By Chris Midgette
There are plenty of dog training articles out there that help you teach your dog everything from basic obedience to running 250 yard blind retrieves. Hundreds of articles will walk you through different drills on how to build your dog’s confidence or how to teach sit on a whistle. This is not one of those articles. I’m not a professional dog trainer; far from it. I’m probably closer to a professional dog de-trainer if I’m being honest. You want your dog spoiled rotten? I got you covered. You want me to teach your dog to jump up and ask for ear scratches? Well, I can do that in an hour. Want me to get Daisy to jump on the couch every night and lay on your fancy throw pillow? Say no more. Want your Rufus to stare blankly at you while you wave your arms like an air traffic controller trying to get him to take an over? Consider it done. This article is for those lost souls like me that do their damndest to ruin a good hunting dog.
- Hunting Too Soon
We have all seen this, I’ve been guilty of it. Had myself a well bred pup and let my excitement, ego, and general ignorance get the best of me. I rushed the pup into the field at my first opportunity instead of being patient. That first hunt was a disaster. I definitely did not set him up for success, in fact, I did the exact opposite. He had never been around decoys, had never been around multiple guns, and had never had a duck in his mouth. Yea, I know what you’re thinking. As I said before, I can ruin a dog in a heartbeat. Thankfully, Cooper was able to overcome his idiotic owner and turned into a decent hunting dog. That could have very easily gone the other way. Set your pup up for success and make it as easy and fun for him as possible. Be patient with the dog, yourself, and your training. You’ll hopefully (God willing) have 10+ years of hunting with the pup, don’t rush it.
- Not Correctly Conditioning to the Gun
“Just take him out to a skeet range and tie him to a tree”. I’m sure everyone has heard these words of training “advice” as well. This is a hell of a way to ruin a dog. The key to gun conditioning is to associate loud noises/bangs with positive feedback. Not tying the pup to a tree so it can be confused and scared as all these loud noises are going off around it. While some dogs may come out of this unscathed, let’s air on the side of caution and properly condition the pup to gunfire. I’ll allow the professionals to guide you in how to properly do this, but suffice to say, just tying the pup up and hoping he “gets used to it” is not the proper way.
- Handling Too Often
How many times do we keep trying to get our dog to go left just to have it flush a bird on your immediate right? How many times have we sworn the bird dropped to the left of the patch of cattails just to see ‘ol Rufus swimming off to the right with a fat mallard in his mouth with his “I told you so look?” I know I’m guilty of this. Hell, may the Good Lord bless you if you have to rely on me to mark your birds. I often forget that our dogs smell and know more about birds than we’ll ever know, so I often find myself over-handling. If I am ever in the field with you, I give you full permission to put a bark collar on me so I’ll stop trying to handle so much. I just need to just shut my mouth and let the dog hunt. He can see way better with his nose than I ever could with my eyes. With a young pup, let him work, let him hunt. He’ll figure it out. The last thing you want is a flusher that’s too scared to move more than 2 feet away from you and constantly looking to you for commands. You want a confident dog that will see a patch of heavy cover and crash into it following the scent of the bird. In all honesty I think if I’d had a dollar for every time I’ve ended up pulling a dog off a bird I’d have myself my own private hunting club with flooded corn fields for ducks and thick hedgerows for roosters; don’t worry, you’d all be invited.
- Expecting Too Much
The one thing I do know is that I know to not expect too much from my dogs. I know what they’ve been trained on, what they’re proficient with, and what they struggle with. Nothing is worse than throwing your dog into a brand new situation and expecting perfection. Or how about when we lose our minds in the field and start barking commands that the dog has never heard before? We train the dog on recall using “here”, but now we are using “come”, “cmon”, “get back here”, and perhaps a few other more colorful terms he’s only heard when we’re watching football on the tv. There’s an old saying that the amateur trains until he gets it right, the professional trains until he can’t get it wrong. If your dog takes a cast once, do not expect him to take it perfectly every time after that. If you’re hunting a new area or a new bird, be patient with the pup, don’t get angry. If all the pup has ever been on is pen raised pheasants, it may take a few days for the pup to get wise to a wild rooster’s tricks. If your pup has only been on pigeons or training mallards, don’t get angry if it takes him a little longer to figure out how to pick up that big Canadian sky panda.
- Showing Off
Nothing will humble us quicker than when we go to show our buddies our new dog’s abilities in the field. Along with that, nothing is worse than a gun dog owner with a fragile ego. How many times have you heard “Well he doesn’t do that at home” or “She does great when we are training at home!”. Well we aren’t home anymore. There are so many new and different variables in the field or hunt test than the large majority of owners can replicate at home. Keep your ego aside. Don’t put your dog in a position where he is punished for your lack of training. I promise you his lack of “listening” is most likely a lack of “understanding” and he is trying to make you happy. We should not be embarrassed if he doesn’t perform to our unrealistic expectations.
I think Gene Hill accurately summarized any training advice: “My advice on dog training is generally worth about what it costs, but here it is anyways. Don’t expect more from a dog than you’re willing to put into working him.” (Gene Hill, “The Dog Man”). If you find yourself guilty of the aforementioned techniques on how to ruin your dog, it’s most likely not too late. My dogs somehow still know how to pick up a bird here and there despite my every effort to completely ruin them. Take a step back and re-evaluate where you are, how much time are you spending with the pup, is he actually understanding the concept you’re trying to teach? Don’t forget, if you need your dog ruined, I’m just a phone call away!