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Training Tips with Mike Lardy

Training Tip #47 - A Training Curriculum Online
Expanded Flow Chart

For a more complete description of the flow chart, read Mike's article in the August/September 2004 Retriever Journal.

Some highlights of Mike's updated flow chart include:

  • An emphasis on the variety of experiences your young pup should have before formal yard training really begins. Socialization and early field work are critical for preparing your dog for formal training.
  • A detailed listing of the sub-steps of the yard sequence in order to emphasize the step by step nature of effective yard work.
  • An expansion of the transition section with more detailed steps to the water sequence.
  • An expansion of the advanced training section that shows the divergent priorities of field trial versus hunt test/hunting dog training. More importantly, the expansion of this section serves to point out that there isn't much divergence prior to advanced training.

Mike Lardy's Training Program Flow Chart

You'll notice there is no particular time line on the flowchart. This is very deliberate. Your rate of progress will be determined by many factors including the amount of time spent training, the ability of your dog, and the resources (fields, ponds, throwing help, etc) you have for training. Precocious pups in a full time program with tremendous resources may make it to advanced training before 12 months of age while a part-time trainer with marginal facilities and an average dog may not make it into advanced training much before two years of age.

Training Tip #3 - Attrition
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

Attrition is a training technique whereby you get your dog to comply to your command by wearing him down. That is, you repeat the command until the dog gets it right, and you prevent the dog from doing the wrong behavior. You don't punish him for the wrong behavior -- you simply prevent him from doing it. For example, suppose your dog goes straight "back" when you give him an "over" command. Using attrition, you would stop him immediately and give the "over" command again. If he went "back" again, you would stop him again.

You might even call him back to his original position and cast him "over" again. You would keep this up until he took your cast. Attrition is the method of choice when you are uncertain if the dog understands your command or if you have a sensitive dog that can only tolerate so much correction. If attrition doesn't get you the desired response, you may have to consider that your dog simply doesn't understand the command ( and you therefore need to back up in our training program) or that you dog is willfully disobeying you (and you may need to use a correction).

What a mistake it would be to give a correction when the dog didn't understand you!!

The art of dog training is to read your dog, analyze the situation, and make the right call. A smart trainer will usually use lots of attrition and simplify the task rather than resort to pressure.

Training Tip #45 - Benefits of Singles
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

Everyone throws singles off multiple guns. This has many beneficial effects:

  • Encourages concentration and reduces head swinging
  • Builds confidence
  • Enables dogs to become comfortable with tight lines or unfamiliar terrain

Training Tip #5 - Bird Placement
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

When you really want to train, evaluate the factors and place your marks or blinds where a dog would not naturally go.

Training Tip #43 - Bird-in-Mouth in Teaching Doubles
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

There are essentially three steps to teaching doubles in the field. First we run singles off multiple guns with the "bird-in-mouth." That is, the bird is not taken from the dog until the next bird has been thrown. This is not a double but introduces the mechanics of a double (deliver facing the next mark and begin to focus the dog's attention on the remaining mark before taking the bird away).

The bird-in-mouth procedure also creates a slight delay between the throw and the send- making the mark a sort of mini-memory bird. Note that we generally wait until after a dog is force-fetched before doing this procedure to avoid a lot of problems with delivery. There are then other steps that we follow to teach doubles. This step prepares them for the next.

Training Tip #35 - Calling a Dog Back
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

Do not call the dog back-in to your side if he starts to fade at a distance. Call back-in only for very bad initial lines that you can read in the first 25 yards. Calling back-in frequently (even at the closer distance) can lead to popping and can really discourage a sensitive dog.

Training Tip #2 - Cues, Commands and Releases
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

A cue is a word or phrase, or action from the handler that gives a dog a hint or clue.

Examples: "mark"," watch it"," easy", "find the bird", " no bird", loud send, quiet send or putting your hand down to send

A command is a word or phrase or action from the handler that requires an action response from the dog

Examples: "sit", "here", "heel", "back", "over", "drop", or snapping fingers or patting leg for heeling movements, giving a cast

A release is simply a word, phrase, or action that lets the dog proceed as wanted.

Examples: " "OK", "dog's name"

The same word might be a cue, command, or release depending on the context or its use.

Training Tip #37 - Disciplined Casting
From Volume 1 - Training with Mike Lardy

The last step of the Double T is to cast your dog to the various piles when he is returning form the main pile with a bumper in his mouth. I call this "disciplined casting" because the dog must simply take the cast without regard for completing a retrieve. You'll be surprised how easily most dogs take to this, but it may require some coaxing and/or correction to get him to cast with a bumper in his mouth.

