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THE PROPER FIELD SETUP


A well planned field setup is very productive and enjoyable to work through. A poorly planned setup turns into a soup sandwich and leaves you wanting to pull your hair out! Whats the difference? In a well planned setup everyone knows the plan and their individual jobs which, along with proper execution, allows the dog to focus on just one thing: the bird!


This may seem a bit elementary for many who have been in the training field for a while. However, try and put yourself back in the shoes of the beginner trying to figure things out for the first time. Before throwing a bunch of how-tos at someone or diving into deep discussions on training methods, I have found the best way to help a beginner is to explain the basics and fundamentals of how a field session should ideally work. You might be surprised just how unsure a lot of people are when entering a field.


Having the privilege of sharing the field with a lot of different people, something I often notice is how everyone's focus and attention are all over the place. It can be challenging getting used to handling your dog, flushing/launching the bird, handling a gun safely, and timing everything perfectly throughout. Throw in some inexperience and false expectations and you have the perfect recipe for that previously mentioned soup sandwich! All of this not only causes confusion and frustration (which can and will bleed over into the dog), but most importantly it will cause poor execution which can actually send you backwards in training rather than forward.


With the proper setup, approach, and perhaps a training partner or two, there shouldn't be a lot of uncertainty or confusion. A well setup field is not only more productive, it's simply more enjoyable for everyone involved including the dog. I think most people forget that, as trainers, our job is to make things as black and white for the dog as possible. We are tasked with clearing the way for the dog and creating the ideal situation so they can hopefully learn exactly what we want them to with as little confusion, stress, or anxiety as possible.


Tips for a successful and enjoyable field session:

~Isolate the behavior. Drill down to one specific behavior that you are wanting to see improvement on. Focus on that one individual behavior and leave the rest for another day.


~Plan the field setup according to the targeted behavior. Plant the birds with consideration to wind, cover, and potential distractions or hazards. If the conditions and/or equipment aren't ideal then alter course or even leave the lesson for another day.


~Communicate your plan. Explain and make sure your training partners know exactly what your goal and process will look like. If you cannot explain to your partner what your plan is then you don't actually understand what you are trying to accomplish yourself. Stop and go back to solidify your plan before expecting others to understand. If you have any questions or would like some advice from others now is the time to ask. Don't wait until you're out in the field with other people, birds, and dogs running around. You're plan won't magically come together out there!


~Control the field. This is your dog. This is your plan. This is your time and money invested in the setup. If you have planters then explain very clearly where and how you want the birds. Direct your gunners and gallery throughout. If they're walking ahead of you then ask them to slow down. If they're lagging behind then ask them to keep up. When your dog goes on point, direct your gunners into the correct positions. Some folks are well intentioned and try to help but don't allow them to takeover your session unless you ask them to. Advocate for your dog if needed.


~If you're gunning or observing....shut up! Unless specifically asked for input by the handler then keep your mouth closed. This isn't your dog. There is a time and place for helping and suggesting. Its not in the field. Get through the session and then afterwards, ask why they did a specific thing or if they would like a tip or suggestion. Note: they still may not want your help or advice but at least the conversation didn't add confusion or frustration in the middle of a session. Emotions and frustrations can already be high. Adding more uncertainty to the equation rarely helps.


Try and remember, there are a million ways to skin this cat. Everyone does this differently. Nobody's way is THE way. We all have our preferences. However, one of the common threads amongst all methods and processes is that you have to have an actual plan for success. Without a proper plan and setup then we are unfairly asking A LOT of our dogs to overcome due to our lack of planning or execution!

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Such great insight. It's so easy to become overwhelmed with the "expectations" of training your dog, this is such a great reminder to set clear expectations for everyone involved. I'm sure we've all been subject to the training session that's gone totally off the rails, not because of dogs doing dog things, but because the humans were improvising on the fly.

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