INTRODUCTION TO GUNFIRE
Introduction to gunfire for a young dog is risky business. If done incorrectly you can ruin your dog for life and make your potential lifelong hunting companion run for the hills every time they hear a firecracker or thunder. Most of use know that introduction to gunfire involves a repetitive process of making loud noises at long distances, linking those noises with positive associations for the dog, and slowly moving the sound closer. So my question is how does an individual, by themselves, perform this task? Many people will go to their local gun club and hope for the best but this is mostly sporadic and the dog has limited positive association with the loud noises. Many people try to put the dog in a sit and walk away to fire, but if the dog is unstable, runs away, what do you do? If you stand near the dog for control you most likely will get a negative, startle response because the sound is too close.
With the Thunder Launcher you can position the launcher whatever distance you feel is comfortable for the dog to begin training, discharge the system, and throw a happy bumper or other item for the dog to retrieve. The dog quickly learns to associate the loud noise with something positive. Through repetition and slowly moving closer to the noise, the dog will form a positive association with the shotgun sound which will serve as the basis for a lifelong love for the noise we all like most.
INTRODUCTION TO MARKING
Marking is the process of focusing on a fallen object, remembering its location, and going the the area to retrieve the object. This seems like a very simple activity so why do some dogs seem to be so much better than others. As with any level of performance genetics and training are key factors. I know you love your hunting and/or competition so his genetics are unquestionable (don't want to get into a discussion about that!) so how do you prepare your young dog to be a great marker.
KNOWING WHERE TO LOOK:
The first fundamental aspect of marking is that your dog has to know where to look. The sky is a big place so in order to eliminate "potluck" he quickly learns cues (nonverbal signals from the trainer) that help him to locate objects. Watch any dog who has learned to mark from a handler who throws all of his own bumpers. The young dog will quickly learn that when the handler says "mark" or watch for your bird, the dog will look to the handlers hand to see the bumper come out. The dog believes that objects come from the trainer and not from the sky or out front. This is why remote launchers are so important, in the absence of having multiple people to train with on a regular basis, a trainer by themselves can teach their dog that objects come from in front of them and that the trainer can help to align the dog to see the objects fall.
LEARNING HOW TO MARK: Once your dog begins to learn that objects come from in front of where the trainer is facing the dog begins to understand the idea of angle and fall. By using a remote launcher your dog becomes accustomed to objects falling from high in the sky and landing in a certain area. You can see how this skill begins to build. If your dog believe you are going to be facing the fallen object he will begin to use you cues to move as you move. When hunting or competing how many times have you faced somewhere other than where you expected the object to fall (hopefully your answer is never). If you are consistent with using the remote launcher in conjunction with varying distances discussed below your dog will quickly pick up these valuable skills and build a solid marking foundation.
Multiple marks are a fundamental concept for any field dog to master. The ability to watch multiple birds fall, remember their location, and retrieve using marking and memory is a critical skill. In order to do this effectively a multiple shot launcher is a crucial tool. If you train by yourself the best scenario is to have two launchers. You put them in the field and shoot each one while the dog marks the fall. They go out and retrieve the first bird and come back for the second. What if when the dog looks out for the second bird they don't remember where it fell (this is very common with a young dog). If this "memory bird" was shot with a single shot launcher you don't have many tools to help the dog remember. If you have a Thunder launcher at that location you can shoot off another bumper to the same location. Showing the dog the mark again helps them to remember where the mark fell and builds confidence in their memory.
When teaching doubles a recognized method is to shoot the memory bird as a single, retrieve that bird, and then shoot the double. Unless you have multiple people in a training group at each station, a Thunder launcher shooting multiple shots is the only other way to repeat and train this concept by yourself. This is why 5 shots can be beneficial even if you have only one or a few dogs.
Another great method when training with a buddy before hunting season is to put the launcher on the long bird. Your buddy throws the short bird. It will save both of you time to have the long bird shot remotely and you can run multiple dogs before reloading. Your buddy can help the dog be successful on the short bird and then the dog can go long for the bumper. It really works well if you "seed" the area of the long fall with birds. Also, if the dog breaks down or has trouble remembering the long mark you can shoot off another bumper to help with memory and ensure momentum. This is a MAJOR benefit of the Thunder launcher.
Distance plays a key role in marking. Dogs get conditioned to go a specific distance away from the trainer to find fallen objects. Often you will see dogs trained with handler thrown bumpers stop about 25 - 35 yards from the handler and start hunting when the bird or bumper fell at 50 to 100 yards from the trainer. This is because the dog has become conditioned to finding fallen objects at the extent of the distance that the trainer can throw. Many people have asked; Why do I need to train my dog farther than 35 yards if all I want to do is hunt and I could never hit anything farther than that distance. I guess my response would be another question; How many times have you downed game that fell straight down after being shot? Many times they fly or their momentum carries them 50 - 100+ yards away from the hunter. If your dog hunts short they may never find the bird.
It is widely recognized that it is easier to get a dog to hunt shorter than longer. Normally it is better to train at longer distances than necessary. Whether hunting or competing the dog that is conditioned to go longer than normal will be better suited for success. Think about this, if your dog runs over a fall area they have the potential to smell their mark, if they never reach the fall area because they hunt short they may never get a chance to use their nose. Moral of the story, training longer is better and remote launchers make this easy and convenient.
