It takes time to train a good hunting dog. Get a head start here. When you do start your training, keep it fun, fast, and most importantly stress free.
Before we progress further into this series, I think it’s important we go over some fundamentals. First, not all dogs are the same. Like people, they have different capacities for learning, different speeds at which they learn, and different limitations based on their genetics. Additionally, there is no single correct answer on how to train your dog. You may find success by emulating my techniques, or you may use something completely different and still have great results.
When we see behaviors in dogs they can generally be separated into two categories: genetic behavior and environmental behavior. Genetic behavior is determined by the dog’s genes, born into the dog. A dog’s potential is limited by his genetic makeup. Environmental behavior is learned through environmental conditioning. These concepts become clear when we use the courage/confidence example.
Courage is genetic while confidence is environmental. A dog lacking courage towards a situation will be unable to overcome an obstacle (slick floors, heavy underbrush, swimming, etc.), whereas a dog lacking confidence can overcome such an obstacle through slow introduction to the area (having another dog go first, use treats/rewards, etc.). It is important to identify which behavior your dog is displaying, so it can be addressed correctly.
Throughout all training/conditioning your voice tones are extremely important. Until your dog is conditioned to your command, and even after, he will surmise what you want by the tone(s) of your voice. Remember to stay consistent with these tones or you will confuse your dog. It takes a little getting used to, but with practice you will be a pro.
Command short monotone bark
Correction low growling
Permissive high to low
Praise high, happy
Agitation suspicious, whispering
I will use three training principles while training my dog: 4-1 methodology, modular training, and conflict training.
4-1 methodology is used to introduce odor to your dog. Up to four odors (this isn’t a magic number, I intend on training: duck, quail, grouse, and pheasant) are packaged (or applied) to a single training aid (tube, dummy, etc.). The dog is then conditioned to locate this object. Over time I will separate these odors into pairs, and eventually alone. I want my dog to be constantly looking for any of the four odors all the time.
Modular training is short and simple lessons which work on one facet of a finished product. This is done through hard/easy or easy/hard searches. Hard/easy (hard search, easy find) is when the dog works for a long time and when the source is found they’re rewarded quickly. Easy/hard (easy search, hard find) is when the dog works for a short period of time but must hold his position for a long time before being rewarded. This kind of training, when done correctly, helps to keep the stress low for your dog.
Conflict training is constantly changing training, so the dog doesn’t become patterned into an incorrect response. Imagine if all you ever did was train at once specific field, with only one kind of bird, and you always placed the bird in the same place. The dog would learn that a bird is always in that spot and would run straight there without actually looking for a bird as he went. Everything in your training should be conflicted, other than proper handling skills, and your trained odors.
In my K9 school, we were taught that what you allow the dog to do, is what you train the dog to do. For the dog to make the proper association, a correction or reward must be delivered within half to one second after the command. Punishing your dog eight hours after he had an accident in your house will teach him nothing. Finally, never give a command that you cannot immediately enforce, never allow the dog to disobey your command, and never repeat the command without enforcing it.
Remember, it will take time to build a good hunting partner. Don’t overdo the training initially. When you do start your training, keep it fun, fast, and most importantly stress free. This was a lot of information to cover quickly. If have any questions or want any clarifications, please feel free to comment below.
(Featured image courtesy of bestgundogs.com)