By Phyllis Walsh
Field Training Problem Clinic
It is the beginning of summer and most of you have been back to training your dogs for several months. If your dogs are like my dogs, you have already seen several problems interfere with your dog's performance. Is the problem one that keeps cropping up and never seems to be completely resolved? I call this the "Cardinal Sin" of the dog. All dogs have what I call their "Cardinal Sins". If you make an issue of them and "fix" the problem they seem to go away for a while, only to return again. Think about your dog's performance in the field. What are the tendencies you always seem to be correcting? Does he try to bank run, does he drift from the line, or does he break? There are so many problems that may be the recurring problem for your dog that it would be difficult for me to mention them all here. Whatever the problem, if you do not stay on top of the situation, you will see your dog's "cardinal sin" occurring over and over.
Dogs also develop other problems when learning new skills. Often these problems are just a new version of the old problem. Unfortunately, when correcting a new problem you may see additional problems occur in response to the correction. Therefore, you may have to fix 2 or 3 problems in succession before the dog is running well again.
In order to correct problems effectively you must first understand the problem and its source of origin. Therefore I would like to address a process of evaluating problems that will be helpful to you. This process has several steps.
1. Know Your Dog
It is important to know about your dog's personality and how he handles stress and corrections in order to properly assess a training problem and use the method that he will respond to best.
A few years ago we were training three dogs on the same tests. The oldest dog, Ryan, was a good boy. He had a conscience and when you were training him he would become upset if he didn't catch on immediately. Ryan was very intelligent and he usually understood commands with ease, but if he became confused he had difficulty overcoming problems if you corrected him too harshly. For example, if he had a tendency to break, and you corrected this with force, he would then wait for a double command when you sent him before he would leave your side. His behavior was not a refusal to go but it was more like a question, "Are you really sure that you want me to go Mom?" Therefore, when Ryan was corrected you only needed to exert enough force to get his attention for you always had his respect.
Stormy another dog, took corrections well. He would always give you 150% of his effort. If he wasn't doing what you wanted all you needed to do was get his attention and redirect him. If he needed more than that, it was ok. He could handle a stern correction and he would act as if he were saying to you "oh, is this what you wanted" when corrected.
Sunny was very intelligent and usually tried to outsmart you. He could figure out what you wanted him to do easily, but he wasn't always ready to give it to you. You couldn't let Sunny get away with anything because his head would swell with importance and he would lose respect for you. Sunny needed a firm hand, and an immediate correction. He could handle the corrections well, and not shut down. The key to successfully training Sunny was staying one step ahead of him.
The handler needed to take a different approach when training each of these dogs. Ryan wanted you to explain what you wanted him to do. He needed very clear directions to minimize the need for correction. Stormy would be ok with a sketchy set of directions. He had a lot of momentum so he wouldn't shut down if you had to stop him and redirect him. Sunny was always looking to play games. In order to hold his attention you had to vary the tests and keep them hard so that he couldn't go on automatic pilot and mentally doodle while he was completing a test. He always needed to be focused on the test, otherwise he would cruse to his own tune and he would use his intelligence to figure out ways to outsmart you. Ryan, Storm and Sunny demonstrate that each dog is different therefore trainers must be able to evaluate the dog's temperament and have a basket of tricks in order to be able to use an effective approach with dogs of different personalities in order to reach the same end.
2. Does the Job Description of Field Dog suit the dog.
It is important to evaluate your dog's ability to do field work. Each dog comes with a unique set of strengths, weaknesses and abilities. If you think of "Field Dog" as a job the dog must fill, than you can write a Job Description for this job, just as if this was a job that needed to be filled in a company. This job would need to be filled by a dog with certain abilities and there would be a list of duties that the dog would have to perform in order complete this job. Is your dog capable of filling the job of Field Dog? Does he have the necessary strengths and abilities? Will his shortcomings get in the way of his progress or performance? Would you hire your dog for the job and believe that it would be cost effective to have him as one of your employees? If you do not believe that he has what it takes than train him for something else so that he can be the star he deserves to be.
3. Analyze the Problem the dog is having
Is the problem occurring for one of the following reasons?
4. Correcting the problem
Set up tests to correct the problem. Begin the training session with a retrieve that is easy for the dog to complete successfully. Follow this with a test, which will specifically give the dog the opportunity to demonstrate the problem (flushing the problem out). After the dog demonstrates the problem and you can get an effective correction, follow with another easy retrieve. This will help the dog to snap back and elevate his attitude so that he will be a willing worker.
Having a set area where you school the dog that is suitable to flushing out this specific problem will help you resolve the problem. Return the dog to this area and set up the tests so that you can correct the problems. Once the dog is doing well in this schooling area return to various fields and set up the same tests to proof the dog on these tests.
One good training concept to remember when running into difficulty training a dog is to back up and return to the tests the dog could do successfully and rebuild the dog from that point, just as if the problem never occurred. When you get to the point where the problem arose the last time, be careful to approach the tests from a different perspective this time, and take the time to use training methods that explain to the dog what you want him to do. Make the test as simple as you have to for the dog to get it right, and then make it more difficult gradually. Progress slowly and don't skip around so that the dog has a firm foundation on which to build his skills.
Most problems can be avoided by using a recognized training program when training your dog for the field. When following the plan, pace your training according to the dog's ability to be successful at the lower level before you move him on. When he is comfortable with the current tests move him on to a more challenging test so that he will always continue to grow. Make sure you have included basic training in the dog's training program which should include heel, sit, here, wait, force fetch, e-collar conditioning, forced retrieve, whip fetch, back-piling, lining drills, yard work and handling drills. If you have done your homework, or as the case may be, yard work, then you can always return to the yard to correct many of the problems that arise in the field. Some have the belief that a dog shouldn't be forced if he is doing something willingly. The premise behind forcing a dog is simple. If the dog knows that you can make him do it he will be much easier to work with when you run into a problem in the field. You have also established that there are certain tools that correct problems. The dog respects these tools and knows the appropriate response to these tools. If you have never conditioned your dog to these tools, (ear pinch, crop, e-collar, etc.) than you can't use them to gain control of the dog when the problem arises in the field.
List of Problems That Lend Themselves to Becoming "Cardinal Sins"
1. Refusing to go when the dog is sent for the retrieve from the line.
3. Bank Running
6. Cast refusal
7. Failure to keep the line
8. Over-running a mark or running short
The problems listed above are just a few of the things that can happen when you send your dog on a retrieve. The first time any of these problems occurs you might be caught off guard but be prepared to deal with it if it happens again. There is a saying in the horse world; if you stop a horse twice in the same spot you've just taught him to stop there. Remember, any problem ignored is the same as training the dog to do the retrieve incorrectly, so correct the problems as they occur and you will spend less time in the long run.
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