search. It is not hard to do.

Right now in the snow and cold we are doing sight blinds, I drop dummies out in the snow, the closest one about 80 M and the next one about 130 M close enough that she can see it when she gets the first one, yet far enough that she won't switch. As she gets the hang of it I'll extend the range a lot! I get the far one out to 600 M.

When the ice melts on the ponds I take a white 5 gal pail and put it up the hill on the far side and I salt the area near the bucket with scented dummies. I use vanilla extract.

I start her from the far side of the pond, about a 50 M swim, and she can see the bucket no problem. If she'll carry the distance and they always have, they find a dummy and swim back. I always send her 2 x's. No gun fire.

If she won't make the long swim the first time I'll find a pond where I can make the swim shorter and then longer a tear drop shaped one works. To get a pz 1 the water work is the key. I have seen some very rough dog work and they still got a pz. 1 because the dog was sound in the water.

BTW you won't get what you don't teach! Have fun, spring must be on its way.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby JTracyII » Wed Feb 07, 2018 1:09 pm

Coveyrise,

I thought of that when heel training was mentioned. Steven learned his lesson and came back for the 204 the next year.

Densa44,

Good call on the duck search. I too have seen the importance of establishing a good duck search. My dog was pretty solid in all areas earning about the highest total of points you can get and earned a Prize 3 only because he got a 2 in duck search. He killed it in all other areas earning 4's in everything, then when he got to the water there was a mishap that I think impacted him and he got the 2 and was told the poor duck search dropped one of his 4's to 3, which was Obedience. Thanks for your input on how you go about improving one's dog in this area.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby AverageGuy » Wed Feb 07, 2018 7:06 pm

Yes, Heeling is seemingly simple but there was a GSP at our UT last summer which was running for the 3rd time, chasing a Prize 1 so the dog could run in the INV. The dog had missed Prize 1 twice for Heeling :shock: .

I setup electric fence posts in a tight pole bending exercise leading to a fast grass panel setup beside one of my ponds with some decoys in front. We practiced heeling through the poles, sitting by the blind while the wife shot blanks on the other side, I did the same, she threw a duck and then I sent my dog. He had it down perfect every time. Then we went to training day and he stopped and hiked a leg on the first gate we heeled through because of all the strange dog smells around. Which served to alert me to the potential point of failure on something that seemed easy. In the test I walked quickly through the gates and the Judges scored us down to a 3 because of it. They were right to do so, but I did it intentionally as I knew we had a Prize 1 going at that point in the test and I did not want to loose it if Spud stopped completely to hike his leg on a post again. I share this as I think it is something that could trip up other Male Dogs.

Duck Search is a critical area for a Prize 1. I have seen a great deal of variation on Duck Search waters. Close to home I had access to several decent large ponds/small Lakes with areas to swim across and heavy marsh grass and lilly pad cover on the far side for planting and searching for ducks. I worked 6 such locations and Spud was very consistent and doing well. But we were entered as first alternates in two different tests, one of which used a Duck Search Water which was cattails. So I found a cattail marsh nearby and we trained on it as well. Found out we were got into a test much closer which used a traditional Marsh for Duck Search so I thought we were fine. A few weeks later the continuing drought had dried up the Marsh such that the Duck Search had to be moved to a Lake with a large area of downed and standing flooded timber. Myself and a couple of other guys went over to look at it and train. There were downed floating trees 50 feet long and 2 to 3 feet around floating in 5 foot deep water which blocked a dog's path forward, and every dog when it first encountered it, turned back and then searched the cover along the bank it was sent from. Not what you want to see. I went back and took dead and live ducks and a kayak and worked Spud such that he learned to crawl over the downed trees and then found ducks on the far side center, left and right as he searched from there.

At the test he went straight out crawled over the floating trees and then expanded. About 150 yards out, he winded the duck and followed his nose through and over alot more downed floating trees, produced the duck which then went wild flapping across the water and through the downed cover getting far out ahead and out of sight. Spud was working the scent trail back through and over the floating trees in pursuit at the 10 minute mark when the Judges instructed me to call him in. He received a 4.

I share this to illustrate the value of finding out what kind of Duck Search water will be used at the test and preparing the dog for it. I have seen 7 different UT Duck Search waters and that one was by far the most difficult one of the bunch and the training we had done in marshes and standing flooded timber would not have prepared us to do 4 level work in that type of cover.

Then there is the issue of missed birds in the field portion of the test. Train for them. Alot. We included one missed bird in each of training runs prior to the test but the Gunners missed 5 of the 7 Birds that Spud found and pointed. They missed 4 in a row as the Judges continued to have Spud and I hunt the field looking to get a second retrieve to score. They finally hit the 7th bird and we got another shot bird retrieve to score. So include alot of missed bird work in your steadiness training is what I learned from that.

Additional thought to share. I was a gunner in a UT some time ago. Gunned for a guy who had travelled a long distance to run two dogs in UT. His dogs were horribly overtrained, dull and slow. I surmise his heavy handed training had taken the zip out of the dogs. They got Prize 2 and 3, but who cares at that point as they were dismal to watch work. I hope no one ever thinks the value of running a hunt test is worth putting that much pressure on a dog yielding those kinds of results. I will take a No Pass or Prize 3 dog which goes out in a Blaze of glory over watching a dog afraid to move out for fear of a correction, always.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Coveyrise64 » Wed Feb 07, 2018 8:55 pm

JTracyII wrote:.....I thought of that when heel training was mentioned. Steven learned his lesson and came back for the 204 the next year.

