Commands….Once is Enough

Paul Fuller is the gun dog columnist for Northwoods Sporting Journal. The Journal has granted permission to re-print Paul’s articles. Thank you Northwoods Sporting Journal

February 2011

Once is enough. Unless you’ve taught your dog that more than once is more fun!

We’re talking commands and why your dog ignores your commands. Surely, you’ve seen or heard an unhappy dog owner screaming the same command over and over. The more you scream the command, the worse it gets. Maybe the dog will come after four screams. If he does, the benchmark has been set. Your dog now waits until the master screams four times and then responds to the command. Or, he may feel that he doesn’t want to deal with the screaming human and it would be easier to simply run-off!

The current buzzword for this non-compliance is “desensitized”. Your dog no longer is sensitive to your commands and reacts incorrectly to the stimulus (screaming). I often refer to this process as being “numb” to a command. This problem is most often the owner’s or handler’s fault. And, most often, as your anxiety over non-compliance increases, you simply make the situation worse…without even recognizing the cause.

I preach these lessons yet I’ve been guilty of violation. In my November column, I wrote about our trip to Montana for Huns and sharptails. Dillon, my shorthair, hadn’t broken on a flush or a shot for about two years. He would be what we call a broke dog, a finished dog or a dog steady to wing and shot. Take your choice. In Montana, he was rock solid on the first couple of points; however, he then encountered a multiple flush, several shots and simply too much excitement. He broke on a shot and chased; both completely unacceptable for a finished dog. I was so caught off guard that I screamed “whoa”…several times. All this multiple flushing and multiple shots were new to Dillon and the adrenalin was overpowering. Despite having never violated a “whoa” command, he was off to the races. What did I do wrong? When he failed to obey the first “whoa”, I should have shut-up and then did a correction when he was back under my control. Screaming multiple commands will only set that benchmark for the future. In all dog training, consistency and “less is more” should rule.

As with all command non-compliance, the method of correction is to go back to basics. Re-teach here (or come), whoa and heal. Use the same technique you used when your dog was a puppy. The checkcord becomes a magic tool for this process.

For “here”, which I like better than come, give the command once and then, with a checkcord, force the dog to come to you. Positive reinforcement with a treat is okay. A reminder…only give the command once. Repeat the exercise ten times and then stop. Go through the entire exercise every day until there is complete compliance with the command. Then use the same technique for heal and whoa.

How do you then get compliance in the field? Compliance comes through a continuous practice of the command. Everyday, make your dog comply with a command…not just opening day of bird season. You’ll have a compliant dog and less stress during your next hunting trip.