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Trick or treat...treats and training part II

KissesQuail season is over and except for changing out the choke in my gun to get ready for turkey season, thereís not a lot left to do on the weekends any more. I did promise an update on the Treats and Training article, though, so I suppose I could fill in some of that new found time and postpone the yard work a little longer.

In the first article, I asserted my belief that treats could be successfully used to train a dog to obey certain commands and perform certain tasks. I had avoided doing this with my dog for years, primarily because Iíd seen so many articles and books expounding that the dog should perform solely according to his desire to please me. Well, thatís fine and dandy until the dog decides that pleasing himself can be more fun than pleasing his owner.

For several months, I kept a box of treats on the refrigerator in my workshop, and whenever I went into the shop with dog in tow, Iíd stop at the fridge and give him a treat. After a couple of months, the treats ran out and I did not replace them, but the dog never failed to trot into the shop and sit down in front of the fridge, looking expectantly at the (empty) box on top. When I finally realized what was going on, I made the decision to try using treats to overcome my dogís steadfast resistance to fetching.

I started, literally, from square one. On a good day, my dog would run after an object that I tossed and pick it up in his mouth, only to spit it right back out and amble off to do something more interesting. By the time I wrote the first article, he was retrieving bucks and frozen birds with regularity, and we were looking forward to the start of hunting season.


Translating to the field

The field work began with less regularity than the yard sessions. Heíd pick up a dead bird in his mouth, take a few steps with it, then drop it. A big step forward from previous years, but not exactly the result I was hoping for.

Every man has his price. So does every dog.
We continued the yard work a couple of times a week and once I even took a few treats into the field. I followed him closely on a retrieve and when he turned toward me with the bird in his mouth, I quickly closed the distance, took the bird from him, and offered him a treat. And he turned it down. I guess thereís a first time for everything. On that day, finding birds was more of a reward than eating. I do believe my gesture registered with him, though, and I believe I did the right thing by encouraging him as he ran off to find more birds.

There was no breakthrough day that sticks out in my mind, but as the season wore on, he started carrying the birds further and further toward me before dropping them. On a couple of occasions, he actually ran right by me and spit the bird out as he passed. Delivery to hand was accomplished a couple of times, and by seasonís end he was retrieving within five feet of me on a regular basis.


Where do we go from here?

The yard work continues, but itís become more of a game than a training session. He will fetch balls, sticks, bucks, frozen birds, and just about anything else I care to throw. He delivers all of them to hand, and even holds the object in his mouth until I extend my hand. Sometimes I give him treats and sometimes I donít, but he appears to see the game as more of a reward than a means to an end, which is progress.

Every now and then, Iíll point to something on the ground or on the floor and tell him to fetch it, even if I havenít thrown it. Almost without fail he retrieves the object. I take this as a good sign that fetching is becoming more of a reflex for him.

As delighted as I am that this idea of training with treats has worked, Iím even more delighted that I didnít have to resort to the "forced fetch" method. I realize that many, many people have successfully utilized this process to train their dogs to fetch, and to them I offer congratulations without a trace of satire. I have a special relationship with my dog and I prefer to leave forceful methods out of it, and I feel we are much closer because of that. But fortunately, there are ways to accomplish even the most difficult tasks. Every man has his price. So does every dog.


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