Instructor: Cassia Turcotte
Have you ever wanted to try gun dog sports with your dog or have a new puppy, but didn’t know how to get started? Now you can learn how by using games, shaping, and play to explore necessary foundation behaviors encompassing all types of gun dog work, hunt tests, and real world versatile hunting companions.
We’ll cover in detail how to teach the basic foundation skill sets, gain control over your environment, and safely introduce your dog to gunshots, birds, terrain, cover, and water. You will learn how to desensitize an overly aroused dog and to bring up desire in a soft one… and you will get the pleasure of watching your dog learn to harness and perfect his natural abilities.
We will use videos and lecture to demonstrate various parts of the learning and generalization phases using dog and handler teams with differing styles, strengths, and focus areas. This is a class for any age dog or puppy that shares foundation skills you can teach in your living room and then transfer to the field.
There are no scheduled sessions for this class at this time. We update our schedule frequently, so please subscribe to our mailing list for notifications.
Gun Dog Foundations – Syllabus
Focus: (the lifesavers first) Whistle Stop, Whistle Recall, Foundation Retrieve, Field Focus
Lectures: Overview, Conditioned Retrieve versus Natural Retrieve, Controlling Your Environment, The Calm Before the Storm, Training Flow and Organization
Fundamentals: Control of the Environment (COE baseline videos)
Focus: Left/Right Setups, Placebox
Lectures: Hunting vs. Lining, Generalize Before Adding Distance and Duration, Auditory Generalizations, Tactile Generalizations, Gunshot Desensitization
Fundamentals: Retrieve (baseline videos)
Focus: Focus Forward Heeling, Kennel Up
Lectures: How to Avoid Common Pitfalls in the Retrieve, Drive Back to Handler, Dealing with Crowds and Pressure, Olfactory Generalizations, Visual Generalizations
Fundamentals: Lining/Hunting (baseline videos)
Focus: Whoa/Default Sits, Teaching Hidden Cues
Lectures: The Art of The Hidden Cue, Birds: The Ever-Present Reinforcer, Wind and Weather: Get Out In It!, How to Develop Focus and Address Suction, How to Improve Your Dogs’ Desire to Hunt
Focus: A Bird (Dummy) in the Air
Lectures: Developing Water Confidence, Find Your Water Zen, Searching for Appropriate Field Training Locations, Developing a Long Term Training Plan
Fundamentals: Training Challenge: The Chicken Breast Retrieve
Lectures: Sportsmanship for the Real World and for Hunt Tests, Dealing with Competing Motivations and Recognizing the Good Choices, What To Do When It All Goes Wrong, Get Involved!, Some Common Terms to Help You Navigate Training with Groups
Fundamentals: Taking It to the Field
Prerequisites: Open to all
Equipment needed (working participants only):
A range of toys for tug/ball play and treats
Video camera/access to YouTube upload
Deadfowl Trainers (small one for puppies, larger for dogs already retrieving – any brand is acceptable)
Duck call (for retrievers and versatile gun dogs)
4 Small Food Bowls (or Frisbees/target lids)
Leash and Buckle Collar or British slip lead
Space required (working participants only): Minimum space is an indoor room with good footing and access to an outdoor yard (does not need to be big, just outdoors). Ideally, students will have access to a ‘field’ location where it is safe to have dogs off leash at least once weekly, although this is not a requirement.
Lecture #3: Whistle Stop (Lifesavers Part 1)
There are two foundation skills to which I pay particular attention for the real world, because they might just save your dogs’ life someday. These are the whistle stop (sit) and the whistle recall. While many hunt tests and field trials are in fairly secure areas, there are still unforeseen circumstances of the real world and the occasional vehicle, loose dog, etc. Hunting in the real world is full of unpredictable hazards (riptides, barbed wire fence, wild animals, other hunters, etc).
Both the whistle stop and whistle recall are equally important, but this lecture will focus on the whistle stop.
Whistle Stop Versus Whistle Sit
For retriever tests and trials in the US, the whistle sit is customary and certainly considered more stylish = handler blows a whistle, dog sits and listens attentively for further instructions. However, a dog that hears the whistle, responds promptly with attention to the handler, and takes any casts (hand signals) given is no less valuable because he stands instead of sitting. And a dog that sits, but does not take direction is not as valuable.
