Born to be Wild or Genetically Driven?

So you’ve got a springer or cocker and all you see is it running into the distance with its nose down. Or your retriever meets you at the door with your slippers in its mouth. Welcome to the World governed by genetics; your dog is just doing what it was bred to do.

Spaniels are bred to hunt and flush game by running about in cover and following the scent of the birds and flushing them out. It is hard-wired into spaniels, especially the working bred ones. Ideally, they shouldn’t work far from you, but many owners don’t know how to channel the dog’s desire to hunt and they can end up with spaniels that end up several fields away!

Retrievers are bred to fetch shot game back; they have an inbuilt desire (read need) to bring you a ‘pheasant’ when they see you. They don’t care whether that pheasant is actually your slippers or a pair of knickers; they are genetically programmed to do this.

Pointers and setters are bred to range long distances and to work with little direction from their handler. They have been bred to be independent breeds; which can make them difficult to recall (note I say difficult, not impossible). Again, this is down to their genetic make-up.

When owning a gundog breed, it is important to consider what job the breed was originally bred to do as they will have a strong desire, a need to carry out that behaviour to fulfil their inner child (their emotional needs) and if allowed to go ‘self-employed’ these breeds will respond to these needs and go off hunting or looking for a pheasant to bring you.

So how can we control these instincts? Note I say control rather than stop. It is almost impossible to stop pre-programmed behaviour, but we can channel it so that the dog works with us rather than against us.

Nosework games such as tossing treats or hiding a toy for the spaniel to hunt out will enrich their lives and teach them to stay close as well as helping with recall and check-ins. Teaching a stop to whistle (or verbal cue) can help when they are triggered to chase (flush) something. The more interaction between you and the dog on a walk, the more likely the dog is to stay close by and keep an eye on you. Building a desire to retrieve whilst they are young can help a lot as it gives you another tool to use to interact with/train your dog with (but exclusively using a ball chucker to exercise your dog in a walk is likely to cause other issues). So I will use a ball to reward a stop or a fast recall as my springer is ball mad…..if I don’t interact with her, she would be fields away busy hunting as that is what her brain is telling her to do.

Retrievers also like retrieve games and nosework games but are generally more likely to want to stay near you. To satisfy that need to bring you a pheasant, give them something to carry. If you don;t want them fetching you your slippers, TV remote or knickers; then teach them to fetch a specific toy that they can then greet you with. Fetching you something makes them feel good as well as satisfying that internal need, so we need to make sure that what they fetch is something that we don’t mind them bringing to us or our guests.

Recalls need to have meaningful rewards and this doesn’t just mean tasty treats, it means duration of reward and its relevance to the dog at that time. So when the dog comes back when called, don’t just give it one large treat as the chances are that will teach the dog to come back, snatch a treat and then run off again. You are better to divide that treat into 10 smaller one and deliver them one after the other whilst walking backwards. The movement increases the dog’s engagement with you and the duration of the reward reinforces ‘hanging about’ with you rather than the grab and run approach that one treat can encourage.

Other things that I will do out on walks are:

  • Rewarding check ins
  • Multiple recalls
  • Stops either going away from me or towards me
  • Recall and stay near me until released to run and hunt again
  • Directional work (sending the dog left right and back)
  • Loose lead walking
  • Short stays either next to me or whilst I walk away and recall
  • Various retrieve games
  • Various search games
  • Impulse control games

 

Join us for our Goody Goody Gundog workshops for ideas to challenge your gundog.
You may also find our E.P.I.C. Self Control and Focus workshops useful. You can study online here 

Other posts you may find helpful
Fabulous Focus

When the Wild Child Rears Its Ugly Head

Author: caninetutor

Fully qualified dog trainer and educator, delivering workshops around the UK.

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