It can be a confusing world these days for novice dog trainers. There are many owners out there who are attempting to train their first hunting dog and many are rank beginners who are getting most of their information through the internet.
Often, they don’t even know the terminology and with no experience to draw on, they misunderstand the meaning or intent of the drills and the whole process of teaching a dog. There’s simply too much information out there that is inaccurate and misleading. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the material. There are many solid training programs available in both book and video format.
The problem is, most of it is too advanced for novices to digest. It’s easy for beginners to misinterpret what they see. For example, I saw that there was an online conversation where a guy asked for help with his dog. Seems the animal was finished with obedience, simple retrieves, was steady to wing and shot, and now he wanted to know some detail about hand signals. Readers were answering with lots of suggestions.
Thing is, the man’s dog was actually still a puppy. It was just five months old! This is only one of the instances I observed where a beginner jumped right into training without any frame of reference. And, the chat room was full of even more beginners giving advice! Their answers were a sure prescription for trouble ahead for the questioning owner. His pup will almost certainly develop problems he would have avoided if only he had both more careful study, and observation.
Another common area of confusion for beginning trainers arises when they pick and choose from the whole array of training methods. They take part of one of one professional trainer’s system, and add bits from other systems as well. This is another recipe for disaster. Often, professionals disagree on how to train a hunting dog. That’s okay because each of them has been successful doing things their way and their way is a cohesive step by step process.
But when a novice looks at all the available methods and takes pieces from various systems, the result can be a mishmash that no longer makes sense. So, I suggest finding a training method that seems sensible and following it carefully.
Better yet, go visit a professional trainer in your area. Stay a week or so and get some practical experience that can be applied to your dog. Go out in the field and throw bumpers/birds and plant blinds. You can gain an amazing amount of knowledge that way. You’ll see good dogs in action, learn the lingo, and find out if training your dog yourself is really what you want to commit to.
If you do decide to do all the training yourself, follow that up by finding a like-minded — and experienced — training group of other amateurs. If your dog has talent and you are sincere in wanting to learn, they will welcome another worker to the group.
Always, I need to give some words of caution to beginners. When observing dog work, on video or in person, understand that your own dog may react differently. Try to assess the inherent nature of your own dog. Your dog may be more, or less, sensitive than the dog being worked by a professional. Counteracting a dog’s unwanted behavior is a skill that comes from lots of experience with lots of different kinds of dogs. That’s why I recommend visiting a good professional as a start.
Making a real study of dog work is fascinating. And rewarding. I hope you will find this out for yourself. It’s my life’s work and I am grateful for it, every day.
Have fun training!
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Grady’s column appears in WON every other week and he can be reached at reibar.com