of the problems that owner/trainers
experience during training could be easily minimized if addressed early
in training. In Part
began to examine some of the problems owner/trainers make. Let's
continue examining the top 10 common pitfalls we see owner/trainers
experience in early retriever training.
6. No Transitional Training
error commonly occurs in one or two forms when individuals eagerly
press their dogs into hunting situations too quickly. For example:
They rush through skills and exercises without sufficient repetition to
make a skill a habit. When pressed on the hunt, the pup becomes
confused or merely disregards the commands, and spins out of control.
B. Individuals do not sufficiently transfer
training skills introduced in drills to practical hunting situations.
proper training sequence for a gundog includes:
Yard work - introduction to skills in a
Field training sessions -
training exercises and drills usually conducted on familiar training
grounds to entrench skills
- practical exercises on simulated hunting situations including varied
terrain, locations, and natural environmental factors that will likely
be confronted on the hunt, such as birds, gunfire, boats, etc.
Training on the hunt
- The first hunts with a young gundog must be dedicated to training,
not taking game. Early hunting experiences are extensions of training.
The settings, circumstances, and conditions of the hunt must be
controlled to the highest extent possible. Focus remains on specific
goals. Attention is placed on the dog and his particular needs. Young
prospects should not be rushed into hunting situations until all basic
gundog skills are understood and thorough transitional experiences have
been afforded the handler and the dog.
hunting dog prospects spend much of their time in uncontrolled
environments such as the home, apartment, or office where they remain
unconfined during off-training periods. Well-meaning friends, visitors,
or neighbors commonly confront them with opportunities for
dysfunctional behavior/activities. Dogs are learning all the time, not
just in training.
Question what is being learned outside the
controlled training environment. Many times the experiences occur while
the owner/handler is not present. People love to amuse themselves by
playing with an eager, enthusiastic retriever and they may be promoting
unsteadiness by tossing repeated, meaningless retrieves, encouraging
free running or swimming, or perhaps even a bit of rough house,
tug-of-war, or chase. Guests, kids at home, and neighbors all may
unintentionally become ambassadors of hyperactivity and dysfunctional
habits for our gundogs.
People may also interfere with the
concentration of your dog/pup during training by attempting to praise,
interact, or provide treats while the dog is involved with a session.
These acts are seemingly harmless from the individual's perspective.
They only want to interact briefly with your dog, but the practice must
be discouraged and avoided.
Set rules for family members to follow when handling the dog while you
b. Instruct visitors and neighbors about
acceptable conduct with your dog, especially pups.
If you cannot control the situation while you are absent, control the
dog's environment. Invest in a space where the dog can remain away from
others while you're away, like an outdoor pen, enclosure, etc.
d. Don't allow others to interfere with or
distract your dog while involved in training.
8. Late Whistle Introductions
introduce whistle commands far too late in the pup's training cycle.
Starting pups very young on the whistle for recall (here) and sit
(stop) pays huge dividends, yet most ignore the opportunity. Introduce
the whistle by associating pleasurable experiences early during the
days of puppyhood. Pups will readily respond to the recall whistle by
eight weeks old. I have had entire litters of six-week-old pups rush to
the whistle peeps in excitement.
When pups associate a
positive experience with the whistle, they will respond to accept their
reward of affection, food, treats, or a short retrieve...always
something positive. The same is true of the "sit" whistle. Pups can
consistently comply with this whistle command by three months old. They
will eagerly sit on the whistle when the associated reward is
sufficient and the commands are conducted infrequently.
to implement whistle commands offers no benefit. Too often six- to
seven-month-old pups pay no heed to their handler's recall command,
making the training challenge more difficult. Similarly, once the pup
has advanced in basic training and is charging hard on retrieves,
whistle stops are much more difficult to introduce.
9. Postponing Hand Signals
common mistake is to wait to introduce hand signals until a pup has
completed extensive marking training and has had some actual hunt
experience. This strategy promotes a self-employed, overly independent
dog. What we want to produce is an interdependent hunting partner who
readily works with us to locate game, and one who easily complies with
direction in the field. Get the young dog handling well on casts and
whistle commands before providing two many marking exercises and
certainly before hunting exposure.
10. Poor Timing
timing of praise and rewards for correct behavior is meaningless.
Incorrectly timed correction or punishment for inappropriate behavior
likewise has no value and is often counterproductive. A simple rule
applies here: Rewards and/or corrections, to be effective at modifying
behavior, must occur exactly when the desired or undesired behavior
occurs, and rewards and corrections must occur at the location of the
action. If we wait to reward a great cast or stylish water entry with
verbal praise until the dog returns to our side, the dog associates the
reward with returning to heel with the bumper, which is his most recent
act, not the act we wanted to encourage.
The same is true of
correction. Negative behavior or improper response to commands must be
corrected immediately at the time of the behavior and as close to the
exact spot of the infraction as possible. For instance, a non-response
on a stop whistle must be corrected immediately and in the exact place
the refusal occurred, if possible. It requires immediately returning
the dog to the exact spot where the refusal occurred, making the
correction, and re-emphasizing the command at that location. This is
why we must thoroughly drill skills to proficiency on land before
progressing to water, unless we are fond of swimming.
in dog training seems to be a favored method for many trainers.
Actually, reward stimulus usually carries a much more powerful behavior
modification effect if properly utilized. Yet from my observation of
handlers, they do not properly reward their prospects in training
enough for effort and when they do it is usually mis-timed, holding
little meaning for their dog.
Parting Thought: As always,
the best strategy for gundog training is to set pups up to succeed and
to not condition in a problem that will have to be rectified later.
The Gentleman's Gundog™
Trainer of Drake, the DU Dog