column By: Alec Sparks, Jessie Richards | June, 17
A fair number of pointing dog owners have far too much dog for their actual needs.
Some of these people hunt grouse, woodcock and/or some preserve birds. Many others who either travel to open country or live there are sometimes over-dogged, too. What’s my definition of over-dogged? It’s a dog that has far more independence than is required for the owner’s needs or requirements.
Three things at play here lead a dog to run big. First is bird finding desire – not to be confused with a dog that likes to run just to hear the wind whistle past its ears. Second is the dog’s fitness and natural athletic ability. Last and many times the deciding factor, the dog’s level of independence. You can have high drive/athletic ability and tremendous desire to find birds, but if the dog lacks independence, it’s not likely to venture far. Conversely, you can have a low desire dog with three legs that has an independent nature, and it might disappear on you daily.
Of course, we want a dog with the independence to move off and hunt, but few people really need a dog that they spend all day hunting for and not with. Notice I wrote need, not want. Many times people aren’t very realistic in what they actually need in a dog vs. what they want in one. Far be it from me to dictate to them what they want, but perhaps with a more thoughtful appraisal of what they actually need, they might re-evaluate what they want.
Field trial dogs have their influence in all this, too. The seductive lure of a puppy out of a championship winning kennel or litter might blind some people into getting a pup that matures into a dog that isn’t really appropriate for them despite the fact it might be a wonderful dog for someone else.
In many ways, the ownership of hunting dogs is influenced by a desire not to be “that person” with the “boot polisher” – one of the insulting names some people use to describe any dog that doesn’t run as big as they think it should. Not surprisingly, the out-of-control run off dog they own has a perfect range! Ego and testosterone can play a large role in dog selection. Most breeders breed what will sell and so it’s become an endless circle of hunters wanting that independent, big running dog and breeders trying to cater to that. Of course, the pendulum swings both ways, and other owners and breeders are looking for the opposite, but they seem to be the minority from what I see. If you play one of the many pointing dog games where race is king, I understand your needs, desire and love for that type of dog. But it’s “square peg/round hole” when someone who wants to have an enjoyable day afield ends up with a dog that just wants to punch holes in the horizon.
Unfortunately, many independent dogs are subjected to some fairly “sharp” training methods as people try to rein them in. They’re usually easy to spot with their ears back and tails down overreacting to commands. If their independent streak is coupled with an uncooperative nature, the tendency to get “emotionally involved” in training decisions is common. Not a great situation for the dogs. Also unfortunately, a hunter can end up with a dog that is more of a liability to hunt with than an enjoyable asset.
So here’s where I come up with the great answers to people ending up with the wrong dog.
Take a really long and honest look in the mirror and assess the actual amount of hunting you do and the most typical conditions. Not the amount you hope to – be realistic. Now in your mind’s eye many of you are seeing that graceful dog bounding through the cover and slamming to a solid point while your friends gasp in awe and congratulate you on your amazing dog and outstanding abilities as a trainer. Uh, remember I just said to be realistic?
OK, now how about a stylish dog that responds to your commands and works at a suitable range? One that presents little risk of getting lost or of forcing you to spend much of the hunt trying to keep it under control and nearby. A dog whose race doesn’t outrun your training abilities. In short: a dog you can hunt with and not need to train during hunting season for much of its life.
Breeders want to sell what they breed, so the responsibility falls on you to do your homework and research your choices. And remember: The best breeders will tell you when their pups aren’t suitable for your situation. Others always have what everyone is looking for.
I am a strong believer in raising puppies in the house to help teach proper socialization, house breaking and manners.
Retrievers in general are social animals and thrive on interaction with people. A lot of the behavioral issues in young dogs result from a lack of socialization. I’ve found that puppies raised in kennels tend not to know how to receive praise or affection or learn how to understand correction. In addition, they are often noisier and more timid around unfamiliar situations, dogs and people. A puppy needs to be your best buddy. I try to take mine along with me whenever possible, to the store or park, to training or just over to a friend’s house. Exposing puppies to a multitude of different situations only enhances their abilities to learn and cope with new things.
Three of the most critical parts of raising a puppy in the house are crate training, housebreaking and teaching good manners.
I like to start with a crate fitted adequately to the puppy’s size. It needs plenty of space to stand up, lie down, stretch out and move around a bit. It shouldn’t be so big the puppy can move out of its space and soil an area. As the puppy grows, the size of the crate should be increased.
There are a few ways to get a puppy comfortable with a crate life: feeding meals in it, rewarding the behavior of entering with a treat and keeping a blanket or stuffed toy inside the crate that smells like the litter.
Crate training also makes car rides easier. Puppies need to travel in crates instead of being loose in the back seat. Safety is one reason. If you need to slam on the brakes, you wouldn’t want your new puppy catapulted into the dash or windshield. Second, a pup comfortable in a crate will be less anxious when traveling.
For housebreaking, the puppy needs to go out after certain activities: upon awakening, after eating or taking a big drink and after play time. It is also important to learn your puppy’s tendencies on how it asks to go out. Sometimes it’s running towards the door, whining in the crate or starting to sniff around as if looking for a place to go. Most puppies raised in the house and properly crate-trained naturally want to be clean and would rather go potty outside than in their inside space. It is important to learn the difference between their needing to go out and just not wanting to be in the crate.
Last, an important part of raising a puppy in the house is teaching them good manners. Puppies naturally try to climb and jump up on people. When they do, I use the command Off and give either a small jerk on their lead or bump them with a knee or shin. What I don’t like to see done is hitting or kicking the puppy. Hitting can cause them to flinch or cower from regular hand movements, and kicking can cause serious injury.
For Come and Sit I like to use treats to reward the desired behavior. For example, if I call the puppy to come to me and she comes, I reward her with a treat. It is important to use the treat as a reward and not as a bribe.
An equally important command to teach, when the puppy exhibits an undesired behavior, is a stern No! Show the puppy how to stop what it’s doing and redirect it to an acceptable behavior. For example, if the puppy starts to chew on a shoe, say “No,” take the shoe away and replace it with an acceptable toy.
This is only the beginning of starting your puppy on the fast track to becoming a reliable companion and gun dog.