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The Command or Savings Account Theory by Tony Roettger

I have used the term "savings account" before in dog training but it never resonated more clearly then at a recent seminar I taught in Wisconsin. So what am I talking about? I am talking about extra commands, for example, telling a dog to come in when he/she is already on their way. I tend look at commands as a savings account that I use sparingly. This account is created and used only when I need to purchase something; in the case of dog training, a response or request and/or command depending on how you view training.

To go a bit deeper, I view certain elements in dog training as commands which I would refer to as interest on my account. The more I have in my account from not using the cash (whistle or voice) makes the ones I actually use more effective by increasing their value. These are outside influences that do not require me to tell the dog to do something but he/she naturally does it because of the learned response.

Think of the days when you are teaching your pup to hup/sit. Some people wait until the pup hups/sits and give him/her a treat. The response becomes to the treat itself rather than the actual command given. Another example I have seen is dogs who will immediately come to the kitchen and hup/sit when the treat drawer is opened. Again, this is a response or prediction to what is coming next: the treat.

So why do we not take advantage of this in the field?

We need to use the savings account theory. When I steady a dog to flush and shot, I want a response of hupping/sitting to come from the items in the air, not a response to my whistle command.

By dissecting the phrase, steady to flush and shot, we can see the answer more clearly. The first command is the bird flying, which should trigger a response much like the drawer opening in the house for the treat, hup/sit. The second command is the shot of the gun. This is a noise that should again create a response telling the dog to hup/sit. What does this leave? The third command, or what comes from the savings account, the whistle from the handler. The fourth would be a voice command.

Here's another example of where the savings account theory can be effective. Let’s assume the dog is steady to flush and shot, the retrieve follows. We give the dog a command to retrieve the bird. What does this command mean? It means go out find the downed bird and come back with it. That one word "Jazz" (dogs name for example for a release) tells the dog to do all of this! Why do we need to whistle them back towards us? Why do we need to tell them to hold? We should have this all in that one release word.

"The savings account is a metaphor in a way to make you think about what you as a handler are telling the dog."

Of course this is all theoretical. The savings account is a metaphor in a way to make you think about what you as a handler are telling the dog. It also is a way to help you think of other things. Some of you have read Urban Gun Dogs where we talk about the guy that would tell his dog to kennel about ten times then say "now". The dog kenneled on the word "now", not "kennel". Who’s the student and who is the teacher in this case? The dog of course!

There are times when we have to dip into the savings account, such as when the dog cannot see you when he/she is coming back, thus the need to make some noise so they can find you. We all need to use the savings account sometimes with that third and fourth command (whistle then voice). Also the concept is not perfect. The point is to take a little more time and say a little less while trusting our dogs more through thinking about the commands we give and using those elicited responses to become better handlers. Remember the drawer opening and the puppy coming and hupping/sitting in front of it - this event is a response to outside influences. The hupping/sitting in front of the drawer is the interest rate on your savings account!

Train smart; train kindly and train with passion...
Tony Roettger
Roettger Ridge Kennels

Tony Roettger

Tony Roettger, of Minnesota, owns and operates the Roettger Ridge Kennels. He breeds, imports and trains both English Cocker Spaniels and English Springer Spaniels.

Tony and co-author, Chip Schleider, have written Urban Gun Dogs: Training Flushing Dogs for Home and Field and a newly released book, Field Guide to Retriever Drills. Autographed copies can be puchased from the Spaniel Journal Bookstore.

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