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Review by Dennis R. Voigt

Bill Hillmann’s latest DVD follows from his widely accepted earlier puppy videos. We have reviewed all three of those including: Training a Retriever Puppy; The Fetch Command and; Traffic Cop. These videos covered the early steps in training a puppy to be a willing and happy retriever that was reliable on basic commands such as sit, here and fetch. The Fetch Command DVD showed a method of reinforcing fetch that was low pressure and unlike the ‘grind them down’ ear-pinching techniques of some trainers. Traffic Cop emphasized reinforcing “sit” and the use of the “soft collar” as Bill refers to it. Basically, e-collar uses involve a lot of low level (1-2) nicks while the dog is in the act of a desired behaviour like sit.

I have trained two puppies using these techniques and results were excellent. More importantly, I don’t think I had had so much fun and such exciting pre-6 month old puppy training. After that, I continued Basics using the techniques that I always do which are probably best compared with Mike Lardy’s Total Retriever Training DVDs. Many others have asked what program should be used after Hillmann, as well as “what does Bill do after the early puppy work?”

It was almost inevitable that the Bill would address these questions and this review covers the first of three new upcoming DVDs. The first is Land Fundamentals, to be followed shortly by Water and, finally, Marking. Those of you familiar with any of several conventional Basics programs (mostly Rex Carr based origins) will see some similar steps, such as collar conditioning, Pile work, T-work, Casting drills and Lining drills. So, to answer the question, “Is this revolutionary?” I would say no. But is it conventional? That is even more of a No! You will learn some quite different approaches to the three most commonly used instructional DVDs on Basics: Total Retriever Training (Lardy), Smartworks (Graham) and Fowl Dawg (Stawski). You will have to decide which you will use. Frankly, I study all the programs and approaches that I can get my hands on. I feel I can learn and adapt something from everybody. However, if this is your first, second or third dog, it can be confusing and confounding to mix and match too much. Confusing for your dog if you mix approaches and e-collar techniques or jumble steps and confounding to you if you don’t recognize the significance of differences.

However, if you want to study a progression from Hillmann’s Puppy DVDs that preaches the exact same philosophy and techniques, then you will want to study this DVD. I will describe what you can expect to see (basic content), some differences including some pitfalls that you could encounter and, finally, some questions and some clarifications about certain aspects of Fundamentals. I had several questions after watching it three to four times and I suspected that you would have the same questions. Thus, I got the answers for you personally from Bill before writing this review.

Fundamental Steps and Lessons

Bill starts with Getting Ready to Start, which is a synopsis of what your young dog should already know before starting. If you have finished his puppy DVD successfully you will be ready. Basically, your pup is steady and force fetched and has been reinforced with the e-collar. Bill reviews how to set and use the e-collar.

Next is an introduction to standards about your dog’s position next to you. The standard is “nose to toes.” Your dog’s nose should be even with your toes. Bill then reviews collar conditioning. In the DVD, he starts off illustrating “here.” Don’t be misled here. After this lesson, Bill points out that, in fact, your pup is actually taught “sit” before all this even as a young pup. That includes reinforcing “sit” with the collar. I wish this had been pointed out before the “here” work but now that you know it, you have no excuse to get this backwards. It also points out that you should always watch the whole DVD before starting so that you know where you are going. I know people that have worked their dogs through Lardy or Stawski and they never watch Part B until they are Finished Part A. Big mistake!

In this section, Hillmann begins to emphasize something you will hear over and over. It is practice, practice, practice. Repeat certain skills hundreds of times. He also is very clear about the timing in the way he uses the e-collar. It is to “nick” in the act of sitting or the act of the behaviour you are reinforcing (e.g. “back”). He also emphasizes that he uses momentary (“nick”) and not continuous pressure.

Subsequent steps include Three Bumper Fetch, Beginning Piles, Angle Back Cast and Straight Back Cast-Remote Sit. These are built in a simple but logical way.

