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Man giving hand signal to black Labrador Retriever to go retrieve item.Man giving hand signal to black Labrador Retriever to go retrieve item.

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

Posted by The SportDOG Staff

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 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 this 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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The SportDOG Staff

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