Posts Tagged ‘dog psychology’

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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Thanks to everyone who has seen an advance copy of  “What the Dogs Taught Me.” The book should be available very soon – so stay tuned. In the meanwhile, please see what others have to say:

Randy Schultz’ blog “A Bird Hunter’s Thoughts”: Get this book.  Better yet, buy two and give the book to the new guy, too!  Read entire review here.

“What the Dogs Taught Me is an excellent read for any birddog owner, bird hunter, or amateur dog trainer. With his usual humility, and lack of an ‘I know it all’ attitude, Scott Linden presents the reader with a treasure trove of valuable information from training to the field. If you’re serious about your bird hunting, you will benefit greatly from Scott’s insights learned from his years of experience. What the Dogs Taught Me would be a fine addition to the reference library of any bird hunter.”
—Dez Young, host, “Hunting with Hank,” “Upland Days with Dash & Dez”

“This fine, information- and insight-packed book by Scott Linden teaches us all a great lesson: Trust your bird dog. He knows what he’s barking about.”
—Thomas McIntyre, author of The Snow Leopard’s Tale and Shooter’s Bible Guide to Optics

“Scott’s book What the Dogs Taught Me is a winner! Scott has succeeded in blending anecdotes, training advice, nutrition and health tips with a sincere passion and love for his life with dogs and the outdoors. What the Dogs Taught Me is much more than a reference book.  It is a must have for those who train, hunt, and enjoy the marvelous world of hunting dogs.”

– George Hickox, George Hickox Bird Dogs

You can place your advance order here. Delivery expected in June!

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All I want for Christmas is my two front canines. Or is it?

All I want for Christmas is my two front canines. Or is it?

Dogs are incredible, talented, mystifying animals. They dazzle us in the field, amuse us with their antics at home, and remind us what loyalty and honor really are.

But they can’t write their own Christmas list, so we have to help them. What does your dog want from you, from the world, from his packmates? How would he tell you – what words would he use to share his innermost wants and wishes?

Yes, a new chew toy and basket of dead birds would probably be high on his list. But what about something deeper, more abstract? Does he want what we want (peace on earth, goodwill to all dogs)? Are some of his priorities on a different plane?

I look at my guys, currently dozing, and wonder what runs through their doggy minds. They see a brightly-lit tree, gaudily-wrapped gifts, and know something’s different. But do they understand our motivation? The origins of the Christmas story? Our joy at sharing time with friends and family?

If he had an opposable thumb, what would your dog write on his Christmas list?

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closeup detail-23 “If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

-Will Rogers

Dogs are fascinating, multi-dimensional beings that have intrigued me for decades. The most interesting aspect of their lives, at least to me, is how they think. Maybe “think” is the wrong word for those of you who believe animals dwell deep in the primitive depths of instinct, fang, claw, action and reaction.

But we hunting dog owners know better. We’ve seen our partners apply reason, employ logic, solve complex problems and learn a bit of “language.” Sure, they think differently from us. But they think. And the sooner we figure out what they’re thinking about – and why – the better our hunting team becomes.

Have you ever had a lousy boss? You know the type: harsh voice constantly berating you, cutting you down, badgering, yelling, and criticizing … never offering praise or encouragement.

Some of us have been lucky enough to have a good boss, or even been one. To others, it might have been a coach, teacher, Scoutmaster, neighbor. You remember them for their soothing demeanor, supportive attitude, mutual respect, positive reinforcement. Heck, even their critiques were constructive, almost pleasurable.

Of the two, who would you rather work for? For which would you gladly stay late to help with a rush order, or go the extra mile? The same holds true for your dog.

I’m not saying you should curry favor, suck up or kowtow to your pup. In the pack, your dog functions best when he knows his boundaries and who’s in charge. In your house, yard and field that’s always you. Establishing those boundaries and setting up your chain of command can be done in a number of ways, some better than others. One version engenders respect and cooperation, other versions foster fear or aggression.

When discipline is applied appropriately, instruction is melded with encouragement, or correction is done with restraint and sensitivity, I think your dog acquires a sense of “fairness.” I doubt that dogs truly comprehend that term, but they are certainly aware of the opposite.

Doesn’t it just make sense to create a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and reward for a job well done? Remember back to when it worked for you; I bet it’ll work for him.

(This is an excerpt from my upcoming book What the Dogs Taught Me, to be published in fall 2013 by Skyhorse Publishing of New York. Receive these regularly by subscribing to my emailed newsletter.)

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