Praising your pup: Is there a “best” way?

Steady with Style, from Martha Greenlee
Steady with Style, from Martha Greenlee

Praise isn’t something you can do wrong – or at least that’s what I thought. But one afternoon at Woodcock Haven Kennels, ace pointing dog trainer Al Ladd used a very personal demo to show me the right way to say “good boy”.

After I had whoed up my pointer on a planted pigeon and stroked her back up and down with praise, Al came up to me and did the same thing. Then he paused, put his hand on my arm, and calmy said “nice job.”

“See how one way gets you all worked up? And the other keeps you calm?”

I did.

In her piece Praise, Martha Greenlee points out the same thing and explains why calm praise is the better way to go.

Praise, from Martha Greenlee’s Steady with Style

“Praise is one type of reward you use to train a dog. Food treats, tossing a ball and an excited voice are examples of other types of rewards. Trainers who compete in dogs sports such as obedience, agility and tracking use a variety of rewards to let the dog know he did what the trainer asked. However, training a pointing dog is different. These dogs are bred with a strong desire to find birds, so finding birds is already a powerful reward, and it gets them excited.

The key to training a pointing dog is to give praise as a reward when your dog does what you asked. Unlike most rewards, praise can be given in ways that don’t increase your dog’s level of excitement. The calmer you can keep your dog around birds, the less pressure you will need to redirect his focus back to training….”

Read the entire piece here.

Training tip: Does your bird dog like you – or respect you?

Puck pointing a woodcock
Puck pointing a woodcock

Respect, like success, is something you have to earn. The first time I sent my pointer to the trainer, I visited her every weekend. But when I showed up it was play time, not work time. We went for runs, tossed a ball around, and goofed off. I was her buddy, and she treated me like an equal.

This worked for a while. But the first time I took her in the field, the flaws showed right away. Instead of following commands, she did what she wanted. If that meant coming when called, she did it. If it didn’t, I could blow and blow on my whistle. She wasn’t going to listen.

I talked to my trainer about the problem and he explained the issue: she liked me, but didn’t respect me. I had to earn her respect. Once I did, everything changed.

Martha Greenlee noticed a similar lack of respect when e-collars came into use. Read how it showed itself, and learn what she did to correct it:

Using Physical Correction, by Martha Greenlee @ Steady with Style

“There are two basic ways to correct your dog during formal training. One way is with stimulation from the e-collar and the other is using physical correction. Physical correction was the primary form of correction to teach the steadying process until the late 1980s when Tri-tronics came out with a variable intensity e-collar. Unlike the “hot” single button e-collars that were the norm, this new e-collar had low, medium, and high buttons and five intensity levels. For the first time, you could adjust the intensity level of the e-collar to fit the situation and use it around birds without causing blinking problems.

As trainers experimented with these new e-collars, articles began appearing in some of the sporting magazines on how to use them in formal training. I really liked the idea of using a variable intensity e-collar and decided to buy one. At first, it was almost too easy to teach a dog to stand birds and not chase. After I’d taught a couple of dogs to be steady with the e-collar, I realized something was missing in their training and that something was respect. My dogs didn’t respect me. By relying solely on the e-collar and foregoing any type of physical correction, my dogs had learned to respect the birds but not me….”

Learn more — reading the entire piece now.

From Steady with Style: Walking Pups, a hunting dog training tip.

Steady with Style
Steady with Style

Training a pup can take place in a lot of places, from a training field at your local club to right in your own backyard. ime and places where you can turn a little time with your new hunting buddy into a bit of low key, low pressure training. Check out this piece from Steady with Style to see what I mean.

Walking Pups, by Martha Greenlee

“A while back a new puppy owner asked me what he should do to start his pup. I suggested he take his pup to the field and go for a walk. Walking your pup is one of the best ways to develop the bird dog instincts your pup inherits from his parents. These instincts include the instinct to hunt, to point and to be part of a team. The best time to develop these instincts is between the ages of three and six months. By six months of age, many pups are becoming independent and some may stop going with you.

