Training Group Etiquette

Working your retriever with a group of other trainers can be rewarding in several ways. Sharing the work involved in setting up tests, handling equipment, securing grounds, and throwing marks for each other's dogs keeps these tasks manageable. When the work is fairly divided, training sessions can progress smoothly, minimizing the likelihood of any participant being made to feel like a "workhorse."

Groups also offer the advantage of a learning experience for the participants, as they are able to compare methods and results. Members who assist with each other's dogs work more effectively than when working alone because of the opportunity to share skills and to learn from one-another. Moreover, watching someone else’s dog's response to various situations helps you to more effectively communicate with your dog when a training problem occurs.

Another benefit from training in a group is that it is less likely that anyone will over-work his or her dog simply because of the time constraint. Sessions with each dog are shorter to ensure that all dogs receive the appropriate attention.

In a well-conducted training group the essentials of etiquette are observed, and a high level of efficiency and progress will develop along with camaraderie within the group. If principles of consideration for the welfare and progress of everyone's dog are not judiciously maintained, the training group is likely to fall apart.

There are inherent challenges to training with a group which inevitably creates problems unless addressed with careful planning. It is often difficult to coordinate a meeting time so that everyone can make it on a regular basis. It is better to have less-frequent sessions that permit the opportunity for everyone's dog to get a good workout than to meet every afternoon, for example, for shorter periods that prevent some dogs from participating.

One danger with training groups is that the sessions may turn into competitions in which members try to out-perform each other's dogs. This outcome is generally counterproductive; the training value is diminished, and it is contrary to the principle of group work that is designed for the improvement of all. A training group should not exist as a showcase for any individual dog or handler.

Because people vary greatly in their energy and ability to do certain types of work, the tendency for the bulk of the hard labor to fall on certain individuals is always present. When this happens, those who feel they are being taken advantage of will become dissatisfied and may leave the group. The solution to this problem is, of course, for everyone to pitch in. Arriving on time and prepared to work contributes to the effectiveness of the group session and makes a good impression on your training partners.

Many training procedures require one or more people to help the dog handler. Simple activities such as training the dog to come when called or to be “honest” in the water (i.e. not run the bank), shooting birds, and throwing dummies are difficult for the individual to accomplish without help. In a well-run training group it takes very little time to adjust the program to the particular needs of each dog.

Every effort should be made to leave training grounds in precisely the condition they were in when you arrived-no trash, of course, but also no damaging tire tracks. Stay on established roads and trails with vehicles. Should a mishap occur, such as getting stuck, use shovels and rakes to repair the ruts to as close to original condition as possible. These tools should be included in your training kit.

When asking permission to use someone's land we always assure the owner that we will pick up any trash and dispose of it properly. It is also important to show your appreciation for the use of private land. Hearty, frequent thanks should always be extended and, in some cases, even a token gift may be appropriate if the land owners have refused monetary payment.

When conducting marking and blind tests during a group session it is advisable to agree in advance how much repetition time will be allowed. The individual who continually requests repeats for his or her dog at the expense of others' training time will quickly create resentment.

Efficient group training can be achieved if everyone keeps things moving along. Excessive conversation in between dogs and unrelated banter eats into everyone's training time. If necessary, take charge as an organizer, call dogs to the line, keep in touch with throwers and the blind planter by two-way radio, and establish a rhythm and momentum in the session. Your efforts will be appreciated.

When working in the field -throwing birds or shooting fliers -act in a consistent manner for all dogs. Stay alert, keep your timing the same for each dog, and be ready to help if the handler calls for it. Above all, learn to throw bumpers or birds in the same place each and every time. Poor, erratic throws create an unfair training session and will not be tolerated for long by any knowledgeable training group. If necessary, get better at throwing by practicing in your back yard.

When throwing, or in any other activity where you assist another handler, follow instructions as precisely as possible. Don't improvise! The handler knows what he or she wants for the dog, and he/she must be able to depend on you. Try to be generous and equitable in sharing and providing equipment. Two-way radios, blank pistols, launchers, birds, etc. are expensive, and the burden for supplying these items should not fall heavily on any one individual.