So here is the decision you must make as a handler: do you want/need your dog to sit or simply stop and await further instructions?
Hence, I refer to this as whistle stop training as each of you will make your own decision based on your breed of dog, type of hunting/tests in which you will participate, and your personal expectations. If you are not certain whether a whistle stop or whistle sit is appropriate for your dog, just ask!
Teaching the Whistle Sit
Begin in a neutral environment. You will start by teaching a mechanical sit. A mechanical sit means you are teaching the necessary muscle movements that when combined result in a sit (in other words, the bum hits the ground). However, you do not need to teach a cue in the beginning. Once you have the mechanics, you can add either a verbal sit cue, a whistle sit cue, a hand signal, or all three.
VIDEO: Sadie whistle sit session #1
Again baby puppies are very malleable at this stage. I have no need to bridge because she does not know the word sit. In fact, I would alternate using the word sit and the whistle cue across different sessions so that she will know and respond to both. At this stage, I am just teaching her that whistle sits are fun - blow the whistle, wait for the mechanics (help if you have to), mark the desired behavior (bum hitting the ground), reward and release. If you notice at :32, she hesitates and I step in SLIGHTLY with my body. This helps not only to prompt the sit, but also to keep her from learning to run towards me prior to sitting. If she had backed up when I moved in then I would know that I had applied far too much body pressure for her comfort.
Does your dog already have a sit on cue?
If your dog already knows a sit cue, start by backing up and asking for the sit. Mark and Reward each sit, release your dog and do it again. You are, in essence, warming up the sit to make it more likely to happen again. When you believe your dog is warmed up enough, blow the sit whistle cue and then use a verbal bridge (“sit” or whatever your word/signal is for sit). Mark and reward in the same fashion as before. After a few repetitions of this, give the whistle sit cue and wait… be patient and only bail your dog out if he looks like he is losing interest.
VIDEO: Gidget Sit Whistle Bridging the Cues
Gidget is 5 years old and literally just learned sit a few weeks ago. This is her first session with the whistle. Because she does not have a lot of other behaviors to choose from (stay and stand), it is fairly easy to fade out the verbal bridge. You will notice I say the word sit after the first whistle, but after that point, I simply give the whistle cue, mark the desired behavior (bum hitting the ground), reward and release. Some dogs will take multiple sessions to fade the bridge, others will get it in the first session. Also, pay attention to how quiet my whistle cue is in confined spaces... no need to blow out anyone's ears :).
Teaching the Whistle Stop
My definition of a whistle stop is eye contact between dog and handler. In other words, when I blow the whistle, I expect you to stop, make eye contact with me, and await further instructions. I find this a little simpler to train in that you can start by simply capturing eye contact. While out in your yard or field, let your dog be free. Wait for a moment where he turns to make eye contact with you. Capture this moment with a marker and then jackpot with toys, food etc. Then release your dog into the environment again. Once your dog is warmed up, blow your whistle stop cue and when your dog looks, mark and reward as before. If your dog does not look, take a step back and repeat the warmup for a few more sessions before attempting the cue.
I begin adding value to duration of the whistle stop almost immediately. When you mark and reward your dog, instead of giving one treat, give 3-5 and then an additional cookie for the release cue. You can do this throughout the teaching and generalization phases to help build focus and steadiness into the whistle stop.
Woody Duration Video
One thing I noticed when filming this video with Woody is that he has what I call Happy Feet... he has a hard time just keeping his feet still. If you see this with your dog, you will want to pay extra attention to working on a placebox for steadiness and whistle sits as this type of dog will be prone to creeping. Creeping is when the dog is steady, but scoots ahead of the handler little bits at a time. Some dogs develop a very strong muscle memory and once there it is hard to fix. However, it is easy enough to prevent if you see the signs. Another thing to note on this video is a slight use of body pressure to keep Woody away from me. At :29, watch my left knee. I lean my upper body back, but keep my knee forward in order to create space between Woody and I.
