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Q&A with a professional dog trainer

4/26/2005

Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.


Fish dogs?

Mike,
I saw the coolest thing in Colorado over the summer. While fishing the Rio Grande in Southwest Colorado, I saw a couple and their lab. They were fishing just down stream from me.

Their dog was trained very well. He would sit on the bank patiently until they hooked into a fish. Once the fish got close enough to the bank, he would walk out and grab the fish. He would then bring up on shore while his owner would take the hook out.

Great Dog!

I would like to train my dog to just sit patiently on the bank with me.

How do I do this?

Jeff Russell


Jeff,
Interestingly enough, the predecessor of today's lab was used as a "fishing dog" by commercial fishermen around Newfoundland in the 1800s. These dogs would fetch fish lost from the nets of fishing vessels as they were being pulled aboard — just a point of interest.

Your question actually pertains to achieving a high level of obedience and patience on the part of your dog. Quite simply, you must condition this type behavior into your dog from the start.

Start young and stay consistent. Teaching basic obedience to any dog is an important part of their development into becoming well-adjusted, good citizens. Pups should be kept calm and quiet. Maintain patience in all things. Once standards of behavior are set and understood, they must not be compromised.

"Sit" means sit as does "stay." Give one command and enforce it with constant repetition. Gradually extend the time at stay and the distance you can move away from your dog, even out of sight. You, too, can have a quiet, well-behaved companion in the home and the field.

Climbing barkers

Hey Mike Stewart,
My Name is Bobby from Georgia, and I would really appreciate it if you
would answer my question. Even if you don't put my question on the column,
if you would send me an email with an answer, then I would really
appreciate it.

I have a Black Lab that is about 2.5 years old, and I have
had him since he was about 6-8 months old. My brother-in-law had him until I
got him and he let him run loose and do his own thing. So ever since we
got him, we can't restrain him.

I knew already that this breed was full of energy and we do what we can to keep him exercised. But we keep him in a good-sized pen with two of our other dogs. He jumps out night after night
and waits on the front porch in the morning for someone to come out.

We think he jumps out of the fence where the gate opens, so we put an
electric fence on it, and he still jumps out somewhere. I never see him
jump out, he just does.

He also barks day and night profusely. He will
bark at our cat every single day. He will bark in the middle of the night
for no reason. I would really appreciate it if you would give me some tips
or training ideas I could use to break him of some of these habits.

Thanks,
Bobby Birt


Bobby,
It sounds as though you have an excessively hyper dog or one that is a bit maladjusted.

Your dog's problems could be genetic. Like produces like. But quite likely the behavioral problems you experience with your dog stem from how the pup was backgrounded (6 weeks to 6 months) and how he was handled as an adolescent.

If your pup was excitable and overly energetic, counter measures should have been taken in his early development and training. The focus should have been on (and should be now) quiet, calm interaction with the dog with an emphasis on patience on the part of the dog. Do not get the dog excited. An extensive obedience program is in order.

The escapes from the pen can be stopped. It's likely your dog is a climber. Use metal panels wired to the top of the pen to prevent his going over the top to freedom.

Barking in the pen…. What's your response? If you go out to give a yell, no good. Your dog is training you to respond with attention with his every bark. An electric bark collar works wonders with chronic nuisance barking.

Mind you, it won't correct the behavior, only suppress it. Also, don't leave the collar on all the time or it will irritate his neck. Only use the collar in peak periods of annoyance.

Picking the pup

Mike,
I have read your article more than once on picking the perfect pup.

Right now I'm looking to purchase an English pointer from a breeder in Texas. I live
New Mexico. How would I determine the choice not being able to go there? Any suggestions?

Ralph Cadena


Ralph,
Puppy picking is not an art. No one can determine the potential of a gundog when picking a pup at six weeks.

The key to success is twofold.

Pick the breeder of the type dog you wish to field, one with the best-proven record of producing excellent prospects in both health and ability. Secondly, pick the genetics. Like produces like.

Focus on picking litters, not a pup. If you have great sires and dams; moreover grandsires and granddames, you are on your way. Pick litters that have a strong trailing bitch line as moms have tremendous influence on litters.

Lastly pick litters that will offer the potential of a pup that will match your expectations.

Don't just be a title sucker, that is count competition award totals in a pedigree. You must investigate the bloodlines, health, ease of training, reliability, stamina, etc. Basically, begin with the end in mind.

Choose proven genetics that have a track record of producing the pup you desire, decide on preferred sex and color, then just reach down and pick the one you like. Remember, you are actually purchasing a genetic package so pick litters; not pups.

Good Training!
Mike Stewart