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Gun Dog Training Basics

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

retrieve. To teach him to wait, walk out and pick up at least half the dummies you throw as he sits and watches.

Be Commanding!

All the commands mentioned here are short and distinctive. You can substitute other words, but make sure they are brief and don't sound alike so they don't confuse your dog.

Preface each command with your dog's name. Hearing his name gets his attention for the command that follows. After a while, he will come to expect a command whenever he hears his name, and he will automatically prepare to obey.

Dogs learn quicker when verbal commands are paired with visual cues. For "STAY," I hold out my hand like a traffic cop. For "SIT," I use a downward sweep of my hand. For "COME ," I crouch and clap my hands, and for "OK," I swing my arm as if pitching a softball.

Always deliver commands authoritatively, but don't shout or repeat commands. Unless he's far away and making lots of noise, your dog will hear you. If he doesn't respond, it's because he's overexcited or doesn't want to obey.

Shouting will only excite him more, and repeating commands teaches him that he can ignore you. Make him obey the first time you give a command. Swatting causes more confusion than correction. He'll learn much quicker if you use corrections that are based on instinctive canine behavior.

The top dog in a pack settles most challenges to his authority with an aggressive stare. He also projects dominance by standing tall and raising the fur on his back to look bigger. When your dog willfully disobeys, stare into his eyes, stand erect, square your shoulders and loom over him. When he drops his ears in submission, make him obey the original command.

If you need to make a point forcefully, do what the alpha dog does when a subordinate does something that really ticks him off. Grab him by the scruff of the neck and give him a good shake, enough to raise his front feet off the ground. Save this for serious infractions.

Most trainers use whistles because they are easier for dogs to hear at a distance. Also, whistles don't get hoarse, and they don't say things that offend genteel sensibilities.

The key to successful whistle use is settling on a distinctive signal for each command. Guiness knows that a single short tweet means, "Sit down and look at me." Two quick tweets mean, "OK, you can go back to what you were doing." A rolling series of double tweets "tweet-tweet, tweet tweet, tweet-tweet, tweet-tweet" means "Come."

Establishing these signals was easy. I just laid them on top of existing skills. To transfer the verbal command "SIT," I blew a short blast immediately after the verbal command each time I gave it. She was sitting on the whistle command alone within five minutes.

Expect your budding genius to forget everything he has learned the first time you take him on a real hunt. Don't get angry. He's just overwhelmed by the excitement of new sights, sounds and smells.

You can minimize this problem by introducing your pup to novelty at an early age. Take him to different places for training. Let him interact with other people and dogs. Take him to a lake with a flock of resident geese. In each new setting, spend some time making him sit and stay so he understands that discipline is necessary, even in the most exciting situations.

The material covered here just scratches the surface. Two superb dog training books contain a wealth of more detailed information about training gun dogs. "Gun Dog," a classic by Richard A. Wolters, covers advanced skills training for pointers and other upland dogs. "Retriever Training," by Robert Milner, masterfully explains dog behavior and detailed procedures for training dogs to hunt waterfowl.

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