Pin Oak Hunting Retriever Club

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Here is your Pin Oak mid-month training tip taken from the words of Scott Linden.  These are words you can live by when training your retriever.

 No matter what you're training, the foundation includes these ...  

 Training season is here, and I'm sure you have one (or more) goals. No matter what you want to fix/change/introduce to your hunting companion, you'll need a good grounding in what motivates a dog. Here are some of my thoughts ... yours are welcome - see below and share them with everyone.

 I love food - and thus, food treats. But man does not live by bread alone. Neither does your dog. At some point, you'll need to go beyond food treats, for practical reasons if nothing else.

Often it's the more personal touch, literally, that becomes the perfect payoff after a stellar bit of dog work. A scratch behind the ear says "good job." Rubbing the chest is most welcome by a dog, and most will come right to you if they know you're going to offer that. And no dog can refuse the firm, slow stroke down his backbone.

 Much more handy are your vocal cords. Tell your dog he's a good boy, over, and over and over. Be consistent - simple is better. Avoid using your dog's name - it has better uses, such as getting his attention prior to another command.  

 "Face time" is not just a business-speak cliché. A dog that can get right up to your head is a happy dog. As a puppy your dog licked his dam's face in the hopes of regurgitated food. Usually he'll settle for the first half of the transaction. Anyone who doesn't let their dog lick their face once in a while probably likes cats.

 Sometimes, the best reward is the most subtle: simply being around you. Dogs are the ultimate "social animal," living in packs in the wild, depending on each other for protection, food, solace, companionship. This knowledge can also be applied to discipline - withholding your attention by backing away from a gate will stop a dog's frantic circling and barking, for example. Turning your back on a dog that's jumping on you will often halt it. Temporary banishment can be as effective as any e-collar.

 Evolutionary biologists tell us the reason dogs were domesticated, the sole reason they serve us, is because we've arrested their development. They contend (and I agree) that even adult dogs are in a state of perpetual puppyhood. They seek attention, positive reinforcement, and contact with the alpha pack member in their lives, and that is us.

 Yes, you do attract more flies with honey than with vinegar and the same holds true for your dog. I've made a practice of asking every pro trainer I meet how much praise he delivers compared to the number of corrections. It averages about seven rewards to every correction. 

 A little demonstration you can try at home might drive home that point. (Thanks to trainer George Quinlan for putting me on the right track with this.) Ask another human to help by being the "dog." Now, imagine (but don't tell them) you've hidden a treat somewhere in the room and you want your "dog" to find it. In the first attempt, your communication is limited to "no" whenever your dog is moving the wrong way. In the second, you can only say "good boy" when he's moving the right way. In the third, you can use both "no," and "good boy." Which worked best for you both?

 Everything is relative. Think back to your own 'training.' Whether learning to ride a bike or use Facebook, someone was at your side, guiding, praising, correcting and encouraging. Early in the process it took a lot of feedback, positive and negative. Later, not so much.

 Depending on the skill and maturity of you the student, the praise might have been effusive, loud and frequent. As you matured, it might have been a subtle nod or single word. Ditto for constructive criticism. Your dog's unique personality and maturity will dictate how - and how much - praise or discipline he needs to become your best hunting partner.

 The big payoff: Food, water, a good scratch ... they all work. But ultimately let's not forget that our partner is a bird dog. It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what the best reward is. Without training, our very expensive predator-scavenger-partner would simply swallow that bird, maybe slowing down to deconstruct it first. But with training we can forestall that, still allowing our dog savor the primordial reward of prey in his mouth.

 It's our job to provide this uber-reward. Our dogs, in turn, will run five times as far as we walk, swim icy water, endure cactus spines and sand burrs, shiver in brutal cold and pant in searing heat. When it's all over they'll then curl up at our feet and sleep the sleep of the blessed.

 Hope you enjoy,

Larry Mc


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