The next step is force back to a pile although the “force” element is quite mild by some standards.

Bill then moves to the Single-T but, done somewhat differently. First, there are visible white stakes at the end and the overs. Secondly, the scale is much smaller – In fact, he can throw to all 3 stations and never progresses to the bigger scale or, indeed, to the Double-T.

He introduces reinforcing of overs (which he calls the “power” cast). Then, he shows several drills including the 7 bumper lining drill on land. This is a Focus drill – something that Hillmann is very big on. You teach your dog to focus on going someplace and keep that focus no matter what. Next comes the hurdle drill (what you may know as the No-No or jump or ladder drill). Here, he explains how he wants some mistakes so he can show the way. This type of “conflict training” is different from “test them to make a mistake and clobber them training.” It is also different from the “only show me – never make a mistake training” when the dog never does learn to deal with conflicts. The distinctions of these three different types of training methods are poorly understood by many non-professional trainers and, I daresay, some professionals.

These are followed by some simple casting drills and an introduction to cold blinds using walkout blinds on land. Retrievers ONLINE subscribers will immediately recognize what I have described often as Walk Around blinds. I have been doing Walk Around blinds for so long I don’t even know when I started or its origin. For me and for Bill these are an important step in the transition to doing multiple cold blinds. Finally, Bill shows a Star drill which puts all the skills together and practices them. I was struck by its similarity to the way I do the Come-In drill even though I don’t put out five white poles, but I often use white bumpers.

Finally, Bill ends with more thoughts on practice and repetition. He emphasizes the idea that he wants the dog do Action without Thought.

Action without Thought

Wow, did this ever raise a red flag for me at first!! I simply had to talk to Bill in person about this because if there is one thing that I believe, it is that we have to train our dogs in a way that they learn to think. In today’s advanced field trials, I feel you need an intelligent dog that can think and work his way through problems. After discussion with Bill, I think I know what he is saying and I hope I can do justice to his philosophy and explain it.

In the Fundamentals we are tackling core skills on land before going to water. These are Sit, Stop, Go, Cast and dealing with obstacles (go straight). These are taught by handling. These basic skills are to be taught and then reinforced so thoroughly that the dog does them automatically – that is, almost without thinking. The thought without action refers to these basic skills, not to NOT thinking in the field. Bill says he wants this to be a practice thing, not a pressure thing. He told me he wants to have sessions in which he can say to the dog, “That’s not what I want – this is what I want.” “Trust me – I’ll show you the way when things go wrong.”

In a way, you could say that Hillmann does not believe in attrition. Attrition is wearing the dog down by keep trying to get the dog to get it. If you watch Bill in the DVD, when the dog makes the wrong decision or doesn’t do what he says, Bill immediately simplifies so that the dog gets it. This allows the dog to compare the right way and the wrong way. That is how he does “that’s not what I want – this is what I want.” The key is to balance getting it right the first time with enough challenge so that sometimes the dog is conflicted and learns from his lesson.

What’s coming?

After watching the DVD, I was very struck by the thought that Hillmann never even mentioned marking or any concurrent field work. He did hint about some future water work and even that some dogs are doing a bit of water work before finishing all the steps in the Land Fundamentals. I now know there is much more to come and Bill simply decided to present the package in three parts. He says the water part contains the really important part of Fundamentals because water work is so important. Of course, we are all waiting for the Marking DVD because of Hillmann’s track record with National Derby champions. Bill did point out how much he respected Mike Lardy and his program and that a person could transition to it. However, his idea was to present the package of how he does it and maintain the same philosophy illustrated in his puppy DVD.

As I indicted at the beginning, you will find considerable difference if you decide to mix and match. A short list of examples is e-collar intensity level, e-collar momentary versus continuous, frequency of e-collar use, the use of here and heel vs here and no on the line, the use of remote send, the size of the Single-T, the absence of a Double-T, forcing on overs, use of white poles, the ladder drill in reverse and the list goes on.

