I was inspired to write an article for a future Retrievers ONLINE issue by a recent thread. Here I take the gist of the article, modify it, and offer it as food for thought to RTF because of the earlier inspiration-thanks!
Elsewhere there is a post called “Accidental Heeling Drill Discovered”. I think it was meant to be called Heeling Drill Accidentally Discovered. Actually, the drill was not a new discovery except for the OP. The idea of doing heeling exercises while in the face of the imminent marks with throwers is not new but certainly valuable. It is seldom practiced in groups where it would be most effective. However, that thread drifted off into a discussion of fun and happy bumpers, their pros and cons. While some didn’t like them, others used them for attitude adjustment.
My take on “happy” or “fun” bumpers has changed over the years. Way back in the dark ages (40 years ago), I was known to throw a happy bumper for fun for the dog to be happy. By “happy or fun bumper, I mean a free for all, go break and get ‘em bumper thrown by the trainer. It is signalled as such with an excited hey-hey or hup-hup or whatever you want to say that is excited.
Over time I noticed that my dogs really didn’t need these for a good attitude. Good attitudes come from how you train-how you correct and how you praise. If I needed a Happy bumper, it usually meant my training was sour-better to fix that than patch that.
I also noticed that most people gave their dogs a happy bumper when they themselves were happy. The dog did well, came back wagging their tails and the trainer threw a happy bumper because they were so pleased that their dog had done well. The trainer thought they needed to let their dog know they were happy and make them happy. HAH!! The dog was ALREADY happy!!!
Then, I observed how wild and reckless dogs were on happy bumpers and I wondered about the tremendous strain and torque on ligaments, tendons and muscles. Especially, when the dog was not totally warmed up!!! One evening, two days before a National Amateur, one of my top dogs(a 200 point FTCH AFTCH FC AFC dog) ruptured a cruciate on a happy bumper. He had done well and I was happy and I threw a happy bumper and said to myself, we’re ready for this National!! That was 1988. I never threw another happy bumper for over 20 years and my dog’s attitude never suffered.
About three years ago, as I watched the Hillmann DVD’s I noted all his “happy” bumpers. The difference though is they were NOT meant to make the dog happy. They were to make the dog excited and to get the dog into a real “prey drive” mode. The idea was to balance excitement and obedience. But first you needed the excitement. Train a dog in that mode and they are ready to learn and be good students. This had nothing to do with improving attitude after a “bad” session. It wasn’t to make the handler happy. It wasn’t to reward the dog. It was in some ways fun for the dog but the purpose was not to allow the dog to have fun. The purpose was to get the dog revved up and excited so that they were in a good frame of mind to tackle the next steps. When better to require obedience than when the dog is hyper excited. Isn’t that when we have most of the obedience problems at a field trial? This kind of “happy’ bumper made sense to me. I labelled it an excitement bumper not a happy or fun bumper.
So my next problem was how to make it safe for the dogs’ body? I learned that if I threw it in 6-12” cover of grass and threw an orange bumper at distances of 40-50 yards there was none of that wild twisting and turning. The dog raced to the area but seldom had that sliding screeching twisting white bumper on the lawn stress on his body. Bonus: He learned to use his eyes in conjunction with his nose. I signalled an exciting break with a hup-hup. The dogs got very excited. If I said “sit” first, the standard was ZERO movement and no break. While I haven’t discussed this aspect of excitement bumpers with Bill, it jives with the rest of his philosophy re eyes, nose and excitement.
So for all the RTFers who use happy bumpers, primarily for fun and happy, think about this. What are you rewarding besides yourself? -something that happened in the dogs mind 2 minutes ago? Why do you need to improve attitude? Perhaps the other parts of your training session need improvement.
To all those that don’t use happy bumpers, perhaps you are missing out on a valuable tool.
PS. My older dogs do not get excitement bumpers for a reward or attitude. The bird and my good dog is their reward and their training is geared to good attitudes.