A while ago we wrote about our motto “Train, Prevent, Interrupt” and it’s actually closely related to today’s topic. We jokingly say “don’t stand there like a fish stick” and mean that we must do something. Both in training and in tests, we sometimes need to think and act quickly to interrupt the dog’s behavior. In tests, it usually means blowing a stop whistle, in training, it can be a stop whistle but also that we go – or run – and get the dog or recall it.
So why is it so important? Well, if we don’t do anything, we risk that the dog learns something we don’t want – for example, to continue searching with game in its mouth instead of coming to us when it finds something. It can also teach the dog that the signal we just gave doesn’t mean anything – if, for example, you blow a stop whistle but the dog just keeps running or searching. Usually, we quickly notice if the signal worked or not – if the dog usually turns on a dime at the stop signal but this time continues forward at 120, it won’t stop the way you want if you just wait.
It can also be that by not acting, we make the task much harder for both ourselves and the dog. Imagine that we send the dog on a marked retrieve, but when the dog approaches the area, it turns out that it ended up on the wrong side of the wind and also misjudged the distance so it doesn’t slow down in the area at all. If we then stand there like fish sticks and hope the dog will find it, the dog may have run 20-30 meters past the area before we realize that the dog won’t find it. Then it becomes much harder to direct the dog back to the right area than if we had blown a stop as soon as we see that the dog is about to pass the area. Of course, this is based on the assumption that the dog “knows” the stop whistle, meaning we have trained it enough that we believe the dog should be able to stop even in this situation. It also assumes that we are in the type of test/hunt/training where it doesn’t matter if the dummy comes in as a marked retrieve or the dog being directed to the retrieve. If we have a dog with a good marking ability, it’s always valuable, but we need the stop whistle as a backup when hunting, field trials and working tests where the game/dummy should only come in as quickly and efficiently as possible. In B type tests for retrievers in Sweden, the assessment is different, and we don’t blow the stop whistle to the same extent.
So, in summary – don’t stand there like a fish stick, or be “sharp on the whistle” as the English say (which applies to both acting quickly and teaching the dog to react quickly to your signals).