Think Like a Dog, and “Shhh!”
The Upland Almanac|Spring 2021
Meemo’s Farm, a prime bird hunting destination in north-central Michigan, was the setting for dog trainer Ronnie Smith’s “Foundation Seminar,” a two-day introduction to the “Silent Command System” of dog training. Participants ranged in experience from those working with their first dogs to professional handlers/guides to veteran trainers with more than 40 years of experience.
Tom Carney

The yowling dogs experiencing the “chain gang” for the first time force trainer Ronnie Smith to raise his voice above his normal, subdued and polite level.

“Uncle Delmar said, ‘You have to learn a dog to learn.’ You have to teach a dog to learn its job.”

One of the biggest names in dog training from a generation ago, Delmar Smith developed the method known as the “Silent Command System.” As its name implies, this method relies more on teaching dogs through body language than through spoken commands.

To do that, says Ronnie, “You’ve got to think like a dog. Training is all about the mindset of the dog. Understand what they are thinking, and you can begin teaching them.”

That’s the key to the philosophical aspect of the system that Smith instills in participants in the “Foundation Seminars” he holds around the country. In essence, the seminars give in-person instructions and demonstrations of the techniques he teaches in his excellent training book, Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels: Proven Techniques and an Upland Tradition (see “Tailgate Reviews,” Winter 2019).

At this particular seminar, a two-day, 14-hour affair held at Meemo’s Farm in Evart, Michigan, Smith explains his training technique as “a stair-step system; you take one step at a time.” He assures his students that if they follow the steps, “You will be able to go home and be successful.”

If you think about it, Smith’s ultimate goal during these seminars seems to be to “learn the handlers to learn.”

The first day of the seminar was the first time many of the dogs were introduced to the “chain gang,” and some of them didn’t like it. While it’s the same term once used for prison work crews, the tool might more appropriately be called the “gang chain,” for it is the chain that keeps the gang of dogs in place. A chain is staked out at each end with “drop lines” established every six feet or so. Not only does the tool confine the dogs to a single area, but it also teaches them patience, as they have to wait their turns. Some trainers think the dogs sometimes learn just by watching the other dogs go through their lessons.

“Let’s form a semicircle with your chairs facing this way,” Meemo’s Hunt Manager Tracey Lieske directed the seminar’s participants. “We want you watching Ronnie, not your dogs.”

Like a rock star on tour to support his latest album, Ronnie Smith of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, travels the country giving seminars that introduce participants to his excellent book, Training Bird Dogs with Ronnie Smith Kennels.

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