By Jeremy Hunt
Tuesday, 06 January 2009
I have a 14-month-old labrador bitch that has been rather sensitive to train.
I'm planning on picking-up with her next season but she hasn't taken to the stop whistle very easily. If I speak harshly to her when she doesn't stop it seems to destroy her confidence and the whole lesson falls apart. Any advice on how I can achieve the control I need with this type of bitch?
Jeremy Hunt says: Sensitive types can be a real challenge and while some may disagree with me I often think they are the most intelligent of all.
Once you've worked your way through their idiosyncrasies you usually find you've got a tremendous shooting dog on your hands.
Teaching a dog to stop at a distance isn't always easy, especially if you've got a sensitive dog.
The standard tactic for refusing to acknowledge the stop whistle is to run out to the dog and make your displeasure very clearly felt.
Then firmly take the dog back to the place you told it to stop with a very firm blast on the whistle.
But you've got to make sure before you start that the dog is absolutely clear what the stop whistle means, and what it is meant to do when it hears it.
That may sound obvious, but non-response to commands is often because the dog hasn't grasped what it's supposed to do, rather than a display of sheer defiance.
For a sensitive type, it may only take the action of you running towards it showing your displeasure to completely nullify the corrective measure you’re trying to enforce.
The dog ends up running away and the lesson proves futile.
My advice, as usual, would be to go back to basics and make sure that when you have her at heel and you stop and blow the whistle (and hopefully hold up a hand to confirm the command), she reacts positively and drops to the sit.
This way you are instilling the command by sight and sound- and you are close by to offer praise when she gets it right.
Once she is consistently responding to this in a very positive way, enjoying it and you are showing that you are pleased with her, it isn't such a big step to make this happen when she is away from you.
So turn the whole thing into a game. Let her run free in an enclosed area but keep her attention and don't let her get too far away from you.
Blow the whistle, hold up your hand (and give a firm command to sit if you think it will help). Hopefully she will drop.
If she doesn’t walk towards her with your hand held high and blow again. As soon as she has mastered this (and remember you're keeping this as a light-hearted game at this stage) dole out heaps of praise.
Repeat this exercise time and again until she can be allowed to run a little further from you before you blow your whistle.
During this time, I would still keep returning to the sitting at heel exercise to compound the connection between sight and sound while she is close to you.
When you think she's got it and you try it out in an open situation while she's working on dummies, there will undoubtedly be times when she tries it on and ignores the stop command.
But hopefully her confidence in this exercise will have been greatly improved and you should be able to be firm with her without her falling apart.
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