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Now would be a good time to give a command - he's looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

Now would be a good time to give a command – he’s looking at you, and not distracted by something more fun.

In the past I’ve talked about “tells,” those little signs that clue you to when your dog is getting birdy, or ready for direction, or in need of correction. I’ve also mentioned timing your commands, praise and correction for that “golden moment,” when he’s amenable to them. But just like those indicators of readiness, there are times when you’re wasting your breath and your emotional energy. You can yell, scream, jump up and down, or do cartwheels and your dog will steadfastly ignore you.

It think it was legendary pro trainer Delmar Smith who said “never give a dog a chance to fail.” I take that to mean don’t expend training capital – or sanity – giving commands that are destined to be ignored. The dog still learns, but not what you hoped to teach. He learns he can get away with murder.

As a dog matures and training progresses, he will be more likely to listen to you and pay less attention to the siren song of roadkill. It is a gradual and cumulative process but early on, keep your expectations at an appropriate level.

What kind of clues should inspire you to stow your whistle? Some are obvious. My guy Buddy is a digger. When he’s bored and there are no birds he’s happy enough hunting ground squirrels. Once he’s digging, there is no point in my asking, telling, imploring or threatening. He’s in predator mode, single-minded and focused on the critter that is frantically tunneling away at warp speed.

Virtually any distraction has the same effect on a dog brain. They are linear thinkers after all, one idea at a time. Run. Stop. Pee. Run. Smell critter. Run toward it. There’s no room for other thoughts during this process, so don’t try to intervene. A dog in hot pursuit of a whitetail is not going to “whoa.”

Other dogs, people, and sounds can distract a dog and flummox a command. Breath deep, give it a minute, wait for your opportunity, then deliver your direction once there’s an open niche in the thought process. Right after he pees and before his hiked leg hits the ground is a perfect time. Following a good shake is another. While howling at a neighbor jogging past is not.

Hunger or anticipation of a meal is another deal breaker. Once a week I catch myself wondering why Manny won’t listen, let alone follow my clear direction. Then I look at the wall clock – it’s dinner time.

Or something in the wind will entice … and it doesn’t need to be bird scent. Dogs often react first to what their noses tell them. If you don’t give that new scent a beat or two to “sink in,” your command will fall on deaf furry ears. If you don’t catch him before that shoulder tuck, you probably won’t forestall a roll in that stinky dead critter.

With a dog, learning is a gradual progression of baby steps, leading to mastery of commands to the point of flawless obedience in the face of compelling distractions. The yin of your direction is constantly buoyed by the yang of sweet temptation. Only with repetition and gradual introduction of distractions can you tilt the balance in your favor. Even then, you’ll almost always lose out to roadkill.

What's he getting ready to swallow?

What’s he getting ready to swallow?

If your dog gets into something, odds are it’s not going to be good for him. What is good for humans isn’t necessarily good for our dogs. A quick primer on poisons:

Symptoms are few if any. If you suspect your dog has swallowed something, be absolutely sure before taking action. Many smaller items will come back up on their own, usually in the middle of the night. If you suspect your dog has swallowed caustic or acidic substances or sharp objects, you should not try to induce vomiting.

First aid:

  1. For small objects that aren’t sharp, or materials that aren’t caustic or acidic: squirt 20 cc of hydrogen peroxide down your dog’s throat. Walk him around for a bit (5-15 minutes). Everything should come right up. If not, another squirt and ten more minutes should do it.
  2. For fish hooks, feed your dog cotton balls soaked in gravy. With luck they will catch the hooks and move them right through his G.I. tract. See a veterinarian.
  3. For poisons or caustic substances, call a poison control center immediately. If the dog will drink, give milk or water to dilute. Get to the veterinarian.

Poisonous items your dog shouldn’t swallow (and their risks):

Grapes, raisins (kidney failure)

Onions, garlic, leeks (destroys red blood cells)

Chocolate (theobromine causes tremors, seizures, abnormal heart rhythms)

Avocado (ingredient persin is toxic)

Alcoholic beverages (liver damage, difficulty breathing, coma)

Coffee, tea, caffeine (muscle tremors, bleeding)

Dairy products (diarrhea)

Macadamia nuts (paralysis)

Candy & gum (artificial sweeteners )

Meat fat and bones (cause pancreatitis, choking hazard)

Persimmons, peaches, plums (pits, seeds)

Raw eggs (salmonella, E. coli)

Raw fish (“salmon poisoning,” E. coli)

Salt, salty foods (sodium ion poisoning)

Yeast dough (swells in stomach)

If your dog has ingested any of these or other poisonous substances, call the ASPCA poison control center at 888-426-4435.

