Obedience vital foundation for hunting dogs
Everyone wants an obedient dog. Whether your dog is a duck dog, a gun dog or just a family companion, you likely want him or her to be obedient. You want him to come when you call him. Sit when you tell him to SIT. Life is just more enjoyable when your dog is obedient and listens to you.
That is why obedience is the foundation for all hunting and hunt test programs here at Otter Tail Kennels. When dog training, obedience is where you start if you are seeking control and obedience is what you fall back on when a retriever exhibits behavior issues, starts testing you or falters in his training. Obedience is vital training for all dogs.
The two most important obedience commands for retrievers
There are several obedience commands retrievers need to learn to become good, responsible companions both in the field and at home. We teach dogs 12 commands, but out of those 12, there are two basic commands that are the most important – SIT and HERE. A retriever that is solid on these two commands will make your life, and the lives of everyone around you, more enjoyable.
Why SIT and HERE are the most important commands
SIT and HERE are control commands. They allow you to establish control of the dog in almost any situation. This is particularly important and, in some situations, can even save your dog’s life.
For instance, if your dog is responsive to the HERE (or COME) command, and she starts chasing a squirrel into the road, you can stop this dangerous and undesirable behavior by calling her with a simple HERE command.
If your dog readily obeys the SIT command, and he is jumping on people and you are afraid he is going to hurt someone, you can establish control quickly and effortlessly by commanding him to SIT.
Fewer commands gain better obedience results
The fewer commands you have for your dog the better. And all commands should be simple commands, not complex commands. For example, a simple command is SIT. A complex command would be something like, WON’T YOU PLEASE SIT FOR ME FIDO.
Dogs will be most responsive to short one-word commands. Extra words are not needed or necessary. If you are constantly talking to your dog, using as many words as you can, your dog will quickly learn to tune you out. Use few words and be quick to enforce those commands.
Read How to train a Labrador Retriever – Tip#3 for more tips on commands.
How does obedience for hunting dogs differ from obedience for family dogs
Whether your dog is a duck dog, a gun dog or a family dog, obedience is very important. There may be more commands for a hunting or working dog and the commands may differ slightly, but the biggest difference between obedience for a hunting dog verses obedience for a family dog is that hunting dogs must learn to be obedient in many and differing situations and circumstances.
Family dogs that rarely leave the family home and yard, only need to learn to be obedient in one location. They may still need to learn to be obedient in different situations, such as when someone visits, but there are limited situations for which the dog needs to adjust.
A hunting dog, on the other hand, must learn to be obedient and responsive in many different locations and situations. They must be obedient in each new hunting area, during times of high excitement (such as a bird flushing or ducks flying overhead), when they are tired, hot or cold. Many times they must also be obedient working with multiple hunters and sometimes even multiple dogs.
But the reality is this is still obedience and there may be similar situations that happen in the home. For instance, you want your dog to be obedient and not grab that peanut butter sandwich off the counter. But that is a lot of temptation!
How to teach SIT and HERE so that your dog consistently responds to them?
So, how do you teach your retriever to be responsive and obedient in all situations and at all times?
Well, first, no dog is 100% obedient all the time. They are dogs. Dogs will test the limits and boundaries regularly. Some retrievers will test you daily, others weekly. Some especially challenging dogs will test you several times a day. It really all depends on the temperament of your dog. Expecting 100% compliance in every situation is not realistic.
Second, your dog’s consistency in obedience will depend on your training and your consistency in correcting your dog on commands.
Basic principles of Labrador training
Labrador Retrievers are generally smart, even tempered dogs. They are quick to learn and eager to please. This is a great thing, because it means that your dog is likely to enjoy being trained. But there are a few training tips that can help you obtain more consistent obedience from your retriever.
Consistent obedience training over long period of time
The key to obedience training is that you need to train and enforce the commands consistently and over a long period of time. This is not something most people want to hear or do. But obedience is not a ‘set it and forget it’ type of training. You are never done teaching and enforcing obedience with your retriever. There is no magic pill.
