Five more common gundog training mistakes and how we should aim to avoid them.
Author Ben Randall
1. Loud and excessive handling
Dogs have very good hearing – you don’t need to shout. Quiet, calm commands, that are not repeated or over-used, are often a sign of a good handler.
Example: Dogs listen not only to words but also tone and volume when you give a command. If the dog is used to being told loudly to ‘sit’ when just a yard away from you – voice or whistle – it will expect the same volume and tone of command when it is 30 yards away. Loud commands in the training paddock translate to bellowing in the shooting field.
Instead: Stay calm, and use quiet but clear commands when in close proximity to your dog – from puppyhood. This way, the dog will notice when you change your tone. If you ask your dog to do something once and it has definitely heard you and chooses not to do it, then calmly take the dog back to where it was when you gave the command and issue the command again, ensuring that your dog obeys.
2. Getting stressed
If we don’t find something enjoyable, where is the incentive to keep doing it? The same holds true for dogs. Training should be relaxed and enjoyable, both for you and for your dog.
Example: Patience is key when training any dog. Losing your rag and shouting during a training session if things aren’t going right will only make matters worse and weaken the bond between dog and handler. Dogs can sense if you are uptight and stressed and this will have a detrimental effect on training sessions.
Instead: If you’re stressed, do not even attempt to train your dog. Only commence a training session when you are relaxed, and make sure your dog is enjoying it! Each session should be planned so that weaker areas from the previous sessions are addressed.
3. frequent failure
If a dog begins failing on a regular basis in its training, it will start to lose confidence.
Example: Trying to direct a dog that is not yet confident at working in cover, to a blind retrieve in thick cover with unfavourable wind. The dog gets fed-up of not succeeding and quickly loses confidence in its own ability, and hence loses its enthusiasm to enter cover in the future.
Instead: Always keep training fun and finish on a positive note. Set up situations in training which almost ensure that the dog will succeed. If the dog doesn’t succeed, show it how to do what is being asked at a simpler level.
4. Too much repetition
Whilst it is vital that a dog absolutely understands each lesson in its training, too much of the same thing in a short space of time can dampen enthusiasm.
Example: A thrown, marked retrieve in an open area is a very straightforward exercise for most dogs once they have learned the basics. By throwing such retrieves too often, the exercise becomes boring, and the dog less enthusiastic.
Instead: Keep things varied and interesting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the difficulty of the training must increase. Use different shaped and sized dummies for retrieving, pick dummies yourself most of the time and try calling your dog away from them. Work in different types of light cover.
Never rest on your laurels. Once a top sportsman reaches a certain level, do they stop training? Of course not. The same goes for your dog.
Example: You’ve put in the hard work, and your dog is the perfect companion in the field. Steady, enthusiastic and efficient. Job done. Once the season is over, the training sessions become less and less frequent until they almost cease completely. Your consistency with your dog begins to slip. Before you know it, bad habits start creeping in.
Instead: Continue with training and try some new exercises to keep things fresh. Work on weaknesses noted during the season, and plan your training sessions accordingly.