It’s a matter of degree

A great photo ... can you name the breed?

A great photo … can you name the breed?

To a dog, actions speak louder than words. For example, move slower, and you literally demonstrate to your dog that things are not as exciting (or distracting) as they seem.

I’m lucky in that I watch myself on TV a lot (someone has to pump up the Nielsen ratings). I learned to be a teacher the same way – with video. It is a cruel but fair instructor, the small screen. But you don’t need a camera to reflect on your actions and the messages they convey. Just think before you act, adjust your pace, the magnitude of your movements, and your dog will get the message. He does now, but it’s often to your detriment and you might not even know it.

When words are required, a whisper is often better than a growl. It certainly brings down the adrenaline levels, calming the situation. Like people, dogs will often pay closer attention to you if you make it hard for them to hear what you’re saying. Drop the volume level and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

Even physical praise has degrees. As I write this, I’m scratching my old guy’s neck following a quiet “here” command. It’s a slow, relaxing touch, light and low-key. He in turn, is lying down, expecting nothing but a chance to be near me as his reward for a small job well done – he showed up. A vigorous, two-hand rib tickle implies something else entirely, higher energy and more excitement. It might be just the ticket to jet-propel a long retrieve by my two-year-old … to get him going or as a well-earned reward.

A dog that forges ahead when walking at heel is often “corrected” with a violent jerk. He, in turn, pulls harder. A pup told “whoa” is held still by a taut check cord pulling on his neck. Relaxing that tension would actually put him more at ease and willing to follow the original direction.

Manny simply cannot stand still when he first gets on the training table. I used to yank on his collar, yelling “whoa” at increasingly high volume. Now I speak calmly, slowly, sometimes from a sitting position, stroking his back until he settles – faster than he ever did when I engaged him in a battle of canine (half)wits.

What would YOU say?

brittanyworkingA great pair of questions via another of my social media sites merited a bit of introspection and a question in my own mind … HOW WOULD YOU ANSWER THESE?

I have 3 hunting dogs – 2 Brittanys and a Chocolate lab. The Brits are great for upland bird hunting while the lab excels with duck hunting but often goes with us after pheasants. All really enjoy retrieving birds and as you state, having the bird in their mouths.

Couple of problems I have noticed when taking all dogs upland bird hunting.

Brittanys do a great job locking up on a point. Both dogs “honor” the other Brittany’s point.

Problem arises with the Lab. Being a “flusher” he normally stumbles into the point and flushing the bird early.

Obviously I probably need to keep Lab out of the field when hunting with pointing bird dogs so I don’t ruin the hard work my Brittany’s put in to point birds.

I have heard tales that you can train Labs to point (there is a kennel in Mid West stating they raise pointing Labs). Is this possible in your evaluation?

The other problem when I sometimes take all 3 dogs out pheasant / quail hunting together is they ALL want the same bird / birds after they’ve been shot.

This often leads to a race to the fallen bird and struggle between the dogs to retrieve back to me.

Worse yet, one of the Brits tends to want to play “keep away” with the retrieve from the other dogs.

Any suggestions on how I can train my dogs to prevent this activity?

My answer:

Take them all! But train them a bit more. Okay, maybe a LOT more …

1. Lab: walks at heel during the hunt, point, flush.

2. Britts find and point, remain steady to wing, shot, fall. Lab too – at heel.

3. Britts steady when Lab then retrieves. Or, when you choose, when you send one Britt for the retrieve.Don’t bother trying to “train” your flusher to point. Some Labs might point a bit, but if you don’t have one, don’t push Mother Nature. Use your dogs the way they were designed.

Your answer?

 

 

Chill man … er, dog

If only he'd be this mellow on command.

If only he’d be this mellow on command.

I often joke about it, and so do others, but in my heart of hearts know it’s true. Dogs know when they are going hunting. At our house, it could just be a training run. My guys don’t know the difference. They’re just attentive. Our actions, routines, body language all provide clues that quickly become cues for them. If you doubt me, just watch your dog carefully for a couple days.

At our house, it might be just lacing up a pair of boots. The distinctive rattle as I take a whistle lanyard off the hook prefaces a run in the woods behind our house. Unless I’m careful, I’ll say something to my wife that includes the word “outside.” Then, it’s off to the races.

Like the Star Wars “Force,” cues have a light side and a dark side, and can be used for good and not-so-good. Timed incorrectly, our unwitting cues can amp up the energy level and create a free-for-all, setting back whatever training accomplishments we’d achieved previously. Used strategically, they can orchestrate your training session, even your hunt.

