Most dog owners don't realize how much influence they have over their dog's performance. Here is how your approach to praise and dominance can make or break your dog's hunting career.
Among the most difficult lessons school teachers and athletic coaches learn, as they go through life, is that they can't be buddies with their students. At least, it can be safely said that a buddy-buddy relationship between coach and player is likely to break down and cause problems at a crucial time.
Problems arise because nothing is settled concerning who's in control. This is true, to an even higher degree, when it comes to training your dog. So many well intentioned dog owners do a wonderful job of establishing a bond with their dog, but never assert their dominance over the dog. The dog who cannot be blamed goes through life with an instinctive belief that the two of you are on equal footing. It becomes a toss-up as to whose turn it is to decide whether the dog needs to obey or not when asked to sit, come, or is simply asked for its undivided attention.
Believe it or not, from the day you bring a puppy (or adult dog) into your home, you can gently assert dominance through the way you pet and handle the animal. When it's playtime, you can let many of the rules go out the window. But during training sessions (which should, ideally, be frequent and brief), you should reinforce your calm control over the dog and the situation.
A dog's behavior and social structure still resembles that of their wild ancestors. Two wolves (or two dogs) playing together are on the same dominance level. When you play with your dog, you are putting the two of you on the same dominance level.
Because of this, there is a time to play with your dog and a time to be dominant over the dog. I'm not saying you shouldn't play with your dog. You just need to see that dominance is asserted gently. Clearly separate playtime from training or hunting time. Pick your times to play, usually at home in the yard or in the house. When you go to the field or even begin a training session in the yard leave the playing and the roughhousing out of it.
Every dog is different. Every dog is an individual, and you have to get to know your dog's personality over time. But from the first day, you should establish that you are the boss, beginning with how you pet the dog. You have to earn the dog's trust, and get it to realize that your touch is not threatening. You must get to a point where the dog accepts your touch. When you pet your dog, do it with a certain firmness. Use this same firmness whenever you put your hands on the dog to show it something, such as how to sit.
Show the dog that you are more powerful than he or she is. Demonstrate that you are in control. You are planting in their mind that you are the master. Again, there cannot be two masters. But let me say this, too: you are not slapping the dog around, nor are you threatening physical violence (which you can easily do, with physical gestures) to get the dog to do what you want.
Calm, Firm Praise
As your dog learns its lessons, it can be tempting to break out in loud cheering, or some other enthusiastic response. You see amateur dog trainers jumping up and down and hollering "Good Boy!!" or some such thing, as their dog gets to a distant retrieve and turns to bring it back.
You know what that does? It introduces the element of play into the training or hunting time. It's a very natural response from the dog to then drop the bird or dummy and come running to you to join the party. After all, you have just relaxed your grip on dominance. When your dog does something good even for the first time ever praise should be given calmly, to keep the dog's emotions under control and his or her head in training mode. There are dogs that just seem to do well no matter what, and so you can come up with exceptions to this rule. But most dogs, if you go crazy with the praise, tend to get overly excited. It can cause them to "lose their head" and kind of spin out of control.
Keeping a dog's emotions in check seems to open their minds to learning. If they understand that you are in control, the training sessions are consistently productive.
If You Lose Control
Some dogs have strong personalities. And some dogs can just get the wrong impression that they are in control. In these cases, when you are having a difficult time controlling your dog, you may have to take control back. Again, at no time do you hurt the dog. Simply grab the underside of the dog's collar and flip the dog over on its back and hold it down. Sit right on top of the animal, putting a very small amount of weight on it, and just sit there. The dog will not like it, because they think they're in control.
Again, you don't holler at the dog, nor do you do anything that would injure it. You just sit there until they give up. Then, sit down, just the two of you, and take a break. Sit on the tailgate or down in the grass, and pet the dog again, firmly, showing you are in control and let them know everything is OK. You will have to get back to business at some point, and when you do, you will again be recognized as the master.
You have to be careful, because all dogs are individuals. You may have to tailor your approach to teaching, praise and corrections. As you are getting to know your dog, err to the side of being too gentle. Do not break the spirit of the dog; just let it know who's the teacher and who's the student. Remember, you cannot be your dog's best friend around the clock. When you are training (or hunting), you have to be in control. Your dog works for you.
Your dog plays on a team that you coach.
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