Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wait for Tomorrow

An old-time dog trainer gave me advice some twenty years ago when we were working dogs together. He said to wait for tomorrow. It was his way of telling me to be patient and not expect to see immediate results. This advice has stayed with me because it works.
Over the years, I have learned the importance of waiting for the next workout to see results, especially when it comes to e-collar work. Unfortunately, some trainers want to see immediate results. If I see results the same day, I know I probably overdid it. One of the reasons is because dogs are more excited in the training field and around birds, so it may take a lot of e-collar pressure to get them settled down. Once the adrenaline wears off, they may remember this higher level of stimulation and be spooked by it.
Last summer, I was helping a training buddy with one of her dogs. The dog had a solid e-collar foundation and was letting us flush in front of her. On this day, the dog decided to chase when the bird flushed, and she chased hard. My buddy nicked her with the e-collar on 4-low a couple of times, and then on 6-low a couple more times, but the dog never slowed down. I suggested we wait until the next workout and see what we had. On the next workout, the dog chased hard, but unlike the previous time, she started to slow down with each nick. It took one more workout before the e-collar was rolling her to a stop.
Maurice Lindley speaks often about the rolling stop, and his thinking dovetails nicely with the old-time trainer’s advice. Maurice explains, “For a dog with a good e-collar foundation, I don’t want him to stop dead in his tracks at first, even if he is a tough, resistant dog. If he stops like that, I may have done too much. One thing’s for sure: I will know in the next workout or two if I accomplished what I wanted. The slowest way to get a dog finished is to rush any part of the training.”
The same thinking works for teaching the here command. Some trainers call a dog to them, and if the dog does not respond, they use a high level of stimulation to make him come immediately. By looking for immediate results, they miss out on an important part of dog training, which is building cooperation. Instead of a dog that wants to come to them, they end up with a mechanical dog that comes because he was made to come. A better way to think about the here command is to use the least amount of stimulation necessary to ask the dog to bend and go with you. It may take a couple of workouts to accomplish, but you will end up with a happier and more cooperative dog.
If you get in a situation where you feel you have to use too much e-collar pressure to get the dog under control, it may be better to err on the side of caution. Remember, there is always tomorrow. Recently, I had a young dog go after deer in the training field, and rather than nail him with high stimulation and stop him in his tracks, I used a rolling stop and slowed him down. It took a couple of encounters with deer, but the results were definitely worth it. Instead of a dog that was fearful of deer, I had a dog that figured out chasing deer was not fun.
A dog needs time to process everything that happens during training, as well as to buy into what you’re asking him to do. To become a great hunting partner, he needs time to learn from his mistakes. Dog training takes patience, and chipping away at your dog’s behaviors is a far better approach than coming down on him like a ton of bricks. If you’re patient and willing to wait for tomorrow to see results, you’re well on your way to becoming a better trainer.