Dog Whisperer

Sweet talk succeeds where force fails.

According to dog breeders/ trainers, only about 10 percent of the puppies they sell are brought back for professional training. I believe a considerably greater percentage than that are adequately trained by knowledgeable amateurs. Yet it’s undeniable that a great majority of sporting dogs are poorly trained. These dogs are fearful of hunting environments because the pen has been their world. Some are bird-shy, gun-shy or man-shy due to abusiveness. Okay, now what?

Now train like Oscar Chrisman. Equestrians would call him a dog whisperer. I call him Sweet Talker, because sweet talk-calm, soft, reassuring-is at the heart of his strategy for winning dogs over. Working one-on-one, the 73-year-old pointing-dog trainer from Kerens, Tex., runs a remedial dog for 15 minutes, then sits in the yard with him, slowly stroking and scratching the dog’s ears while talking things over. After a second run, the dog is penned while he’s still wanting more. By the end of the week the dog is having fun and Oscar is his trusted buddy.

Quail come next, with the first bird always planted not far from the pen. The dog learns to go hunting the minute he’s turned loose. Some dogs point, others flush and chase. No matter. Developing a bird-crazy desire to hunt is what counts. A very occasional, somewhat distant shot during a chase helps the dog, and others watching nearby, to accept gunfire as part of the fun.

Within two weeks, Oscar is usually able to begin shooting birds. Any dog that wilts even slightly at the shot will get no more gunfire for several days. For most dogs, Chrisman will flush two quail without firing, shoot the third, then let two more fly after the flush. Chasers have learned they can’t catch birds. They’re also getting “come” and “whoa” obedience sessions by now.

If the dog was born with good instincts but had its head messed up by an owner who believed in force rather than know-how, Oscar finds he can be shooting at will shortly after those first two weeks. Dogs that retrieve naturally come around even faster. (Oscar Chrisman, 903-396-2670)

Another good use of sweet talk is making friends with an aggressive dog. Years before the movie The Horse Whisperer came out, Indiana dog gear inventor T.E. Scott warned me that his imported German drahthaar bit every stranger he could reach. I was determined to be the exception. Down on my hands and knees, front end lower than rear in the play-invitation gesture, I sweet-talked the dog by name and gradually crept forward. I got within arm’s length, and he hadn’t lunged against his chain, so I reached forward slowly to let him smell the back of my hand. When that worked, I turned my hand over and rubbed him under the chin. Unless you’re practiced, however, and can show real confidence, don’t try this on a truly aggressive dog. But if you’re hunting with a friend’s dog for the first time, this is the fastest way to become an accepted buddy.