One tenet of training is that a dog must fully understand a command before it can be expected to comply with it. Yet, we’ve all seen a frustrated owner trying to round up a rebellious dog. As he gets just within reach of the scofflaw, the dog bolts, the owner screams repeated — albeit ignored — commands, and the chase resumes. The longer this continues, the more the dog is convinced that we’re willing participants in its game.
The reality is, to perform the tasks expected of them, hunting dogs need to run free. To ensure our dogs’ safety and desired behaviour in the field, though, we must have a degree of control after they’ve been turned loose.
Modern technology, such as e-collars, has revolutionized our sport by extending control over our dogs at greater distances. But, before strapping on the electronics, first realize that no amount of yelling or electronic stimulation will make a dog understand a command. In fact, doing so can have disastrous results.
Enter the check cord, a time-tested tool that allows a dog a degree of freedom, while maintaining a handle on its behaviour. A check cord is simply a length of rope clipped to the dog’s collar and allowed to trail behind as it runs free.
Making a check cord is easy. The materials are available at your local hardware store: 30 to 40 feet of sturdy braided rope, to avoid twisting and tangling (I use half-inch poly-braid), and a strong snap-swivel. Attach the swivel to the end of the rope and it’s ready to use.
Remember, this isn’t a leash. The end must not have a handle or loop, as does a regular lead. The objective is to have the loose end of the rope slip easily through cover and not catch on branches or debris.
As young dogs reach an age where they develop a little more independence, most will push the limits of their environment and your influence on them in it. This is where a check cord can be so effective.
By this point, your dog has hopefully developed manners on the lead and understands simple commands like “come,” “stay,” or “whoa.” Dragging a check cord is a way of imposing your will on it, even when it feels it’s beyond your influence. Simply let it run, dragging the check cord behind it.
Again, only give commands that it understands while you’re within range of the cord. Then, if the dog bolts, step on the line and it will feel the abrupt results of its transgression.
The same applies to a recall command. While close to the end of the cord, firmly, but calmly, call the dog to you. If it comes immediately, perfect. Praise it for a job well done. If it hesitates or ignores you, pick up the cord and direct the dog to you and repeat the command so it understands. Praise it when it reaches you, regardless of how reluctant it is to come in.
As your pup progresses through training, less correction is required. The check cord, however, continues to have uses as you build on the complexity of commands, such as steadiness and behaviour in the face of game.
Regardless of your dog’s age, teaching it what’s expected of it is your responsibility. Use training tools in a calm, consistent way to instil a basic understanding of commands. Comprehension and co-operation, after all, are the cornerstones of a sound and polished performer in the field.