Obedience Training - AKC Hunt Style Test

The specifics of Show training taken from "English Setters", by Beverly Pisano
This article is written for those who would like to compete in AKC Hunt Tests. It will also be very helpful to those of you who need structure and regime in order to train out a pup.

You should never begin serious obedience training before your dog is seven or eight months old. Field experience is the same, allow the pup to gain experience by being in the field often and letting the pup figure out for itself what works and doesn't work. He chases and points anything and everything until one day you can almost see the light turn on in the pups head. This confidence will tell you when it is time for serious training. While your dog is still in his early puppyhood, concentrate on winning his confidence so he will love and admire you. Basic training can be started at the age of two to four months. He should be taught to walk nicely on a leash, sit and lie down on command, and come when he is called. In other words he should know enough about commands to behave in public and to keep him safe.

You must patiently demonstrate to your dog what each word of command means.

Guide him with your hands and the training leash, reassuring him with your voice, through whatever routine you are teaching him.

Repeat the word associated with the act.

Demonstrate again and again to give the dog a chance to make the connection in his mind.

Once he begins to get the idea, use the word of command without any physical guidance.

Drill him.

When he makes mistakes, correct him, kindly at first, more severely as his training progresses.

Try not to lose your patience or become irritated, and never slap him with your hand or the leash during the training session.
Withholding praise or rebuking him will make him feel bad enough.

When he does what you want, praise him lavishly with words and with pats.

DO NOT continually reward with dog candy or treats in training.

The dog that gets into the habit of performing for a treat will seldom be fully dependable when he can't smell or see one in the offing.

When he carries out a command, even though his performance is slow or sloppy, praise him and he will perform more readily the next time.

When you start training your dog, use your training voice, giving commands in a firm, clear tone. Once you give a command, persist until it is obeyed, even if you have to pull the dog to obey you.

He must learn that training is different from playing, that a command once given must be obeyed no matter what distractions are present.

Remember that the tone and pitch of your voice, not loudness, are the qualities that will influence your dog most.

Be consistent in the use of words during training. Confine your commands to as few words as possible and never change them.

It is best for only one person to carry on the dog's training, because different people will use different words and tactics that will confuse your dog.

The dog who hears "come," "get over here," "hurry up," "here, Rex," and other commands when he is wanted will become totally confused.

Training CAN BE hard on the dog AND the trainer.

A young dog just cannot take more than ten minutes of training at a stretch, so limit the length of your first lessons.

Then you can gradually increase the length of time to about thirty minutes.

You'll find that you too will tend to become impatient when you stretch out a training lesson.

IF you find yourself losing your temper, stop and resume the lesson at another time.

Before and after each lesson have a play period, but don't play during a training session.

Even the youngest dog soon learns that schooling is a serious matter. Fun comes afterward.

Don't spend too much time on one phase of training, or the dog will become bored.

Always try to end a lesson on a pleasant note.

Actually, in nine cases out of ten, if your dog isn't doing what you want it's because you're not getting the idea over to him properly.

The leash is more properly called the lead, so we'll use that term here. The best leads for training are the six-foot webbed-cloth leads, and the six-foot leather lead. Fancier leads are available and may be used if desired.

There is a way to avoid heavy-handed training to lead. Start your weaning age pup out on day one with a collar. Let him get accustomed to this new weight on his neck. The next week, attach a small, unadorned lead (without any loop whatsoever) to the collar. Allow the pup to 'wear' this (when you are around to make sure he doesn't get tangled up somewhere) as an extension to the collar, getting used to it in much the same way as he did the collar. As you watch the pup move about with this straight rope attached to the collar you will begin to see the purpose being fulfilled. The rope will catch on things around the house. During this time you should nonchalantly step on the trailing rope. Do not allow the pup to associate this restriction directly with you.

IF YOU HAVEN'T ALLOWED THE PUP TO BREAK HIMSELF TO LEAD AS IN THE ABOVE (OR IF YOU GOT THE PUP WHEN OLDER) You will need a metal-link collar, called a choke chain, consisting of a metal chain with rings on each end. Even though the name may sound frightening, it won't hurt your dog, and it is an absolute MUST in training. There is a right and a wrong way to put the training collar on. It should go around the dog's neck so that you can attach the lead to the ring at the end of the chain, which passes over, not under the neck. It is most important that the collar is put on properly so it will tighten when the lead is pulled and ease when you relax your grip.

