One of the most useful training concepts for your retriever is platform training. This lesson is one that to me is an absolute necessity. There are endless applications for platform training or place training as some call it. First, you will need some sort of platform that is large enough for your dog to sit on comfortably. Be certain this platform is stable. A shaky or unstable platform will make your dog uncomfortable and make it much harder to get them to sit and remain seated on the platform. There are many different platforms available to purchase for hunting. I like to use a 20 inch by 20 inch wooden stand for my training because it is stable and sturdy. A cheap and easy platform is to take an old tire and cut plywood to attach to one side and it gives a spot for your dog off the ground.
Start with a low platform to begin with and gradually increase the height until desired height is reached. It may take some coaxing to get your
dog to load up the first time, but be sure to praise him/her tremendously while on the platform to assure them that it is a good place to be. Be sure not to scold or discipline while on the platform as your dog may associate the platform with the discipline and want to avoid it at all costs!
Platform training is great for teaching “sit” and “stay”. The platform gives your dog a visible boundary with the edge of the platform. This helps your dog understand what is expected of him. Teaching “sit” and “stay” on the ground allows your dog to creep or easily move around. It is our job as trainers to simplify and make lessons as easily understood as possible for our four legged friends.
After your dog is comfortable sitting on the platform, give the “load up”, “kennel”, or “place” command as your dog physically gets onto the platform. Continue giving your chosen command every time your dog climbs onto the platform and lengthening the distance between you and your dog. Sometimes the nearest tree to your shooting spot may be 20 feet away. You do not want to have to wade to that spot each time to load your dog up and get them out of the cold water. Being able to point and tell them to “load up” is essential.
While the dog I am training is on the platform (on lead), I walk to and from the dog as well as in a circle to insure the pup is focused on me and awaiting the word to be allowed down. This movement encourages pup to follow and reinforces the “sit” and “stay” command regardless of your distance from the pup. If pup gets off the platform at any time, firmly give the “No, load up” command and insure pup stays seated until otherwise instructed.
Be sure to extend the amount of time pup remains seated on the platform to 15 minutes. I like to do this while feeding all the other dogs, because if they will sit and stay on the platform while you feed everyone, they will sit there with you on a long, slow hunt!
Platform training is applicable in most hunting situations. You may be hunting in flooded timber and using a tree stand or free standing stand as well as a dog box in a pit blind. You may be hunting from a boat and the bow is used for a dog platform / perch. Or simply teaching your dog to sit and stay in one location for safety or convenience. Some of my clients have found it useful in their transportation of their dog in the seat beside them in their car or truck. Your dog knows he is to stay in that one spot until further ordered and will not be in your floor board or interrupting your ability to drive safely.
While your dog may be 100% comfortable on your platform at home, be sure to take him or her with you to your hunting spots before the season. Introduce them to those unique spots that may be a little different than your normal set up. By doing this, you assure yourself less headache when actually in the field trying to shoot birds. Not only does this make life easier for everyone hunting with you, but it keeps your best hunting partner safe from shotgun blasts while hunting with you as well.
May you be blessed with many fine birds and a great hunting dog with which to share the memories!