- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

LITTLE FALLS, Minn. (AP) - Dog treats. Fuzzy paint roller covers. A book about dolphin training.

All three factor in to the rewards-based method Chad Hines uses to train hunting dogs at Willow Creek Kennels & Hunting. The kennel just east of Camp Ripley has passed more than 60 master hunters - a top-level title that reflects a dog’s tested field skills.

But even a highly trained hunting dog is usually a house dog and family pet more than 300 days a year.

“I think there’s a big push to train dogs in a less aversive fashion. I think that’s popular with people because these are family members now. They’re not a dog in a kennel somewhere that somebody’s going to get frustrated with and put it down because it’s not good enough,” Hines told the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/1akT3mh ). “These are people’s kids now, and we’ve got to train them as nice as possible.”

That means lots of clicker training. Reinforcing good behavior with a click and a treat starts with puppies rewarded for finding that target and continues with older dogs learning the whoa command or retrieving skills.

Willow Creek breeds German shorthair pointers, offers consultations and has one- or three-month on-site training options. The monthlong session, which costs $750, is the most popular. But Hines freely shares advice - from deciding when’s the right time to get a dog to indoor retrieving to gunfire conditioning.

While trainer Jordan Pharris worked on stay commands with an English setter and Breanna Murphy tended to four litters of the pointers, Hines took some time on a recent Tuesday to discuss how dog owners might set their puppy on the right path.

The competitive qualities that make a dog stand out in field trials don’t necessarily make for a docile house pet.

Hines asks potential dog owners to decide if their lifestyle allows enough time for a dog. If their kids are old enough. If their yard is big enough. If they’ll give the dog enough exercise. (It helps if someone in the family is a runner.)

“Puppies are like babies,” Hines said. “It’s pretty important that they’re ready for a puppy.”

Hines socializes new puppies slowly, limiting exposure to other people and dogs at least until the third set of vaccinations boosts immunity. Preventing dogs from drinking out of puddles protects them from the diarrhea-causing giardia parasite.

A clicker can mark good behavior early on - when the dog is finishing up a potty break, when it climbs into the dog bed.

Hines’ training started in 4-H. His experience grew to include hunting lodge guide and, eventually, breeder. Working with dogs put him through college. He was studying at St. Cloud State University to be a biology teacher, but decided to pursue his business instead of student teaching.

Hines, 39, founded Willow Creek in 2000; he adopted the clicker method five years later.

He continues to learn from animal trainers of all types. After a three-week British lab training session, Hines worked with a dolphin trainer at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Florida, for a few days.

“They don’t use negative reinforcement. They don’t use pressure. They just don’t. The public wouldn’t allow it,” Hines said. “When I was talking to the dolphin trainer there, he said, ‘I would love to put a collar on that dolphin and just zap it because it keeps beating up the other dolphins. But the public won’t allow it.’ “

Willow Creek does use a so-called e-collar, which delivers a mild shock to correct behavior, in some of its more advanced training. But the focus remains on reward, not punishment.

“If they’re scared, they won’t learn as quick as they would if they’re not afraid,” Hines said.

While obedience is the foundation for all training, retrieving work can start early with a puppy.

Fuzzy, lightweight paint roller covers make ideal “prey” because they’re inexpensive and easily carried. (Use something too heavy and the puppy will drop it, a behavior that will need correction later on.)

“Tease the puppy with it and throw it. You’re stimulating prey drive when you tease them. This thing’s trying to get away and they’re hunting dogs. They’re trying to hunt this thing. And then it takes off and they run it down and they retrieve it,” Hines said.

The idea is to get the puppy to pick it up and bring it straight back. Praise should follow.

“Don’t steal it,” Hines said.

He’s seen hunters praise their dog while it’s running back, and then scold it to drop the bird. Hines encourages hunters to praise the dog while it’s got a bird in its mouth, reinforcing the hold.

“About the worst thing to do is to scold them and try to get it out of their mouth and try to get them to drop it. About the best thing to do is develop them to hold onto that when they come back and praise them and help them to feel good with that object in their mouth,” Hines said.

A distraction-free hallway is a good spot for initial training. From there, Hines suggests moving to a room with more distractions - but setting the dog up for success and building consistency by positioning yourself where it tends to return.

“Most people go to the next step way too fast. They get the puppy to retrieve in the hallway a little bit, and then they go outside and they throw a bird for it or something crazy. They just take big leaps. Most dog training, the smaller steps you take the faster you’ll get there,” Hines said.

Outdoor training might start with a dog on a 20-foot check cord (so you can catch it if necessary) in a distraction-free corridor such as the space between house and garage. If the dog loses focus, return to the hallway and work on getting the dog to return to you.

“Moving away from the dog is really important. If you want a dog to come to you, move away from them. Lower your posture, more submissive, more inviting,” Hines said.

Dogs communicate more with posture. Trainers use an upright, dominant, hand-up position to convey “stop.”

At Willow Creek, training is a quiet process filled with consistent gestures. When trainers do talk, it’s in a calm and encouraging tone.

Consistency was one thing Rob Paetzold, 48, who teaches junior high industrial arts in Burnsville, learned from Hines. Paetzold didn’t start hunting until his 30s when he inherited shotguns. Living in Minneapolis didn’t give him much space to train a dog.

“(Chad) can take any dog and in 10 seconds he can get it to do whatever he wants. But that does me no good if I can’t handle my dog. One of the things he does that a lot of other trainers don’t do is he trains you do handle your dog,” Paetzold said.

“I learned to be patient. I learned to be consistent,” said Paetzold, who sent his first dog, a German wirehaired pointer, for three months of training.

After two or three months of training, he expects his second dog to be steady to shot - meaning it waits for the post-shot command to retrieve.

“I guess I didn’t know exactly what my dog was capable of,” Paetzold said.

Gregg Borgstrom of St. Cloud recently sent his German shorthair back for another round of reinforcement training to prepare for field trials. One challenge for his household: Being consistent with how everyone, including his 10-year-old son, deals with the dog, which is a house dog, too.

“You want your dog to do all of the above,” Borgstrom said.

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com

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