Start by stopping the dog at the short crossover in the Double T on his return. Cast him to one of the "over" piles. Repeat the cast or use a little body English to get him going. Soon you will have him casting to the side "overs" or even to the "back"pile. You can use indirect pressure if you get some blatant refusals after you have shown him what you want. If he spits out the bumper, command "Fetch," and then cast again.

The main purpose of disciplined casting is to prepare the dog for the "swim-by" procedure- the next and last step in the yard program. It also prepares your dog for being handled on the return from a retrieve in the field if he tries to avoid water or cover or some other obstacle.

Training Tip #38 - E-Collars and Tough Dogs
Volume I Training with Mike Lardy

In an interview held by Retriever Journal with Mike, it was asked:
"The question was raised by some that perhaps field trials and the electronic collar are coming together to create a new breed of retriever- specifically, hard headed Labradors. Are we creating dogs that are so aggressive and "hard" that they are predisposed to collar training even before they leave the whelping box?"

Mike's answer was:

First of all I'd like to address this issue of "hard" and "soft" dogs. There's a big misconception that field trailers and uses of the electronic collars are selecting for tough, hard-headed dogs. Maybe for a brief period of time this was true, such as during the 70's when e-collar technology was pretty primitive and you only had one button with one really big charge. Back then, you had to be really careful, because if you had a really "soft" dog, a big charge like that used in conjunction with a correction might be too much.

When I started running field trials back in 1978, I swore I would never run my dog with a collar. I saw dogs at that time that had undoubtedly been ruined because of some trainer's heavy hand on the button. But then I trained with a man who knew how to use the collar. I kept an open mind and learned how to use the collar effectively.

Today, e-collar technology has advanced so that you can vary the intensity of the charge to suit the temperament of each individual dog.

This all relates to a very important issue "“ that being desire. Desire and reaction to pressure "“ or what is called "softness" are related, and it is quite difficult to separate the two. For example, if a dog appears to loose interest during a retrieve after having received a collar correction does that mean that the collar ruined the dog? ----or does that that simply mean that the dog did not have the desire to finish the retrieve? Nobody can really answer that question.

As a trainer, you need to read the lack of desire long before an e-collar is put on a dog. You see the lack of desire when the retrieve gets too difficult, when the water gets too cold, when the cover gets too thick, or when the dog simply loses interest in the task at hand. The best dogs have great desire, yet are extremely sensitive.

So, do field trials select for desire? -- absolutely. Do they select for toughness? --not necessarily. Again, the best dogs are sensitive dogs with a high degree of desire ---those are the most successful field trial dogs. Yet, this does not mean that you have to use an e-collar if you want to train this type of dog.

In the right hands, a collar can be the most effective and humane tool when it comes to correction. You see that illustrated in today's field trials where the proportion of female dogs that are competing has gone up dramatically since the advent of the collar. I think this speaks for the electronic collar's effectiveness, because on average, the females of any breed of retriever are more sensitive than the males. Females have responded to modern electronic collar programs because they are the more sensitive dogs. Twenty years ago, females were few and far between in competition simply because they couldn't stand the rigors of heavy handed, aggressive training programs. See Tip #33 for more on training sensitive dogs.

There is a big misconception out there that dogs trained with the e-collar and dogs being trained for field trials are out there getting burned constantly. I keep notes on ever dog I train, and one of the things I record is the number of times I have to administer a collar correction.

Not very long ago, I had three top field trial champion dogs in my kennel: NFC AFC Storm's Riptide Star, FC AFC Ace High Straight Flush, and NAFC CNAFC FC Ebonstar Lean Mac. These were some of the most competitive field trial dogs in the country- considered "hot" hard-charging dogs- yet, over an eight week period of daily training my notes indicate that I only had to administer three low burns* for each dog.

*Note: Mike's definition of a burn is less than a second.

Training Tip #40 - False Lines
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

Do not false line to counterbalance the factors in training. That is, do not point the dog in a direction that, if taken, would require the dog to fade with the factors in order to succeed on the mark. Send the dog on the proper line and train the dog to fight the factors.

Training Tip #45 - Benefits of Singles
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

For many situations the principle of Go-Stop-Come can be used effectively. It is a necessary skill for effective use of attrition.

