Dog/Human Hunting Relationships

All training of hunting dogs is more or less the development of an interactive relationship between a person and a dog. The training is more or less a collective term representing the way that the interactive relationship develops. The relationships between people and their dogs constitute an extraordinarily diverse range of interactions from total control by the human to total dominance by the dog. We all wind up somewhere in this array and our final result isn’t fixed, it’s variable and the consideration at issue for us is how we get to that interactive relationship.

For those who want total control, let us call them the retriever people, the driving force in the relationship is primarily human, for those who don’t want to interfere with the dog, let us call them the field trail pointer people, the driving force in the relationship is the inherent abilities and characteristics of the dogs themselves. The question of course becomes one of the desired relationship, do you want it to be 75% dog and 25% you? The methods you choose for training and the objectives of your training determine the nature of the relationship.

We don’t appreciate it at first but there is an enormous element of random chance in your view of the ultimate relationship between you and a dog…everything depends on those you happen to encounter when you start thinking about training a dog and those who influence you during that development. In short what you want from a dog is determined by your personal experience. The development of training systems (for want of a better descriptive term) tends to create an uneven distribution of control relationships. Retriever people want 100% control of a dog with drive, the versatile people want 100% control of a dog with drive but have to accept that the dog will not hunt properly without independence and so accept shared control of the teamwork with the dog. The field trial pointer people want an all out performing dog that isn’t hampered by a lot of interactive stuff with a human, for them the teamwork performance is 90% dog and 10% handler, and there are all stages in between these clustered groups.

The relationship between you and your dog, that is which of you has what percentage of control of the relationship, is determined by the way you choose to go about training the dog. Those who choose to train with force and want to dominate the team relationship do well with some prescribed training regimens. Those who choose different methods of forcing achieve a different relationship with the dog.

Each person who trains has to accept that there will be something that they’re not going to get from their dog, consequences of the training methods that they will accept as an expected limitation of the game that they play. If you have absolute control of the dog all of the time that you work as a team you aren’t going to get great bird finding and handling ability from the dog but the retrieving is going to be consistent. If you give the dog enough latitude to hunt very productively you have to accept that you cannot control the dog as much as you might prefer, or as the books say that you should. If you stop interfering with the dog’s hunting completely and don’t want to take the chance that a lot of training routine will dampen the dog’s enthusiasm and spirit you can get a hell of a bird finding machine that may prove to be a sloppy or indifferent retriever.

The message I offer is that you can get anything you want from a relationship with your dog and the methods you use in your training will produce certain results and also result in certain disadvantages. Those with the training problems are, of course, those who choose a method of training that leads to dog/human interaction that they do not want. We can describe methods that will leas to interactive operation of a dog/human hunting team or we can show you methods that will not dampen the dog’s drive or enthusiasm. None of these are correct or incorrect, the only important thing for the trainer to understand is that you will get the dog that you have earned and, if you’re lucky, it’s the dog that you wanted.

CJ Walton
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