Bird Dog & Retriever News

April / May 2017 issue page 7

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Mastering Spot-On Puppy Training

By George Hickox

Training a young bird dog to respond reliably to commands starts in the backyard, where a rambunctious, tail-wagging pup learns to sit and to come.
If all goes well, in a few years this playful, attention-demanding pup will become a stylish, high-performance canine — in large part because you practiced generalization.
Generalization is the process of teaching a dog to respond in a timely manner to a learned command under all circumstances and in all locations. Consistent training will help you develop a dog that responds with enthusiasm and spot-on excellence the first time he receives the command. Using a step-by-step approach to training is far more effective than a helter-skelter method.
Dogs are extremely place-oriented, thus it is important to train a dog to respond reliably to a command in a number of places. For example, you cannot expect dogs to respond to commands such as "Here" or "Come" in the field if they have not mastered them in the backyard. Adrenaline always runs sky high in the field, and there are numerous distractions that taunt even a well-trained dog.
When I start teaching generalization to a young dog, I teach a command using positive reinforcement. I mark the desired behavior using clicker training and then reward the dog with food. It isn't long before the dog eagerly comes to receive the reward for the appropriate behavior.
Dogs learn by association and consistent repetitions. The idea is to pair the command with the behavior. I say, "Here," as the dog is coming to me. Gradually, dogs begin to understand the meaning of the command and associate the food reward with the desired behavior. Dogs that do not respond appropriately do not receive rewards. Positive reinforcement makes a more enthusiastic dog that responds better to training.
My benchmark for introducing a correction is when I am certain a dog understands by complying 80 percent of the time, or eight of 10 times, to a specific command in yard training. I mark the undesired behavior with a "No" correction. Once a dog catches on that compliance means getting a reward and that noncompliance leads to a correction, the dog chooses the desired behavior. Remember, rewarding a dog for offering the desired behavior and correcting for noncompliance enforces reliability.
When a dog responds reliably to yard training without correction, I take the dog to different locations. I initially use a check cord, a 12- to 15-foot cord with a snap on one end that connects to the collar allowing you to control the dog. I give the recall command and reward the dog if he responds appropriately. If the dog does not respond correctly,
I say, "No," to give a correction. Keep in mind that a correction should not be harsh. If you achieve appropriate benchmarks in yard training, you shouldn't need to use harsh corrections.
Achieving benchmarks that teach a dog to respond to a command in a timely manner in a number of locations removes the possibility that the dog will make an unwanted negative association in the bird field or when questing for game. Your goal is to develop a shining dog that competes with style. Following benchmarks, not rushing and ensuring your dog responds enthusiastically and reliably in the field helps to guarantee the outcome. The only shortcut to A+ training is to get it right in the first place.
A professional trainer and handler of pointing and flushing dogs, George Hickox conducts training schools for owners and their dogs as well as private clinics for individuals and organizations. For information about the George Hickox School of Dog Training or Hickox's four training DVDs, please visit


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Copyrights Bird Dog & Retriever News May 2017
Do not reproduce or retransmit in any form, and we surf the web, we'll find you.
Maintained by Dennis Guldan e-mail
Bird Dog & Retriever News, PO Box 120089, New Brighton, MN 55112,
Phone 612-868-9169 Adv deadline 1st of the month prior to the issue.