Long before you start adding distance, you want to have a very strong generalized foundation. Throughout the six weeks of this class, we will discuss different types of generalizations and distractors. Some examples to start would be different types of footing (grass, wet grass, wood, mud, snow, pebbles, asphalt, sand, soggy dirt, running water, chest deep water, swimming water, spooky water, etc). The more creative you are, the simpler it will be for your dog down the road to literally whistle stop anywhere! As class progresses, we will cover more ways of generalizing, but remember you need a solid behavior at home and outdoors before you start generalizing.
Body Pressure and Reward Placement Method
I enjoy allowing my dogs ample free time in the woods and fields. This also proves a great time to work on adding distance to whistle stops. Some dogs naturally transfer their whistle cue to mean ‘sit wherever you are’ and will perform a remote sit (or stop) at distance completely by luck. Yay! However, most dogs will try to come in to the handler and then sit – defeating the purpose of a remote sit.
If you have the type of dog that tends to come back to you, you can use a little body pressure to help him learn to stay out. When you give the whistle stop cue, begin briskly moving towards your dog. Be careful not to move so fast or so close that you startle him or push him backwards out of the sit. Over time, your dog will learn to anticipate that you are coming to him and will stay at distance when cued.
The type and placement of the reward are also important. I tend to use something that I can throw easily. As an example (Chuck It Ball, Bumper, Food Tube). This allows you to mark the sit (or stop) and throw the reward behind your dog – putting the value further away from you and therefore more likely for the dog to stay at distance. Just remember if you are in the woods or field to mark your reward item with colored flagging if necessary so that you do not lose it!
The placebox method is a very effective way, and the primary choice, for many trainers to add distance to a whistle sit or stop. The placebox gives your dog a static location to perform the desired behavior. You can either send remotely (video below) or put your dog in a stand stay with front feet on the box and walk away. Again, reward placement is important. You want to reward either at the box or release your dog to chase a jackpot off of the box to add enthusiasm and desire. We will cover how to teach placebox foundation behaviors a little later in class. Again, the goal here is just to show you progressions and perhaps help the more advanced students find a starting place.
VIDEO: Elli Adding distance using placebox
In this video you will hear that I give Elli a cue to run out and load up onto the placebox. Just before the moment I know she will sit on the box, I cue the sit whistle. I then mark the sit behavior and reward with Chuck It Ball throw.
Leash Hold Method
If you have a training partner or someone willing to help you with your dogs, the Leash Hold method can be very handy in terms of adding distance. Have your helper walk your dog a distance away. Give the sit cue. At this time the helper is only there to lightly prevent your dog from coming back to you. If possible, there should be no leash pressure at all. The goal is to repeat this as often as necessary until the dog learns the necessary muscle memory to not run in on the sit.
VIDEO: Leash Hold Method of Adding Distance
Although the quality is not great on this video, you can see I'm holding the leash of... finally something other than a Chesapeake Bay Retriever! :) The dog in this video would be confused and disoriented by body pressure so this method has been much more fitting for her. As the leash holder, I try to put as little pressure on the leash as possible and drop it the moment the handler marks the sit behavior. As they progress, I (leash holder) will use a longer line and move increasingly further away from the team until the dog no longer needs the leash help at all. You can see by the promptness of her whistle sit and the fact that she does not start to move forward that this dog is on the edge of a break through.
Stopping While Driving Away/Hunting
Once your dog has a very solid generalized whistle stop foundation, you can progress to stopping your dog while running away (or towards) you. It is important that you have control of an item if your dog is driving towards it so that he cannot self-reward. This skill is really for the next level of class, but I think it is important to give you an idea of where you will be heading. Be cautious transferring to this step - most people rush here because it is fun and flashy. However, if you have not generalized the behavior and and provided enough historical value for your dog, this will break down over time.
VIDEO: Derby Driving Away Whistle Stop
Derby has a well generalized whistle sit up to 150 yards and is almost ready for a testing phase. During training, I am trying to maintain her squareness on me as the handler (ie: she faces me directly even at distance). This will help her cast more cleanly down the road. I stopped her in close in this video out of a free run in the yard so that you could see the promptness and mechanics. It is difficult to hear in the video, but I do use a verbal marker to release her out of the sit to chase the ball. Not all dogs will spin this quickly (and frankly I'm not sure it's healthy for the body to do so), but this is a nice example of a whistle sit out of motion.
