Positive Gundog Training Stage 1: Basic Training

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How do I get my dog to sit on the whistle without first moving towards me? Do you use a clicker to train the retrieve? Do you use treats for training, or is retrieving enough of a reward?

Puppy Training Stages

Can I do multiple dog sports at a time with my dog? Am I sending my puppy mixed messages by allowing him to chase birds to build drive -and- expecting him to maintain his steadiness in the presence of birds? How do I get along with naysayers in my hunt club? How do I get my dog to range out and hunt rather than licking my boots? Do I need to use real birds for training? If so, which birds should I use, and when do I use them? When he's launched on the splash, he knows exactly where that bird is and will quickly pick it up.

After he's found several hundred birds all by himself, it is going to become difficult to convince him that he needs help from you in the form of hand signals. This is as prevalent in young, green dogs as breaking is in older hunting dogs. Both problems stem from a lack of obedience. If a dog is well trained to heel, sit, stay and come, he'll do nearly anything you want.

The problem lies in the definition of "well trained. A dog is well trained in obedience when he is obedient in the face of any level of distraction. That means he will respond properly when the neighbor's cat walks by, when another dog is playing next to him and even when shotguns are going off and ducks are falling. The average hunter appears to be "overdogged," or to have a dog that is too hot for him to handle.

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I place the blame for this on our field-trial system. Our retriever field trials were brought over from England in the early s, along with the golden and Labrador retrievers. The trials were small and very representative of a day's shooting, and the skills judged were those that had value to the hunting dog and hunter.

See a Problem?

The trials emphasized game-finding ability, softness of mouth and calmness of demeanor. The typical Labrador retriever of 30 or 40 years ago was a gentle, calm dog. Today, an unfortunately large number of Labradors are hyperactive and difficult to train. The basic reason for this shift in breeding selection appears to be our field-trial system.

Unfortunately, our field trials—mainly because of increasing entries—have evolved over the years into elimination contests that evaluate skills that are of little importance in a hunting dog. These behaviors include lining, angle entries into water, pinpoint marking and precise handling at long distances. Gone by the wayside are line manners and obedience, as well as game-finding initiative.

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  8. Moreover, training precision lining and long-distance handling require a great deal of repetition and some degree of punishment. The dog that excels at these skills tends to be hyperactive, with a high pain threshold, which is exactly the type of dog we are breeding today. The electric collar, which can create as many problems as it solves, is becoming far too predominant a training tool.

    The electric collar is a great training tool in the hands of a good trainer. However, there is an astronomically greater number of electric collars than there are good trainers.

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    The collar does not magically impart the knowledge and skills of dog training to the guy holding the transmitter. Most folks buy an electric collar to solve a basic obedience problem, and they generally end up abusing the dog and not solving the problem, or trading one problem for an even bigger one.


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    Proper training can solve nearly all problems in basic obedience, and you don't need an electric collar to do so. We have forgotten the basic goals of breeding selection and have embarked on a course of producing better dogs by training rather than breeding. The Labrador is the breed I most commonly work with, and I am alarmed at the trends I see. It has become the general custom to force-fetch train every dog.

    What About Distance Coaching?

    This corrects any tendency to drop birds, mouth birds or run off to the bushes with birds. It also masks the genetic tendencies toward those behaviors.

    We are now masking with training the major trait that we spent a hundred years developing through selective breeding—namely, delivery to hand with a soft mouth. If we take a hard-mouthed dog and put him through the force-fetch program so that he delivers gently to hand, then he will behave like a great dog. We may even make him a field champion through superior training.

    However, his puppies will still have that genetic tendency toward hard mouth, and we will be going backwards in the selective-breeding process. Two other examples of behaviors that have a very significant genetic component that we mask with training are:. Hyperactivity We train the hyperactive dog to be under control and be a gentleman. The electric collar is quite popular for this.

    Put a hyperactive dog in the hands of a good trainer with an electric collar and that dog will make an excellent gun dog or field-trial dog, but his puppies probably will inherit the same hyperactivity.

    What is force-free training?

    His puppies will be just as difficult to train as the sire was. Cooperative Nature We generally characterize these dogs as "soft" and tend to give them away as pets when they flunk the electric-collar program. Thus we are tending to remove from the breeding pool dogs that exhibit this valuable trait. This trait of "cooperative nature" is of extreme importance to the average hunter, because the average hunter is usually quite unfamiliar with dog training.