If you want your dog to become a polished, impressive, reliable gun dog (and who doesn’t want that?) you need to teach him all the commands he will need for his lifetime in a clear and systematic way. More important each command needs to be solid in the dog’s mind before moving on to the next one. By solid, I mean there has to be a better than 75 percent chance that your dog will obey and carry out your given orders on command. You were probably expecting me to say 100% of the time, but nothing is absolute when you’re dealing with dogs.
Training becomes easier and just so much clearer when you use my five steps in teaching each new command. They are: 1. Teach the command, 2. Force the command, 3. Remove the force, 4. Add praise 5. Remove the praise
1. Each newly learned command must be properly explained and completely understood by your trainee. Then after your dog has successfully completed many repetitions of that command and is comfortable with its execution you can move to the next step.
2. Force the command by adding pressure of some sort. Remember, your dog has to understand completely the meaning of the command before any force can be added, or you’re going to open up a can of worms. Working on the premise that all dogs are not cut from the same cloth, the amount and type of discipline administered to solidify each command must be adapted to your individual dog. Your voice can be as effective as the electric collar, leash and choke chain or Whiffle bat in forcing some very sensitive dogs. So when I say force the command, I expect you to use good judgment.
3. Remove the force to make sure the command is solid, you must make your dog perform the newly-forced command over and over again without applying any force until you are satisfied he will comply. When you feel that your dog has competently repeated the command many times to your satisfaction, it’s time to move onto the next step.
4. Add praise. Dogs instinctively want to take advantage of praise; it’s in their DNA to do so. Want to test that philosophy? Tell your trainee to sit, then say, “good dog” and watch what happens; chances are he’s going to get up and come to you or continue doing whatever suits him. Once your dog learns what I call, “love under command”, which means not taking advantage of praise, you’re well on your way to having a competent gun dog. Praise is one of the most valuable tools you can have in your collection of dog training options. Praise can be used to tell your dog he’s done a good job or to challenge his obedience on a given command. Use it wisely, or it will bite you in the behind.
5. Remove the praise. Once your trainee has been taught a new command, had that command forced, had the force removed, and then added praise, it’s now time to remove the praise and have the dog perform the command without visible or audible encouragement. This is a moment when a dog can feel pride in making his own decision to perform well, without cues, and just enjoying the pleasure of the right action. Now the dog gets a taste of what it’s like to be part of the hunting team and training itself becomes meaningful.
I hope these five steps are helpful. If you have difficulties along the way, just back up one step and solidify the command before moving to the next one.
Have fun training!
Grady Istre can be reached at reibar.com