Bird Dogs: Are You a Greedy Trainer?

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We all have an ego. And like our dog, we need to feed it once in a while.

Whether it’s to reinforce a new skill, show off for friends, or you’re just striving for excellence, there are times when we want just one more repetition from a dog that’s already worked overtime. But the look-at-me attitude so prevalent these days (think Facebook) can get a dog trainer into trouble faster than you can say “fetch!”

But my dogs have shown me that too much of a good thing can turn ugly fast. So don’t become a “greedy" owner who asks more than is reasonable from your pup.

After more than a couple points, my dog gets bored and loses intensity. His tail drops, and I can tell he’s phoning it in. He might even start blinking birds. On a long day, that last point can actually be pretty pathetic. When the ducks come in droves to your decoys, the limit-capping retrieve may be lackluster. The zest can evaporate after a few retrieves even for most Labs, no matter how challenging.

Without the appeal of live birds—obedience training, for example—boredom is an even bigger risk. Food treats or praise pale in comparison to pheasant scent or mallards coasting in with wings cupped. Your dog may shut down even faster.

All this can be a big issue if you train hard on weekends without much discipline in between. So my strategy is to train daily, and I’m usually satisfied after two good versions of any command. The key is to minimize incorrect versions with careful preparation and stage-managing. This is the point of this condensed training: you want to set your dog up for success, not failure.

As my old music prof said, “Only perfect practice makes perfect.”