LONG DISTANCE MARKS
Long distance marks are the cornerstone of a competition dog. The ability to look between 150 - 400 yards and mark effectively makes the difference between success and failure. Although distance is not a "factor" in retriever training, the ability of a dog to understand distance, carry a line, and build momentum is critical. How do you teach and reinforce this concept with a launcher? One recognized method is to shoot an additional bumper for a young dog to help them remember the location of the fall and help sustain momentum. Let's say you have a young dog just learning long marks and you have provided the appropriate foundation for marking skills. You move your pup back to 200 yards and shoot the mark. You puppy runs toward the mark and then you read a little confusion or potential that the mark was forgotten. You can immediately shoot another bumper to help the pup remember the location and increase momentum toward their destination. This type of training scenario is impossible with a single shot launcher. Also, even if you only have a few dogs you can see why 5 bumpers would be necessary.
Now that we have discussed all of the details surrounding introduction to gunfire, marking basics, theory, and distance, how do you introduce you puppy to these concepts. After your puppy has been introduced to the gunfire sound and is comfortable doing simple marks you are ready to begin. The easiest way is to start is by setting the launcher about 35 yards away from the the trainer. Face the launcher with the puppy at your side. Loop the leash around the front of their neck so you can easily release. Go through your routine of cueing them, mine is "sit, mark, sit", and launch your bumper. Normally I let my puppies go as soon as the bumper is launched. Don't worry about steadiness right now, you are building retrieving desire and enthusiasm. If they have any problem finding or carrying the bumper don't worry, just go out and help them to be successful. They will soon learn that the quicker they return the quicker they get another bumper.
Because you have a multiple shot launcher you can use the extra bumpers to help your young puppy be successful. As you are working on conditioning their momentum and confidence sometimes they may stop and hunt short or forget where the mark is. If this occurs simply shoot off another bumper (make sure they are not right next to the launcher) and they will see it and continue their hunt. This is a great way to teach confidence and help your dog when you are training by yourself.
HOW TO USE REALISTIC "LIVE BIRDS"
Training dogs for live flyers (birds) is a key principle for competition training and hunting. I am sure you know that live birds are much more exciting to a dog than bumpers. Many people watch their dogs perform like statues in training; standing still, focusing, and waiting patiently until sent. Put the same dog in the situation where gunfire and live birds are involved and excitement and adrenaline take over. The dog will break from the line or the hunting blind, bark, and be undisciplined. How does an individual or training group mimic the live bird experience without the use of live birds, bird crates, messy cleanup, high bird cost, and overall inconvenience of live birds. We received a recent submission from one of our customers outlining a process of attaching bird wings to the bumpers which will imitate the fluttering, exciting action of a live flyer. Add some realistic duck quacks and the loud shot of the launcher and you have the closest imitation possible to live flyer training.
How to realistically imitate "live" flyers- submitted by Don Freeman of Colorado
I would like to share with you what has turned out to be an excellent way of rigging the bumpers for some extraordinary flight characteristics. They fly erratic and spiraling every time. The dogs love it. The process literally takes less that 30 seconds. Surprisingly, I have not worn out a pheasant wing...I have only broken zip ties. You can click on the steps to see more detailed pictures.
Step One: Drill a 1/4" hole in the forward part of the wing joint. Put a zip tie through the hole. Don't engage the zip tie yet.
Step Two: Put a zip tie around the bumper, just behind the larger diameter "nose", but in front of the vinyl padded collar. Engage this zip tie but don't tighten.
Step Three: Slip the bird wing zip tie under the bumper zip tie to where the bird wing will lie beside the bumper
Step Four: Tighten the bird wing zip tie fairly snug.
Step Five: Tighten the bumper zip tie very tight so that the zip tie disappears between the expanded nose of the bumper and the padded collar.
CONFIDENCE AND MOMENTUM
Confidence and momentum are keys to any successful field dog. When you hunt the goal is to have a driving, confident field companion who races into the field, retrieves game, and returns. This is easier said then done. There are many factors that impact a dogs confidence and momentum. How do you reliably maintain this skill. Let's say you are training by yourself and you go out to the field and you have a single shot launcher. You shoot the mark and send your dog. Your faithful companion goes about halfway and stops, either because they are confused, can't remember where the mark is, or they lose confidence. How do you help them? A Thunder launcher gives you the ability to shoot another shot and get the sound and bumper again. The dog hears the shot, sees the bumper fall and says, "Oh, OK, I remember where that fell." Their memory and confidence is improved. Anytime you get into a situation where confidence and momentum decrease it is critical that you have the ability to help the dog by helping them to remember the mark. Every time your dog comes back to you without getting the mark you have a high potential for their momentum and confidence to degrade.
Many people will try to handle to the mark but it is widely recognized that this also degrades confidence and lessens marking ability. The dog begins to learn that they don't really need to remember the bird or if they get into a difficult situation the handler will help. Although when hunting this can sometimes be OK, it normally doesn't work well and the dogs overall skill will fall off. A Thunder multiple shot launcher is a great tool when training by yourself or with a group to support your dogs continued confidence and momentum.