Suggested Jackpot Items and Reward Placement
When rewarding your dog for the whistle stop, it is important to have an item that you can throw as a reward. Reward placement is important. If your dog always knows he must wait for you to walk out and give him the cookie, it slows the momentum (ie: you become a buzz kill) and encourages him to stay closer to you. Find something that you can throw or launch behind your dog so that you can reward immediately.
This item will depend on your dogs’ motivational hierarchy. You want it to be easily visible and highly valuable. Some examples are Chuck It Balls, Tennis Balls, Kong, Wubba Toys, Tug Toys, or a food tube with white flagging tied to it so you and the dog can locate it easily.
Remember that a dog trained to whistle stop this way is working for an opportunity to earn a reward… there has to be a significant valuable reward history behind your whistle stop before you start using it in any handling. And even at the upper levels of training, you must maintain high value in your whistle during training.
Video your baseline whistle sit or whistle stop. I will leave the choice of environment up to you. If you are brand new and teaching new skills, make sure you are working in your least complex environment. Please remember to keep your total weekly video time limits in mind!
Your goal in the video should be to capture:
1 - Whistle Cue (and bridge if appropriate), 2 - Dog Response, 3 - MARKER, 4 - Reinforcement, and 5 - Release Cue. Then repeat. Remember to keep moving away from your dog and trying to use your body to keep them from moving in once you blow the whistle cue.
Looking forward to seeing everyone's videos now that we are starting to do the fun stuff!
A SAMPLING OF WHAT PRIOR STUDENTS HAVE SAID ABOUT THIS COURSE .....
Cassia's training approach to gun dog foundations is well thought out and functional. The class progresses through a series of skills that can be taught separately and then put together later on when the dog has progressed. For example, we worked on conditioned retrieve while also working on lining drills with food. That way, the dog can start to learn marking and lining before the retrieve progression is completed. Also, Cassia did such a great job of working with each student to come up with creative solutions for reinforcement that were appropriate for the field environment where the dogs were easily distracted. I loved the mix of theory and skills we learned in this class, and I will certainly revisit the lecture materials again and again as I continue to build upon the foundation Cassia has helped me to establish with my young dog. Becky T.
Love Cassia's patience, positive attitude and sense of humour. So many retriever trainers take failure way too seriously whereas Cassia sees it as a learning opportunity. Great course for beginners and, as a more experienced handler, I picked up some fantastic tips. Will be recommending to my puppy buyers and Gundog club members. Sally (Thornfield English Springer Spaniels)
Maura W. I have been very happy with the Gun Dog Foundations class. I hope Cassia returns as an instructor and continues past foundations. I appreciated her videos showing similar skills with dogs of different ages and experience. It helped me focus on where my dog is at and what my progression should look like. This is my second class with Fenzi Academy and it is another home run.
I started class with zero knowledge of gun dog sports. This course takes you by the hand and leads you step by step through what seems like every element of training for these sports. I know more will be introduced in the next level class(es) but this course covers SO MUCH in easy to understand and easy to train steps that you'll have a fantastic and very solid foundation! It has given me so much to think about and I am SO excited to get started when I get my puppy! Chris P.
Gun Dog Foundations is a fabulous class! There is a ton of great information presented in manageable pieces, and the homework is applicable to any level dog. We had a weeks-old puppy in class, as well as older dogs already started in the field game, and everyone is learning and improving. Cassia is a fabulous instructor, and her video feedback is excellent. Can't recommend this class highly enough! - Samantha D.
This is a phenomenal class that provides value on a number of different levels. It's simultaneously the ultimate impulse control class, a guide to the arcane world of field training, and a series of useful exercises you can do with your dog to lay the foundation for field work.
Really enjoyed the class. Cassia's instruction was very detailed and easy to understand. I appreciate how she breaks behaviors down and stresses the importance of building strong reinforcement histories for the foundation skills. (To help them become resistant to the many "real life" distractions in the field.) It can be hard to resist the temptation to skip steps or progress as soon as your dog appears to be successful, but based on the chatter in the forums and associated "lurker group" on Facebook, I'd say she successfully drove the point home for many. I suspect this will positively impact our training in other areas, too. It's wonderful to have access to such a thorough R+ starter program for gun dogs. I'm already looking forward to the next level of class. Stephanie C.