I like to maintain a positive relationship with my wife, friends, and my dogs. Like the rest of them, my dogs don’t appreciate “constructive criticism” from me. So I let them think it’s coming from somewhere else.
Yep, I let the tools take the blame.
Sure, some (very rare) times the “master” has to assert himself over the dog. But most times, you simply want him to do – or not do – certain things at certain times. Here’s what I mean:
The leash keeps a dog at heel, not my constant haranguing. However you use it, clipped to the flat collar, with a halter lead, or around his waist, let the leash do the dirty work. At a greater distance, the checkcord becomes the bad guy when a dog doesn’t “whoa.” With both, avoid eye contact as you yank for an extra dose of depersonalizing.
A training collar is like The Force; with a dark and a light side. Again, seldom should you use it for “punishment.” It is best as a reminder, a thought-interrupter, a polite tap on the shoulder. If you’re watching your dog, you should be able to anticipate the moment of non-compliance and pre-empt the pending bad behavior.
For example, when he’s distracted, the tone feature on the electric collar breaks his train of thought. With luck he’ll look around, see you, and remember you’re in charge. That’s a good time to deliver a command. Vibration, same. And in rare cases, the e-collar’s stimulation comes from out of nowhere, not from me! I even try to hide my hand while holding the e-collar transmitter.
Birds are an ally in training too. Some pro trainers will tell you to let them do the training. They don’t really mean give the collar control to a pigeon. Rather, instead of yelling, yanking on a check cord or hitting the red button, a bird flying away, unshot and unretrieved, is a strong incentive when teaching steadiness. An adjunct would involve a bird launcher. You are then stealthily sending birds away from the dog never to be seen again (let alone retrieved) when compliance isn’t achieved. Again, you’re not the villain; the birds with help from that launcher get the blame.
With a training strategy that passes the buck to my gear, at the end of the day me and my dogs are still friends and plenty of learning has taken place. Isn’t that what counts?
Bonus: Toys for training
The cliché is apt: dog training is not play. It is often serious business. But kiddy toys can help your dog “grow up” when the real thing simply isn’t available.
Whether you’re introducing a pup to gunfire, live in suburbia, are just starting the process or simply feel funny pulling out a real gun, try a cap pistol. It’s not as loud, nor as realistic looking as a shotgun, but it’s better than saying “bang!” Other substitutes include two foot-long pieces of lumber clapped together, popping bubble wrap bubbles or those bigger “packing pillows.”
Don’t have practice birds? Try one of those wind-up balsawood airplanes. At two bucks apiece, they’re a bargain. Paper plates are also pretty good imitations. Flying like a Frisbee, up, across, away, and even toward a dog, they imitate a bird well enough. And the price is right. Even a ball, bouncing away from a dog on point, is better than nothing when teaching steadiness.
As the Marvin Gaye song says, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.” But the next time you’re trying to train and don’t have proper gear, you might look to your kid’s toy box for inspiration.
-- Scott Linden