How to Effectively Teach Steadiness to Your Dog
Training your dog to be steady amidst distractions will help him perform better on the hunting field
Steadiness is an important training element to teach your dog; it's especially helpful if you're training your dog for the hunting field! As a hunter, you want to ensure that your dog is steady and obedient to your commands.
If you're out in the field, ready for a successful hunt, but your dog keeps breaking away from you at every noise he hears, then this not only creates a hindrance to your hunt but can also prove to be a risk to the hunt as well as a major safety concern for your dog. That’s why it’s important that your dog learns the concept of steadiness early on!
What is Dog Steadiness Training?
What does it mean to train your dog to be steady? This means that your dog is sitting still and waiting for your command to be sent. You can send him by using either his name or a release command. Dog steadiness refers to your dog's ability to remain calm, composed, and focused amidst distractions, especially in situations where he's expected to hold a steady position, as hunting dogs often need to do.
If you have a gun dog or a bird dog, then teaching your dog to be steady is definitely a vital part of training in the hunting world. While certain dog breeds are known for their natural hunting abilities, steadiness may not be a natural instinct for them. This may be something you have to intentionally teach them.
You may have already begun teaching steadiness to your dog, such as waiting for him to be verbally released by you before leaving his crate, or by teaching your dog to sit and wait to be released before eating. If you've already started working on these steadiness concepts, then steadiness with retrieves will be an easy concept for your dog to learn!
Begin Practicing Retrieves
Begin teaching your hunting dog to be steady by focusing on some fun retrieves! You will need a long lead and a bumper to begin. And make sure your dog is enthusiastic about it! Go ahead and release your dog first, and then throw the bumper. By beginning this way, your dog is going to understand that he's released and is not building a bad habit of breaking away from you.
Now that you have your dog excited and ready to retrieve, you can work on steadiness. Once your dog is sitting, present the bumper by just dropping it from about a foot off the ground. If your dog breaks, stop him and catch him before he gets it. Eventually, your dog will learn to stay steady when you drop the bumper. And of course, if he's steady, then you can send him by saying his name. This is a very simple transition. Once you have your dog doing this, go ahead and extend the retrieve to longer and further distances!
Being able to retrieve is positive reinforcement for your dog. So, if your dog breaks, nudges forward, or does anything else that you don't want him to do, then he doesn’t get the positive reinforcement of retrieving. Simply take the retriever away and start again from the beginning. Carefully watch your dog as you throw the bumper. Only if he stays perfectly still then can you send him!
If your dog drops the bumper as he's coming back in, just reel him in and show him that he's not going to have any more fun if he drops the bumper. If he's willing to hold the bumper, then go ahead and bring him in, but don't take the bumper from him right away; this lets him know that holding it is exactly what you want him to do!
Add in Distractions
Once your dog has the basics of steadiness down when it comes to retrieving, then you can begin adding in controlled and deliberate distractions. You can make all kinds of different noises; for instance, you could blow a duck call or give a loud yell. Adding in distractions during training helps prepare him for the hunting field, because once you're out on the field you have no control over which distractions are bound to happen!
This is important for both performance and safety reasons. You want to train your dog how to handle distractions so that the natural distractions on a hunt won’t cause your dog to run out where he shouldn’t and get hurt!
Teaching Your Dog to Decipher Words
You should also work on getting your dog to decipher various verbal commands, including other words from his own name or the release command. Once your dog is sitting and focused, throw the bumper. Begin saying words other than his name to see if he can decipher his name from random words and make sure he doesn’t just release on any word!
If your dog makes a sudden move on one of the words, even just lurches slightly without even stepping forward, then reign him back into his original steady spot next to you and start over! This is where you establish a precedent. You're going to take the bumper away and simply start again. You don't want your dog to lurch or run forward every time a bird falls; you want him to be steady and carefully trained so that he only releases once he hears his name or the release command!
Keep practicing this until your dog has thoroughly learned to decipher his own name from other commands. He should learn this quickly because every time he fails, you’ll take the positive reinforcement of a retrieve away. And every time he succeeds, you’ll give it to him!
Teaching your dog to be steady is crucial so that he performs well on a hunt and stays safe. Steadiness isn't just a good behavioral and obedience command to teach your dog; it's also important to teach your dog for safety reasons! You don’t want your dog running towards every object that moves; you want him to only go after the ones you release. This training will take practice and patience, but with consistent training, your dog will start to understand steadiness quickly!