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It pays to be mindful of being in the dog-training zone

When you have a young and upcoming hunting dog, as I do, you tend to be worse than a new parent – at least, in terms of the amount of reading you do regarding how to raise them right and teach them correctly. That’s because dogs don’t think like we do.

They’re smarter.

Luckily, professional dog trainers are an ingenious bunch who, as far as I can ascertain, have a solution for just about every training issue a person could run into.

The biggest decision you need to make is how you want to train your dog.

There are many schools of thought regarding this, but I prefer the positive reinforcement approach, in which you reward your dog for good behaviour rather than punish it for bad.  Within that school of thought, there are a further two approaches. One is you train and reward with food – which is basically the same method my mother used on me and that didn’t turn out so great. The other requires you to train and reward with measured praise.

I prefer the latter, because I don’t always have food on me (sometimes I comb my beard) but also because I never run short of kind words for a good dog.

There are pitfalls to either approach, though.

Mark Twain once wisely said, “If all you use is a hammer, you treat every problem as if it is a nail.” In my experience he should have replaced the word nail with thumb, but you get the idea.

Basically, when you immerse yourself in any practice that requires so much repetition, there is a danger ofunconsciously using the techniques throughout every part of your life. Which is to say, if all you use is dog training techniques, you treat every problem as if it is dog-related.

I first noticed this the other day when, without thinking, I lined Jenn up and sent her out to make a long retrieve on the TV remote. And, you know, I might have gotten away with it had I not uttered, “Atta girl!” while scratching behind her ears.

But, what else was I going to do? It was a great retrieve.

That kind of praise works like a charm on an English Spring Spaniel by the way. But, as I soon found, all it does in humans is elicit low, menacing growls and the occasional baring of teeth.

I only bring this to your attention because not once in the several dog training manuals I have read, is that ever mentioned. Which tells me the authors must have a fairly good legal defense team.

Of course, as soon as I realized what I had done, I apologized profusely to Jenn – although complimenting her on her focus, prey drive and intensity, was probably a bit over the top. Regardless, she forgave me because she knows I have submerged myself in dog training for the last year or so and sees that it is paying off too – if in nothing else but a food-free beard.

After apologizing, I did my best to avoid making that same mistake again. I also went out of my way to explain to Jenn it was an innocent mistake anyone could have made.

You can’t be too careful with transgressions like this, because they can get turned around on you.

And that generally means a lot of time in the dog house.

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