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Todd Agnew & Craney Hill Kennel Training Philosophy


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(New Lenox, IL - March 1st, 2007) - Todd Agnew has been training field bred English Springer Spaniels and Labrador Retrievers since 1997 and has participated in several spaniel field trials in both the United States and Canada. Although he continues to participate in field trials, his primary focus is gun dogs and he has been a professional guide for upland bird hunting at several local hunt clubs in Illinois and also in South Dakota.

In addition to guiding, he is a professional dog trainer and firmly believes in the value of exposing hunting dogs to wild birds. Todd says, "If a dog can produce the wild bird that the fox, coyote, weasel and hawk missed, then they would be of a caliber that any hunter would be proud to own."

Todd trains and sells puppies, introduced, started and finished dogs out of Craney Hill Kennel in New Lenox, Illinois and is a Pro Staff dog trainer with DT Systems, Inc.

Craney Hill Kennel
Todd Agnew
New Lenox, IL

Our training philosophy is based on several levels of training that leverage the dog’s physiological make-up as a pack animal to get the results we need. The foundation? Birds, birds and more birds.

At a very young age, we introduce the dog to birds and the gun. After this proper introduction, we begin collar conditioning and formal obedience in the yard and in the field. After adding patterning (proper use of the wind) and advanced training (steady-to-wing-and-shot), we end up with a finished dog that your friends will be honored to hunt over.

To have a finished dog, there are three primary stages of training.

Exposure to Birds
The heart and soul of our training is birds. As a gundog owner, the most important thing your dog must do is FIND BIRDS. No other training matters if your dog can’t find birds. Owners must understand how important proper exposure to birds is at a young age.

We do not hunt with “bumper dogs,” “dummy dogs,” “tennis ball dogs” or any other dog, except for bird dogs. This may sound simple enough, but most people think their dog gets enough exposure to birds through the few they see hunting. They don’t.

How important are birds at Craney Hill? We don’t care if our dog sits, stays, comes, heels or kennels if it does not find birds. If a dog does not have the genetic ability to find birds, it will not make our team. We’re not talking about finding birds at the local hunt club. We’re talking about the wild rooster that’s beaten the coyote, hawk and other varmints on the Great Plains.

With proper introduction to birds in the training field, we can properly introduce the dog to gunfire. Then we’re able to shoot birds over the dog. After that we can expose the dog to a season of hunting wild birds in South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas. This creates a bold and aggressive hunting dog that is ready to handle the pressures of formal training that follow.

Yard Work
Once the bird work and the gun introduction are in place, you can hunt and shoot birds over the dog. Now formal training begins in the form of yard work. This involves collar conditioning and basic obedience. The dog is trained to comply with basic sit/hup, kennel and here commands. We’ll work on this in the yard until compliance is achieved the first time the command is given.

Why? Because we’ve all seen the alternative.

How many times have you been hunting and it sounds like a shouting match with the dog or a band marching through the field with a bunch of whistles? We do not give commands in the field until we have compliance in the yard. No exceptions. We then transfer the commands to the field. At that point, we have a gundog that will hunt in control.

Patterning and Advanced Training
The last step of our training includes patterning work (proper use of wind) and advanced training (steady-to-wing-and-shot and handling). It’s amazing how few hunters recognize the proper pattern a dog should run depending on the wind direction. Even more amazing is the number of times we’ll see a dog running the correct pattern only to have the owner trying to get the dog to run a different pattern!

Our training includes countless hours of patterning work so that there will be minimal whistles needed while hunting. When hunting, there is a simple fact: THE LESS NOISE YOU MAKE…THE MORE BIRDS YOU WILL SEE!

Our advanced training includes steady-to-wing-and-shot, stopping on moving birds and handling. All of our guide dogs are put through advanced training; although, some of our clients are not looking for advanced training.

There is nothing worse than hunting over an out-of-control flushing dog. However, there is nothing better than a fully trained flushing dog taking a moving pheasant and producing it for the game bag out on the Great Plains.

The dogs we sell are classified in one of four ways. Depending on our client’s wishes, training skills and available time, dogs can be purchased as a puppy, introduced, started or finished dog. All dogs receive a written health guarantee.

Most people typically purchase a dog based primarily on price. These people end up with a puppy because it is cheapest. We do not sell our dogs on price. We will sell a puppy, but only as a last resort. The puppy is the worst choice you can make economically. Although cheapest at first, it ends up being the most expensive. Consider the cost of birds to introduce the dog properly and the cost of getting access to appropriate training grounds where you can shoot birds. Also, consider your time. Most people underestimate the time required and the cost of their time. It is even more expensive to buy a puppy and send it out for training.

However, the number one reason not to buy a puppy is because a breeder can only give a health guarantee, not a quality guarantee. With an introduced, started or finished dog, you can go see the dog work. You can see if the dog hunts, retrieves and listens based on expectations and the level of dog at which you’re looking.

The first step in our dog training involves a consultation with the owner and an evaluation of the dog. This results in two important findings. The first is an evaluation of where the dog is in its training. The second is to establish the expectations of the owner. Not every owner wants the same things from his or her dog that we do. And, at the same time, not all dogs are capable of doing what the owner wants. It is important for us to know what the owner wants – and it’s just as important for the owner to know if the dog is capable of getting to the desired level of training.

Once we understand what the owner wants and the owner understands if it is possible, we develop a training program tailored to the dog’s needs. The most difficult part of that program is helping the owner understand what’s involved. Many owners call in September, hoping to get the dog ready for gun season. This is not likely for two reasons. First, the dog generally does not have the foundation completed to begin the training that the owner wants completed. Thus, we need to go backward before we can go forward. Second, THE DOG IS OUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY. If the dog is not crazy about birds, we must make it bird crazy before we can apply the pressures of formal or advanced training.

Another aspect of our dog training is

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