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Woodland Trails: Dog training is about obedience

It's all about obedience. When you are training a dog past the puppy stage, there is one word that has to fall into place. It's called control and with control comes obedience.

It's not something that you do once and forget about either. For real control and obedience you have to drill it in when the dog is young and then go into refresher courses when the dog gets older and slips back into old habits. Who says you can't train old dogs?

I've been training dogs professionally -- simply meaning that I get paid for my service -- since 1976. Flushers, retrievers and pointers all need to be under some degree of control. I've always harped on repetition and consistency being my main focus. Dogs learn by doing over and over.

And not just hunting dogs, but family pets and even cats need some training too! I once taught a beagle to retrieve ducks. The funny part was watching the ears float as the little dog swam!

The hunting dog trainer fraternity bases its training techniques on force training and very strict discipline: electric shock collars, ear pinching, shaking dogs as a mother dog does to make points when the timing is right. Professional dog trainers are a serious lot. They have lots of demands placed upon them and need to succeed to stay in work. But not all professional dog trainers are good and some grow angry with age over time.

I talked to one a while back whose ego was overpowering! His attitude was that only professionals like him were able to train dogs, and he blasted anyone else who even dared walk on their hallowed ground. There was no way anyone but a professional could "properly" train a dog and any "backyard" trainer might as well never even try because they have no clue to what they are doing.

Luckily not all professional dog trainers think like that fella. Many are really nice guys and gals who understand that there are many good dogs out there that have been trained by people who own and love their dogs. Many have had several dogs over the years and have learned how to train dogs having learned from their first dog, not unlike the "pros," over the years. They might not win any field trials but their dogs perform well enough in the field and do what their owners want, for the most part --some to a higher degree and some to a lower degree.

I often tell of one guy who I hunted with one time. He was my wife's boss who told me he had trained his own dog and wanted me to go hunting with him. We arrived at one of my favorite pheasant hunting places and he let his dog out of his car. The dog took off on a dead run, flushing every pheasant in view as it disappeared over a hill well over a half mile away. Even out of sight we still heard the dog flushing pheasants.

We then proceeded to let my dog out of the car and went hunting for a couple hours looking for birds, and my soon to be "X-friend's" dog too and the birds his dog had wild-flushed. After a couple hours of hunting with him yelling for his dog, we got back to the car and found his dog asleep on the tailgate.

His owner locked him up in the cab and we took off with my dog across the road. When we got back we found that his dog had eaten a huge hole in the driver's seat behind the steering wheel and it had also chewed off most of the aforementioned steering wheel!

It wasn't so much that this dog needed work, but I thought the owner needed more work than the dog. That was the one and only time I ever went hunting with that dude!

So what are the basic controls you need to work on with a dog? The "name" when it's a puppy is the first and most obvious. I also teach my dog "OK," which frees the dog from control. "Kennel" means get in something. It might be a dog crate, car, house, boat or anything else. Keep it simple. You don't have to say get in the boat, house, car, truck because that will confuse the poor animal! I also like to have the dog come when called (or you can use the word "here"). I also teach "sit, stay, heel, walk" and "down" on command. And when I am working on verbal commands I am also giving hand signals. I love to be able to hunt with a dog and not have to say a word to it or blow whistles like I am running a drum and bugle corps. That noisy stuff flushes way too many wild pheasants or ducks in the late season!

With some dogs you might have to work on only one command at a time while others can pick up multiple commands at almost the same time. To me, "come" or "here" means "stop what you are doing and get over here now"! "Sit" is control. It means "plant your butt and don't move until I give you a command." "Stay" means "do not leave that spot no matter what!" "Heel" can mean "sit right next to me almost touching my leg" or "walk beside me when I walk and stop and sit when I stop." I will use "walk" to mean "walk next to me" instead of "heel." It's your choice of command words. "Down" means "lay down."

I left out one command on purpose. It's the second thing I teach a dog after his name. It's the "no" command. Whenever the dog does something wrong it hears a loud and forceful "no" command. If the dog is eating outta my garbage can it hears "no." If it chews on furniture it hears "no." If it chases the mailman it hears "no." Anything the dog does wrong is followed by "no." Dogs can't speak English so why tell them to get out of the garbage, don't eat my slippers, stop chewing on the TV remote or jumping up on my best clothes when the dog comes in muddy?

Right now I am working on seven dogs and will be sharing that experience in future articles along with some more advanced dog-training tips.