Positive Reinforcement Gundog Training in Dorset

Positive Reinforcement Gundog Training

If you have arrived at this page, you are interested in Positive Reinforcement Gundog Training. Your partnership with your dog is based on trust and an ethical approach to their welfare. Using techniques that cause our dogs pain or distress is unacceptable. We should not get our dogs to learn by force. We can still take an ethical approach to gundog training without it all being about food bribes. It is about setting the dog up for success rather than testing for failure. We only pay when we have set the dog up for success, and they achieve the desired outcome, and we pay handsomely!

Whilst traditional gundog training has been around a long time, a new buzzword has hit the training arena over the last few years. This is Pet Gundog Training. What is pet gundog training?

Pet Gundog Training

I consider myself a pet gundog trainer and offer positive reinforcement gundog training in the Dorset area. Although this is anecdotal evidence, I would suggest that more gundog breeds and crossbreeds live in a household where they will never be worked for what their breed purpose was intended. As a dog trainer in Dorset, every week, I come across behaviour and training issues related to the fact the owner does not understand the needs of the gundog breed they own.

positive reinforcement gundog training in Dorset
Positive Reinforcement Gundog Training

The purpose of the pet gundog training that I run is to meet the breed traits of the gundog breeds we are working with. The owner has no intention of working their dog on a shoot or field trials. Therefore, as an ethical pet gundog trainer, my role is to bridge that gap between the owner and the dog, and they have to start to meet the breed traits of the gundog. Remember, the owner may have decided they will not work their dog, but it is still an apex predator, a hunter. If you don’t give them an outlet you control, they will find one themselves, leading to behaviour and training issues.

Of all the specialities of dog training, in its purest form, gundog training still lags in the understanding that we no longer get a dog to work for us by force. Thankfully, many gundog trainers embrace new training techniques and offer more ethical, science-based training methods. However, in the overall numbers of gundog trainers, it could be suggested that this more ethical approach to training is in the minority.

Cross Over Gundog Trainer

You may hear the term ‘crossover trainer’. This is someone who started training many years ago and was trained in the accepted methods in those days. Many of those trainers have evaluated their practice and questioned whether there was a better way to train dogs. These trainers will have adopted a more ethical and positive approach to gundog training. I consider myself a crossover trainer, and I sometimes wince when I look back at my training methods. However, at the time, this was the way.

Thankfully, I questioned my practice and learned there was a more straightforward, more successful method of training dogs when you approached it from a positive reinforcement perspective. I am constantly evaluating my practice and asking if there is a better way to do this so the dog has a better experience. It could be suggested that many crossover trainers will have now adopted a more ethical style of gundog training.

Positive Reinforcement Gundog training slow to be used by clubs

Sadly, many general dog trainers and gundog trainers will still use aversive techniques to train their dogs. One may question why is this allowed? The dog training industry is unregulated, and the reality is anyone can set up a dog training business and start charging people money. Things are beginning to change. However, this change is far too slow. On a monthly basis, I will get several clients who will tell me about local trainers to use aversive techniques to train the dogs. Because the industry is unregulated, I have little recourse to resolve this situation. We can only hope that owners demand their dogs are trained ethically, involving a partnership between dog owner and trainer. When owners vote with their feet and start to investigate potential trainers in more depth, these trainers will have to change their practice or go out of business.

Marker Word or Clicker is key to Success

Change can be difficult; we like our comfort zones. In reality , positive reinforcement in gundog training is quicker and easier than aversive training methods. With positive reinforcement, we are in partnership with the dog. A key turning point for me was that I no longer spend time telling the dog what I don’t want it to do. I set up scenarios to show the dog what I want it to do and make this rewarding. In my practice, I use a clicker rather than a marker word, but the methodology and outcomes are the same. We have a communication tool whereby we can show the dog when a correct outcome has been achieved and reward this.

Gundog Training is about Having Fun

Several clients from traditional gundog training have been shocked that I use tug games with my dog when we have downtime and some fun together. They question that I ban slip leads until they have passed level four, whereby loose lead walking should be the norm. I get a choke chain from my training bag, which I carry for demonstration purposes. I asked them if they would put this on their dog? Of course, the answer is no. Then I explain that a slip lead is a choke chain in another material unless the dog walks on a loose lead. I use a slip lead on my dog when appropriate because he doesn’t pull.

Why I Ban the Slip Lead in my Gundog Classes until level Four

For many, the slip lead has become a fashion item if you own a gundog breed. Many owners put it on wrong and misuse it by tugging on it to stop the dog from pulling. These same owners would be mortified if I asked them to put the choke chain on instead! I was a fan of the slip lead in the old days because it was a great tool to communicate to the dog. As I have said, I wince when I look back at some of the practices I used, but this was how I was trained, which was normal in those days.

Many gundog training clubs advocate using the slip lead with puppies, young dogs and older dogs who pull. Some will use the technique of scruffing, and I have even heard of one who still pins the dog down, called the alpha roll. I was once asked at a training session at a gundog club to hit my dog on the nose because he was very excited at dummies being thrown and was whining about it. The person who asked me was a traditionalist gundog trainer, but he was unaware I was also a trainer. I flatly refused and was asked to go and stand out of the line like a naughty schoolboy. I did report this to the club owner, but the fact they acknowledged that some of their assistants were like this told me the club’s foundations were also like this. We never went back.

So if you found this page and are looking for a gundog trainer, a specific pet gundog trainer or even a general dog trainer, how do you ensure that the individual you are about to trust with your dog’s welfare is an ethical, positive reinforcement trainer? It can be a minefield out there, and some claim to be not what they are.

Finding a Positive Reinforcement Gundog Trainer in Dorset

The first place to start is their website, Facebook or Instagram account. These will usually give an early clue to the training style and the equipment used. Feedback can be manipulated, but it is an indication if people are having a positive experience with that trainer. Remember, though, that some owners don’t question what methods of style are being used with the dog. They want the problem solved. So if a dog trainer uses a shock collar and the dog stops running off, the likelihood is the owner may feel this was a positive experience. Thankfully most owners would walk away as soon as they saw a shock collar.

I hold my hands up and admit I used them many years ago. At the time, they were sold as the quick fix, and the reality was, in many cases, it was. However, we never really considered the long-term impact of using these and, more importantly, the welfare of the dog we were using it on.

I have not always been a Positive Reinforcement Gundog Trainer!

I have often asked myself if I could wipe out that period of my training career would I do so? No, I wouldn’t. I understand how these aversive techniques can be seen as a straightforward option. I have seen the consequence of their use. It is not nice to see the distress they cause to both dog and owner. Therefore, because of this experience, I can talk with the credibility of why I am now an ethical, positive reinforcement dog trainer. I used to call myself a balanced trainer because the person who taught me was a balanced trainer.

The mainstay of my dog training business is around gundogs. I’m still on a steep learning curve when applying gundog techniques in a more ethical approach. It would be easy to go to the training bag and do it the old way, the way I had been taught. However, it is far more fun stopping for a moment and looking at the training from the dog’s perspective and working out how I can achieve the desired outcome with no cost to the dog from a negative aspect.

As with any professional, we should continually strive to improve ourselves and not accept the mantra it’s always been done that way. When writing this, I’m about to commence a course as a gundog instructor, which is solely positive reinforcement training. This will challenge my comfort zone and show where improvements can be made, and I welcome this scrutiny to my practice. This will ensure that all the gundog breeds and their human partners who cross my path on their training journey will have a positive experience.