Training a Dog To a High Level On Your Own

by Chad Love

Not long after my post on the importance of training partners I received an e-mail from MBF reader Caleb Gaston, who wrote:
_"As a novice dog trainer that often works alone, I relish the opportunities I have to work with others. I am able to learn from these trainers that know more about training dogs than I. But, I'm not very often able to train with a partner. My schedule is very weather dependent: if it's a nice day to train, I really should be working on my research on the lake instead of working with my dog. This weather dependency also prevents me from planning ahead to work with a partner.

When I can spare some time for the dog, it's often short notice and not conducive to including a partner. So my question is this: what tips can a more seasoned loner like yourself provide to the rest of us loners? For example: If you were a broke college student, how would you work on marks? Remote sit: walk away from dog, throw mark, send? Or walk away from dog, throw mark, walk back, then send? Throw mark with dog at heel?"_

Caleb makes a great point, and it got me wondering how many of us, due to circumstances beyond our control (work, school, family, geography) do the majority of our training alone. I still think a training partner is the best tool you can have, but the reality for many of us (including me) is that we train alone or we don't train at all. So, I'd like to do a little market research here and ask you, the readers: Would you like to see more content focused on solo training? Methods and techniques for solo training? Reviews of gear designed to help the partnerless trainer?

Fortunately, there are just as many ways and methods of training alone as there are for group or partner training. This is your blog, so by all means give me your feedback...

And to answer (sort of) Caleb's original question, I too, was once a broke college student (as opposed to the broke writer I am today) faced with the same dilemma: I had a young dog, no training partner and no equipment other than enthusiasm, a few bumpers, a whistle and a check cord.

Parsed down its fundamentals, that's all you really need to teach basic marks. And even though I now use bumper launchers and wingers, hand-thrown standalone marks are still an integral part of my training. I actually use both methods. Leaving your dog on the line, walking away, throwing the mark and then walking back is a great way to work on a dog's steadiness and marking memory, as are roving marks (sit dog, walk away, throw bumper from the gunner's position, send dog and then have dog retrieve to the gunner's position, then repeat a new mark from there).

Plus, if you ever want to run your dog in an AKC, NAHRA or HRC roving marks give you the added benefit of getting your dog used to seeing gunners in the field. The picture above shows my dog Tess waiting to be released on a long standalone mark where I walked back to the line to release her.

One of the best articles I've read on standalone marks and training alone (and one of the best online resources for retriever enthusiasts) is this series of articles on the Retrievers Online website. Written by Canadian trainer Dennis Voigt (who also just released a DVD highlighting his solo retriever training methods. Look for a review as soon as I can get my hands on one), these articles are a great resource for the solo trainer.

And here's another idea for you, Caleb. In addition to regular and roving standalones, Voigt also uses a variation where he sends the dog from the gunner's (thrower's) position, has the dog retrieve to that position like in a regular roving standalone, but then he lines the dog back to its original position. Of course, that requires that your dog be trained to handle, but it's just another example of how the creative solo trainer can effectively train a dog to a high level.