There is an art to walking pups and to do it well you need to understand the difference between developing a pup and training him. Training involves teaching your pup to do something. Developing him involves creating situations where he can learn on his own.” Continue reading →

Blank-firing training pistols: are you using it wrong?

Are you using it the right way?
Are you using it the right way?

I’m always excited to get updates from the folks at Steady with Style. I’ve learned a lot about dogs and dog training from Martha Greenlee’s posts, and I read every one as soon as I hear about it. This one is essential for anyone who uses a blank pistol.

Using a Blank Gun, by Martha Greenlee

“How you use a blank gun can help or hurt you in training. Recently, I was training with some amateurs that were fairly new to pointing dogs. They had done a great job introducing gunfire to their dogs, but now their dogs were older. Most were between one and two years old and every time their dogs chased quail, they fired their blank guns. It wasn’t my place to say anything, but I was glad I wouldn’t be teaching these dogs to be steady-to-shot. Their dogs had already made an association with chasing and the blank gun, and once formal training began, they would most likely launch themselves like rockets anytime they heard the sound of the shot.

Steady with Style, from Martha Greenlee
Steady with Style, from Martha Greenlee

A blank gun is different than a shotgun. Dogs understand the shotgun. They see it, hear it and watch the bird fall to the ground. The blank gun isn’t as simple for your dog to grasp. The shot can mean a number of different things depending on what associations he makes with the sound. Here are a few examples of how to think about the blank gun…”

Be sure you’re doing it right. Read the rest of this piece now.

Great, so this means I’m the jerk?…

Steady with Style
Steady with Style

Do you  have those moments when you realize you’re the A-hole? It happens to me (too often?), and after I read Martha Greenlee’s the latest post at Steady with Style, it happened to me again. I’ve made the mistake she outlines below many times.

“Besides a pinch-collar and check-cord, you use verbal commands and an e-collar to train your pointing dog. It is important to use one or the other, a verbal command or the e-collar but not at the same time. A good example is the “whoa” command. If your dog is creeping or under a bird, it takes a lot of self-discipline not to yell, “Whoa,” at the same time you correct your dog with the e-collar. Unfortunately, if you use them together very often, your dog may learn to associate the e-collar with the word “whoa,” and he can begin to blink birds.” Read all of the post now

From Steady with Style: Turning the Corner…


Puck Pointing
Puck Pointing

Steady with Style is one of my favorite dog-training blogs. Author Martha Greenlee has been working with bird dogs for years, and her experience shows in every one of her posts. This latest one is a good example of what I mean. I went through this same process with Puck. If you have a bird dog, I’m sure you will, too:

“Recently, I was talking to Maurice Lindley about a dog I was teaching to be steady-to-wing-and-shot.

“I think Chalk has turned the corner,” I said.

“What did he do to make you think that,” Maurice asked.

“He’s calmer,” I replied.
“Good,” he said. “A calm dog is what you look for. A fresh-broke dog should go from bug-eyed and intense to calm and composed in the presents of game. If you watch a young dog on point, every fiber and nerve is on high alert and poised to pounce. Then, as more training takes place, you notice the dog’s composure changes when he is pointing. He becomes more confident in his job and confident that you know your job too. The intensity is still there but something has changed. To me the dog just looks different…”

Read the entire post here.

A new book from the author of Steady with Style….

Steady with Style is one of my favorite bird-dog blogs. Informed and well written, I always come away from it a bit more informed (and usually a bit chagrined by how ignorant I am). That’s why I’m excited to check out the author’s new book.

Steady with Style
Steady with Style

You can download a free PDF of it by clicking here: What’s the Point? A Collection of Bird Dog Writings by Martha Greenlee. The book is a collection of articles about dog training and field trialing, plus a piece called “Thoughts on Scent” and some helpful training tips. I’m sure I’ll enjoy reading it.