While excited dogs are often a good thing, when the intensity level gets too high, bad things can happen. Base instincts take over and rationale thinking goes out the window, leading to inattention or disobedience. We raise our voice, or resort to physicality. Like the cold war arms race, it can escalate with no end in sight, becoming a policy of mutually-assured destruction. All hope of a productive training session or relaxing day afield fly out the window when we, or our dogs, have a meltdown.

Mellowing the vibe is critical. But it’s easier said than done, and flies in the face of human nature. We expect dogs to “listen to reason,” see our point of view, or simply simmer down when we tell them to, often loudly and frequently. But a psyched-up critter is beyond the point of reason, so we need to take it down a notch via the same, baser level of communication. Using some of the same cues that set things off can set things right if they’re aimed at the desired goal.

Your voice and your actions can dial down your dog’s energy level. It requires discipline on your part, but the rewards are worth the effort: a calm dog, ready to take direction and less inclined to do something that could lead to embarrassment (for you) or injury (for him).

Try breaking your routine, and thus the visual and aural signals that lead to chaos. Rather than grab a leash and put on your coat preceding the usual nighttime walk, reverse the order, and put some time in between the two acts. At our house, the sounds of e-collars beeping to life mean time for a training run – the highlight of the day for my guys. Once beeped into whirling-panting-run mode, I can’t get them to hold still to put the darn collars on them!

When dogs frantically jump at a gate ready to explode with anticipation at being let in – or out – turn your back to them, rather than barging through and grabbing at them. If the chaos resumes when you reach for the latch, turn and walk away a few steps. If they want to get through the gate, they’ll eventually put two and two together. Barking dogs are often met with yelling by their owner, encouraging them to “be quiet” at maximum volume. What’s up with that?

Pet him? Give commands? Hmmm.

Pet him? Give commands? Hmmm.

The questions I get constantly amaze and often, inform me. Maybe they will do the same for you. To read the previous Q&A I did, click here. Otherwise, read on…

Q: What is proper etiquette when hunting your dog with someone else’s dog for the first time?
A:
Most of the time, everyone is happier when you hunt dogs singly. Alternate them, then compare and contrast their styles at the end of the day over a tall cold one. Dogs need to be trained to hunt as a brace, must honor each other’s points and retrieves, and obviously need to get along. If you must hunt them at the same time, try spreading out–way out–and effectively hunt by yourselves. If that doesn’t discourage you, introduce the dogs on neutral ground with leashes loose so they are not feeling your stress, and if possible hunt dogs of opposite sex together.

Q: What are the pros and cons of a pointer versus a flushing dog?
A:
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A flusher will probably be ready to perform reliably a season sooner than a pointer, because you don’t have to work on steadying the dog while on point. They are also the style of choice for running roosters who will drive a pointer batty.
If you are dazzled by a staunch point, you’ll be willing to wait a season while your dog learns the ropes. On the other hand, few feelings match the constant adrenaline flow following a close-working flusher. Both need training to retrieve reliably.

Q: I have a 10-month-old German shorthaired pointer with a lot of energy. We don’t have a good off-season place to train. What are some good tips for yard training that would not promote any bad habits?
A:
The only thing you can’t do in the yard that you can do in the field is extend the distance your dog covers to perform his duties. I’ve found that yard-training problems start when dogs get bored. Too much repetition is often the problem. How about developing circuits of several skills and rotate through them at a relatively fast pace, like the weight training we do at the gym? A couple repetitions for each skill are plenty in any session. Challenge the dog by going a little beyond his comfort zone for each skill.

Q: With the long-haired dogs you run, how do you keep the burrs from building up on your dog?
A:
Burrs are a fact of hunting life, but luckily, my guys aren’t as long-haired as some. A good comb-out is all it takes for my wirehairs, and they get that at the end of the day along with a thorough check of eyes, ears, toes, and bellies, to make sure there are no seeds, cuts, scrapes, or bugs. Longer-haired dogs will need more of the same, or a good haircut prior to the season. Some owners use “Show Sheen,” a spray-on horse product that makes most stuff slide off hair pretty easily.

Q: How do you teach your pointer not to bump or get too close when pointing?
A:
Two separate challenges, two solutions. Once a dog knows what birds smell like, you need to insist that he stops immediately upon sniffing one. Walking him into the scent cone while on a checkcord and stopping him upon his first indication of smelling birds will help him point farther from the birds. I add a “gut hitch” to apply a bit of pressure to his flank as insurance, once he’s used to the checkcord. With a remote-controlled launcher, you can fly birds if he tries to sneak in after scenting them. Steadiness–not bumping once he’s on point–is an obedience skill. Once a dog indicates he’s found a bird by pointing, your job starts. Through any number of signals, you need to teach him that he should stand still (“whoa!”) until you tell him to move again to retrieve, hunt on, or heel away.

