Pointers: Training Mistakes

While discussing the stakeout chain with pro trainer Ronnie Smith of Big Cabin, Okla., I asked him a question about amateur trainers and what some of the most common mistakes are that he sees being made over and over again when someone brings their dog in for training. The top three included: bird exposure, e-collars and having a training program.

Smith and his cousin, Rick, are big into helping people learn to read, train and hunt their own dogs. They put on multi-day seminars throughout the country, and even as far away as New Zealand!

"We always encourage people to train their own dogs. It is a fun experience to have with your dog. However, there are a lot of benefits to having your dog professionally trained and then being instructed on how to handle the dog using the professional trainer's methods," said Smith. "We understand that training your own dog is actually an expensive and time consuming project. To effectively train a good bird dog you need the right location, birds, equipment, and, most of all, time."

If you have the time, birds, training grounds and equipment to make a go at producing your own bird dog, Smith says to look out for the following mistakes:

1) Screwing up bird exposure: In addition to not getting your dog into enough birds on regular basis, Smith points out that too often we interfere with what exposure they do get.

"It is common for people to micro-manage their young dog, forgetting that they are working with and enhancing an animal's primal instincts. Early on in a dog's experience with birds, it is best to take a back seat and let the dog experience birds naturally," said Smith. "It is necessary for there to be a period in a dog's bird experience that he has no rules and can do no wrong. This enhances the natural prey drive and sets your dog up for success in his formal training."

2) Collar conditioning: As I said in the "Hand of God" blog post, if you're going to use an e-collar, you have to teach the dog what's expect of him. While I've seen it happen with hunting partners and trainers, as well as friend's that have "just pets", Smith sees it take place regularly and emphasizes the need for proper collar conditioning. He spends a big chunk of the dog's training time making sure it understands what stimulation means, what's expected of it and how to turn it off.

Don't put an e-collar on your dog and start bumping him around without instilling a proper foundation. To perform his best, your dog needs to have a complete understanding of everything that you are asking of him," said Smith. "We spend a month during our training classes instilling a good foundation on dogs with our rope work and only then do we begin to overlay the e-collar to the known cues of the rope."

3) A Training program:A good training program builds upon previously learned skills. If you go willy-nilly through your training or practice "on-the-job-training" you're eventually going to run into trouble and won't have any recourse to fix it. A good training program follows a sequence and allows you to back up to established lessons and skills.

"If you encounter a problem while training your dog, take a step back and make sure your dog understands the previous lessons. Typically the problems that you see originate in the prior stage of training," said Smith.