Why Not Positive Training Methods, Using Praise and Rewards, for Gundogs?
She lives with a lovely 2 year old Labrador, training to be a gun dog. Bramble also has felt those teeth. They are getting on reasonably well now because Bramble has learnt that, when Whisky gives her ‘that look’ (see picture on the left), she’s to back off!
I have certain issues with the training methods used with Bramble and which are also now applied to Whisky. Bramble is taken to gun dog training classes. There is a lot of ‘correction’ and negative stuff like ‘Leave’, ‘Down’, ‘Off’ and ‘No’ rather than positives – what they should be doing along with praise and reward. In fact their trainer says don’t use food rewards at all. Would you happily work for nothing? Here is just a small example of how it goes – the lady ‘commanded’ Whisky to sit several times and eventually had to touch her back to get her to do so. I later asked her to sit, quietly, just the once, and waited. And waited. Whisky sat. Then I rewarded her. After that she was totally focused on me. If she were my dog and I built on that bond and relationship, I am sure I could make progress when out where Whisky and other dogs are concerned, because she would be focusing on me and trusting me.
I don’t know if it’s a gun dog thing, but commands like ‘Sit’ are also accompanied by peeps on the whistle – like Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music getting his family into line.
They also have problems with both dogs’ recall – especially when there is another dog about. Bramble wants to play, Whisky is scared stiff, screaming and ready to attack. If I were a dog I would be much more likely to come back when called if I were called in an inviting voice rather than ‘ordered’ and if I knew that there was something in it for me.
Behavioural theory has proved beyond any doubt that positive and reward-based training is more effective – and it works just as well for gun dogs, traditionally trained in the old-fashioned way using a degree of force and even aversives. Positive methods help to form a healthy and trusting bond between human and dog.