The correct way to hold the lead is also very important, as the collar should have some slack in it at all times, except when correcting. Holding the loop in your right hand, extend your arm out to the side, even with your shoulder. With your left hand, grasp the lead as close as possible to the collar, without making it tight. The remaining portion of the lead can be made into a loop that is held in the right hand. Keep this arm close to your body. Most corrections will be made with the left hand by giving the lead a jerk in the direction you want the dog to go.


"Heeling" in dog language means having your dog walk alongside you on your left side, close to your leg, on lead or off. With patience and effort you can train your dog to walk with you even on a crowded street or in the presence of other dogs.

Now that you have learned the correct way to put on your dog's collar and how to hold the lead, you are ready to start with his first lesson in heeling. Make the dog sit at your left side. Using the dog's name and the command "Heel", start forward on your LEFT foot, giving a tug on the lead to get the dog started. Always use the dog's name first, followed by the command, such as "Rex, heel." Saying his name will help get his attention and will let him know that you are about to give a command.

Walk briskly, with even steps, going around in a large circle, square or straight line. While walking, make sure that your dog stays on the left side and close to your leg. If he lags behind, snap gently on the lead to get him up to you, then praise him lavishly for doing well. If he forges ahead or swings wide, stop and jerk the lead sharply and bring him back to the proper position. Always praise him when he returns to the correct place. As soon as you have snapped the lead to correct your dog, let it go slack again at the desired length. Don't drag the dog or keep the lead taunt, as this will develop into a tug of war, which is ineffective.

To keep your dog's attention, talk to him as you keep him in place. You can also do a series of fast about-turns, giving the lead a jerk as you turn. He will gradually learn that he must pay attention or be jerked to your side. You can vary the routine by changing speeds, doing turns, figure eights, and by zigzagging across the training area.


To the dog, the command "Heel" will also mean that he has to sit in the heel position at your left side when you stop walking with no additional command from you. As you practice heeling, make him sit whenever you stop, at first using the word "Sit," then with no command at all. He'll soon get the idea and sit down when you stop and wait for the command "Heel" to start walking again.


Training your dog to sit should be fairly easy. Stand him on your left side, holding the lead fairly short, and command him to "Sit." As you give the verbal command, pull up slightly with the lead and push his hindquarters down. Do not let him lie down or stand up. If he does lie down, snap up on the lead until he rises to a sitting position again. If he is slow to respond, tug more sharply until he has done what you want him to. Keep him in a sitting position for a moment, then release the pressure on the lead and praise him. Constantly repeat the command as you hold in a sitting position, thus fitting the word to the action in his mind. If he moves at all, immediately repeat the command and press him into a sitting position. After a time, he will begin to get the idea and will sit without you having to push his hindquarters down. When he reaches that stage, insist that he sit on command. Praise him often, always rewarding a correct action with your praise and affection.


The object of this is to get the dog to lie down either on the verbal command "Down" or when you give the hand signal, your hand raised in front of you, palm down. However, until the dog is really sure of the meaning of the command, and will do it by himself with no forcible action from you, the hand signal should only be used to accompany the verbal command. This command may be more difficult at first because it places the dog in a defenseless position, which may cause him to bolt. Be lavish with your praise and affection when he has assumed the correct position and he will soon learn that nothing bad happens to him, and on the contrary will associate the "Down" position with pleasing his master or mistress.
Don't start training to lie down until the dog is almost letter-perfect in sitting on command. Place the dog in a sit, and kneel before him. With both hands, reach forward to his legs and take one front leg in each hand, thumbs up, holding just above the elbows. Lift his legs slightly off the ground and pull them somewhat out in front of him. Simultaneously, give the command "Down" and lower his front legs to the ground.

Hold the dog down and stroke him to let him know that staying down is what you want him to do. This method is far better than forcing a young dog down. Using force can cause him to become very frightened and he will begin to dislike any training. Always talk to your dog and let him know that you are very pleased with him, and soon you will find that you have a happy working dog.

After he begins to get the idea, slide the lead under your left foot and give the command "Down." At the same time, pull the lead. This will help get the dog down. Meanwhile, raise your hand in the down signal. Don't expect to accomplish all this in one session. Be patient and work with the dog. He'll cooperate if you show him just what you expect him to do.


