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Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your

Remember in the movie “Cool Hand Luke,” where the sneering, brutal prison warden says to Paul Newman’s character “what we have here is a failure to communicate?” It’s a new low in not getting what either of them want, simply because they can’t – or don’t want to – make their respective points clearly.

When it comes to your dog, being clear and concise is critical to success. If your dog understands precisely what you want from him, he will be more likely to perform well in the field, in the yard and in your home. If you know what your dog needs, you can help him better understand you.

Better performance starts with better communication

Better performance starts with better communication

I give seminars and talks at events all over the country, and a recent talk at Pheasant Fest generated some spirited feedback and fascinating stories of other dog owners’ trials, tribulations and triumphs. The most intriguing discussion in the aisle had to do with which words to use for which commands, and why. Here’s my take:

In my mind simple is better. According to the U.S. Army, your pup could conceivably understand over 200 different commands. But not at my house. I give my dogs easy to yell names . . . one or two syllables. That way, they learn their unique signal faster. Furthermore …

Sound-alike conflicts are a major bugaboo. Many of our commands can sound like names. Call your setter “Beau,” and he might “whoa” when you want him to hunt on. Rover sounds like “over,” a common command among retriever handlers. And “no” sounds like Beau or whoa, adding to the confusion.

I strive for distinctive words for each desired action. Momma dog uses “aagh” when she disapproves . . . why not take advantage of genetics and use it too? (It may be academic. At our house, most dogs’ first names end up being “goddammit,” at least early in their careers.)

“Here” is easier to yell than “come.” But “heel” and “here” sound the same, so my “heel” command is “walk.” I don’t use “over” when I want my dog to change direction, I use “way” as the command, often accompanied by a hand signal. My release command can’t be “okay,” or there’ll be more confusion. And he might think I’m asking him to hold still … “stay.”  ”Alright” is safe and sounds like nothing else in the lexicon.

I have a theory that most times, dogs simply hear the vowel and ignore the consonants. Testing this theory on Buddy probably doesn’t prove much besides I’m a bad trainer, but it seems to ring true. At Pheasant Fest, one of my new friends disputes this theory and offers various command words and tricky situations where he has tested his dogs and they have learned the difference. More power to ya, Andy. But as I said, for me and Buddy at least, simple is better.

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Is it that first shopping trip?

Is it that first shopping trip of the season?

Hiking in the desert, of all places, it hit me when I noticed the dried leaves carpeting the sandy ground. Last fall’s remnants kindled anticipation of this fall’s hunts. Wrong leaves, wrong place, but the die was cast – I’m ready for hunting season.

What is your trigger-tripper? A training milestone? Weather change? Test season? Youth hunt?

Something pushes you over the edge, inescapably heralding the Most Important Time of Year. But do you know what it is? And if you don’t have one, you have several months to pick one.

Go.

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Good boy!

Good boy!

Whirrrrrrr! A long, dry slog down canyon went from relaxed camaraderie to high alert as four valley quail flushed wild on both sides of us. Manny’s attention was seized, he arrived at the scene of the crime quickly, snuffling the lingering scent like a starving man picks crumbs to ensure there were no stragglers.

The remainder of the downhill stroll was like a night patrol in a Vietnam jungle, eyes and ears wide open for every peep and rustle in the pungent sage. Our Texas visitor thought birds had hooked left, so we sidehilled in that direction a hundred feet above the swampy creek bottom, sometimes on hands and knees. Then, barely perceptible, a rustle in the juniper preceded the bird’s fleeting escape, downhill and over the cattail swamp at the bottom of the ravine.

One shot, bird down. Right in the middle of a football-field-sized tangle of mud, creek, beaver dams, cattails and berry vines … the sharp, thorny kind. The graveyard of forever-lost quail, I thought. The shooter marked the bird and stayed put, eyes glued on the spot where the bird had fallen.

Hmmmm. This looks familiar. A classic NAVHDA duck search, sans duck. Manny and I slid to the bottom and I sent him into the mess with a “dead bird – fetch!” He was daunted by the head-high stalks that fought back, mud that sucked at his feet and berry canes that tore his hide. A few minutes and he emerged, dirty, wet, birdless. But he stood calmly facing the web of vegetation, waiting for direction. I sent him again.

It was then I remembered training advice from an Idaho trip. I scrambled to the canyon wall before finding throwing-sized rocks, whose plunks and plonks tempted Manny farther and farther into the mire. We all listened, intent, to brush rattling, panting dog, mucky footfalls. Sometimes he was so deep in the vegetation all we saw was the faint quivering of cattail tops marking his route.

Then, nothing.

Stillness.

Rustle of stalks, splash of feet, but no panting … but I soon breathed easier. A long two minutes later Manny emerged with – I swear – the most humble look on his fuzzy face I’ve ever seen on a dog. Maybe because he was gently holding the quail in his mouth.

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What, if anything, do you say now?

What, if anything, do you say now?

I’m pretty well whoa-trained. When telling a dog to stop, I slam on the brakes too. It’s one of the funny things about that word that got me wondering how differently we think – and act – about the whoa command than we do about other commands.

Along with the barrel, gut hitch, place board, half-hitch, training table, pinch collar, e-collar on the flank or whatever strategy you use, something often gets lost – our ability to speak. If you subscribe to the belief that once a dog scents a bird “whoa” is an obedience command, why do we clam up once the dog obeys?

Check yourself: Fido is coursing a field and slams into a point. If you’re me, you’d also lock up, eventually realizing you’re in charge and need to do something – hopefully while the dog remains staunch. You might skulk toward the dog and bird, or stride purposefully, but how many of us proceed silently, hoping against hope that our dog holds still?

Meanwhile, the dog considers his options: he’s done what comes naturally (point) and wants to do what next comes naturally (pounce). He might have been taught a pounce is verboten, but without feedback, there’s a fifty-fifty chance he’ll get what he wants.

Is that okay with you?

Instead, quit expecting your mouth to “whoa” when he does. After all, Gunner heels in the yard, you praise. Coming back with a bird in his (soft) mouth merits a scratch behind the ears. But that end-swapping point on sketchy bobwhites is met by a silence as heavy as the moment between sermon‘s conclusion and congregation’s “amen.”

To a young dog torn between primitive passion and desire to please you, a word of praise may mean all the difference. I know Manny’s steadiness improved once I began delivering positive feedback instead of zipping my lips.

How about you? Does a cat get your tongue when your dog scents a bird?

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