Monday, August 1, 2011

The Steadying Process with Dominant Dogs

Fritz was showing all the signs of being ready to start the steadying process. He was over a year old and had run at a lot of birds. Whenever I took him afield, he hunted hard to find them. Birds were on his mind, and recently, he had begun holding point longer. I had introduced the e-collar at five months old, and he handled well and went with me. Although I’d recently noticed that he was acting more dominant around the kennel, I hadn’t given it much thought.
The first time I took Fritz to the training field to work on the steadying process, I was in for a surprise. I put the pinch-collar, check-cord, and e-collar on him and began walking him around the field. He surprised me by acting like a total knothead, dragging me everywhere. My training buddy laughed and said that Fritz had attention deficit disorder, and he sure acted this way. I had set up a couple of releasers but decided working him on birds was like pouring gasoline on a fire that was already out of control. In Fritz’s case, I knew I was wasting my time trying to do anything with him until he calmed down and started paying attention.
Also, it was dawning on me that he had become dominant. In my defense, it’s not uncommon for young males to become more dominant as they mature. Some can get really full of themselves, like teenage boys. I realized that this coming of age was happening to Fritz, and I’d missed it. I also realized that I needed to get him calmed down and paying attention through physical means, in order to earn his respect.
I did not make much progress in the first session, so in the second session, I placed the pinch-collar above the ID collar. This placement makes the pinch-collar tug more severe, but Fritz was too excited to care. To teach him to stop pulling and pay attention, I changed direction, said, “Here,” and gave a pinch-collar tug that pulled him off balance. A couple of times when he was in front of me, I stopped and stood still. I put some slack in the check-cord and gave a good backwards tug, asking him to come to me. I asked him to come all the way to me and give me eye contact. Eye contact took some doing, and each time he came in and went past me, I stepped back and tugged again until he finally looked up at me.
I continued to turn, tug, and ask him to go with me and come to me in each session. If he pulled too hard, I spun him. It took a total of four sessions before the light came on. The change was obvious. His expression said Oh, you’re here too? Now he was calmer, and I had his full attention. I was ready to teach the stand command.
Teaching the stand command helps you to establish dominance over a dog; the more dominant the dog, the more important it is to get this message across early in the steadying process. You have to know what you’re looking at when training a dominant dog, because he may act in a similar way as a dog that doesn’t understand what he is being taught.
In Fritz’s case, I put out two releasers just in case he surprised me by being cooperative. Once we got to the field and he was working in front of me on the check-cord, I asked him to stop and stand still. He stopped but didn’t want to stand still. I knew I had to be demanding and teach him to keep all four feet planted on the ground, in order to earn his respect. He put up a good fight to stay in control, and challenged me by taking steps or moving whenever I took a step behind or in front of him. We never worked on releasers, and I went three more sessions before he’d made enough progress for me to show him a bird.
Fritz is an extreme example, but dominant dogs like him are good reminders of how important it is to get dogs calm and paying attention before advancing in the steadying process. Once I’d earned Fritz’s respect, training went much more smoothly. Dominant dogs like Fritz may take more time in the beginning and require a heavier hand, but by going slowly and foregoing bird work, I was making an investment that would pay dividends in the future. Instead of training a dog that was a knothead, I was training a dog that wanted to learn.