Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gun Dogs - Part One

My local library has a plethora of gun dog training books. Probably because this is Wisconsin, and if there is one thing people in Wisconsin like to do, it is sit in a forest in the dead of winter in the worst weather imaginable and hope something walks by so they can shoot it. Clearly, this is not my home state.

But, someday I will get my dearly desired Toller and I want to fool around with field training because I think it's neat. And, you know, fulfilling bred-in drives and original purpose and all that stuff. Hey, I took Gatsby to Earthdog, didn't I? Not my fault my dog is afraid of tunnels and rats.

I really haven't found any of the books to be all that different from one another. I get list titles if you want, but they aren't very important. I certainly don't recommend following the training advice contained within. A) They're quite out of date, the two I'm sitting next to right now were first copywritten in 1949 and 1983. They've been revised and rereleased several times, but still. These books are basically giving the same advice you would have been given 60 years ago. And B) They're really, really, harsh. Like Koehler harsh, but without the consistent system that at least makes Koehler fair. Fairly brutal, but fair.

See, gun dog books (I am mostly within retriever books, and I am learning that they are sometimes a separate distinction from gun dog books which are mainly pointers and setters) are working with, surprise, gun dogs. Who are fairly biddable as a whole. Which is kind of the point. These books are a huge purporter of the "he wants to please" myth, because generally speaking sporting dogs are more likely to be reinforced by praise and praise alone. Any dog that doesn't learn by their methods isn't worth training. Which is honestly garbage.

But what I find really interesting is that every book I've picked up starts more or less the same way: start with a good dog. Hunters aren't trainers. They want to get a dog, go shoot something, and have the dog go and pick it up. So speed and ease of training are given a lot of words, as is the futility of working with a mediocre dog. "Get rid of the beast" is not uncommon advice if a dog proves stubborn in the early stages of training.

They're actually really against backyard breeders, because the dogs are untested. Not big fans of bench breeders, but it's less animosity and more of the mind that they're just irrelevant to hunting dogs. Most hunting breeders aren't people I would buy a dog from, but every advice about buying a dog to shoot over I've read really drives home the point that the parent dogs must be proven hunters and other really solid advice about picking breeders, litters, and puppies. Which is really kind of nice to read. Let's get a little health testing in there and some more proactive guardianship of puppies (don't place a pup with just anyone with money and a gun, some more litter socialization, less endorsement of breeding as a money maker) and honestly I think most of them would pass the I'm Queen of the Universe test.

I do wish some of these books mentioned Tollers though. Considering they weren't players in the American scene until recently I'm not surprised, but I wish it.

I think I'll do a few more posts on this topic, because I'm enjoying the reading, and I think there is a lot to be gained from studying tradition. Don't reinvent the wheel, right? Well, in this case the wheel is a very specific shape that only works on one kind of bicycle and on one kind of road with special grooves, but still. It's interesting.

1 comment:

  1. I was interested in doing retriever training with Vito when I got him, but there is just so much I want to do with him that it was set aside.

    Retrievers training is way more "traditional" than the other type of gun dog training. I would have loved to try and put a MH on a positively trained dog but I learned that it simply wasn't going to happen with my 1st dog. You really need a mentor, and one that is willing to work with you and your chosen method of training.

    I am assuming you have checked out the yahoo group list:

    and then Lindsay Ridgeway's blogs who has 2 goldens with an SH positively trained: