Dog Training Collars
A Diamond in the Rough
Part III: Basic Obedience
As is the case with people, bird dogs must crawl before they walk and walk before they run. In more literal terms, they must be socialized before they can be trained, and they must have some basic training before they can begin work with live birds. In Part II, we covered some of the early socialization issues with JJ, a rescued Brittany who spent the first year and a half of his life chained up in the woods. This article will cover his transition from being socialized to beginning basic obedience work.
JJ's situation with regard to obedience training was much like that of a puppy: he had been socialized and had never been exposed to any sort of training. He did, however, have an advantage over a true pup in that his attention span was somewhat greater. The primary impediment to training was JJ's extreme sensitivity, which often bordered on cowering. Correction, reinforcement and discipline through traditional methods were not an option. All reinforcement would be done through positive methods, namely by praising a suitable response to a command. Unsuitable responses would be ignored rather than reprimanded. A time-consuming process to say the least, but realistically the only available option.
It took about a week to get him to sit on command. At first, his response time was rather slow. It was as if he had to think about what I said, and even when he started to sit, he did it slowly, just to make sure he was doing what I wanted. I used the traditional "one hand pulling up on the collar and the other hand pushing down on his back end" method. He showed a lot of resistance to the rear-end pushing at first. He never tried to run away, but he made it obvious that he would oppose my efforts by standing staunchly. Slowly, he began to give in, and within a few days he offered less resistance to the pushing.
Stay was not taught separately but instead became a part of the sit command. This was reinforced through a pure reward: JJ was allowed to lick the dinner plate after I finished eating supper. Before he was allowed to clean the plate, however, he was told to sit and was made to wait for varying periods of time before being released.
After several weeks on the makeshift harness, I changed over to a slip lead. JJ adjusted instantly and no longer pulls on the lead while heeling.
Steady to wing
Walking on the leash came fairly naturally. He pulled at first, but seemed pretty relaxed overall. Because of his neophobic nature, I was concerned that all of the new sights, sounds and smells he would encounter on a walk through the neighborhood would overwhelm him, reducing him to a quivering bundle of fur or sending him into a frenzy. Much to my surprise and relief, he was completely at ease. Very little correction was needed, the exception being when he spotted birds or squirrels.
Birds, butterflies, bees, moths, and squirrels are the only creatures I have found that do not intimidate JJ. He pursues them like a cop after a criminal. On walks, JJ would frequently spot songbirds before I would, and would alert me to their presence by nearly pulling my arm out of its socket. Sidestepping protocol out of necessity (I need my arm), I successfully taught JJ to stop at the sight of a moving bird. This was done during the course of a two-mile walk and without any special equipment.
Early in the walk, I fashioned a makeshift harness out of JJ's leash by running it between his shoulder blades, down the left side of his rib cage, underneath his belly, up the right side of his rib cage, underneath the leash already running down his back, and then straight back to my hand (see picture). The effect of this harness is an increase in pressure around his waist, not his neck, when he pulls on the leash. When he lunged at birds, I stood still and held the leash steady.
By the end of the walk, he stopped dead in his tracks when he spotted a bird. I'm not exactly certain why he learned this in less than thirty minutes, yet took more than a week to learn to sit. Possibly he's learning how to learn, and the process shortens with every new command. Possibly there are some genetics at work that I am unaware of.
He's become much more tolerant of regular visitors to my house, and has even warmed to a few of them. He does have a territorial nature, and barks loudly at unfamiliar faces. None of his behavior has ever been aggressive beyond the barking, and in fact, he often wags his tail while he's barking. When he is taken into someone else's home, he does not bark at the occupants, and rarely barks at other people and dogs while walking in the neighborhood.
In the coming months, I intend to solidify the basic obedience commands and introduce JJ to live game birds. Because he has not been heeled and whoaed off-lead yet, his exposure to game birds will be from the end of a check cord with a makeshift harness. To my knowledge, he has never been exposed to game scent and his reaction will be the turning point in this experiment.
At this stage, JJ would make a fair pet for most people. With a little finishing on the basic obedience, he would qualify as a very good pet. If the remainder of this project does not pan out due to poor scenting ability, difficulty overcoming gun shyness, or some other factor, I will still consider the effort worthwhile. JJ is a fine companion and the time spent with him has involved no frustration and a lot of reward.
Diamond in the Rough series
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