I received an e-mail from Susan Faulkner and she asked me to address the issue of being “easy” on your field dog and how “it is doing no one any good!”

All of us love our Goldens which is one reason we have them.  All of us want our Goldens to love us in return.  I prefer that the love my dogs have for me comes from respect rather than because they are the ones calling the shots.  An analogy would be in raising children.  We all know persons who spoil their children, set no guidelines for them, and give in to them on everything as they want their children to love them.  The problem here is that many of these children are disliked by everyone else since they are impossible to be around.  They never develop their potential because they have never had to do anything unless they wanted to do it.  They have no respect for their parents.   In my own area, there is one family that is unbelievably afraid of their son.  He has always called the shots because his parents wanted to be his pal and have him love them.  He continues to do what he wants to the extent that the police have been called in on occasion.    He is totally out of control.  He receives no discipline or guidance as his parents are afraid of losing his “love”.  Dogs can be the same as their son. 

Young children and dogs need and want boundaries.  We all live by rules, and even though we might not always agree with the rules, they are there for our own protection.  Having boundaries provides security to a dog as it knows exactly what is allowed and what is not.

Having boundaries does not mean abuse, arbitrary or capricious behavior towards your dog, or making unreasonable demands.  It means setting ground rules which the dog is expected to follow once the dog knows what those rules are.  It means if you give a command (that your dog understands) that the dog complies.  Dogs understand a black and white world.  It is your place to be sure they understand exactly what is expected and what they need to do to fulfill that goal. You need to set a standard and stick with it and be consistent in your expectations. 

There are times when you get in a difficult situation with your dog and it cannot meet your standards.  At that point, find a way out of the situation so the dog can succeed either through simplifying the task, or finding someway you can come up with a positive solution.  Then go back and determine why the dog could not meet your standards.  If necessary, simplify or retrain.  There is nothing worse than someone standing there digging a deeper and deeper hole for the dog and himself because of false pride or because of anger. 

What are some rules and regulations for your dog in the field?  Some are the same as what it is expected to do in every day living or in obedience competition, etc.  When he is told to “sit”, he should sit.  He should not need three “sit” commands.  Don’t ask the dog a question such as “sit?”.  Tell the dog to sit.  If you are sure the dog knows the command and he is ignoring you, correct your dog.  Don’t nag at the dog as that is much more stressful to him than a quick correction.   What may happen if you keep nagging and the dog is not responding is that eventually you may lose your temper and over correct. 

I know some of you may be gasping at hearing the word correct, but a correction can consist of many things.  Read Karen Pryor’s “Don’t Shoot the Dog” in regard to both positive and negative reinforcements.   I use an electric collar for field training.  I have not used it in any other venue with my dogs.  With my first field dog, I did not use one until he was over four years old.  I had seen an electric collar so abused, that I was afraid of using it.  Once I learned to use it properly (I will repeat, properly) I found it to be a quick, effective correction that the dog understood and did not resent.   He knew exactly why he was being corrected as he had already been taught what he needed to do to prevent a correction. 

According to Mike Lardy, “The purpose of collar conditioning is to accustom the dog to electrical reinforcement of known commands and to have the dog remove himself from pressure by the appropriate response.  A conditioned dog should respond to the pressure by swiftly performing the command issued by the trainer.  Thus, a fundamental tenet of collar use is that corrections are always associated with a command, and the dog can learn to control the pressure by performing the command.”

The new electric collars can be set at a variety of levels, and I use the very lowest level which proves effective for the dog.  I have tried the various levels on myself.  I am not advocating you use an electric collar as you can train your dog for the field without one.  I do think it is the most efficient way to get your point across to your dog as you can give a correction at the exact instance it is needed and it is black and white to your dog.

 I believe in a solid force fetch for a field dog.  Again gasps!  There are many ways of teaching a force fetch, and I think a good obedience instructor can show you various methods.  If you are truly serious, I would go to a GOOD field pro (remember, anyone can call themselves a pro, they just need to get paid for their services) and watch him/her force fetch various dogs.  Ask if they will help you with yours or you can have them do the force fetch for you.  The term force does not equate to the term abuse.  The reason you want a dog to be solidly force fetched is that when told to fetch, it must accept the fact that it isn’t a choice, it is a command.  I have found that once a dog has a solid force fetch, you will see a real change in the dog’s attitude towards many things, a positive change, an accepting of responsibility and an increased self-respect.  We had a Norwegian Elkhound at one time---a dog that was probably not one of my favorites.  Once he was force fetched for obedience competition, there was a complete change in his whole attitude towards us, towards his response to commands, and towards his enjoyment of obedience.  It was a very positive response.

If your dog has absolutely no desire to retrieve birds, you are doing you and your dog a disservice insisting on it.  Find another venue to enjoy with your dog. 

While training your dog, speak in a normal voice to the dog.  Save the loud voice only if it is needed when the dog is working at a distance.  Have the dog work on one word commands such as “here”.  You do not have to speak in paragraphs to have the dog understand what you want.   Set your standards and stick with them.  If your dog is expected to come into heel position, do not accept him standing in front of you, putting the bird down and playing with it, etc.  If you see this more than once, go back and retrain on this so it does not become a bad habit. 

The primary reward for a retriever is the retrieve itself.  When you praise the dog, do it so the dog understands why it is being praised.  Be sincere as a dog soon turns off excessive praise that means nothing.  If your dog finally has a breakthrough and grasps something you have been working very hard to attain, an occasional going ballistic with joy is definitely understandable.  Your dog will probably join right in with you during your celebration.

Many newcomers with dogs tend to praise for every little thing.  As a dog is nearing the bird, they start yelling “good dog”, if it then picks up the bird, they jump and holler “good, good, good dog”, and then as it is returning to them, they feel they are encouraging the dog by telling it how good it is.  Watch some of these dogs and the way they work.  Not necessarily a pretty sight.  If it is a young dog and learning, a quick “good” judiciously used is fine.  When a dog gets the bird and returns to you, that is when it is a good dog, not while it is still coming back.  Some feel that by telling the dog how wonderful he is the whole way in it will speed him up.  He truly is not wonderful until he delivers the bird to you.  Remember, Standards!  This does not mean you shouldn’t use praise, just use it wisely.

 What is important to remember is that not setting a standard, not keeping to your standard, and being inconsistent and letting the dog call the shots does not necessarily make your dog love you.  Having boundaries and respect for you and the rules you set produces a dog which truly loves you and wants to work with you.

Just because you have standards while working your dog, remember it is great for both of you to have times when he is “just a dog” and not under any commands.  An example would be the two of you going on a long walk in a safe environment where he can do his own thing and you can enjoy each others’ company.   Don’t give a command at home if you don’t really want to enforce it---come up with another term to tell your dog it is okay for him to lie there and he doesn’t have to stay in the same spot forever.   Do not water down your “real” commands by using them for having your dog bring you your slippers or a can of beer from the refrigerator. 

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