Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Thursday, December 12, 2019
How to handle on a mark

Balance in training
One of the mortal sins in dog training is not having a proper balance between discipline and reward in your training program. Discipline comes in many forms: your voice, a Whiffle bat or the E-collar are three of the major ones I use. Even praise comes in many forms. Verbal encouragement, a stroke or touch or shooting a flyer are all forms of praise and reward. If a trainer does not apply the proper amount of discipline with his trainee, his dog will probably hunt in an out-of-control manner and turn the pleasure of a hunt into a nightmare.

On the other hand, if you apply too much pressure beyond what your trainee is capable of handling, the animal may develop a reluctance to perform his duties, or quit hunting altogether. If you have a dog that is that sensitive, you should prepare yourself to make some serious adjustments to your training program.

The balance I recommend when training is usually about 75 percent positive and 25 percent negative. However, that can change depending on the character and attitude of the dog you are working with, so be prepared to quickly make any adjustment you feel necessary. In days gone by it was about a 50-50 split. But the dogs of today are smarter and much more trainable compared to the dogs of 20 years ago. The New Age dogs of today simply do not require the amount of discipline that was needed in the past to achieve a proper training job for both gun dogs and competition.

Because the breeders of today are much more selective of the dogs they mate together, we hunters are reaping the benefits of these well-bred dogs. Also, hunters have finally awakened and understand that the price you pay for a puppy is the cheapest part of dog ownership. Instead of buying “backyard” breeding, most of the sportsmen today are buying dogs with desirable physical and disposition genes in their background.

My training philosophy has always been: teach, teach, teach, force what you’ve been teaching, then give your trainee whatever amount of time it takes to absorb the lesson and learn to live with his new found expertise and discipline level. Only then should you move on to the next skill to be learned and repeat this scenario.

Training should be fun for both trainer and trainee — at least the majority of the time, anyway. After you apply force to solidify a command you have been teaching, it’s a good idea to shoot a few flyers at some point in that day’s training. This creates a positive atmosphere while your dog is learning to live with his new level of knowledge and discipline.

Overall discipline levels are created by the varying amounts of pressure you apply to your dog as you teach the basic commands of: heel and sit, force fetch, come on command and steady-to-shot. There is a varying amount of discipline involved in teaching each of these commands because as they increase in difficulty they involve the dog’s making the decision to behave even when at a distance from the trainer.

If you think about it, you’ll realize that the amount of pressure increases while teaching these commands in the sequence listed above. Through­out his education, a young dog learns to accept higher levels of discipline, and a fair and specific balance between discipline and reward can be assured. This balance can be a delicate one and may not be easy to accomplish for a novice trainer. It takes a bit of experience to read the individual dog and notice through his actions and demeanor whether to apply discipline or praise. And, to complicate matters, no two dogs are ever truly alike. But, study and awareness of a dog’s demeanor improve as the trainer works the dog. Pressure and reward — the two elements of helping a dog achieve his destiny — can be achieved.

Careful study of your own dog’s actions will make you become a better trainer/handler for the effort. The pride you feel when your dog shows off the skills you have been working to achieve makes all the training challenges worthwhile.

Always have fun training!

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Grady’s articles usually appear at least monthly in WON and he can be reached at

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