It Is Not About What You Think.
It Is Only About What Your Dog Thinks.
Until you can fully give yourself to the Title statement, you will struggle to understand and solve nuance issues with your gun dog. This is a common disconnect with participants in our gun dog training seminars and a human characteristic that is difficult to accept. A lack of truly understanding, and believing, that it is about what your dog thinks will result in unnecessary pressure on your dog and a breakdown in your relationship.
We are not talking about whether or not your dog “knows” something. Once you teach your gun dog a task, reward the behavior, increase the expectation and polish the behavior through repetition (T.R.I.P.), your dog probably understands and knows the task. What we are talking about is your communication to your gun dog regarding what task you are asking the dog to complete. Confusion is the simplest way to view what we are talking about.
Confusion is the result of many factors. However, it is most commonly related to your dog not understanding either what you are asking the dog to do, or if it will be a positive/negative result. Misreading what your gun dog thinks about the situation will create undue pressure and the resulting anxiety, fear and flee/fight response we so often see with gun dogs.
“Old school” training creates a lot of obvious examples of what we are talking about. Remember rubbing the dog’s nose in it when you came home and the dog had an accident? What about calling the dog and it does not come back and then letting him have it when he finally came to you? With the advent of canine behaviorists finally getting through to us and understanding the brief period of time that allows association, most people understand how wrong we were previously. What we created was a neurotic gun dog that was confused being around us because it never knew if it was going to get praised or corrected. This would be a tough and unjust life for your dog.
Most of the confusion is going to be very subtle. I wish there was a magic pill, or some “trick” we could provide during our gun dog training seminars but there is not. If you have only had a few dogs, it is going to be difficult and frankly, you are going to get it wrong a lot of times just like us. The key is to be preceptive and learn about your dog from past mistakes.
An example of a common mistake by the owner, but more subtle, is the Hup/Sit command. You tell your dog to Hup/Sit in front of you every day to put the leash on, and your dog complies. Once your dog has the leash on, you give some verbal indication (OK, Good, Heel, Here, etc.) and then you move. One day, you decide you want your dog to wait until told to move so you give no verbal indication and you walk off. Your dog moves with you and you correct the dog because you did not give the verbal indication to move. You are wrong and an unfair trainer. You think the dog should stay in the Hup/Sit position but your gun dog thinks you want him to move with you. Each day, you told the dog to Hup/Sit when you put the leash on and then gave it a verbal indication and walked off with the dog. Through association your dog linked two events as the same command (verbal indication and moving). Your dog thinks it is doing what you want because you trained it to do what it did. Patience and a mirror will help solve a lot of mistakes.
Focus on T.R.I.P. and you will generally be able to eliminate if your gun dog knows the task. Patience will go a long way. If you understand that your dog knows the task but is not doing it, patience will allow you to pause and think about if there is some other reason for your dog’s behavior. Pressure can be a great motivator and gun dogs can do remarkable things with the use of pressure. However, if your dog is telling you it is confused (under pressure) and you are not listening, more pressure is seldom the answer.