To become a competent trainer of any animal here on earth requires knowledge of the nature and habits of that species. It takes a lot of observation and experience to understand the basic nature of animals. It also helps to have a large dose of just plain old common sense.
Too many beginning trainers get bogged down trying to train their dogs using rules and techniques they simply don’t understand. When a novice trainer feels incompetent at a task, he tends to rely on anything that is written or on film, even though he often can’t completely understand the concept---that can be good, but it’s usually bad.
I guess when you have been training dogs as long as I have it’s inevitable that some of the new “creative” things that trainers are coming up with are going to rub me the wrong way. There are some trainers who are now advocating using live, dead and even frozen birds as part of the normal force fetch basic training program---it seems plastic bumpers and wooden dowels are not enough anymore. Cajun dog training rule #4 says: never force on game.
Teaching a dog to pick up on command is already a difficult task for both dog and trainer, and there is just no reason to complicate this process by adding birds. By first teaching your trainee to hold and fetch a plastic bumper through repetition, then applying the necessary amount of pressure on the dog to make the command solid, makes sense to a dog. Forcing on game can only get you and your dog into unneeded problems, like freezing on game, eating birds or developing a negative attitude towards game. There is no need to look for trouble, fellow trainers; trouble has a way of creeping up very quickly out of nowhere, all on its own.
It’s wise to avoid areas of training that require more expertise than you thoroughly understand and feel confident about. Otherwise, you might well get yourself and your dog into a confusing situation that you simply don’t know how to clean up.
Birds are not the only object that will get you into trouble. My rule is: never force fetch your dog on any object that he can find in the field while hunting, like sticks or plastic bottles. If your dog cannot find the downed bird he is seeking, he’ll be tempted to pick up a familiar substitute and it will usually be something similar to the object on which you forced him.
Any training technique that you read about, hear about, or see on a video that challenges your better judgment, needs serious explanation before you attempt to apply it to your dog. Make sure you have a complete understanding of the mechanics and also the goal of any drill before giving it a try. Then teach one thing at a time, carefully and clearly, before challenging your dog. In other words, apply some of your common sense given to you by the dog training gods.
Have fun training!
Grady Istre can be reached at Reibar.com. His column on dog training appears every other week.