Honoring can make hunting with multiple dogs stress free
Do you own and hunt more than one dog at a time? Or do you regularly hunt waterfowl with a buddy who also has a dog? If so, it is important that you teach your dog to honor another dog’s retrieves. If you don’t, it is possible that you will have two dogs (or more) competing for one downed duck. Or, worse yet, you could have two dogs fighting over a bird. This is a situation that you want to avoid.
What does it mean for a dog to honor?
To honor, one dog must sit steady and unmoving while another dog is sent for a retrieve that both dogs saw shot down or thrown (during training).
It is the process of teaching a dog that not every retrieve is for him/her and that at times he/she will have to watch another dog get a retrieve and be okay with that.
Why is it important to teach your retriever to honor?
If you never hunt with more than one dog, or you have no plans to compete your dog in Hunt Tests, then there is no need to teach your dog to honor. However, if you were ever to go hunting with someone who also has a dog, honoring is a very important and valuable skill.
Here are some benefits of teaching your dog to honor:
- Increased steadiness. Steadiness is when a dog sits and waits to be sent for a downed bird or mark. Steadiness leads to better marking (being able to find the downed bird) and builds memory. A dog that knows how to honor is very steady.
- Increased overall control. Dogs that learn to honor also learn that not every retrieve is for them. This is an important lesson for most retrievers. By learning to sit and watch another dog get a retrieve, your dog learns control.
- Respect for owner/handler. Teaching your dog to honor puts you, the handler, in a place of control. A position you should always be in when hunting with a dog, but many hunters are not.
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Tools needed to teach a dog to honor another dog’s retrieve
Teaching this skill does not require many tools, but a few training tools can make the job easier.
Training you must do before you can teach your retriever to honor
Before you can teach a dog to honor, you must first have a steady dog. If your dog is not yet steady, check out this post.
How do you teach a dog to honor another dog’s retrieve?
When you first start to teach the concept of honor, it is necessary to have a few people who also have a retriever to help. If you own multiple retrievers yourself, there is a way to start teaching the concept by yourself, see below for how to work on honoring when you own multiple retreivers. But you eventually will still need some training buddies to get the lesson firm and clear.
If you have a couple training buddies, or if you are part of a training group, you will have great opportunities to work on honoring.
Preparing for the honoring lesson
Set up a marking scenario for the dogs. This can be as simple as bird boy marks or walking singles, or a more complex marking set up. It really doesn’t matter because the lesson you are focusing on is honoring.
Have your dog run the marks and then put your dog on a lead connected to a chain collar. Next, move 6-10 feet horizontally from the line. The line is the place you run the dogs from when doing the mark. In this new position, your dog should be able to see the mark easily, but you will not interfere with the next dog running the mark.
Step 1: Honoring on lead
For the first introduction to honoring, keep your dog on lead. Have him/her sit in the HEEL position and just before the mark is going to be thrown, say to your dog in a calm quiet voice, NO BIRD, SIT. This is called queuing the dog. You are trying to get your dog to associate that NO BIRD means that they do not get to retrieve this mark. Over time your dog will make the association, but it will take a while.
Watch your dog very carefully as the mark is thrown. The dog at the line will be sent for the bird. If your dog moves, surges forward, cries or makes any movement at all, give a correction. The corrections can come from an e-collar (nick on the SIT command) or a heeling stick, but make sure that your dog knows that he/she should not make any movement when in this honoring position.
Once the dog at the line leaves for the mark, walk your dog on HEEL away from the line. It can be helpful to turn into the dog on the HEEL command as some dogs will not want to leave the line.
Repeat this step several times, until your dog is sitting still at the line when the bird is thrown and making no effort to go after the bird.
Step 2: Honoring with a tab lead
The second step is to remove the 6-foot lead and start using a tab lead connected to your dog’s collar. A tab lead is a very short piece of rope that you can hold onto, but that the dog can also run with and there is no risk of the dog injuring him/herself.
Repeat the above process but this time, just hold loosely onto the tab lead.
Again, watch your dog carefully as the bird or bumper is thrown for the dog at the line. Do you see any movement from your dog? Is your dog pulling tight on the tab lead? Make corrections as necessary.
Repeat until you are barely holding onto the tab lead and your dog is sitting very steady in the honoring position.
Step 3: Honoring with no lead.
Now you want to put all of the pressure to behave on the dog. But you must be ready just in case he/she breaks. Keep your eyes on your dog, not the mark. You want to detect any movement at the honor position.
How do you teach a waterfowl dog to honor?
It takes a lot of repetition and correction to teach a dog to honor. You must put your dog in the situation of having to honor on a regular basis if you want to see progress. If you are having many problems, you may have to eliminate some of the stimuli.
For instance, if your dog is struggling to honor when there is a gunshot, then eliminate the gunshot and see if you can firm up the honoring when there is a simple hey-hey yell. If the yell is enough to unnerve your dog, you may have to eliminate even the yell and do a silent mark.
Training dogs to perform tasks like honoring often requires you to simplify the task and then add in the stimulation one thing at a time. Each time teaching your dog to sit still and quiet in the honor position.
Adding distractions, diversions, or temptations
If your dog is doing great at honoring, you can solidify the concept even better by adding distractions, diversions, and temptations.
Your dog may be great at honoring, but what if a bird were to fall only a few yards in front of him/her. Would that be enough to pull him/her from the honor? For most dogs, yes. If you ever compete with your dogs in hunt tests, they will throw in situations like this to test your dog’s ability to honor.
Another way to test your dog is to have a diversion bird thrown from the line. Because those birds are often hand-thrown, they will fall close to the line and your dog may think that it is for him/her.
Adding in these types of distractions or diversions can really teach your dog to be strong in the position of honor and will pay off in the hunting blind where there may be multiple shooters, multiple birds and all kinds of chaos.
Prepare your dog well, and you will never regret it.
How to teach your dog to honor if you own multiple retrievers
If you own two retrievers, you can start to introduce honoring by yourself, but eventually you are still going to need to have other dogs and throwers in the field.
One of the simplest ways to start teaching your dogs to honor is to do hand-thrown retrieves with both dogs at HEEL. Have one dog HEEL on your right side and one HEEL on your left side (you may have to work on teaching the right sided heel first).
Throw out a hand-thrown bird or bumper and send one dog for the mark while making the other honor.
This drill sounds way easier than it is in real life. If your dogs are not used to being sent for a retrieve on their name, you are going to need to fix that first. Also, this drill will quickly reveal any gaps in your steady work.
Final thoughts on teaching your dog to honor another dog’s retrieve
Teaching your dog to honor is a very important skill if you regularly hunt with more than one dog. If your dog will not honor, you will be forced to work only one dog at a time. This works for many situations, but if you want to have more than one dog ready to retrieve it is vital that you work hard to teach your dog to honor. Then you can send whatever dog you want for the birds. And, if there are multiple birds, you can divide them up between the dogs so each one gets some retrieves. It will make everyone’s life easier, and the dog will be comfortable and content to retrieve the birds he/she is sent for.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.