Creating a Partner and a Bond
In the last article we talked about the very early days with your pup and mentioned that your pup is learning from the moment you pick it up, in fact he is learning every waking minute. He is constantly learning from the environment and the people with which he interacts. It is important to decide what you will expect from this partnership with your dog, what will be expected of him within the family group and what type of work he will be expected to perform. So often we inadvertently create habits in pups which work against us as we begin more formal training. So know what you want to achieve, plan your training, prepare for it and avoid this trap. As the ‘senior’ partner in this relationship you have a responsibility for creating the right habits and behaviour. To do this you need to manage the pups activities, and to mould and develop the habits and behaviour you want in your dog through the use of pre-thought out training and positive experiences.
Owners of dogs that we admire often have one common factor that enables them to develop the behaviour and working ability we appreciate in their dog. It’s the capacity to create a positive and strong relationship with their dog. Their partnership has been built on respect and clear understanding of each other, and is the bond which ties them together. With some dog owners this comes naturally, with many it has to be learned. In fact as owners and trainers we need to change our habits and behaviour, and train ourselves as much as our dog does to achieve this.
Some have claimed that a strong bond is created through feeding and just spending time with your dog. Teaching the dog obedience is also recognised as a factor in creating a bond. These do help but it is how you do it more than just going through the actions. The word ‘obedience’ in many owners minds gives the impression of a military type of compliance and interpret this in a way that makes them feel they should be military in their approach to training using strong loud commands and making the dog obey. Although we want a gundog to do what we want when we command it, if we approach it from a different perspective we can develop other ways of training and achieving compliance. Your dog has natural instincts – it wants to run, to hunt, to find game, and to share the find with its partner. If we now take this concept, our training approach can take on a perspective based on reward and sharing. By placing the pup in a position so it can do right, by concentrating on avoiding the situations where it can do wrong, we avoid many adverse reactions to our partnership and minimise the amount of corrections that need to be given. Although there has to be consequences for wilful action, too often owners punish their dog when the dog does not understand the reason for the correction. This can create problems within the relationship and lead to unwanted behaviour. Patience is a virtue as a loss of temper and unfair punishment takes seconds to administer yet the consequences may last forever.
Man and gundog is a partnership, we are working together and need each other in order to succeed. In a true partnership each one is working for the other and receiving reward through joint success. But this should never be viewed as an equal partnership because you must always be recognised as the ‘Senior’ Partner. There will be times when your dog’s skills and natural abilities can do a far better job than you can, equally there will be times when yours will be far better than your dog. Your dog has to recognise this and although he has his own job and responsibilities, in the final account you should be the one with the main say in what happens. What is more rewarding than watching a dog sent for an unseen wounded bird, take the handlers commands, looks back for help when it cannot figure what to do next, and then when it hits the scent of the bird put it’s head down and use its own natural skills and intelligence to find and retrieve it. Watch any gun and his dog when they have achieved this and then see the pride and enjoyment in their body language as they succeed – together.
In our own dogs, most of us are looking for a good companion, worker and canine citizen, so let’s look briefly at some of the things you can do to create this bonding relationship. First and foremost, you should spend quality time with your pup. Quality time not necessarily quantity time. Quality time is time spent doing things together which are rewarding and enjoyable. This is what your training sessions should be
Everything in life is relative, so your if pup has more fun at home with another dog or just hanging around with other members of your family who play chase, or throw balls or whatever then why should it look upon going out with you as more pleasurable? Time spent with you should be the highlight of your pup’s day. And it should always be when the pup is the most receptive to learning, when he is alert, enthusiastic, and motivated to learn. A kennel or an indoor kennel house, such as an airline crate, can be a big advantage. Your pup can sleep, rest, and revitalise without interruptions inside one, and equally important, cannot learn bad habits through interacting with the environment around him without control or from other people who may unknowingly sabotage what you are trying to build.
I have found it far more effective to train puppies immediately after a rest period and a quick elimination. A common mistake owners do trying to be conscientious is letting the pup run around or taking him for a walk before trying to train. The body may slow down making it appear more easy to control but, by this time, the pup has usually lost all it brain capacity for learning. There is no doubt that if you are fresh you also can give all your concentration and attention during this short quality period of time together. My experience in University lecturing and running gundog workshops is that people and dogs learn far more when their minds are fresh, training periods are short and the sessions are enjoyable. In this way learning is more likely to be retained.
With a young pup, ten to twenty minutes maximum is enough time for training. Showing your pup how to sit, come when called and especially with a gun dog giving it a small number of short, easily achieved retrieves is all that is needed in the early days. Using retrieving as an example of putting your pup in a position where it can do right, initially use something it will enjoy carrying, a knotted sock, a tennis ball or a puppy dummy (Quest and Turner Richards have some great ones). Spit on the dummy so the pup recognises your scent on it and in a restricted space, such as in the hallway of your house, sit on the floor and throw two or three retrieves. Let your pup chase the retrieve and carry it around, encourage your pup up to you until it comes into your body for praise. Don’t reach for the retrieve or immediately take it from him. Share the retrieve by letting the pup hold it while you stroke and praise. Don’t try for perfection, just enjoyment and sharing. I am convinced that working and sharing enjoyment together is the most effective way to bond with your dog and lays the foundation for the partnership you dream of.
All your actions and methods of communication must be clear, concise, and consistent. Show your puppy through guidance and management what you expect from him and demonstrate your pleasure when he does it right – a smile, a ‘good dog’, a gentle pat of the hand all communicates that he has pleased you and done what you wanted. As a partnership you and your dog never stop learning. Make a conscious effort to teach him something everyday and remember to do it at a time when you are both in the right frame of mind and can concentrate. Consistency and timing of rewards or corrections are an essential feature of building a strong bond. If you are Inconsistent, have poor timing and give unfair corrections you will create uncertainty, fear, and a lack of confidence and trust. These are the ‘enemies’ of a good relationship, and can even destroy one that has already been built.
As an owner and trainer you have to set limits and boundaries as to what you will require and/or accept from your dog. I believe that dogs have more respect for owners who have set clear cut limits and boundaries for them because they then know exactly what is expected. Where these are not clearly set, many dogs will take charge of some if not all situations given the opportunity.
Within your home your dog will have different relationships with your family members, but by working, training and spending quality time together doing specifically what you both enjoy, training and hunting, the relationship with you will grow and be at the top of the relationship hierarchy. The secret to a good relationship and a strong bond between you and your dog does not lie in giving your dog the best food treats or warmest part of the bed but in fair, structured and consistent training and work together which is fun and rewarding. Then your lives together become a true partnership with the strongest bond of all, tied to a common motivation – hunting, shooting and working together as gundog and proud owner.