I studied Hillmann as much as the dogs and there are other subtle differences in the things he does but that is true of perhaps all trainers so I will not dwell there. The more basic question is where do you go from here? If this is your first or second dog, it’s a tough question. If you don’t practice over and over like Hillmann advocates, you may find your shortcuts with this program will catch up to you and bite you where it hurts. If you can’t read your dog and reinforce while in the act of the behaviour like Bill you could encounter problems. Again, if you don’t read your dog all of the many nicks could cause problems. Even low nicks accumulate and if you don’t do your job right, you may not get the snappy responses that you want. So it’s like all dog training, the exact methods may not be as important as your overall package and your consistency and your persistence. In all cases, you have to become a student who understands – not just a paint by number artist.


I want to end with comments on the production. Once again, Mary Hillmann was the videographer and editor. You will find the lesson footage very clear and sharp and also the correct perspective and closeness for you to see the lesson and the whole scene. This DVD is quite long (over 5 hours) but there is a good menu so you can jump to a scene easily. There are some longer sections where Bill describes approaches, philosophizes or preaches and these have a diversity of filler footage. Sometimes, these are more “artistic” than relevant – lots of slowed down running dogs, some wildlife footage, fade-outs and a lot of video-editing “software driven” techniques. Perhaps too many as if almost every technique is explored. I didn’t like the “grainy” fade in at the beginning of sections for example. But, you will find the DVD well-paced and there is a lot of complimentary music including much good guitar picking.

Personally I can’t wait for the next DVDs in this series!!!

You can order this DVD at www.hawkeyemedia.net. The cost is $149.00 USD.

Review by Dennis R. Voigt

In the last issue of Retrievers ONLINE, we reviewed Bill Hillmann’s DVD on Fundamentals – Part 1 – Land. We noted that this was geared to those that followed Bill’s approach to puppy training. That approach and the procedures are becoming increasingly popular and for good reason. It is fun for pup and trainer, emphasizes basic skills, is a method proven by Bill and is effective, efficient and humane. The latter three traits are something I try for in all my training. Thus, my last two pups were trained “Hillmann style.” I was very happy with results. The first is an AFTCH at age 3.

Many were asking about what steps to follow after Hillmann’s puppy DVD. Typical questions were, “Can I move into Lardy Total Retriever Training or Graham’s Smartworks or Stawski’s Fowl Dawg series or Farmer/Aycock’s Basics?” The answer was basically, “Yes!” I have personally followed a course of training closest to Lardy and so I knew that would work. I did note that there are some philosophy and procedural differences amongst Hillmann and the others. Thus, when his Fundamentals on Land DVD came out, it was a perfect opportunity for people to pursue the next steps – basically, ‘The Basics’, following the exact same philosophy.

Those who read my review in the Winter issue will know that Bill planned two more Parts – one on Water and one on Marking. This review will describe Part 2 – Water. It was just released a few days before we went to press.

Contents of Part 2 – Water

I love the way Bill starts this one off. You might recall that I commented Bill hadn’t talked about marking in Part 1 but that I found out he was going to devote a whole separate DVD to it. Well, in this Introduction, Bill talks about the value of throwing marks for the youngsters while doing the Fundamentals. This is very important. Bill talks about the importance of attitude and the role of success marks and lots of birds. At the minimum, he would do a lot of what he calls “walking marks.” Anybody who has read Retrievers ONLINE or has my DVD, Training Retrievers Alone, will be very familiar with these. I have been doing them for 40 years except I have labelled them “Stand Alones” for a very long time. They are the same thing and I do them all the time with all levels of dogs. I also do Send Backs and Walk Backs but Stand Alones are, to me, the Bread and Butter. So, independently, Bill and I who train alone often have evolved into some similar procedures. What I was most interested in was where we diverged! Read on!