Q: At what age should you introduce live birds to a pup?
A:
Early, in controlled situations so he can’t get scared or injured by flapping wings or claws. Lately, though, I’m becoming a believer in the old-school strategy: once your pup demonstrates interest in birds, work on pointing and steadiness, obedience, and possibly retrieving. You avoid the biggest banes of pointing dog owners: dogs that chase flying birds into the next time zone, and breaking on the flush. While birds are a great motivator and reward for dogs, they probably shouldn’t be the reason he holds once he hits a point … that’s an obedience skill.

Q: I have a 10-month-old German shorthair that hunts well. How do I get her to stop trying to get other dogs’ retrieves?
A:
Yard work. A retrieve and bird-in-mouth shouldn’t be the natural result of every point (or flush, for retrievers and spaniels). In training, it should be a rare treat, with the handler picking up most birds. This breaks the chain of expectation inherent in the sequence of find-point-flush-break-retrieve. Once she learns that not every flushed bird is hers, introduce other dogs and make her remain steady while they retrieve. Again, it’s an obedience challenge.

Q: I just started upland hunting last year in Colorado with my GSP Remy and was wondering what advice you can offer about dealing with rattlesnake bites. We haven’t had any run-ins yet but I’ve seen quite a few while out scouting the areas we plan on hunting this year.
A:
My strategy includes snake-aversion sessions (only with a pro), annual vaccinations, and carrying an antihistamine like Benadryl. If your dog gets bit, open the Benadryl capsule and pour the powder under his tongue, hold his mouth shut until it dissolves. Keep the dog as quiet as possible, carry him if you can to your truck, and hightail it to the nearest veterinarian for observation, fluids, antibiotics, and antivenin if necessary. If your area is particularly snake-prone, wait until the weather is cold to start your season, and most snakes will be denned up for winter. Just a reminder: the new vaccine holds promise, but only works on some types of rattlesnakes. It won’t hurt, and it could help.

Q: My Lab is a bit wild when she doesn’t get out to play and run. Any suggestions for when you want to try and train her but she is just too wild?
A:
Many guys joke about letting their dog out of the truck five miles before a hunt or training session so it settles down a bit. But you won’t always have that opportunity, so your dog must learn that work is work. Get back to obedience basics, and add some clear signals that it’s time for learning, not playing: load up on the training table or clip the leash on, for example. Keep your energy level down, set a vocal tone that’s a bit more down-to-business. Start each session with some fundamental obedience skills to set the mood.

Q: I have a female GSP that is currently six years old. I feed premium food but can not keep weight on her when hunting season begins. I’ve tried satin balls, cans of food, soft food, etc., in addition to her dry food but she always loses weight. She is healthy and happy and has energy but I worry about her being so skinny. What can I do?
A:
I’ve got a young wirehair with the same problem, and many of the same solutions have been tried at my house! First, check with your veterinarian to make sure it’s not a medical issue and she really is underweight (visible ribs are not necessarily a bad thing, for example). Then, shop for a higher-protein and higher-fat food, and look at products without grain. Many of us add fat to dry food. Some like butter, others coconut or olive oil. There are also powder versions of the same (pork fat, for example) available. Be cautious about how much added fat you use though, as there is a slight risk of pancreatitis.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfowl guys have a term called “blind retrieve.” It describes the situation where the dog doesn’t actually see the bird drop, yet is required to streak right to the duck and bring it back. After watching video footage from a camera I mounted on my dog, Buddy, I feel obligated to redefine this term. It looks like virtually every retrieve is blind to a dog.

It’s a matter of trigonometry. Recall your lessons on sines, cosines, and tangents? Well, a dog is low to the ground. His line of sight to something else on the ground is easily obstructed by bushes, rocks, even high spots in the terrain. The obstruction doesn’t have to be very tall—a few inches—and your bumper or dead bird is virtually invisible.

Buddy’s perspective is too darn low to see beyond even short cover. The tall stuff, I’m just glad he has a good nose. Doubt me? Try it yourself some time. Lob a bumper, kneel down and see what you can—and can’t—see.

There’s not much you can do about minimizing these obstructions, but you’ll get your dog on more “blind” retrieves if you recognize his visual limitations and appeal to his sense of smell, instead of relying so much on his sense of sight.

In the future when I send Buddy for any dead bird, I’m sending him to the downwind side of where I thought it landed, to give him every chance for a successful retrieve – blind or not.

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