Identifying and fixing bad dog behaviors that erode control
Pheasant hunting can be loads of fun, but not if you are constantly struggling to keep your dog under control. I love to hunt with my dog because he makes hunting easier and it’s fun to watch him work. We are a team, and I enjoy working with him.
But this would not be the case if my dog were reckless and uncontrollable. A dog that is constantly getting out of range, kicking up birds for which I have no shot, or dropping the bird somewhere in the field instead of delivering it to me, well, that is no fun.
If you struggle with control in the field, you know what I am talking about. But what you may not know is that the erosion of control started way before you started hunting. It likely started right in your home or yard with some very subtle behaviors from your dog to which you paid little or no attention.
Identifying behaviors that erode control
Dogs are by nature pack animals. Even within your family, your dog will struggle to find his or her place in your “pack”. They do this by displaying dominate behaviors. If the behavior is allowed, your dog considers your lack of correction a sign that he or she is higher in the pack than you. In his mind, you no longer have authority over him. Over time your will see an increased lack of control and an erosion of control in both in the home and the field.
Stepping on you, placing his paw on your foot
When your dog sits near you, does he put his paw on top of your foot? While this might seem like a minor infraction, it is rarely an accident.
Don’t believe me? Well, try this. Move your foot from under his paw and lightly rest your foot on top of his paw. Does he just sit and let you do that? I am guessing no. In fact, I would guess he quickly moves his paw out from under your foot. That is because placing his paw on top of your foot is a dominant act, not a misunderstanding.
The solution: Never allow your dog to step on you or rest his paw on your feet. Put an end to it right away. Move your foot out from under his paw and gently lay your foot on top of his until he understands that this behavior is not acceptable. With consistency you should be able to eliminate the behavior.
Jumping around and on you
Does your dog jump on you? Jumping is another behavior that shows dominance and therefore erodes control in the field. Height is a huge determiner of ranking in a dog pack. By jumping, your dog is trying to get higher on you. In his mind, he is dominating you. And if he can dominate you, he does not need to listen to you.
It is important to never let your dog jump on you and preferably not on anyone else. Unfortunately, many people are unwilling or unable to stop their dog from jumping. Part of the reason is that you need to stop the dog from jumping with a physical correction.
The solution: Teach your dog to always keep all four feet on the ground. Do not give your dog any attention, petting or praise, unless all four feet are on the ground. This will help you with control both in the home and in the field.
Not heeling straight
When your dog comes into a HEEL position, he should be sitting parallel to you. His head facing the same direction as yours and his tail directly behind him. If he sits sideways, with his body perpendicular to you, that is his way of avoiding control. The HEEL position puts the dog under your control, and your dog knows that. If your dog has been taught to HEEL but is constantly sitting sideways or flaring out from your side, this is defiance.
The solution: Be very consistent in your expectations when you call your dog to HEEL position. If he or she sits in any position other than straight and parallel to your leg, move or back up and repeat the command. Do this as many times as necessary until he sits correctly. If you keep a consistent standard and do not allow variations, this should not be an ongoing issue.
Selective hearing and ignoring whistle or commands
This may not be a strange behavior, but it is blatant defiance. Every time your dog is allowed to ignore a whistle or command without correction, you enforced his belief that you are not the “alpha” dog and you do not have the authority to control him.
The solution: If your dog is ignoring your whistles or commands, the worst thing you can do is just continue hunting and let him get away with the behavior. Instead, stop hunting and take the time to enforce the command. I know, this is inconvenient. It takes away from your hunting experience and is potentially embarrassing. But if you take the time to enforce the command, you are likely to eliminate further refusals. If you ignore it, the problem will only get worse.
Slow pickup and delivery of the bird
If your dog runs out to the downed bird quickly but takes forever to pick it up and deliver it to you, you are again witnessing defiance. This behavior is generally not about your dog’s ability to pick up the bird or carry it to you. His slow pickup and delivery are his way of controlling the situation and undermining your control.
The solution: The best place to work on this behavior is not in the field but in training prior to taking him out hunting. You want to consistently correct your dog each time he slows down using a HERE command.
Dropping bird on delivery
If your dog has been taught to deliver to hand, you should be consistent in your expectation and require a hand delivery every time. If your dog starts a pattern of dropping the bird on the way back or dropping it at your feet, you will likely start a downward spiral that will eventually get worse. Consistent expectations are necessary to maintain control in the field.
The solution: Set a standard. For instance, if your dog delivers the bird to hand and you are okay with that, make that the standard. If your dog delivers to a HEEL position and holds the bird until you take it from his mouth, make that the standard. Every time the dog delivers a bird, that standard is what you expect and enforce.
Final thoughts on how to get more control in the field
Taking time to notice dominant behaviors as they occur both in your home and in the field and being firm and consistent in your corrections will help you maintain the control you desire in the field. It will also make home life a lot more enjoyable!
If you are looking for a professional retriever trainer with proven hunting and hunt test programs, check out our training programs or give us a call 651-303-6459. We also do one-on-one training to guide owners who want to do the training themselves.
Until next time, happy retrieving.