From the Retriever Journal:

Pass Along RJ
May 09 Mistakes: Popping & Slipping Whistles
by Vickie Lamb

Just like a sweater that unravels when the wrong thread starts to run, so do some of our best-laid training sessions come undone after numerous real-time hunting trips and excursions. Before the season began, you had a dog well tuned and ready to go; now, you've got a dog that's begun to pop on blind retrieves or, worse yet, on marks. Conversely, your dog may be tuning you out and won't stop on the whistle.

There are a number of ways to view the problem of popping. To clarify, a "pop" is when your dog is en route to a bird but then stops, turns around, and looks to you for help. Generally, this is viewed as less of an issue when it occurs on blinds -- where you'll often give your dog guidance when needed via sit-whistles and casts -- than on marks, where your dog has seen the birds fall and should remember their approximate locations on his own.

Some folks aren't bothered by popping. Indeed, a few trainers encourage this fault (although it's considered a bad habit by most trainers, and with good reason) because they claim it means the dog is "working" with you and seeking your help. In certain hunting scenarios, this might hold water; but in most cases, it evolves into "pop goes the weasel." Pretty soon, your dog has no momentum or confidence in himself and looks to you for help far too often. It's much more pleasing to work with a dog that watches his birds, marks the falls accordingly, and does a magnificent job of finding or hunting up those birds; or one that takes lines and hand signals with confidence, going with gusto until you tell him differently. The argument that "sometimes" pops come in handy should be left for those rare occasions when good hunting dogs figure that out themselves.

If you run hunt tests, field trials, or Super Retriever Series events, popping is a fault ranging in degree from mild to serious, potentially putting you out of the game. The nature of the fault is evaluated by where, when, and how often it happens. For example, a pop on a blind is more critical when it occurs in front of water (failure to get wet) or tough cover or if it happens in the first segment of the blind compared to a pop happening 250 yards out in the field.

At longer distances, any number of things might be affecting your dog besides lack of confidence or unwillingness to perform a task. For instance, a dog trying his best to work with you might be forging through tough, noisy dead grass, and a nearby bird might chirp in a manner similar to a whistle-sit. Your dog hears the noise and responds by sitting and looking to you for direction. Depending where you are, whistles from other training or hunting groups might interfere with your working dog. There may even be whistles from a school or other team practice being transmitted on wind from a ballfield you don't even know is around the corner. Therefore, a single pop on a blind at a distance is not the end of the world and should be properly assessed.

With marks, however, the dog should demonstrate prowess in using his eyesight and his nose to round up those birds. When pops are committed on marks, it is commonly tied to "retired gun" setups with no helpful gun stations in the field, or in related hunting scenarios. When your dog loses focus on the mark he is after, he loses momentum and may turn to you for direction instead of relying on his memory through confidence in himself.

The full article "Mistakes: Popping & Slipping Whistles" by Vickie Lamb appears in the upcoming June/July 2009 issue of The Retriever Journal.