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Never too late for retriever training

November 23, 2009 at 02:16 PM

The American Press

ROANOKE, La. (AP) - Though the duck season is open, it’s still not too late for some retriever dog training.

“I train year-round. It’s actually better to train when the weather is cooler,” said Cecil “Butch” Manuel of Game Time Retrievers in Roanoke. “I have to start earlier in the morning and shorten the lessons in the summer to beat the heat. Maybe up it to two short lessons a day if it’s too hot.”

Manuel, who has been training dogs professionally for 15 years and has trained more than 300 dogs, and his training buddy, John “Boo” Matthews of Welsh, were in a field southwest of Roanoke on a recent morning working a group of eight advanced dogs.

“Misty, my dog, is eight. All the rest of the dogs are a little over a year old,” said Manuel, who started out in the retriever business training his and his friends dogs. “I take them at about 6-7 months old, and sometimes even start with puppies. It just depends on any prio r training.”

One at a time, Manuel let each dog out of its kennel and gave it a few minutes to stretch its legs and drink some water. As soon as Manuel called the dog to his side, the dog sat and began quivering with excitement.

“You’ve got to build their desire to retrieve as they grow from a puppy,” Manuel said. “I have had to send some back because they don’t have the want. You can tell in the first month if they just don’t have it. Of the ones that have it, some take three times as long to train. What some learn in four months, others, it can take seven or eight months.”

For the dogs being trained this day, the first exercises consisted of single, double and blind retrieves on land. Matthews was set up on the east side of the field to launch decoys from a large slingshot-like mechanism mounted on the front of a four-wheeler. Manuel and the dogs faced the south as he held an unloaded shotgun in his hand, and a winger, a decoy tosser that makes a noise li ke a shotgun firing, was situated on the west side of the field.

As decoys flew, Manuel gave the go-ahead, and the dogs bounded out for the pickup and promptly returned one bird at a time to Manuel. For blind retrieves, Manuel would call to the dog if it got off track from the decoy, and the dog would sit and look at Manuel for direction signals given by hand.

Each dog arrived back at Manuel’s feet speckled in mud and water. Once each dog completed its set, Manuel let the dog play with a fun bumper for a few minutes before it was back in the kennel to let out the next dog.

“You’ve got to have a happy dog that wants to retrieve. I start out with five months of basic training and to get them completely trained takes about a year,” Manuel said. “I train at least 20 dogs a year. Some are repeats, who just need to be tuned up, and I keep them for a month or two.”

According to Manuel, the first step in training a retriever is to establish communication.

After all eight dogs practiced land retrieves, it was on to water retrieves in a large pond in the back of the field. Matthews set up across the pond from Manuel and on Manuel’s command, he launched a decoy into the water and tossed another down his side of the pond’s bank. Each dog took its turn running and launching into the water, retrieving the decoys and returning them one at a time to Manuel.

None of the dogs tried to “cheat” by going around the pond.

“When it comes to water, we teach them how to ride on four wheelers, in boats - my kids help by pulling them around the yard in the boats behind the four wheelers - and how to hunt from platforms,” Manuel said.

As far as the tools for training go, Manuel uses mainly a healing stick, which he uses to tap the dog on the back to get it to sit, and a whistle.

“I also use a shock collar when needed, but as a form of correction, an extension of the leash, not for punishment,” Manuel said.

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