When teaching new concepts it is important to distinguish between the new concept being taught and fundamental commands the dog already knows and should be expected to obey. For many situations we may apply the principle of go-stop-come. That is we expect the dog to go when sent, stop on a whistle blast ("toot") and come-in on a come-in cast ("toot-toot-toot")

As long as your dog will go, stop, and come you can use attrition for all kinds of errors in the field. But attrition breaks down if your dog quits going, stopping, or coming in.

So while you might not correct a dog for certain failures on a mark, it could be appropriate to use collar corrections with indirect pressure if he failed to stop or come-in when you are handling on a marking set-up.

Training Tip #1 - Using the Gunner to Assist Marking Success
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

Having the Gun Help 

This means that the gun station helps the dog who is lost in the field. Helping can take many forms. The gun can:


Stand and Yell "Hey Hey";

Stand, Yell, Wave Arms and Walk Toward Mark;

Stand, Yell, Wave Arms, Walk Toward the Mark and Throw the Bird Up

The gunner should help in response to a silent signal from the handler such as an arm wave, or to a request by radio. Yelling to signal the gun may attract the dog's attention back to the handler. The gun should give as much help as necessary and as little as possible. It is always better to have the dog resume his hunt in the fall area and find the bird on his own. As the dog resumes his hunt in the fall area the gunner should retreat to his chair. If you intend to use your dog for hunting (I hope you are!) it is helpful to have the gunner repeatedly use some cue such as "find the bird" or "hunt it up" as the dog comes in to the fall area while being helped. You will use this cue while hunting to encourage your dog to hunt up a dead bird it did not see fall or to hunt up and flush a live bird.

Gunner Assistance

Gunner assistance is the term used to describe how a thrower can help a dog who is still at the handler's side.

This is slightly different than having the gun help -- a procedure such as above for helping a dog who is lost in the field. The gunner would normally sit down after throwing a mark. To assist a dog on a memory mark, with the dog sitting at your side, you would have the gun assist by:


Standing and waving arms; or

Standing and yelling "hey-hey"

The idea is the dog will look out and remember the mark or will simply be intrigued enough to run out and check when you send him. You should always have your guns ready to offer assistance when teaching doubles to young dogs. Use a radio or have some pre-determined signal to indicate to the gun to escalate the assistance. Avoid no-goes by reading your dog's uncertainty and offering the gunner assistance before you send for the mark (on the first few taught doubles).

Training Tip #39 - How is the Single Line in the Double T Taught?
Volume I Training with Mike Lardy

The Double T is a step-by-step process that takes two to three weeks to complete. It comes after Pile Work has been completed (see the flowchart) . The center line to the back pile is taught first.

The first step in teaching the line is to identify the pile by tossing a bumper to it from 10-20 yards away. Send to the pile from your side or from a front finish (remote) position. Back up 10-15 yards after each send so that you are progressively farther away from the pile as you receive the dog. Repeat this process until you have gradually moved to the baseline. Finish your first session by lining to the pile several times from the baseline from both the side and remote positions.

The second day on the Double T, you should identify the pile again but then more quickly move back to the baseline. If you dog is not lining straight down the middle, you may need to move up, re-identify the pile, and mix in plenty of remote sends.

Teaching the center line is done prior to forcing to the back pile.

Training Tips - Marking Drill Programs
Marking Drill Diagrams

Mike's article published in the June/July 2004 Retriever Journal on marking drills includes diagrams of specific ABC and Organized Confusion Drills. These diagrams may be downloaded from the links below and are easily printed. Please refer to the article for a complete understanding of the use of the drills.

ABC Drills

Organized Confusion Drills


Training Tips - Updated Principles of Training
Total Retriever Series and Retrievers Online

1. Respect and care for your dog is a primary consideration

  • Proper care, diet, exercise and watering regimes affect response to training and stress.
  • Proper nutrition and conditioning reduces injury and improves concentration and health.
  • Violence is not acceptable. Confront your dog’s weaknesses - not your dog!

2. Effectiveness of training is due to: methods, effort, and resources

  • Results depend on methods, time, effort, efficiency, grounds, equipment and help.
  • Use a proven sequential program as a basis for advanced work.
  • Be prepared for variables of tests, environments, and dog behaviour.

3. Work to achieve balance in training

  • Training that enhances one aspect of training often diminishes another.
  • Remember to maintain the ABCs; Attitude, Balance, and Control.
  • For success, seek the all-around balanced dog with sound fundamentals.

4.Emphasize communication and teamwork: training retrievers is a “team sport”

  • Consistency in commands and cues will lead to better communication.
  • Communicate that a decision was wrong at the instant the dog makes the decision.
  • Use praise wisely - at the instant of doing well.

