Review of Bill Hillmann's "Traffic Cop" DVD

Written by: Dennis Voigt - January 01, 2012




Review by Dennis R. Voigt


  n past issues of Retrievers ONLINE, I have reviewed three of Bill Hillmann’s DVDs including Training a Retriever Pup, Training any Breed of Dog with the Soft Collar and The Fetch Command. In those reviews, I gave some details on Bill’s approach to training and his techniques, especially when they differed from conventional. I have become a solid advocate of his puppy training emphasis on balance between fun/excitement and control, notably with sit and patience. I have only put two pups through a similar program but my experience with many other pups has allowed me to say how much I think it will work with most dogs. I have heard a few people that train gun dogs say that they think it requires a real high desire dog or is only necessary with such. While I do tend to end up with such high desire dogs, I also think that, if anything, Hillmann’s program is MORE suited for lower desire dogs than the higher ones. Of course, it can be a godsend for the high desire dogs because it doesn’t allow them to act like wild hooligans for a year. That invariably results in a lot of abuse. In the good ole days it would be BSE – Boot, Shoot and Electrocute. We hope those days are gone but I fear not.

        When I heard about Bill’s latest DVD called Traffic Cop, I wondered how he could do a whole DVD on that subject. As many of you may know by now, Bill refers to the procedure of standing between the bumper/bird and the dog with an outstretched hand as Traffic Cop. Even when you just put yourself out in the field, throw a bumper, and have the puppy sit and wait to be sent, it is a form of Traffic Cop. Long time subscribers to ONLINE will know that I have been doing this for many years when Training Retrievers Alone. My DVD illustrates that procedure for marks which I have called Stand Alones. I think my section on how to teach it was about 2 minutes long. That’s because, originally, I only did it with older dogs that had already been steadied by conventional methods. It makes so much sense with young puppies if you balance it with fun, exciting retrieves.

        The Traffic Cop DVD has three Chapters which are: Training Level before you start Traffic Cop, Learning Traffic Cop as a Puppy and The Three Levels of Traffic Cop.

        Chapter one is the most basic and reviews the parts of the Training a Retriever Puppy DVD on things you want to do before starting. They are: chase something to get your dog excited, walk on a lead and sit (sit means sit!).

        Chapter two uses a 5-month old puppy to illustrate what is essentially collar-conditioning to the e-collar. It shows what is really a rather soft application of the collar that is done over a longer period of time. It illustrates how much time is spent on reinforcing sit versus using Traffic Cop. As always, sessions start with a lot of excitement so that, as Bill says, “The dog is ready to learn!”

        The most significant thing you will learn in this section is the amount of reinforcing that is required using this method. It is done with far less pressure than conventional and is done over a longer period of time. Because of the dog’s age, this is inconsequential in the long run.

        Chapter 3 – The three levels. This is the longest section and the one I personally found the most interesting. Here Bill explains that Traffic Cop is NOT steadying. This may come as a surprise to many of you! Rather, Traffic Cop is reinforcing the ‘sit’ command. Later, Bill will work on steadying. Now he works on reinforcing sit. This isn’t just semantics; it is a clear distinction.

        Level 1 is illustrated with a 2-year-old dog. Perhaps, unfortunately, it is the same but older dog as seen in Chapter One at 5 months. Nonetheless, a big lesson is distinguishing between correcting when the dog moves and reinforcing when the dog sits. For those of you that have read my earlier learning theory articles or know about operant conditioning, this is an example of punishment versus reinforcement. Punishment is used to stop a behaviour, reinforcement is used to increase a behaviour. I find it fascinating that many top trainers have learned this distinction even though they don’t use these terms and, in some cases, have not even studied classical learning theory. Bill goes onto illustrate the proper use of Traffic Cop with another dog, a Golden.

        Level 2 involves an expansion to distance for the dog over a period of time. Finally, Bill talks about developing this into a marking drill as you march around the field. Subscribers with my Training Retrievers Alone DVD will recognize this as the same exercise I do using Stand Alones and where I also incorporate blind retrieves mixed in. I found this to be an interesting convergence of our ideas with a different background of training,

        Level 3 focuses on the introduction of a thrower. This is done when you can do a Stand Alone at 80-100 yards with NO Motion by the dog. Bill illustrates the step-by-step sequence of gradually increasing distraction and excitement. I am quite convinced that most people have previously shortened what Bill recommends as a multi-week process into a 1-2 day process. Thus, this emphasis on building was also a revelation.

        Elsewhere in this issue, you can read about the latest puppy that I put through the Hillmann type of preschool. What I didn’t emphasize a lot in that article was that at 11 months he had barely seen a gunner/thrower although he had done some Stand Alones (Traffic Cop at a distance). On January 9th, my diary said, “first gunners in a multiple.” Three weeks later, my diary had entries of EXCELLENT on singles out of a quad at distances from 50 to 350 yards with gunners and birds over terrain. One of the reasons was that every day I could focus on marking and not on mechanics like sit, watch, deliver, line up and deliver. Bill says a similar thing in his video when he says,

“The reason we’re doing this is so that later on down the road we can take all of the emphasis off of the sit command and onto the mark. That is what this is all about – a great marking dog!!”

        Well, I’ve given you the secret, but frankly, most everybody should watch this DVD over and over to have it really sink in. One never gets all the benefits from a training DVD by watching it only one!

        As described in my last review, the Hawkeye DVDs get better and better from a production standpoint. This is largely the result of Mary Hillmann, who does the entire behind the scenes work and continues to improve in her videography and post-production effects.

        The Traffic Cop DVD is available from for $79. 

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Written by: Dennis Voigt| January 01, 2012
Categories:  DVD / Book Review

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