GILMAN – “Her job is to go with me. Right now she’s saying, ‘I’m
not gonna, I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna,’ ” explained Rick Smith as
he gave gentle tugs on a lead attached to a young drahthaar. The
dog was determined not to move.

Smith’s voice, colored by a heavy Southern drawl, gave no hint
of aggravation at the uncooperative dog.

He emphasized keeping emotions out of dog training. There would
be no shouting at uncooperative dogs. Conversely, there would not
be much praise for dogs that performed as expected. In a pack of
wild dogs, the alpha dog does not give dogs lower on the pecking
order a pat on the head or doggy treat for doing their jobs, he

Seated in folding chairs ahead of Smith were about 50 dog owners
and family members of dog owners. Smith also had a canine audience
of about 60 dogs, some flushing breeds, some pointing breeds, all
staked out behind him. The dogs were surprisingly quiet, as if they
too were wondering who would prevail in this contest of wills.

After a couple of minutes of gentle tugging, the drahthaar
relented and walked over to Smith. “I’m not gonna, not gonna …
oh, maybe I will,” Smith said, as the dog came to his side.

“Never get frustrated,” Smith advised. “The more they test you,
the more you work through it, the better trained your dog is going
to be.”

He reassured the drahthaar’s owner that stubbornness is actually
a good thing.

“All this bullheadedness, we want it bred in there. We just want
to control it,” he said.

Known in the field

If there were rock stars in the world of dog training, Smith
would be one of them.

Smith spends half the year traveling the country giving dog
training seminars and half the year guiding quail hunters. The
training system he uses, which is called the silent command system,
is short on talk and long on action.

Dogs don’t speak English, but they are attuned to the body
language of people and dogs.

“They can read you like a book,” he explained early in the
two-day seminar.

Smith showed how to teach young dogs to walk beside their owner
on a lead, changing directions and stopping when the owner stopped.
Some trainers would call that heeling and “whoa” when you stop, but
he gave no verbal commands.

Later in the afternoon the novice dog trainers worked on having
the dogs quarter on a longer check cord, reversing direction when
the trainer reversed direction, and then coming when the trainer
stopped, although he never said “come.” In a wild dog pack the rest
of the pack stops when the alpha dog stops – they don’t go on
hunting by themselves, he said.

Silent approval

The seminar took place at Sonny Piekarz’s Hay Creek Kennels
south of Gilman. Piekarz, who trains using the silent command
method, guides grouse and woodcock hunters in northern Wisconsin in
the fall and quail hunters in Texas in the winter. Piekarz said
this training method helped his dogs adjust quickly from hunting in
the wide open spaces of Texas, where they range widely, to the
dense grouse woods of Wisconsin, where they hunt closer.

About half the people attending the seminar were there for the
first time. Others were back to learn more and to help new
attendees. Many people brought trailers or tents and camped on the
grounds. There was a family atmosphere, with plenty of kids running
around. Some carried puppies.

Interest from South Africa

Elmi Lotze of Somerset-Wes, near Cape Town, South Africa,
traveled halfway around the world to attend. South Africa has dog
training seminars, which she characterized as “yank, shout and kick

“I wasn’t interested in that,” she said. She wanted to see
Smith’s silent command methods.

In her area of South Africa, people hunt grouselike birds that
include wild guinea hens, although the guinea hens will only hold
for a dog if they are in high wheat, she said. Their dogs have to
be trained in snake aversion because there are cobras and other
poisonous snakes about, she said.

Lotze didn’t bring a dog with her, but Piekarz gave her an
English setter pup to practice with.

Her husband was along on the trip but went fishing on Marsh
Miller Lake.

Bob McRoberts of rural Bloomer had a shorter trip to Gilman, and
it’s one he’s made before. He frequently trains his dogs with
Piekarz. McRoberts said that when he started having bird dogs he
tried some training programs around Eau Claire but didn’t find any
that worked for him. One program rewarded the dogs with treats, but
McRoberts found that when his dog ran off in the woods, it wouldn’t
turn around when he hollered that he had a treat.

“When you have dogs trained with this method, your friends will
always want to hunt with you,” he said.

Smith said although the fish may be biting now and the hunting
seasons seem a long ways off, spending time with your dog now, even
if it’s just training in the backyard, will pay dividends in the

Knight can be reached at 830-5835 or