The next step is to train your dog to stay either in a "Sit" or "Down" position. As before, use the lead to teach this command until your dog is responding perfectly to your instruction, then you may try it off the lead. To begin with the Sit-Stay, place your dog in a sitting position beside you in the automatic heel-sit position. Holding the leash in one hand (most trainers prefer the left), take a long step forward and turn to face him holding your free hand open, palm toward him, fingers pointing downward, in front of his nose and speak the command "Stay." If he offers to follow you, as it would be natural for him to do since this has been his ready position for heel, snap up on the lead to return him to the sit, put your hand in front of his face and repeat the command firmly again. Allow him to remain sitting for a few seconds before going through the procedure again. Each time he successfully performs, praise him profusely and show him you are pleased with him.

Repeat this procedure until your dog behaves as if he understands what is expected of him. When he has mastered this procedure, step away to the right of him, then behind, then a few steps forward, a few steps to the side, and so on, until you have gone the full length of the leash. Anytime your dog offers to follow you, snap upward on the leash, extending your arm palm forward to him and repeat the command sharply. When he has demonstrated a willingness to remain in the correct position while you walk the full extent of the lead, you are ready to train him to remain in position using a longer length of cord, about 25 or 30 feet, and finally the Sit-Stay off the lead.
Once the Sit-Stay is learned, you can teach the Down-Stay by beginning with the Down command, and apply approximately the same methods as in the Sit-Stay.


(keep in mind that this is the 'formal' or 'show' command)

You can train your dog to come when you call him if you begin when he is young. Initially work with him on lead. Sit the dog, backing away the length of the lead and call him, putting into your voice as much coaxing affection as possible. Give an easy tug on the lead to get him started. When he does come, make a big fuss over him it might help at this point to give him a small piece of dog candy or food as a reward. He should get the idea soon. You can also move away from him the full length of the lead and call to him something like "Rex, come," then run backward a few steps and stop, making him sit directly in front of you.

Don't be too eager to practice coming on command off lead. Wait until you are certain that you have the dog under perfect control before you try calling him when he's free. Once he gets the idea that he can disobey a command and get away with it, your training program will suffer a serious setback. Keep in mind that your dog's life may depend on his immediate response to a command to come when he is called. If he disobeys off lead, put the lead back on and correct him severely with jerks of the lead.

The object of this is for you to stand still, say "Heel," and have your dog come right over to you and sit by your left knee in the heel position. If your dog has been trained to sit without command every time you stop, he's ready for this step.

Sit him in front of and facing you and step back one step. Moving only your left foot, pull the dog behind you, then step forward and pull him around until he is in a heel position. You can also have the dog go around by passing the lead behind your back. Use your left heel to straighten him out if he begins to sit behind you or crookedly. This may take a little work, but he will get the idea if you show him just what you want.

Your dog should be trained to stand in one spot without moving his feet, and he should allow a stranger to run his hand over his body and legs without showing any resentment or fear. Employ the same method you used in training him to stay on the sit and down. While walking, place your left hand out, palm toward his nose (policeman stop sigh position), and command him to stay. His first impulse will be to sit, so be prepared to stop him by placing your hand under his body, near his hindquarters, and holding him until he gets the idea that this is different from the command to sit. Praise him for standing, and then walk to the end of the lead. Correct him strongly if he starts to move. Have a stranger approach him and run his hands over the dogs back and down his legs. Keep him standing until you come back to him. Walk around him from his left side, come to the heel position, and make sure that he does not sit until you command him to. This is a very valuable exercise. If you plan to show your dog, he will have to learn to stand in a show pose and allow the judge to examine him. The judge will run his hands along the dog's back and down the legs, so it is important that the dog stands calmly and steadfastly.

There are dog training schools in all parts of the country, some sponsored by the local humane society. AKC Hunt Test classes are quite common and are designed to teach you as you teach your dog. If you feel that you lack the time or the skill to train your dog yourself, this type of class is for you. Basically dog training is a matter of training YOU and your dog to work together as a team, and if you don't do it yourself you will not only miss a lot of fun, you still will not have a dog that minds you.

Don't give up after trying unsuccessfully for a short time. Try a little harder and you and your dog will be able to work things out.