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Absolutely Positively Gundog Training: Positive Training for Your Retriever Gundog Paperback – July 9, 2015
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About the Author
In 1996 Robert Milner sold Wildrose Kennels, a retriever training kennel which he had owned and operated since 1972. That same year he retired from the USAF Reserve after 26 years of service as a disaster response officer. Those two paths would cross again in 2002. Shortly after the tragedy of 9/11 Milner got a call from the Memphis Fire Department requesting his assistance with their FEMA disaster search dog program. He took the job and went to work rebuilding their disaster search dog program. Slow progress of the transformation led him to reexamine the traditional dog training model of compulsion. He adopted B.F. Skinner’s positive training model and was able to speed up the training program by 300%. Subsequently he adapted that training model to gundog training and discovered positive training to be much faster, easier to learn and decidedly more fun for both dog and trainer. Milner has trained over 2,000 dogs with compulsion and since 2002 has trained hundreds of gundogs with a positive training protocol. He owns and operates Duckhill Kennels at Somerville, TN, breeding and training Labrador Retrievers for gundogs and also for disaster search and for explosive detection. His website is www.duckhillkennels.com
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1) The section on upland hunting is weak. Milner doesn't seem to like upland hunting. He doesn't believe Labs should be doing it (he says that in his previous book). He doesn't understand upland hunting. I'm guessing his upland experience is mostly with preserve pheasants and plantation quail. Planted birds in controlled situations. Those are really the only situations in which his 'windshield wiper pattern at 15 yards' works. With wild birds in wild country, things are a whole lot trickier and Milner doesn't address the topic at all. (Mike Gould's book is far and away the best on that subject, if you're interested.) He also advocates a rigid sit-to-flush which, again, is great on a preserve, but to me is like teaching your middle linebacker to sit-to-fumble. I realize opinions differ on the matter.
Maybe it's just regional bias. Maybe in the South and East, Labs are just duck dogs. Here in the West, we expect them to do a good bit more and Milner doesn't effectively address anything outside of waterfowling.
2) The author's 'totally positive' approach is good but only goes so far. Most of us have, tender-heartedly, wanted to buy into this philosophy at some point in our training careers. And most of us have seen an unwanted behavior or two pop up, tried to 'positive re-inforce' our way out of them, and realized later that the behavior could have been extinguished much sooner with one crisp, timely swat on the behind. There is a stitch-in-time aspect to dog training and it's almost always kinder to just nip a behavior in the bud.
3) Milner dislikes what he calls excessive drive in a dog. My experience has been that the dogs with the most drive are the easiest to train. Their intense, almost addict-like need to hunt and retrieve can be used to control them. I'd sure as heck rather train a dog with too much drive than one with too little.
4) The writing is good but very repetitive, with certain phrases cropping up again and again. Also, his two stories at the end, attempts to make the teachings of the book into parables, are an example of this repetitiveness. They are also too derivative of The Old Man and The Boy. I like Ruark, too, but there's a fine line between homage and a lack of originality.
On the positive side:
1) Milner's emphasis on calm and obedience is right on the money (and not addressed at all in some training books).
2) He's right about field trials.
3) A few of the techniques in the book are truly ingenious. The way the author uses feeding time to lay the groundwork for blind retrieves is very slick. I'll try it with my next pup.
For example, if you just purchased a pup, you could go to the Chapter on House Training and Heeling. In three pages Mr. Milner shares how to house break and get your pup to almost heel naturally. In effect the pup trains you to his toilet needs and then you reverse rolls with no pain. He explains how the kennel is your dogs home and comfort zone, so use it that way. If done properly, it is their comfort zone for the rest of its’ life.
The chapters on natural selection and breeding guides you to make the best selection for you, the hunter. Do you want a true English bred Labrador, mixed with English breeding or American Lab heritage. The pros and cons are extensive, but also easy to grasp. The reader would probably select the pup that makes him look great, while in fact; it is simply natural selected instincts. In this review I’ll cheat and share that the conclusion for me would be British Breeding. Not to say American bred Labs are poor, it is just I personally like and so does Mr. Milner, the British Lab characteristics.
The book defines the must have behavior for your hunting companion and how simple he makes it. Anyone who wants to train a Lab or other retriever pub this book is a must! Only wish Mr. Milner wrote this book 20 years ago, would have saved me time and frustration.
So let me recap . . . the book shares how to look for the right characteristics for your pup, the best breeding for the your needs, simple ways to positive train and he does it in 135 easy to comprehend pages. The book should be a must for all grandchildren who want to train their puppy, it is that clear.