5. Establish and Maintain Standards

  • Dogs deserve and thrive on consistent rules.
  • It is better to reduce the level of difficulty of the task than to reduce the standard.
  • Avoid habits that will have to be changed later.

6. Don’t teach with the e-collar

  • Attrition is a safe and first consideration tool.
  • Use the collar to enforce the command after the dog has been taught.
  • Always give a command before a correction.

7. The approach to using pressure is a critical aspect of training

  • Dogs can thrive with reasonable amounts of pressure if they understand it.
  • The dog should be capable of giving the correct response after the proper correction.
  • Correct for a lack of effort not just a flawed decision.

8. Design your training for predicted outcomes

  • Seek success more than failure.
  • Be sure to teach before you test.
  • Simplify after repeated failure.

9. Match the training to the nature of the dog

  • Strive to make the dog the best he can be but not more.
  • Recognize a dog’s strength and weaknesses and train accordingly.
  • Basics and fundamentals don’t change but implementation may.

10. Training is an art as well as science - it involves communication, analysis and interpretation

  • Learn to read your dog and respond to what you see.
  • If the dog has a problem ask if and how you caused it.
  • Exact methods may not be as important as the overall approach.

Training Tip #42 - Reasons to Use Your Hand in Sending
From Training with Mike Lardy Volume I

Part of the steadying process is to get your dog accustomed to being released with your hand held over her head. I generally start using my hand on marks about the time she is quite steady with a taut lead. The hand is used when sending for marks and blinds in various situations. The hand is NOT used to line the dog up- it is merely a cue that says, "That's correct." By using the hand on most sends, you set up an expectation for the dog that she will not be released until after your hand goes down. I try to pause between the time I put my hand down and the time I say her name to release her. Used consistently, this systematic release will encourage steadiness. Later in training, there are situations where the dog can be sent without a hand. However, the hand is always used for the last bird down.

Training Tips - Sensitive Dog?
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

Mike wrote an article, titled "Too Sensitive" that is now available in Volume 3. In his articles and tape sets, Mike has discussed his philosophy of training. His "state of the art" methodology with the e-collar enables sensitive dogs to be effectively trained to reach their full potential. A well known example of a highly successful, but sensitive retriever was 3X NFC Candlewoods Tanks A Lot, known as "Lottie." She, as well as Mike's other numerous Field Champions and National Champions, was trained by the methods shown in the Total Retriever Video Series. Mike believes that fairly sensitive dogs with high desire are perhaps the best competitors, and the kind that make training more fun.

Training Tip #44 - Should All Dogs be Trained with an E-Collar
From Training with Mike Lardy Volume I

In an interview, Mike was asked about his recommendations for using the e-collar. One question was should everyone use the e-collar? The entire discussion can be found in Training with Mike Lardy Volume I, a collection of articles published in Retriever Journal.

Mike said: I do not recommend using the e-collar if a person is only going to use the dog for very simple tasks. If you only want our dog to be obedient in the general sense- to be a good citizen or if their hunting involves only very simple retrieves and not many of them, I don't think it is worth the time and effort to go through a proper e-collar program --- because you can't use the e-collar haphazardly. Using the e-collar correctly takes quite a bit of work on the trainer's part, and there are plenty of ways to teach general obedience and simple field work without an e-collar.

Generally in my own e-collar program, we don't start a dog until he is eight months to a year old, long after he has been taught all his basic obedience and has been doing lots of retrieves, he's almost steady, and can do singles and doubles.

A point I'd like to make is that you don't teach a dog anything with an e-collar. There's a misconception that somehow the e-collar is a method. The e-collar is not a training method- it is a tool.

Training Tip #7 - To Repeat or Not to Repeat
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

There's no doubt that repetition is a basis for learning. The question is, "Does repeating failed marks help a dog learn about marking"

In general I do not repeat failed marks. One basic reason for this is that I believe it contributes to going back to old falls-- a natural tendency that retrievers often revert to when they become uncertain. Repeating only contributes to the expectation that a bird can be found where you found one before.

For example, suppose a dog fails a triple by going back to the old flyer fall when sent for a long retired gun and you handled him out of the flyer and to the long retired gun. Now, if you repeat the entire triple you are sending him back to the flyer where he does find a bird. So what does he learn? He certainly doesn't learn that he is never going to find a flyer in the same area twice!