When using equipment supplied by others treat it with great care. Keep radios dry and firearms clean. Do not set blank pistols down in the sand or dirt, or put them in bags with bumpers. Your group should have a protocol for whether radios stay at the station or move with the person, when you rotate in and out of the field. At the end of the session, turn radios off and make sure all equipment is returned to its owner. Picking everything up and putting it away is part of the group's responsibility and staying until the job is finished will always be appreciated.

Make sure that your dog does not interfere with others. Quickly remove your dog from the working line on lead when finished and put him or her in a crate until your turn comes up again. Dogs on the loose, bumping other dogs, instigating fights, and interfering with the working dog, reduce the quality of the training for everyone. This behavior is counterproductive and unacceptable in a group. If your dog is a nuisance barker, get a bark collar or park far enough away from the training area so as to not create a problem. And, unless formally honoring, do not keep your dog out as a test of its obedience--this is distracting to other handlers.

Things may happen within a training group and among members' dogs, which are best kept within the group. Some dogs, most in fact, will go through extended periods of poor work--looking bad, confused, and seemingly making little progress. It is unwise to say much to outsiders about the negative side of anyone's dog's progress. The training will either work or it won't work, and the results will be there for all to see if the dog is entered in competition. Intelligent discussion within the group concerning what to do with a dog that is in a severe slump can be beneficial. Frequently, another member will have had a dog with a similar problem that he or she has been able to work through. Just keep it within the group.

Gun handling safety is of utmost importance. We have seen bird throwers seriously injured with shotgun blanks. We all suffer hearing loss from blank pistols, especially if we don’t use hearing protection and, of course, a shotgun with live loads on the bird shooting station must be handled with the greatest of care. All members of a training group who handle firearms should be licensed hunters who have passed a firearms safety course. They should always be aware of the locations of all of their partners, and willing to let a bird go if there is any doubt of the safety of shooting it. If you are training with experienced gun handlers, as you most likely will be, nothing will get you excluded from the group quicker than careless gun handling. The successful and safe conduct of a retriever training group hinges on a mutual respect for the rights and training opportunities of all. Enjoy the progress and success of your friends' dogs as well as your own and your work with retrievers will improve.

When attending a training day remember the following:

  • Be on time… ALWAYS!!!
  • Don’t arrive late and leave early. .
  • Don’t arrive and announce that you can only stay for one series, run your dog and then leave without going out in the field to throw. If you plan to train, then you’re there for the duration to help setup the test and pick up the equipment at the end of the day.

Equipment Needs:

  • You will need your own equipment eventually (holding blinds, camouflage clothing, blank or 209 primer pistol, primers, thrower, shotgun, poppers, bumpers, birds, chairs, buckets, orange marking tape, flags, range finder, bug spray, ear protection, whistles, duck calls, etc.) You may want to purchase these items over a period of time, BUT START NOW. .
  • All equipment should be ready to use. .
  • Mark your equipment so you can identify it. .
  • If you borrow equipment from someone take care of it and return it when you are done using it. .
  • Remember most if not all of the equipment (birds, shells, poppers, guns, throwers, etc.) used on training days belongs to fellow club members and NOT THE CLUB. Thank the people who brought it and offer to pay for your share of its use OR bring replacement items to the next training day. .
  • Don’t wait for someone to ask you to help, look around and identify opportunities to help. .
  • Run birds, bumpers, water or whatever is needed to the throwing stations. .
  • Offer to throw birds or bumpers .
  • Know what you want to do with your dog. If a triple is set up you can run it as 3 singles, a double and a single or a triple; it’s up to you. Know what you want before you get to the line. .
  • If you must talk when someone is on line DO IT QUIETLY, loud noise is distracting to the dog and handler. .
  • Be respectful of the land you are on or we risk losing it. .
  • Most importantly, remember that the people you are training with are fellow club members, friends, or relatives and not employees; treat them the way you want to be treated.




Pictures from Senior Training Class May 2010