(This article was written in 2000, before Gary’s National placements were achieved. It has been reprinted in it’s entirety for G and D Kennels with permission by the author. Gary is now a full time professional trainer.)
It is always like a breath of fresh air when you meet a trainer who is willing to try new ways of training dogs. A trainer that is willing to change and try out new approaches to get the best out of his dogs. It is even more refreshing when that trainer then produces the dogs to prove that these methods work. Gary Breitbarth from G and D Kennels, Northern California is such a trainer. Over the years I have been with dogs I rarely experience anything totally unique and I am always a little skeptical when I do. Talking with Gary made me realize that we should always have an open mind and always be willing to try new techniques and approaches – especially when they work.
Training spaniels for Gary is not a full time occupation, although he wishes it was. A baker by trade, with a family of three kids to support, he organizes his life so that he can spend as much time doing what he enjoys most, training spaniels. So for him it is night shift baking and day shift spaniel training.
Gary was born into a family of English Springer Spaniels, it was in his blood. His father Gordon was and still is a keen trainer and trialer of springers. Gary was given his first springer, AFC Candy’s Peppermint Patty at 14 years old, in the late sixties, and has never looked back. However getting his first springer was not easy. As Gary explained “It was a bribe, an inducement for me to go to church. I could have a springer if I went to church each Sunday. No church, no springer.” Well, the bribe worked, Gary went to church and started with his first springer. A springer was the motivator for church and now the springer and it’s training has become a ‘religion’ for Gary. 25 years later Gary’s love for the dogs is stronger than ever. His love for the breed was reflected in his voice “I have never found a dog that wants to please more than a springer. And in trialing, it is so much like real hunting – you never know what is going to come up. With spaniels it is so variable, you have to train for so many eventualities and it is the training of the dog to handle which I enjoy so much. I always leave a trial wanting to come back for more.” His biggest regret is that due to pressure of the ‘Night job” he has been unable to make the Nationals for the last two years although he has qualified.
Something of a perfectionist, Gary is very particular about the dogs he gets for himself. “I look for drive, desire and trainability in a line. My father and I have bred very few dogs but it isn’t too difficult to get a good dogs with the quality lines available.” It isn’t too difficult once you know what you are looking for of course. And Gary certainly knows what he likes. “If you have trainability, you can bring out most things you want in a dog.” And then like many of the top trainers I have talked to he pays his respects to a man who has helped him in his success. “You certainly need drive in a dog for the trialing game but Jim Dobbs has shown me how much more you can bring out of a dog as a trainer than you think you can.” He continued, “In the springer game there has been a strong emphasis on breeding and all natural abilities. Yes, it is important, but there are so many things we can bring out and develop through correct training.”
The mention of bringing more out in a dog interested me and I delved deeper. He explained “ I take the training in very small stages and I teach a dog strong basics in the yard first. There has been a strong emphasis among trainers to get dogs very ‘birdy’ at an early age. I prefer to get the basics into the dog first – to get a real foundation before I start introducing birds. “ Personally, I could understand this as it has been my approach for years. If a dog has been bred correctly, my own feeling is that it is in the dog waiting to be brought out. Bringing it out and creating a strong ‘birdiness’ at too early an age can create many training problems. Get the basics right, introduce birds, and the dog goes up in gear under control. It was then he told me “I do a strong foundation of yard work and also teach my dogs to pattern in the yard before going into the field.” This intrigued me, how do you get dogs to pattern effectively in a yard? “I teach my dogs to pattern around barrels. They run round them in a quartering pattern and get the retrieve they are looking for at the last barrel.” The skeptic in me came out at this. When training my spaniels to quarter, I always looked for cover where I could get dogs hunting from bush to bush with the occasional find in one of the bushes but this was new to me. “What do you mean” I asked, ”like agility?” I am sure he thought I was a disparaging of his comments as others had been. He continued “To some extent it is, but Jim told me about it and I believe it is done to get Schutzhund dogs quartering when they are searching for scent. The barrels are there to guide the dogs, get them going out the right distance and also turning the right way for the pattern” This was fascinating.