Hillmann has 6 basic chapters in his water Fundamentals. They are Water-T, Swim-by, Power Cast into the Water, Cheating Singles, 7 Bumper Lining Drill in the Water and Walkout Blinds on the Water. I will describe each of these briefly in turn, as well as how or if they compare to other programs out there. Bill has included a small eight page set of notes with the DVD. It’s a nice condensation of key ideas. You can see a briefer version of it on his website at www.hawkeyemedia.net.


This step is a form of Pile Work on water. It conditions the dog to e-collar nicks to reinforce behaviour when sent, when en route and when being stopped and cast back. It also introduces casting for overs in water. This is valuable if you believe, as Bill does (and I do!), that much teaching is done by handling. Bill reviews the Power Cast as taught on land before he goes to the next step which is Swim-by.


Bill does Swim-by in a simpler and more helpful way than is conventional. While it is not mandatory that you do it this way it is an easy way, especially if you have never seen Swim-by taught by more conventional procedures. I think you will end up at the same place and perhaps with less trauma to your dog (although there should be no trauma with any method!) One area that Bill really emphasizes, and is not paid enough attention to, is the response to a dog’s behaviour when not “swimming by.” Bill really focuses on whether the dog is swimming by or looking at you and coming to shore. If the dog does look at you he gives the Power Cast (see next section). Otherwise, Bill is just very helpful with the dog getting the idea of the swim-by; lots of good footage and discussion here.

In summary, Hillmann’s Water-T and the Swim-by are combined in many conventional programs into one step in Basics called the Swim-By. Bill has added some important details that others may or may not do.

Power Cast

Bill’s Power Cast is essentially a silent over with an added nick. He explains how it is different than the usual reinforcement but, in the end when it is well conditioned, the over is reinforced whether silent or vocal. The silent cast becomes the command that is given with the nick!

In many of the other programs that are Rex Carr based, there is no e-collar force on the over, only on the back. Hillmann’s program differs. But then, I remembered how I do Swim-by and a saying I heard second-hand about Rex’s swim-by.

‘If you have to say ‘No’ or blow the whistle on the Swim-by you have failed that Swim-by!” Yes, in Swim-by, I give a silent over and a nick if the dog looks at me to come in. I admit I hadn’t thought about this so much until I watched Bill. Just another example of how some of our training has converged independently.

The section on Power Casts goes into considerable detail with explanations. Incidentally, throughout, Bill’s nick is very low level – he says a two-level often (on a Tri-tronics e-collar). In summary, the Power Cast is not in most conventional programs.

Cheating Singles

This is something that is usually considered transition level work. Bill does it now using hand-thrown bumpers. His examples are mostly about angle entries around corners. He “corrects” immediately and often with a whistle-sit, nick (Indirect pressure). If you read the article earlier in this issue, you will see how I do formal water cheating lessons with a gunner starting with a simpler |_| -shaped entry. I do a lot of conventional de-cheating when training a puppy alone but I admit I don’t do these severe angles that Bill illustrates. However, Bill shows how to balance this work and how to make it a good experience. Thus, I have no argument with it for the dog that has been brought along as he suggests. This is the only place in the video where Bill introduces another helper. He shows how you advance cheaty water marks with the help of a thrower. Perhaps most people jump to this stage way too soon. Perhaps doing what Bill advocates will make it easier on the dog. In my case, I have also added some preliminary work – the most important being the Swim-by Tune-up that I described in the Spring issue of 2012.

Seven Bumper Lining Drill in Water

This drill was introduced in the Land DVD. It is a line of visible white bumpers retrieved at an angle. Atypically, from others, it goes from longest to shortest. Bill really focuses on this because he believes it really helps the dog focus. He emphasizes white targets in much of his young dog program. This is not because white is a crutch. It is because there are multiple whites and Bill is telling the dog which white to get. Often, there are other distracting whites.

