Written By LWDG Mindset Coach Emma Liddell.
This month I will be looking at ‘Absolutely Positively Gundog Training’ by Robert Milner, first published in 2015. When reading about the author, Robert Milner has been training retrievers since 1972 and states his experience has been with gundogs, and explosive detection dogs and is retired from US military service 26 years largely in disaster response. He states that he originally trained in ‘traditional compulsion training’ but turned to positive training in 2002. I have to admit I was attracted to this book due to the author openly switching from the more traditional training methods with an emphasis on subordinate and dominance and believing that a cooperative training model is more effective and using reward and the primary training tool.
First Impressions and Content Overview
The cover of this book to me looks distinctly American in style. The images of wards the book has received on the front also help add to the credibility of the book and it is rare to see a book with a hunting image on the front including shot game. It would be hard to mistake the demographic the book is aimed at. Those looking to work gundogs. The size of the book was good, the standards in between A4/A5 size that is expected from training books and the book is 135 pages long. There are no glossy pages in the book and no diagrams or pictures which can make the text look quite unappealing as there is little to break up the words and there are no diagrams or picture examples.
The book is split into 19 chapters, the first 3 relating to general dog behaviour and interestingly choosing a dog that fits your purpose. Chapters 4-13 are largely around training, interesting chapter 14 is about your trainer’s behaviour, chapter 15 is about hunting with your dog aside from gundog work, then there is a brief summary around housetraining and heelwork and a chapter on the history of Labradors and field trials and ending with a few tales from the author.
The book starts with an introduction about his background, his history, and his skills. I found the writing was in a factual non-egotistical way, and not used to persuade the reader that the author knew what he was on about. It felt more of a get-to-know-the-author part of the book and I found myself settling down for what I hoped would be a good read. The book then goes on to cover a brief history of the evolution of dogs and physiology e.g., sight, smell, hearing etc.
The next chapter was quite interesting and it was about picking a dog that fits the role, No I was hoping this would be about different breeds and their innate predispositions to carry out certain tasks such as HPR compared to a retriever. The chapter instead discussed how to pick out a dog from a group of dogs – presumably half-trained as he was talking about taking them for a walk to see how often they are checking with you or checking their steadiness to dummies. Perhaps things are different in the US to the UK in this area. It also became clear that the role we were expecting the dog to undertake was that of wildfowling rather than a UK shoot day.
Chapters 4 & 5 were refreshing as they were very much more focused on training theory and how this relates to when we are looking to train a gundog as well as the innate behaviours we are looking to cultivate. It is rare to see theory directly applied to gundog work in a book and really easy to understand.
I was disappointed to see how short the chapters on unwanted behaviour and communication and cues were, just very broad brushstrokes of an overview without going into any detail. For me I think it would have been really interesting to bring in some common commands, whistle cues or hand signals however sadly all of that was lacking.
Following this, there was a chapter about delivery to hand again short and a couple of pages but it did have some exercises that you could try. Interestingly although the author states they have turned to positive training the idea of ear or toe pinching to compel the dog to fetch something was included with the caveat ‘This force process takes a good bit of skill and the process may take 4-8 weeks to complete, it is not fun for the dog nor is it fun for the trainer’.
The next chapter I found very interesting as it is one of the first books I have seen where the use of place boards is included. The author also uses clicker training in his exercises and a number of examples about how to incorporate place boards into exercises are given.
I was amused to read in the section about the stop/look whistle that 1-2 sessions should be all I needed to conquer that mountain. (If only!) For me the book builds up quite quickly and at a pace to some advanced work, which left me feeling a little out of my depth as before I knew it I was reading about casting, stopping, directional work and distractions. I felt myself feeling quite flustered that I should have a dog at that stage that quickly.
The chapter about frequency and duration of training sessions was largely based only on one piece of research from 2010 which essentially said that less is more and that dogs being trained for one day per week learn quicker than dogs being trained 5 days per week! Music to my ears (and hopefully to yours) but it was a shame that this whole theory was based on of research study of 44 dogs split into 4 groups.
The chapter after that was again not what I expected by was a short two-page reminder of my role as a trainer, sadly no attitude or mindset information was put in there but tips such as speaking less – gently titled ‘keep your mouth shut’ and the importance or timings etc.
The book starts concluding by talking about dogs in the field including short paragraphs about introducing a gun, heat and cold on dogs, and upland hunting (a type of pheasant shooting) I was amused to hear that I was told that quartering is ‘an easy to produce behaviour’. And that I need to quickly just put in a sit-to-flush behaviour before I go out in the field. The topics of blood-trailing dogs and using dogs to find shed antlers were also briefly introduced.
The book concludes with a few pages on housetraining including the use of crates, a page and a half on heeling and then going on to the shooting culture of the UK and Labradors and field trials ending with some author’s anecdotes.
Conclusion about Absolutely Positively Gundog Training
What I found refreshing about this book is that it didn’t focus on the basics of puppy/dog training but filled in the gap around gundog training. I can only assume the author suspected that there were many other books out there which would cover the basics of dog obedience such as sit, stay, house training general manners etc.
However, I felt that there were very few clear explanations about training the dog, year there were step-by-step exercises given however they felt quite brief and rushed and no troubleshooting as to what I could do to correct it if something went wrong. The book seemed to pick up pace towards the end and I found myself disengaging as I felt that techniques were just dropped in with the expectation that within a page and a half, I should be able to replicate the same with my dog.
I also felt an equipment list could have been included for me to understand what I would need to undertake the exercises in the book, The assumption was I would already have all the kit there and to hand.
I am a little confused as to what level the book was pitched at, in some ways it felt aimed at a beginner, with some of the exercises, and at other points with the pace and language it assumed a decent level of dog training skills. I also felt some parts of the book perhaps did not need to be included like picking the dog and other aspects could have been included in greater detail like stop whistles and directional work.
I left feeling a bit muddled about this book, and therefore it won’t be one that I feel I would honestly return to for reference.
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