Besides not having a good heel Steven had an issue with his lead. The jaeger lead he was using was to short. Every step he took and the dog wasn't in step it looked like the dog was pulling on the lead.


Duck search:

When I start land blinds I use one of these. The bag acts as a wind sock and I think makes it easier to see at long distances. The movement of the bag helps keep the dog focused which helps in taking a direct line. I usually cut a small notch (hole) in bottom of the bag.

20180207_165202 (450x800).jpg

I hesitate doing blinds across water to land. Good practice for the Invitational but can come later in your training. A 4 in the duck search is a prerequisite for a prize I UT score. I don't want my dog going to the far side and running the bank. When training for the duck search your dog should never find a bird on the bank unless the live bird has left the cover and walked up the bank. If the dog searches the cover diligently it will find the scent trail left by the duck and make the retrieve. I think the biggest mistake many make when doing land blinds is they never put their bumper or bird pile cover (I use a tree line). Everything is found in the open. I want my dog taking a line and searching cover not swimming in open water looking for a bumper.

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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby AverageGuy » Thu Feb 08, 2018 7:19 am

I place my ducks at the prominent terrain features in the marsh e.g. willow clumps, taller patch of weeds or marsh grass, earth mound and spread them out. I place them on the far side of a water crossing to condition the dog to cross the water in front of it before beginning its search. The dog learns to look at the cover and search to objectives just like on dry land. Once you have the dog conditioned to reach out and search, their nose takes over when they cross scent.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby JTracyII » Fri Feb 09, 2018 3:56 pm

All good and helpful information from those who have posted. As most agree here there is no cookie cutter approach to training dogs. Along this line of thought, and with due respect to Steven, I purposely broke one of the rules that most people here (as well as Steven in his post) say not to ever do while I was trying to get my Male dog, Finn, to steady up to wing, shot and fall. As those who have trained with me and Finn can attest too he was no easy dog to steady. From a young dog on I would do various training exercises with my training group that are related to steadiness and my dog would jump, literally holler, and pull like a wild animal in an attempt to retrieve any fallen bird while other's dogs would maybe pull a little and then once corrected would settle down and be still and quiet. It was frustrating to me at times. If a bird fell he wanted to retrieve it so bad he could not stand it. The Rule I broke is " NEVER does he get a retrieve if he requires a correction during any part of the sequence. If he breaks anything prior to the shot or fall, you shouldn't kill the bird. Once you pull the trigger on it, though, if he breaks, he doesn't get that retrieve for sure and gets a correction." This was written in reference to steadying a dog to W-S-F. This is sound teaching and most would be wise to follow this approach I admit, but it did not work with Finn. I finally surmised that I would give Finn a WHOA command each and every time he established point to rehearse the idea that he was not to move after establishing point. I would have a frozen bird in my bag and launch the bird and shoot a blank in the air. He would lunge toward the bird and I would yell "Whoa" again while simultaneously e collar correcting him on continuous (which he had been thoroughly conditioned to away from birds) until he stopped and reset him at the exact location he was when I initially told him to Whoa. Then, I would toss the frozen bird and shoot in the air again. If he moved I would correct verbally while e-collar correcting again and reset him. Once he stayed put upon the tossed frozen bird and shot in the air I sent him for a retrieve. Once he would stay put through the launched bird and blank in the air until he was sent to retrieve the frozen bird I tossed, I had to go through the whole sequence again with an actual shot chukar or quail. If he moved upon shot he was reset. I would toss the freshly killed bird in the air and shoot shotgun in the air until he stayed put and then he was sent for retrieve. It took a lot of work but he started to stay put at first point without a command and would stay through the shot and fall as he knew he would get a retrieve. Have others broken the rules of dog training and found that it worked for them?
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby Densa44 » Sat Feb 10, 2018 11:50 am

One more tip: I came by this by accident, I don't use leashes on my dogs unless it is in a situation that is dangerous for the dog. It is not for any training reason, I've had knee surgery and couldn't stand being pulled down by an excited dog. So I train with an electric collar and a short stick, I used to use broken hockey sticks when they were still made of wood. I hold the stick in front of the dog and we heel in figure 8s until she gets it.

It is not hard and the dog likes it. I train my dogs to work off of either side (left or right) the dogs don't care and it can be an advantage if you have an honouring dog or a "go bird" shot close to you.A hold over from my retriever days I guess, but it is still handy.

Here is how the no leash system can help your UT score. In the heeling drill the judge walks behind you and counts ever time the leash comes tight. If there is no leash and the dog is under control at all times you should get a 4.

I'll say it again you must get a 4 in the duck search so there is no such thing as too much water work!
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby jlw034 » Sat Feb 10, 2018 2:31 pm

Just signed up for the June 1/2/3 UT test here in MN. I appreciate all the input shared here. A little worried about cold water and lack of training birds, but we'll give er hell.
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Re: Brief Utility Test Training Plan- By Steven

Postby JTracyII » Mon Feb 12, 2018 10:20 am

jlw034 wrote:Just signed up for the June 1/2/3 UT test here in MN. I appreciate all the input shared here. A little worried about cold water and lack of training birds, but we'll give er hell.


Good luck on your test and let us know how it goes. There has been some great advice shared in this thread and I will be attempting to apply some of the info as well with my new hound as I prepare for her future UT. We never stop learning and it is great to have more than one tool in the tool box for a given training task in case the thing you've been doing has not worked with your dog.

Love to hear other's thoughts or experience on training for the various parts of the test?
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