Gun dog Black Lab Bentley is extremely well-behaved and polite, an absolute delight.
The young dog seems, however, careful. He follows anyone who gets up to walk about, looking worried. He can be jumpy.
Gun dog training
His young lady owner is very conscientious indeed. She is keen to make a good gun dog out of him and is very disciplined with the training. Each family member helps her by walking him and they are well-trained too – very keen to help. All walks include training sessions.
The girl voiced concern that if she follows my behaviour route, Bentley’s training may go downhill. I suspect that easing right back on the gun dog training and giving Bentley more choice will instead enhance their training sessions.
Different points of view
The italics below summarise her concerns before we met. How she sees things now, after a session with me, will be somewhat different:
He will pull and jump up onto people no matter how many times she corrects this. (This merely proves that ‘correction’ isn’t the answer). As soon as they see another dog he looses all focus and will start to whimper or pull. (This indicates he’s probably frustrated or maybe scared. ‘Focus’ is a big ask when emotion drives. The frustration or fear at the root of the problem is the place to start).
His interactions with dogs differ between excited jumping on them and defensiveness. (He will learn a reliable response upon seeing another dog that involves distance, food and fun).
He ignores all their carefully taught and constantly practised recall to chase squirrels and rabbits when off the lead. Not what you want from a gun dog! (The choice of chasing a rabbit over running straight back to boring ‘captivity’ on a short slip lead is a no-brainer!).
The antidote will be to allow Bentley metaphorically ‘to let his hair down’, especially on walks. This means giving him much more freedom to choose, sniff, mooch and so on. Steve Mann’s Rucksack Walk would be perfect for him.
Sometimes, alien to what happens now when he’s on lead, they can allow him to choose for himself where he walks.
They currently use a slip-lead – very much a gun dog thing. I don’t like it. All the time he’s on lead he must walk to heel. If he lunges it tightens on his neck, causing acute discomfort – maybe damage. This inevitably builds up a negative association with whatever he’s lunging or pulling towards.
From now on they will help him to build up good, positive associations instead.
They will get him a well-fitting harness and a longer lead. In comfort and feeling less restricted, he can loose-lead mooch with as much sniffing as he likes. It’s obvious that he will be in a much stronger mental state for encounters.
Training sessions can be separate. He will easily tell the difference by the equipment they are using – she wants to keep using the slip lead for that. Her aim is to do competitions with him – not go shooting.
They give the lucky boy three walks a day. Each one can now be different.
I suggest one walk is about letting him go wherever he wants on a loose lead whilst reacting constructively to any encounters.
The second walk can be to a nearby field where they can give him freedom on a long line while they work differently on his recall. Currently it’s perfect until they really need it!
The third walk can be the gun dog training walk; they can continue to work on what they learnt in class when he was younger.
Making his own good choices
So, getting him ‘under control’ on seeing dogs, people and animals to chase on walks will be replaced by his learning self-control.
This is how. Instead of correcting him and constantly trying to train him out of it, they will now show him what they do want him to do when he sees a person or a dog. This will empower him and themselves.
It’s important they pair things he’s becoming increasingly uneasy about – people, dogs, prams, bikes and so on – with food, fun and happiness, not correction, discomfort and control.
Feeling differently about those things he currently reacts to, he should then begin to behave differently.
When out, each family member will make a conscious effort to relax when walking their beautiful gun dog. He will pick up any tension on their part down that short lead.
It’s not often I go to people who may be trying too hard!