Dog training, especially gun dog training, lies somewhere between a science and an art form. There are basic canine behaviors to be acknowledged and worked with to bring out the full advantages of a dog’s natural instincts, and a certain finesse to being able to adjust your training to a dog’s temperament and learning curve. We do not claim to know everything there is to know about training, but here is a quick list of essentials we have picked up along the way from our ProStaff and our own experience.These are what every beginner should learn and what every old pro should constantly be reminded of:
This could actually be items 1, 2 and 3. Proper dog training requires patience with your dog(s), yourself and the process. This is a long term venture with a long term goal. Sometimes that is easy to forget when season is right around the corner and you have a pup right on the verge of ready for the field. It’s very tempting to want to rush the process for the short term gain of having a field ready dog this season, but you could be foiling yourself and your dog for future seasons. Also, every dog is unique. They learn differently and they learn at different paces. Just because one you are working with now is a slower start than others you have worked with, don’t doubt that he could be the strongest finisher. Just as your dog has a right to make mistakes, so do you, especially if you are new to this. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t make all the right training choices with your dog. Take a lesson from what could have gone better and remember it going forward. Your dog doesn’t hold it against you, neither should you.
2. There are No Shortcuts
Being e-collar manufacturers, we are often faced with the improper belief that electronic training systems are magic devices that allow you to push a button and have a perfect hunting dog at your fingertips. If we could manufacture such a device, we’d all be millionaires out hunting all day long with our perfect pups not worrying about how to make anything better. It’s a nice world to imagine, but to date we are in the business of making the best electronic training tools available for you and your gun dog. The e-collar is a communication and reinforcement tool. Your dog has to know what you are trying to communicate/reinforce before the collar has any significant meaning.
This is important to remember when sending your dog to a trainer as well. You will get back a well-trained dog, but this is a never ending process. The number one concern our ProStaffers have with their jobs is that they know occasionally a dog will go back to an owner who will not keep up its training, and in time, all of their hard work will be undone. A professional trainer’s job is to train your dog using expert skills you may not possess and time you may not have to give you an awesome hunting partner. It is up to you to make sure you continue to reinforce this training.
3. Set Reasonable Expectations
Perhaps we’re alone here, but we are not perfect hunters (which you’re well aware of if you’ve read some of our other blogs). We have missed birds, we have picked the wrong fields…at the end of the day we have committed any number of monstrosities on the hunt, and our dogs have forgiven us every one of them. They deserve the same. That’s not to say to spoil your dog, or overlook their short comings, but do set reasonable expectations of him. Until you’re hunting a perfect hunt 100% of the time, you can’t expect him to. Continue to work with him through training and communication, and try to restrain yourself from becoming frustrated when a retrieve, flush, strike, point, tree, etc. isn’t exactly what you want it to be every time. Learn and grow together. We know we’ve said it once, but we cannot say it enough, training is a never ending process.
4. Ensure Real World Experience
A quarterback can have a 100% completion percentage for 60 yard passes on an empty playing field, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for the big show. The same can be said for your dog. Training in field situations is imperative for your dog to be ready for the hunt. Unless you’re hunting alone all the time, your dog needs to be socialized to other hunting dogs to be able to work as a team player in the field, he needs to know and be excited by the sound of a gunshot, he needs to be able to accept and not become distracted by unusual smells and he needs to be able to search out terrain that is not his own territory. The most perfectly trained gun dog at home is still a rookie in the field. Your dog needs to be able to get out and practice in real world scenarios as often as possible to be ready for the hunt.
5. Have Fun
Around here, our motto is “if you’re not having fun with it, why are you doing it?” Having a well-trained hunting dog is a great asset in the field and an amazing source of pride, but those are just icing on the cake. At the end of the day, hunting is a blast. It’s fun for you, it’s fun for your dog…it’s just a damn good time, so the training should be, too. Sometimes is easy to get caught up in the repetition and urgency of the process and think “I’m doing all the hard stuff right now to get to the good stuff later”. Don’t get stuck in that cycle, or you and your dog are going to find training miserable. The more fun you and your dog have together during training, the more fun you are likely to have in the field.