other By: Alec Sparks | October, 21
Conceptually, training a pointing dog is easy: Find a bird and point it until I arrive. Unfortunately, implementing even basic concepts can be extremely difficult with some dogs.
We all hope to work with a dog with wonderful natural ability and a great training aptitude. Unfortunately, a tremendous number of pointing dogs can be exceptionally challenging to train. So we’re all on the same page: My definition of training is the work that gives you the ability to recall your dogs around great distractions, to get them to change direction on command and to have them display manners on birds in the form of being staunch, and for many, steady to wing and shot.
Call it whatever you want, trainability/bidability/tractability, the “-bility” words; I don’t use them. I find dogs to be mainly cooperative or uncooperative. Cooperative dogs generally go along with what I’m trying to teach them, and uncooperative dogs don’t. You also have to factor in whether a dog has physical and/or mental sensitivities and to what degree they combine with each other and, if so, how that relates to their training aptitude. Physically sensitive dogs respond like, “Ouch! That hurts!”; mentally sensitive dogs, “Oh, I don’t like this.” It’s easy to get the, “I don’t like this,” out of any dog (and way too common) if physical or mental pressure isn’t understood, is inappropriately or overzealously applied or unending.
The first thing you must do when dealing with a dog you find difficult is to determine what the factors are in the dog’s makeup that are causing issues. All too often the “dog problem” isn’t a dog problem but a trainer problem. Take a step back and ask yourself how many times you’ve trained a dog with these issues and how often you were successful. Honestly, if you haven’t dealt before with problems like you now face, how the heck do you think you’re equipped to deal with them now, unless you’ve successfully worked with a large number of difficult dogs before, and know how to work through difficult issues? Yeah, “common sense,” books, DVDs, the Internet and hopefully this information can help, but without the necessary experience, you first really need to make sure that your “dog problem” isn’t you.
The recipe for a successful dog lies in its foundation, and that’s something many problem dogs sorely lack. You have to be absolutely sure your dog has been thoroughly taught and understands what you want it to do. Next, the dog has to understand how those behaviors are going to be enforced, and finally, those behaviors must be consistently enforced at a level that’s dictated to the dog by you and depends on several factors.
Of course, in the mix with working on trained skills is the wild card of natural ability. Addressing a dog that crowds birds is common, but what if that dog just has a lousy nose? Simple concept, difficult implementation.
I find many people trying to enforce behaviors the dog doesn’t really understand, using inconsistent and poorly time enforcement, variable enforcement techniques and emotionally based training decisions turning straightforward training dogs into “problem dogs” fairly often.
Pointing a finger at the dog now, some dogs are amazingly uncooperative while others are just not that clever. A good number have a lot more run in them than hunt. Others hunt up a storm and have limited pointing instinct. Others don’t care for any type of work that isn’t self-directed. Physically tough dogs, just more pressure, right? Not all the time; often, it’s the type of enforcement, not the amount. Endless no pressure repetition: Certainly, many dogs improve when “asked” over and over, but others never will.
The bottom line in all this is that when you’re working with a dog that has overfaced your training skill set, you have to become a better trainer! Blaming a dog is the easy way out, and it’s a crowded exit. “How could it be me; I’ve trained 10 dogs before this one? … How could it be me; I’m doing everything they tell me to do on the Internet training forum? … How could it be me, my buddies will make fun of me?”
Park your ego and become a better trainer, or let someone else train your dog. Become intellectually inquisitive about the training process; don’t just stay in your box. If you do, you can’t train dogs outside that box. Get help. There is no shame in that. Ignore the quick, easy fix offered offhand. A question on training to anyone who really doesn’t know your dog should elicit many questions back at you before they’d venture advice. Bad advice can sound like great advice, so always venture into new training territory cautiously because your dog is usually on the sharp end of the stick.