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Training a hunting dog for obedience

This week I have had the pleasure of training a Brittney Spaniel called Tio (uncle). He is only five and a half months of age but already he is pulling on the lead, no down but is jumping up, no recall and eating everything in the home and outside. If he could, he would take a hammer and chisel just to get at hard chewing gum stuck to the pavement. This is dangerous as the dog is working on hunting land where they lay poisoned bait to control foxes.

You might feel that it is a little hypocritical for a hunter to wish to train his dog not to eat food found lying about when it is they or other hunters working for their benefit to conserve game who are the problem. They seem oblivious to the fact they inflict considerable pain to not only foxes but also domestic dogs, cats as well as eagles and bears.

For me the dog is working in a dangerous environment so what ever the debate when we know that laying poison bait is illegal and if the police will not enforce the law then I can only protect Tio the best I can.

One other problem was he is a hunting dog on Sundays with the male owner and for the other days in the week is with the female owner. Add to this that the male only spoke Spanish whilst the female could speak German, Spanish, English, and some French. A further problem is I have hunted in England but never been on any Spanish hunting trips so I am uncertain of what commands Spanish hunters need or how they hunt. I did ask what sort of commands they found easy to use. Sits and Flats seemed ok but a hunter cannot work giving out verbal commands otherwise the use of stealth goes out the window.

I am not very good with whistles and find them irksome to operate. Hand signals are good but only if your dog is looking at you. This only left me with one other option; a variable clicker.

The one command we all need is the recall. Even a hunter needs to get his dog back to him without shouting out commands. Most clickers have four position choices with the switch and though you might not notice a change in tone and the numbers of clicks; dogs do.

This reminds me of when the press reported Princess Ann had purchased a fully trained gun dog complete with a whistle. Whilst the dog worked well her mother, (the Queen) thought it would be a good idea to buy her for Christmas a better quality whistle. When Princess Ann went hunting again, the dog was useless. Back came the trainer and asked where the original whistle was. He had trained the dog to that one whistle. No matter how much we think each whistle sounds the same, to a dog they do not. Back to the right whistle and the dog was soon working as normal.

I also though it would be good to teach some rudimentary redirection as sometimes the dog loses sight of the fallen pray and the hunter has to redirect the dog towards the right spot before the dogs nose picks up the scent and so can return the pray to the hunter.

The first thing was to teach Tio the recall. This is so easy when you use titbits. I pushed the switch on the clicker to the forth position and for a titbit I clicked the clicker repeatedly until he was sat at my feet. When ever Tio was in the garden and when I used continual clicking both Tio and Winston rushed to sit in front of me.

I was using this command as the emergency button to get the dog back as fast as possible and using a clicker really does work. There is no anger as in verbal commands when the dog refuses to come but once they are use to a clicker they do come but it requires constant training not only in the house but outside as well. Even when it is mealtime, I always call them with the clicker. I was therefore using Pavlov’s technique and imprinting or branding into a dog’s memory that rapid continual clicking means food.

If you are like so many dog owners that have poor recalls or seemingly dogs with variable hearing maybe it is worth considering trying one. One clicker will work on one dog or more. Alternatively, you can operate individual clickers to individual dogs by just writing their names on each clicker or having different coloured ones. Dogs do need training to them but if you use good food that your dog prefers above all else then you are on a winner but you do need to practice and practice for them to work.

Not pulling on the lead was the next problem to solve and again I did not wish to use a verbal command like Heel.

I took Tio out for a long walk and then at about six in the evening; we headed off to the Arenal. Using my training lead, we set off walking along the promenade and then back down again. He was pulling but I just walked backwards and forwards.

By the time, we had walked six times along the front the pressure of pulling started to reduce. By the eighth time, he was walking along by my side as good as gold. One person who had been sat in a bar watching us on our walking back and forth came out and commented on how Tio had changed so much without me having to jerk his lead.

This did not mean he would not try to pull the next time we walked because he did. By the time we had walked in the old Javea Streets as well many times along the main street in Denia he had stopped pulling. He was certainly well socialised with cars, people, wagons, scooter, people, and children who all wanted to fuss him.

The question was would he walk as well for the owners. For this, I would have to teach them how I trained Tio and they must learn to do the same. Handing over a fully trained dog and then to simply tell the owners the commands, is a system that most often does not work. By the next day, the dog would be just as it was before. I set up the basics then teach the handlers how to continue with occasional lessons.

One very helpful thing happened whilst I was walking with both Winston and Tio that would make it very easy for the owner. I had to put a lead on Winston and on Tio but had my own and the other was the owners lead. This was a chain lead with a leather handle and G clip at the other end. I wrapped the chain round Tio´s neck and clipped the G clip onto the lead almost like a choke chain but did not wish to use it like one. What happened was as Tio walked ahead of me the G clip clipped over each link so vibrating the chain on the back of his neck and he backed up to my side to do the best heel work with a nice slack lead.

This means that he will work for his owner as he is correcting himself by feeling the vibrations of the chain lead. Once he is use to walking by their side, they can then change over to an ordinary lead.

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