The good news is that obedience training does not have to take a lot of time. If you spend 5-10 minutes a day working on obedience, you will get great results. So, schedule some time and consistently work with your dog on SIT and HERE.
In addition, during the day watch for opportunities or create opportunities to test your dog’s obedience. For instance, tell him to SIT when he seems particularly distracted. Then praise your dog if he does great, or correct him if he fails to listen.
Regularly increase your expectations for your retriever
If you are training your retriever obedience every day, and she is always doing perfect, that is not good. If the dog is doing everything right all the time, she is not learning.
It may sound harsh, but you want to put your dog in a position to mess up. If she is doing great sitting when you say SIT, then start walking away from her, leaving her in a SIT position. Or, add some distractions that may entice her to move from the SIT. Jump up and down, pat your chest, talk, make a sudden movement – any of these distractions will help your dog get stronger on the SIT command.
You want your dog to be consistently increasing in knowledge and ability. That will make her a more mentally stable dog and it will increase her obedience ability. If your dog is doing great on the concepts you are teaching, add complexity so the dog can advance in her ability.
On the flip side, if the dog is not doing well on training, simplify the command and expectations.
Using praise correctly
As a human, when people praise us for everything we do, the praise loses its value. It becomes like background noise. It’s the same with dogs. Syrupy, nonstop praise does not help your retriever. Praise needs to be appropriate, received, well timed and not an excuse.
Learn more about appropriate praise and how to use it in this post – How to train a Labrador Retriever – Tip #8.
In addition, the timing of praise is equally important. Dogs need praise and/or punishment words or gestures as close as possible to the behavior you are trying to repeat or stop. And along with timing, your dog needs to be tuned into you. Your dog needs to be paying attention, receptive, and able to respond to you.
Reinforcement of positive behaviors and correction
There are two ways to train retrievers on obedience. Reinforcing positive behaviors and correcting bad behaviors. Most trainers use some combination of both.
Saying ‘Good dog’ and petting your retriever after he has responded quickly and appropriately to a command would be an example of reinforcing positive behavior.
Correction is applied when a dog is given a known command and chooses not to perform the required action. The correction may be as simple as a harsh word, a sharp jerk on the lead or a tap on the dog’s bottom. But the correction should be as close as possible to the refusal to obey the command. The more time that passes between the refusal and the correction the harder it will be for the dog to understand the correction.
For more guidance on using correction correctly, read How to train a Labrador Retriever – Tip #9.
Whatever type of reinforcement or correction you use, be consistent. Your dog will learn much quicker if you use consistent praise and correction.
Hunting dog obedience training in new locations and situations
Hunting dogs, both duck dogs and gun dogs, need to learn to be obedient in new places and new situations. We often see dogs that are obedient at home but out of control in new situations. This is not uncommon and makes a lot of sense. Dog’s are very place oriented, so it is not uncommon for them to think commands apply in one location but not in another.
The fix for this behavior is exposure. Take your dog to many different locations and train on obedience in each one of them. Make sure that you enforce the rules exactly the same as when you train at home. Put your dog in as many new situations as possible and enforce the obedience again and again. This will help you maintain control in new hunting situations.
Obedience around other dogs
This is a big topic. I have known many dogs that are obedient when by themselves but when another dog is out or around, they feel like they do not have to listen. This is a challenging area to fix. Again, the fix is exposure, but you need to find someone who owns a dog to help you. In addition, that person needs to understand that you will be enforcing and correcting your dog and be okay with that.
If you can take this approach, the exposure to another dog and the resulting correction for bad behavior will often make a huge difference. But it may not solve the problem completely. Some dogs just do not play well with other dogs, so a different dog may bring out the same or a different problem.
Final thoughts on two commands your Labrador Retriever must know
Obedience training is so important. It can help form your retriever into a pleasant, considerate member of the family. It can also help you enjoy a safe and productive hunt. As we discussed, all obedience hinges on the two commands SIT and HERE. Consistently working on these commands and increasing the scope of your expectations for your retriever can bring great benefits to you and your family.
If you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting and obedience this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.