It is more productive to run a similar set-up in a new place rather than to repeat a failed mark. For example, in the above scenario, I might move over in the field and set up another test with a long retired gun. By setting up the same situation, but in a different place, and perhaps under slightly easier circumstances, I believe I will soon develop an understanding of the long retired gun concept. By not repeating, you will work harder to build marking concepts.

I do repeat certain kinds of marks under specific circumstances:

  1. Any drill-like mark like a cheating single or other singles that are set up to teach a dog to hold a line in spite of a very strong factor.
  2. A failed secondary selection bird -- the tendency to miss these kinds of marks is so strong that any potential tendency to go back to an old fall on a short mark is worth it.
  3. Any unique mark that you might not have the luxury of finding the time or place to create a similar circumstance. For example, a bird thrown on to an island, a bird thrown across a hidden channel, or a bird thrown across a river with a current. Even under these circumstances I will repeat just a particular mark as a single.--- I do not run the entire test over.

Some trainers do repeat a lot. For their dogs repeating is a concept itself! My experience is that when you repeat a test with a dog that you have generally not repeated with, the dog can get very confused and often repeats the failures of the first attempt!

Training Tip #36 - Treats vs. Corrections
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

Training with treats and other positive reinforcers is very important for teaching obedience commands. However, corrections are usually necessary for making your dog's responses reliable as distractions increase. This is true for companion dogs as well as working retrievers. The corrections also prepare your dog for some of the future pressure that is inevitable for a working retriever.

Training Tip #34 - Walking Singles
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

Walking singles are single marks thrown by one thrower who moves after each retrieve. The thrower should move far enough to avoid situations where the dog goes back to a previous fall (hunting an old fall) or gets confused by scent from a previous retrieve. Generally the fall areas for walking singles with a young dog should be 20-30 yards apart. One way to do it is to have the thrower move to, or a few yards beyond, where the last fall area to throw the next one.

We introduce young dogs to various new situations with walking singles. They can be stretched out to greater distances, run through various cover types (picked corn fields, grain stubble fields, alfalfa, cover strips) and varying terrain (rolling hills, ravines, gentle ditches, roads).

Walking singles are a useful marking tool that you can use throughout a dog's training career. Walking singles are great for sharpening marking, building attitude, and physical conditioning.

We begin our training each winter with several days of long walking singles. This is a good conditioning for the dog.

Keep in mind:

  • Do not throw the marks angle-back. Flat throws encourage a dog to run at the mark, rather than the gun.
  • Do not start yelling if our dog gets lost on a hunt- just have the gun help.
  • Do not routinely repeat any mark your dog has trouble with. This only fosters the idea that a bird can be found where he found one before. (see Training Tip #7)

Training Tip #46 - When Not to Use the E-Collar
From Total Retriever Training with Mike Lardy

There are many times when the e-collar should not be used. The following list is does not include all of the "do nots", and are only examples . See the manual for more information about related ideas.

  • Don't use collar corrections for switching, going back to an old fall, hunting short, or fading with the factors in early Transition. In early Transition we are still teaching the multiple mark concepts.
  • Don't use the collar as your dog runs willy-nilly over the field. Regain control first and then use the appropriate pressure on simple action commands ( here, sit, or a whistle blast)
  • Don't use a collar correction for going to the wrong area if the mistake occurs very gradually with a big rambling hunt. Simply handle to the appropriate area or have the gun help. Only use collar corrections (in-direct pressure) in clear-cut situations where you could read that your dog made a sudden decision to go to the wrong area.
  • Don't give an e-collar correction for a cast refusal if the background makes it very difficult for the dog to see you. White trucks, glare off vehicles, other handlers, back-lighting, broken tree lines, and other factors can make it nearly impossible for a dog to see the handler's casts. Check first to see what is behind the handler. If in doubt have a training partner go out prior to running any blinds to check the clarity of the handler from the dog's point of view.

Training Tip #41 - Why Use a Heeling Stick?
From Training with Mike Lardy Volume I

The heeling stick should always be carried when you run marks. A good guideline is to always carry the stick once you are running the dog with a taut lead. Keep the stick resting upright on your shoulder so that you don't have to wind up to use it. This way you will avoid having the dog flinch whenever you move.

The dog should be accustomed to your carrying the stick- it just means you are going to work. Use only as much stick pressure as needed, and always precede the stick correction with a command. Be careful not to carry it only when you think you will need it or the dog will become "stick-wise."

The correction will be most effective if it lands on the hip. Dogs vary in their sensitivity to the heeling stick. For some, a gentle tap is all it takes.

Using the heeling stick while holding the taut lead can get a little awkward, but with practice it will become easy.