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    The Check Cord

    Try Training Your Dog Through "Compartmentalizing"

    Alec SparkS has been training dogs professionally for over 22 years. He can be reached at www.snowboundkennels.com or on Facebook at Snowbound Kennels.
    Alec Sparks has been training dogs professionally for over 22 years. He can be reached at www.snowboundkennels.com or on Facebook at Snowbound Kennels.
    I’ll be the first to admit I have always been an intuitive trainer. When I first got my start, I knew nothing of the science of dog training but was fortunate enough to be mentored by some excellent professional trainers over a number of years. I honestly had never even heard of the “Four Quadrants of Dog Training” until about eight years ago. Every time I have worked with a new-to-me discipline – first as a retriever-only trainer, then pointing dogs and now a personal (not professional) interest in protection/working K9 dogs – I’ve always learned quite a bit. What I’ve discovered over the past several years as I’ve been around more and more people who understand the actual science of how dogs learn, many of the methods I have used for much of my professional career have a sound basis in canine learning science.

    Am I a better trainer now for knowing and understanding the Four Quadrants? No, I don’t believe so, but that understanding does help validate how I train and gives me a common language when speaking with other trainers who also understand them. Here are a number of scientifically proven canine training concepts you might want to implement in your training if you haven’t yet.

    When you “generalize” a behavior, you expose the dog to new environments and distractions. A lack of generalization is why the training field “wonder” frequently falls apart in a real world hunt.

    I’ve always “compartmentalized” my training. Yes, I work all three foundation control commands in one session, but they are all control commands, and I’m generalizing from day one. When you compartmentalize, you break down training behaviors into more individual actions rather than, for example, trying to train a young dog to be under control and do formal bird work at the same time.

    My generalizing of the Whoa command is done with “successive approximation,” asking for a little bit more over time, as the dog allows. Rather than ask for some behaviors for extended periods of time, I try to get the dog to whoa for one-half second, then one and a half, then four, then longer and longer as the dog’s understanding advances. With that advancement, the command is artfully enforced at a level the dog fully understands.

    Training clients’ dogs generally over 6 months of age, I have not found reward-based marker training (operant conditioning) to be that useful. Bringing along a puppy, I’m sure I would include it in some foundation Whoa training.

    Marker training, or as some may call it “clicker training,” is greatly misunderstood by many in the field sport training world. It’s a far cry from the poor “treat training” many employ. I find quality marker training significantly more difficult to employ properly than working a dog on a check cord/leash. Done most effectively, the trainer must understand: value – how much the dog likes the food; delivery – how you actually hold and time the food delivery; volume – how much you give the dog; and pay schedule – how often you deliver food and how you fade the reward. Of course, then you’ll have to understand how you will perhaps overlay a tool (check cord/leash or remote collar) properly with the reward. Like I said, much more difficult than pulling a dog around on a leash, but the results you can get, many times very quickly, can be amazing.

    With this type of training, you aren’t “bribing” the dog but teaching behaviors and new action patterns (what we want the dog to do). I believe it has limited application with pointing dogs beyond some foundation puppy work as I wrote, but with flushing dogs it is far more applicable. I would think of employing it in training if time allowed.

    I really believe we’re far past the time people should be correcting and punishing dogs for failing to comply (or even simply comprehend) with behaviors they don’t understand as a foundation way of teaching. But just because those old methods “work” is no justification for using them. It’s 2020 not 1960, and for the thoughtful trainer, science tells us there are ways to train dogs that coincide with how they actually learn.

    The way I trained always just made sense to me as being fair and effective while reducing unnecessary physical and mental pressure on a dog. Don’t get me wrong. I know dogs can thrive with both physical and mental pressure, but that pressure should be used in enforcing behaviors (with methods the dog understands) at an appropriate level, depending on several factors and only after it has been taught those behaviors.

    Just because it “works” is an easy excuse not to advance your understanding of training and your skills.


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