I'm always amazed at how many different opinions there are on the time and technique for teaching one of the most basic hunting dog commands: "Come," or, as most trainers say, "Here." It has always been common for trainers to preach that this command should be one of the first things you teach your puppy. But more and more hunters are learning the benefits of teaching this command when the dog is more mature.
This is the reasoning for waiting: Every hunter's goal, regardless of whether he's training a retriever or pointing dog, should be to develop a dog that has the confidence to get out and search for game in front of the hunter. Whether it's a retriever taking a line on a 200-yard retrieve or a pointing dog working a big CRP field full of pheasants, the dog shouldn't hesitate to give 100 percent when it's looking for birds. If you drill the dog on staying close too early in its life, you run the risk of creating a dog that won't leave your side for fear of being reprimanded.
Sure, there are some dogs whose genetic makeup is such that they're going to hunt with gusto no matter what the circumstances, but why take the chance that you might knock some of that enthusiasm out of the dog when it's young?
This is the same attitude we take when we train pointing dogs at our kennel. For the first several months of a dog's life, we allow the pup to run wild and look for birds. Flash pointing, flushing, chasing... whatever the dog does, it's learning that birds are fun. We want a dog that will never hesitate to get out and hunt in front of us.
When we know we're working with a confident dog and have gone through electronic collar conditioning and "bending" or "quartering" drills, in which we teach the dog to cover ground efficiently out in front of us, only then do we introduce "Here."
This can be done out in the same field in which you've been doing other drills. For the first few sessions, while working your dog on a check cord, command "Here" and give a tug on the check cord. Keep the lesson and your tone of voice upbeat and, if you wish, reward your dog with the most common of all training rewards: a treat (pieces of hot dog work well).
After a few sessions of this drill, when you know your dog understands the command, you can start using low-level e-collar stimulation to get the dog started toward you. Your dog will quickly learn that responding to your command turns the stimulation off. Heap on the praise and continue slipping the dog treats when it returns to you. Most importantly, do not stop working on other parts of the dog's training while teaching "here." You don't want a dog that feels "safe" only when it is at your side, so mix in lots of bird-finding sessions in-between your drills.
Also, go easy on the e-collar motivation. Remember that one of the basics of e-collar training is to use the lowest level of stimulation that your dog responds to. If your dog voices out when you use the collar, you're using a level that's too high.
Finally, when you have a dog that responds to "Here" every time, introduce distractions such as people and other dogs to your training field. Insist on compliance even when there are others around. Follow these steps and you should end up with a hard-running dog that you can call back to you whenever necessary.
Note: As with all dog-training programs, "Here" is a step that builds upon previous exercises. Refer to the other article in this series to learn about proper introduction to the e-collar before working on the drills described here.