Bird Dogs & Training  |  05/05/2013

Who would you rather work for?

Dogs are fascinating, multi-dimensional beings that have intrigued me for decades. The most interesting aspect of their lives, at least to me, is how they think. Maybe “think” is the wrong word for those of you who believe animals dwell deep in the primitive depths of instinct, fang, claw, action and reaction.
But we hunting dog owners know better. We’ve seen our quail hunting partners apply reason, employ logic, solve complex problems and learn a bit of “language.” Sure, they think differently from us. But they think. And the sooner we figure out what they’re thinking about – and why – the better our hunting team becomes.
Have you ever had a lousy boss? You know the type: harsh voice constantly berating you, cutting you down, badgering, yelling, and criticizing … never offering praise or encouragement.
Some of us have been lucky enough to have a good boss, or even been one. To others, it might have been a coach, teacher, Scoutmaster, neighbor. You remember them for their soothing demeanor, supportive attitude, mutual respect, positive reinforcement. Heck, even their critiques were constructive, almost pleasurable.
Of the two, who would you rather work for? For which would you gladly stay late to help with a rush order, or go the extra mile? The same holds true for your dog. He’d rather endure cactus spines in his paw on a scaled quail hunt for a human he trusts and respects.
I’m not saying you should curry favor, suck up or kowtow to your pup. In the pack, your dog functions best when he knows his boundaries and who’s in charge. In your house, yard and field that’s always you. Establishing those boundaries and setting up your chain of command can be done in a number of ways, some better than others. One version engenders respect and cooperation, other versions foster fear or aggression. Which will get him to climb toward the stratosphere on a mountain quail hunt?
When discipline is applied appropriately, instruction is melded with encouragement, or correction is done with restraint and sensitivity, I think your dog acquires a sense of “fairness.” I doubt that dogs truly comprehend that term, but they are certainly aware of the opposite.
Doesn’t it just make sense to create a relationship based on mutual trust, respect, and reward for a job well done? Remember back to when it worked for you; I bet it’ll work for him.
From the email in-box:
Q: I hunt a lot of grouse and ducks in Minnesota and I have Springer spaniels. When hunting them in the woods they don’t like to get off the trail. What can I do to help them understand to go into the woods?
A: How much bird contact have they had? If you’re not finding a lot of birds in the woods, set up some training situations where they will discover birds when they get off trail. Once they get the idea, they’ll be more inclined to venture out.
Scott is the creator and host of America’s most-watched upland bird hunting TV show, Wingshooting USA. Send your questions to Scott, here. Order Scott’s new book here.