Gary initially does the basics with the dogs and introduces the remote training collar with the three step Tritronics approach. One of these steps is going away to a pallet and this is the foundation of the quartering training. Using only one barrel to start with, he places a pallet along side it. He sends the dog away to the pallet and when the dog reaches it and stays there he throws a dummy as a reward. Quickly the dog realizes that going away to the barrel gets him the retrieve. Now he introduces another barrel at the other end of the quartering pattern. He sends the dog off to this barrel and directs it around it and then to the pallet at the final barrel. Once on the pallet the dog gets a retrieve once more. By introducing more barrels, six in total, initially not too far apart, he teaches the dog to go around them each in turn before getting to the final one, the pallet, and the retrieve as a reward for doing what was required. As the dog becomes familiar with the routine the barrels are then taken further apart until they are at the quartering distance required. To guide the dogs around the barrels he also uses a low half round fence to produce the turn he is looking for. This seemed very artificial to me and I was concerned that it would take the drive out of the dogs. “It doesn’t seem to” Gary reassured me, “They quickly pick up what you are teaching them because they visually see what you are asking them to do. The barrels provide that visual support to go out, go around and then turn for the next one. If you reinforce this with hands signals and the whistle to turn them, then not only do they learn a pattern but they also learn these as well.” That made sense to me, we are always looking for ways to help our dogs do what we are asking of them. He explained, “A good pattern is essential in a hunting dog and I once had a dog that learned if it punched out forward up a trials course that was where the birds would be.” The dog had lost its quartering pattern which is so essential in the hunting field where it is needed to find birds and in the trials game where it is essential to get you into the awards. With the barrels, the dog learns to turn and bend using the whistle and learn the distance to cast out to the next barrel which guides them visually to this distance. “But they are not hunting.” I challenged. “No they aren’t” Gary agreed, “But they will learn that later in the field, for now they are learning the quartering pattern with no distractions and I always use dummies.”
OK, so what happens when you go to the field. Gary told me that this was again a natural progression of yard work. Often in the yard, with the barrels guiding the dog, he will have guns walking just outside the barrels to get the dogs used to them being there. Then when he moves to the field, the guns and three barrels go too.
Now out in the field though, he reverses the process and begins taking barrels away as the dog falls into the quartering pattern he is looking for. He can now also introduce birds which he does initially at the end of the barrels and then moves them further and further away from the last barrel until the dog is quartering quite naturally in its now established pattern on open ground.
As always with new ideas, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How successful has it been – I wanted to know. Quite matter of fact Gary told me “ The first dog I started this with was “Ditto”, he has run in four trials and won two of them. He stays beautifully in his pattern, he doesn’t attempt to get away from me and he has enough drive that he is a pleasure to watch.” And with more pride than he showed with this statement he added “ I am even more pleased that my clients dogs are doing well for their owners after being trained in this way. One of them ran his first Amateur Trial this year and won it. It is a successful way of training not only because it teaches the dogs but because it also helps the handlers learn how to run their dogs.” I could visualize this as a way of giving the handlers a perspective of quartering, distances, ground cover and speed of walking. It made a lot of sense, it was very visual. A handler could see easily when a dog cut short or missed ground. With no sense of achievement in his voice – just matter of fact he told me “It works and if it works it must be good.” Now I could not disagree with that. In fact it must work extremely well because I found out later, Gary was too modest to tell me at the time, that another clients dog, Steve Blanchette’s Blanchette’s Rocky Road, had been last years High Point Amateur in the whole of America.
Gary readily admits that he is a different trainer from when he first started “I have changed my training quite a lot from when I first started. You know, ‘birdy’ them up get them in prey drive get them all excited. I don’t do that anymore and I find that natural instincts come to the fore with the right breeding once I teach a dog how to retrieve. I don’t let my dogs chase birds I steady them right out as early as I can, when the dogs ready. Many trainers try to put the drive into the dog too fast and too early. And because of the way I do this I can use a low pressure stimulation.” Gary mainly uses momentary after the initial collar conditioning and teaching of the three step introduction. By doing the basics fully, the dog only requires a nick of momentary to remind it if ever it does not go to its place on the pallet or veers away from the quartering pattern. And of course, they do not get their dummy or bird unless they stay in their pattern.
Gary always uses Tritronics and has a new model Pro 500 “It is so reliable and gives me the control I require.” He explained “Collars are relatively new to spaniel training but it creates no problems providing you have done the basic foundation, and introduced it correctly and thoroughly. Momentary is a lot less pressure, it does not take out the style and somehow seems to help the dog figure out a little better what it is doing without confusing it.” He justified further his willingness to change his training approach “As a trainer you should always be looking for change that will benefit you and the dog. That’s what separates the good trainers from the rest.” In admiration he told me “Look at Dan Langhans, he has adapted and changed and is still the most successful after many years. I doubt any other trainer has stayed at the top or achieved as much as he has. And this year he has won the Nationals again – deservedly so. He uses the collar as a training aid I use the collar where it is required in everything I do.”
Gary’s ability to change and willingness to share his ideas is a credit to his profession. In the last three years he has made up three Field Champions and helped his clients themselves win trials, – a fair indication of his abilities. I have no doubt that more successes are in the pipeline and also no doubt that he will never stop his search for change and better ways of training spaniels and their owners. Let me leave you with his final words to me “I love developing a dog, putting it all together and bringing out the finer points that are needed in a field trial. But most of all I love the camaraderie of trials and the people that love spaniels. If you love your dog and you want to see how your dog relates to others that is fine – but you also have to want to go out and have fun.” Spaniel training with Gary is definitely fun.
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