Pay Close Attention When Giving Your Gun Dog Praise and Punishment

When, where and how you apply praise and punishment in training means everything to your dog. While we all relate positive and negative experiences with the people and environment around us at the time of the occurrence, dogs take this spatial awareness to an extreme.

Whether you're working pointers, retrievers, hounds or the family pet, you have to remain vigilant of what action your dog just completed, what he's doing at that moment and where he is in space; as well as any ancillary items (like birds) surrounding him.

Not taking these things into consideration when applying praise or punishment can create confusion in your dog's mind, which can demoralize your dog, set training back and even cause him to quit altogether.

Like a camera, every interaction with your dog is recorded as a snapshot. Not only are they taking a picture of what they see - you, as well as the foreground and background around you - they're also recording where exactly they're at in time and space, as well as what they're doing at that moment and just completed doing.

That's why your timing has to be so precise and constant. If you wait too long to apply praise or consequences (or even do it too fast), the dog could be confused as to what it's in relation to; was it the fact that he disregarded a command? Or that he stepped on shore? Or was it the bird in front of his face that caused the issue?

As you can see, if you're not careful with things like birds and guns, dogs can quickly associate negative experiences with them - which is the last thing in the world you want to happen. Keep all interactions with guns and birds positive, and only after they're confident around them and they clearly understand that a disregarded concept was the cause of discomfort do you dare start making adjustments around them.

So strong is the sight picture that when it changes even just a little - you train in a new area, strangers are present or another dog is added to the equation - the dog has to be taught that the same rules apply. That's one reason you'll so often hear: "I don't understand. He does this so well at home!"

When training, try to use the same area to teach a concept. Repeat it over and over and over in the same area, whether that's a pond, park, field, driveway or yard, it doesn't matter (although minimal distractions are preferred). The idea is to cement the concept in the dog's mind before trying it in a new location. If you take your time and do it right, the transition to new areas will go much more smoothly and your dog will understand very quickly what's happening and that all the same rules of the previously learned concept still apply despite the new environment.