I still think there is also merit in having whites in a line and getting the closer first, followed by the next as in a conventional Tune-up. This teaches a dog to go past an earlier diversion. I think a dog that can do both is well-balanced and is doing what you say. I know that if you only do one or the other, the dog could get automatic or robotic. I like to mix it up and have the dog be able to focus on whatever sequence I ask for. I haven’t had a chance to discuss this point of view with Bill but when I do, I’ll let you know our consensus or not.

Walkout Blinds on Water

Bill introduced Walkout Blinds on land in Part 1. This is simply an extension on water. It is walking around a pond with your dog to place a bumper and then returning to the other side for the “blind” retrieve. You would have to be a brand new subscriber to Retrievers ONLINE not to know how much I do this with the youngsters and, in some cases, with my most Advanced dogs. In fact, I have been describing this procedure for a long time. It hasn’t been caught on by many pros, partly because of the time-consuming one-on-work. Some extremely successful Pros (such as Danny Farmer) don’t even do the prelude to cold blind steps that Lardy does, such as 3-leg Patterns, Blind drills and diversion work. They emphasize handling and they are good enough at it to be able to work a dog through cold blinds right after Double-T. Not many new Amateurs can do that!

Earlier in this issue you can read an article on handling problems that I wrote before I got this DVD. There you will see explained the exact same procedure that Bill utilizes albeit I tend to do multiple walkout blinds with a dog at this stage rather than just one. I have for decades called these Walk-Around Blinds as opposed to Walkout Blinds. They are the same thing. Once again we converge. It’s a little unfortunate that everybody has their own label. It must be confusing for the newbie. I say Stand Alone and Bill says Walking Marks. I say Walk-Arounds and Bill says Walkout Blinds. BB Blinds to some are totally different than to others, including purpose; ditto for Tune-ups and Chinese drills and many other drills. The lesson? Be sure you know what the instructor means when he labels an exercise. It appears we will never have a common language.


In brief, Bill’s Fundamentals are related to other programs’ Basics and Transition. His Water-T and Swim-by are what some just call Swim-by. His Power Cast into the water is not common and an add-on. The closest thing to it is the Cast into the Water drill which typically comes much later. His cheating singles are usually considered a Transition level drill but, on the other hand, few teach it alone with hand thrown bumpers. This is truly a Basics or Fundamentals exercise. His Walkout Blinds are not described in most programs, except Retrievers ONLINE; however, we do them routinely at the Transition level and consider them Fundamental.


If you want to follow the philosophy and the approach of Bill’s highly acclaimed puppy DVDs, then the Part 1 and Part 2 (Land and Water) DVDs should be part of your library and study material. They are consistent in message. They are fun for both dog and the trainer IF you follow them closely. There are a lot of low level nicks in this program. Be sure you understand when and why they occur. There is a lot of practicing – don’t skip it. Be sure you are committed to that. There is also a lot of work alone – one-on-one. Be sure that fits in with your training group.

I also want to add that I thought this production was very well done. Once again, that is the work of Mary Hillmann who did the filming and editing – a huge job! It is clean and shows the scene as if you were standing there watching Bill – who, incidentally, is talking to you as if you were there. It is very casual and one-on-one. Personally, I like the mood and the background guitar, but that is me!

You can order this DVD and others at www.hawkeyemedia.net. The DVD sells at $149.00. It is almost 3 hours long but don’t fall into the trap of measuring DVDs by minutes per dollar. One of the best horse training DVDs I ever bought proved that to me!

Postscript: I am really enjoying exploring new ways of training the youngsters. I have been inspired by Bill’s thoughts. My last two pups were so much fun to train and so responsive to these methods. My methods for Transition and Advanced dogs remain the same. Puppies can produce great fun, hope and promise if you can bring out the best in them. I am flush with dogs but just spoke for another puppy (see ad this issue) because of this fun, hope and promise. If you are in the same boat, consider Bill Hillmann’s puppy and young dog series to supplement your training information from other great instructors.

Reprinted with permission from a review by Dennis Voigt in an issue of Retrievers ONLINE    (www.retrieversonline.com)