The Dog Journal

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Bird Dog Training

If you enjoyed the last article about training your young pup for bird hunting, read on! This is part two of a continued series of articles dedicated to Bird Dog Training, written by George Hickox.

Written by: George Hickox

The Dog Journal June/July 2023

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When it comes to dog training, the well-worn phrase “Timing is everything” is especially true. If two dogs were DNA clones, had identical environmental exposures, and were trained by two separate owners who taught with the same training program, one of the dogs would most likely be better than the other. The reason would be based on the timing of the handler administering rewards and corrections. The moment of the timing of delivering a paycheck for a task well done or for administering a correction is critical in guaranteeing the dog makes the intended association.

Timing Is Critical

The criteria we use for handing out a positive reinforcement is if the dog gave an effort to respond in a timely manner to a LEARNED cue/command we give, we pay Pupster. In the beginning stages of building reliability to responding to the command, we pay the dog every time he gives the effort. If he does not give an effort, we do not give him a reward. After the dog has learned to respond to the command, we do not have to reward him every time. But we have to reward him sometimes or his effort to try may degrade. The purpose of a reward is to strengthen a wanted behavior. 

We correct a dog for not giving an effort to respond in a timely manner to a LEARNED cue/ command. The optimum word is “LEARNED.” If the dog does not know what the command means how can he give an effort to respond. The short answer is he can’t! One of the Bible Rules of Dog Training is that the dog should not be corrected or rewarded if the dog does not understand what was the behavior (the cause) that resulted in either a reward or a correction (the effect).

There are two main reasons a dog does not respond to a command.  Fido either does not understand the command or the canine is challenging the person who issued the command.  If the dog does not understand what is expected and have a solution to avoid a negative consequence, negative pressure should not be applied.  If the dog understands the command and is being disobedient, then a correction might be the right call on the part of the trainer.

Two men, bird hunters, with shotguns, carrying the day's bagmof dead birds, and a spaniel dog.

The timing of rewarding the dog for a behavior that we want the dog to repeat should be offered while the dog is exhibiting the desired response. Sometimes that is impossible due to the distance the handler is from the dog. In this case the positive reinforcement should be presented in close proximity to the time the correct effort was given. The timing of administering a negative consequence as perceived by the dog should be administered while the dog is exhibiting the unwanted behavior. Or at least the correction should be given within very close proximity to the time the dog exhibited the unwanted behavior. 

The timing of rewarding or correcting at the moment the dog is exhibiting the behavior presents a challenge to the trainer. Let’s suppose the dog is 30 yards away from the trainer and is not being controlled with a check cord or long line. The trainer issues a command to turn or change direction and the dog responds. The distance the dog is away from the trainer presents major difficulty in rewarding, as the dog is offering the desired behavior. The e-collar can be a solution for correcting a dog while the dog does not comply for sure.  And the e-collar used properly is a fantastic tool for building reliability off lead. However, just because an owner has a e-collar does not mean the e-collar should be amortized. Sometimes a different correction other than stimulation might be the better choice. The point is that without an e-collar, correcting a dog off lease in the correct timeframe presents a challenge. However, the e-collar should not be used as crutch for not completing foundational training.  No correction should be. We do not teach a new behavior with correction. We teach excellence with correction.

When using rewards or corrections we use the rule of three “I’s.” The rule of three I’s is Immediate, Inevitable, and Impressionable.  The good or bad behavior should be rewarded or corrected immediately as the behavior is occurring. The positive or negative consequences should be inevitable.  Bluffs do not work in developing reliability. And the reward or correction should be impressionable as perceived by the dog. However, as we discussed previously distance can be a handicap to administering rewards or corrections within the most effective time frame.

So, if we used the rule of four I’s instead of three I’s, we have a new very effective training tool. The four I’s are Identifiable, Immediate, Inevitable, and Impressionable. The “Identifiable” in the case of positive reinforcement means we have a marker such as in clicker training. While the dog presents the desired behavior the trainer marks the behavior with a click. Think of it as taking a picture for the dog that helps the dog understand that the behavior he is exhibiting at that precise moment will earn him a paycheck. The timing of the click is important but the reward does not have to be given immediately. 

If anyone has been to Sea World and has seen the Whale jumping out of the water with someone perched on the whale’s nose, they would have seen an identifier at work. When the whale jumped up the handler marked the correct behavior. This marker said “Yes that behavior you are doing right now will earn you a paycheck. I just can’t give you the piece of fish right now. But I will.” If the marker was not used the fish reward would have had to be given when the whale was at the top of the jump. 

The same associations can be used extremely effectively with corrections. The bad behavior is marked while the behavior is occurring. The photo taken (the marker is the identifier) says the behavior being exhibited right now will result in a correction (Therefore the marker for bad behavior was immediate). A correction will follow ideally within a short period of time following the identifier for bad behavior (inevitable). And the correction must be impressionable to the dog. 

The marker for good behavior and bad behavior cannot be the same. The red light cannot not sometimes mean stop and other times mean go. By using a marker before presenting a reward or administering a correction the dog will more quickly understand the cause (the behavior) that resulted in either a reward of correction (the effect). If he knows the behavior that gets him good, he will offer the behavior. If he knows which behavior results in a correction, he has a solution. Don’t exhibit that behavior. No matter which program a handler incorporates, or even if he or she uses a combination of both, it is important that the dog learns good behaviors get him good and bad behaviors get him bad. And consistency in.

Nationally recognized as one of today’s top professionals, George Hickox has owned and campaigned numerous field champions and Dog of the Year. 23 X Champion Chelsea Thunder Bolt is the winningest dog in the history of Open Shooting Dog Field Trials, having won the Purina Dog of the Year four times & the Us Open Shooting Dog Invitational 3X. For over three decades, George has conducted clinics, private one-on-one training, and Bird Dog Schools for owners and their dogs. He has guided from Alaska to Georgia, appeared on TV, written articles for magazines, worked with elite Special Forces canine groups, and produced award winning dog training DVDs. The George Hickox School of Bird Dog Training has helped thousands of owners and their dogs across the US. 

In addition to being an Emergency Medicine physician, Debbie is a professional bird dog trainer. Debbie currently owns and campaigns Silver W JillZ, the winner of the Purina Open Shooting Dog of the Year & 6 X Open Shooting Dog Champion. Debbie”s expertise and passions centers around developing puppies and young dogs into bragging rights companions and hunters. Debbie incorporates clicker training and implements initial canine behaviors with positive reinforcement. She is responsible for the the conditioning, health, and training program for the dogs of a private wild quail plantation. and guides wild quail hunts.. Together, George and Debbie offer one on one training for owners and their dogs at their facility near Thomasville, GA. in the winter and in the prairies of North Dakota during the summer.

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