The single most important word in dog training is consistency.
By Chad Hines
It seems like it would be common sense, but so many dog owners don’t realize they have to be consistent with their commands, and consistent in expecting their dog to comply with them.
If a handler is not consistent, the dog will not be consistent.
We’ve all been in the hunting field with a dog owner who calls and calls his dog, and blows his whistle until it sounds like marching band practice. That kind of performance impacts everyone’s day, and everyone’s hunt, and causes birds to flush wild and sneak out of the field ahead of you.
You can avoid being that kind of dog owner, by first teaching your dog the commands, then instilling consistent obedience to them.
FIRST, YOU TEACH
You have to first teach a dog what you want it to know. Each owner and hunter has a personal style, and expects different things. Sit, ‘here’ (which is like ‘come’), whoa––there is a list of traditional commands, and you decide what you want your dog to understand. You may also have a set of rules for the dog around the house, which you will have to teach him or her.
The point is, when you are in the teaching phase you have to be consistent, too, but you don’t expect compliance. That comes when your training gets to the point that ‘you know the dog knows what to do’ when you give a command.
It’s important to understand that. I’ve seen dog owners who never teach their dog the commands, and then suddenly one day decide to enforce them––maybe because they’re in front of their friends, and embarrassed because their dog doesn’t obey.
If a dog does not know what you want, and you clamp down on it, the dog will probably get confused or frightened. In my mind, it’s a form of abuse.
ONLY GIVE A COMMAND ONCE
For now, let’s move forward, assuming your dog has been taught the commands. It knows what each command means, and what it’s supposed to do.
When your dog doesn’t listen to a command that it knows, you have to re-assert that it’s not an option. After your dog understands a command, you must not make the mistake of giving the command over and over. After calling once or twice, the dog has probably heard the command, and is choosing not to comply. This is the critical moment, the point at which many amateur dog handlers make a big mistake.
“Ginger, come here.”
“You… get over here… right now!”
You are, in essence, training your dog to ignore you, unless you make the dog comply after the first time. No matter how loud and menacing you might sound, your dog figures out that you don’t always mean it.
If you let it slide, the dog learns it doesn’t have to come every time. Maybe every third time… or whenever it fits into his schedule.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE CRUEL
Dogs respond well to consistency. You want a dog that’s happy, confident, and runs hard. I do not believe in pounding compliance into a dog with physical intimidation.
When your dog decides not to comply with a command––and they all do, sooner or later––that’s when you have to maintain consistency. Pull on the check cord (if you’re using one), or go over to them, take them by the collar, or maybe pull on their ear a little bit (which they don’t like), and they’ll see that you meant it the first time.
A well trained, obedient dog has not had its civil rights violated. It would be much crueler to let a dog run loose and go out onto the highway and get hit by a car.
NON-VERBAL CUES ARE IMPORTANT
Consistency has to do with both verbal and non-verbal commands. When I say, ‘Dixie… here,’ I also show her the hand movement associated with that command. Even if she doesn’t quite hear me right, she will know what I want.
If a dog can see and hear––even feel––the command, you have a better chance of your dog responding. For example, I like to touch the dog on the collar when I say ‘OK,’ which is a release command.
Remember that dogs are individuals. If you call a dog, and also pat your leg and back away, it might come in right away, when the voice command by itself wouldn’t get the same results. It all depends on the dog.
CONSISTENCY EXTENDS TO THE HUNTING FIELD
Some dog owners are quite good with their training consistency, expecting compliance in yard sessions and in the training fields near home. But once summer fades into fall and you hop in the truck and drive a ways and start hunting, the dog notices that you aren’t quite the same stickler for detail.
If you’re consistent in your training, but let things slide when wild bird hunting, the dog can easily pick up on that. The dog can figure out that it doesn’t have to listen to you when you’re out hunting, and it gradually becomes a bigger and bigger problem.
So you see, consistency is consistency, wherever you go, whatever you’re doing. Show your dog the out-of-bounds markers, and keep them the same all the time. Don’t needle your dog by making it comply to command after command from sunrise to sunset. But when you give a command, expect the dog to obey.
If your dog becomes confused as to when you expect compliance and when you don’t, you’re the one who needs work on consistency.
Notes: If you’d like help training your dog or correcting specific problems;
Contact – Chad Hines at Willow Creek Kennels in Little Falls, Minnesota,