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10 Mistakes in Gun Dog Training and How Not to Make Them – Part 1

The best thing about the years that ourselves and our ProStaffers have spent training dogs is that we’ve made the mistakes. We preach the value

English Setter on Point

English Setter, Breeze, working a point during a training session with Regional Sales Manager Josh Miller.

of mistakes because you will learn from them even more than your successes, but there’s no reason you can’t learn from ours. We constantly hammer on the values of consistency, repetition and patience, so we tried to look outside of those in theis series. Of course, that does not make those 3 any less important. They are the corner stone of a good training program. These are just a few more mistakes you’d be best to avoid in your training:

Repeating Commands

We’ve all seen it happen:  someone training their dog gives a command, sit for example, and the dog doesn’t listen the first time. Instead of immediately correcting this behavior, the trainer says sit again, possibly louder and harsher. Even if the dog listens this go round, what he or she has learned is that listening the first time is not a requirement. It’s like telling a teenager to clean his room. If you don’t get on to them the first time they don’t listen, they learn that they really don’t need to clean their room until Momma gets that tone. That’s not a good scenario. Your dog needs to know that every time a command is issued, it should be followed. This not only makes a better hunting experience, but it can save your dog’s life.

Training in Consistent Environments

There is nothing wrong with setting aside a particular training area for your dog, but it’s not good to set up the same conditions repeatedly. Like professional athletes must learn to compete in rain, snow, heat and the uncertainty of a happy or agitated crowd, so must your dog. If your dog has only been trained in quiet, fair conditions, it increases the likelihood that he will get confused when things go differently in the field.

Relying Solely on Praise

You should reward your dog. There is no question about that. When she does something right, a pat on the head, praise and even treats are totally acceptable. The downside to only using reward based training though is that your dog can learn to only work for what she gets out of it…and sometimes she might not want anything. Yes, dogs want our approval and affection, but sometimes the desire to not listen will outweigh the desire to get some attention.

Relying solely on Correction

By that same token, you can’t rely solely on correcting misbehaviors. Your dog does need to know when he has not appropriately completed a command, but relying solely on correction without rewarding positive behavior is going to decrease your dog’s confidence and increase his reliance on you. Your dog wants to make you happy, and if he feels like all he does is get corrected he’s going to look to you more to ensure he is behaving appropriately. This will affect his ability to rely on his own instincts and confidence in the field/blind/woods/etc. Basically, you’d end up with a trained dog, but he’d be like that quiet kid in the back of the class with mommy issues. No one wants that.

Getting Angry

Dogs can be frustrating. They can be furry little teenagers that at times seem like their sole purpose is to infuriate you, but you’ve still got to keep a level head. Getting angry and screaming orders or stomping around is not doing either of you any good. Your mood will be a distraction. Your dog will be confused. It’s a lose-lose situation. If it’s just one of those days that you can’t seem to get through a session without wanting to sell your pup to the Amish, take a break. Put him away and pick up where you left off next time.

Have you made any of these mistakes in your training? How did you correct them. Make sure to check back next week to see the second half of this series.

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8 Comments

  1. Jake
    Posted August 25, 2013 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been training my lab pup since he was 7 weeks. He’s become a great dog now at 7months. I’ve been training him in a small backyard, slowly getting him in the swamp where I mainly hunt. His second visit a week or so ago I brought it all together with real hunting scnerios and the first 3 or 4 retrieves where picture perfect, and then all of a sudden he just went scared! Its like all his confidence went out the window, so I stopped the training, and been just doing the basics since. But still he’s unsure of everything! How do I get his confidence back?

    • SportDOG
      Posted September 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      You’re doing the right thing. Go back to the commands he has down to an art and work him back up with lots of positive reinforcement. The goal will be getting him to retrieve more. It’s possible he saw something that freaked him on a retrieve and it’ll just take a little time to build him back up. You’re doing the right thing. Just stick with it. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

  2. Kara
    Posted December 2, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    I have a 6 month old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon that I have been training. I also have chickens that can get in her yard occasionally through the fence. They usually don’t but it happens sometimes. She usually runs the fence line and chases them even though they are not in her yard. One came in the yard today and she caught it and of course killed it. I punished her and put her on a tie down for a couple of hours. I checked the yard for any chickens and there wasn’t any so I went back inside and of course not long after that I came outside and she had another one. Is there anyway to correct this behavior but still keep her “birdie” for hunting. I obviously don’t want her killing my chickens but I don’t want to correct the natural bird hunting instinct right out of her. If you have any recommendations I would appreciate it. I am lost for how to handle this situation.

    • SportDOG
      Posted December 5, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      That is a great question and one that many people are concerned about. The first place to start is doing as much as you can to keep the chickens out of her area. That’s a hard balance for sure, and one that may fall through sometimes. The hardest part of this will be catching her attacking the chicken, because you will need to correct her while she is trying to do so. If you punish her after you’ve found a chicken dead, the chances are she is not going to connect the crime with the punishment. Try keeping a close eye on her and correcting her only when she goes after a chicken. After she’s gotten a correction, take her out and give her some retrieves so she knows that getting the bird is a good thing. Also work on pointing with proper scents. The goal is to teach her the difference between the game she’s after and what to avoid.

  3. Trae Revels
    Posted April 10, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I have a 1.5 yr old black lab, and we have been through FF and working on doubles using dokkens methods, but when I narrow the angles about 30 deg. She will do a session perfectly and then the next day I will start out with them about at 90 again then work my way to 45 then she wants to start switching, I will stop her and make her come in, go pick up the dummies and start over but the next toss she goes halfway and pops and sometimes she will no go. I will throw my hands in the air to show her I’m disappointed and make her start over and throw the dummies again. She seems to lack confidence or something. How to I fix popping? I would also like to know any advanced double retrieve drills if
    possible. Thanks

    • SportDOG
      Posted April 14, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      Great question. Sounds like you’re doing a lot of things right. You might do well to always start her sessions with drills that she does well. Lots of praise to boost her confidence, then move into the harder drills. If she reaches a point that she just can’t get it, take a break for a little while. Focus on other drills and come back. On popping, we recommend going back and working on stay and release commands. There are some advanced drills out there, but you probably want to stay where you are until she’s got this down. You’re doing great! Keep it up. It takes some time but she will get there.

  4. Rayna
    Posted June 18, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    I have a 10 month old Wirehaired Pointing Griffon- he is well trained on basic obedience on/off leash (come, sit, stay, heel). However, lately he has been ignoring the “come” command off-leash if he gets on a scent or exploring. I will go find him and give the command again to which he will make eye contact and then go on his merry way, ignoring again. Eventually he will come back or I will catch up to him and secure him back on the leash. I have started using the Sportdog 350 for basic training/reinforcement. Do you have a suggestion for how to best use the collar for this ignoring of command? Thanks!

    • SportDOG
      Posted June 18, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      That’s a great question and an important one. When you issue the command and he does not listen, issue a correction. If he ignores the correction, turn the stimulation level up and issue the command again. If he still does not listen, correct him again. If you reach the highest level and he is still not responding, you may want to consider a stubborn dog model which will offer higher levels of stimulation. Also, check to make sure the collar is making contact and your pup is receiving the correction. If you know he is receiving the correction and is reacting to it in some way (just not the right way) go back through on leash training to be sure he understands what is expected of him.

      Let us know how everything progresses. Thanks!

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