Just a Dog - Page 2

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Many of the problem dogs I've trained have had sound genetics, but the owners did not understand or did not want to believe that their buddy was just a dog, behaving and reacting as a dog. Instead they pampered the impressionable youngsters, sending inconsistent messages to the developing pupils. A dog is a pack animal that must understand and accept that their owners are the dominant pack leaders at all times. Once a dog knows its subordinate position in the pack, it is comfortable with the hierarchy. Commands must be clear and consistent. A dog is not a Rhodes Scholar. If say "Here," the objective is not to have the dog eventually obey by me repeating "Here, come on, get on in, get over here!" The objective is to train the dog to perform immediately on the first command.

And before I use correction, I must be certain the dog understands what it was supposed to do. Disciplining a dog when it does not associate the correction with the undesired behavior accomplishes nothing positive and creates problems that must be repaired later. My training philosophy focuses on preventive medicine, not surgery after the fact. Dogs are place and time oriented. It is imperative that a correction occur at the place of the infraction and within a short time of the punishable deed. For example, if I come home and find that Scout has chewed the drapes in the living room, it would be senseless for me to discipline the dog as he greets me in the kitchen. He would associate the discipline with what he was doing at that time and place: greeting me at the door. Let's say I was teaching a young Lab to "Sit" and the dog ran away. The proper training procedure would be to return the dog to the place it was when I originally issued the command and then enforce the command. Also remember to proceed patiently, as dogs don't have long attention spans, particularly when they are young.

It's important to recognize that the first six months of a pup's life are critical to developing that dog to its full potential. It is the owner's responsibility to socialize the dog to help it develop a bold, confident and happy personality. This is not achieved by waiting for the pup to "get old enough to train." Play time is in fact training time. A young dog's mind is a sponge, soaking in every new sight, sound and smell. The dog does not learn by reading a book, watching a video or listening to a tape. It learns by doing.

For example, I will bring Tex and Scout to a shopping center one of these afternoons. Everyone loves to pet a puppy. The pair will be the center of attention and in the process learn to trust people and be confident in new surroundings. Exposure is a necessary ingredient in developing a well adjusted hunting companion. Dogs learn through association and repetition, not by reasoning.

Training programs must be comprised of short sessions rather than drawn-out affairs- quality time vs. quantity. And through repetition and consistency, the dog will learn what is expected of it as tail-wagging responses become the norm.

The owner must expect performance when he gives a command. If he corrects a dog and then, out of sympathy, coddles and apologizes, he is sending the wrong message. If he spoils the dog rotten, never demanding excellence, it is unrealistic to expect the dog to search in control and be a good hunting companion in the field.

If I am to graduate Tex and Scout to world-class gundog status, I must remember that they need plenty of socialization and fun time in order to reach their full potential. I relish starting off each day with my early morning ritual: coffee in hand, taking the puppies on a quail walk. I look forward to seeing their tails beat furiously when I approach, having them jump on me, letting them lick my face, smelling their puppy breath. I'll love them and they'll love me.

OK, so maybe Tex and Scout are more than just dogs.
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