Gun Dog Training: New Dog Owners Require Positive Training

Gun dog training styles and techniques are starting to change. This change is coming from demand created by a new generation of gun dog owner.

OldDogI am 47 years old. I am from a generation whose gun dog training guiding principles are: “show the animal who is boss.” This included no small amount of force, pressure and pain. These techniques have been used for a long time and have been used to produce some outstanding dogs. At the same time, a lot of dogs washed out of these training plans. The lucky ones became family pets.

My generation of gun dog training and the hunters who we serve are dwindling in numbers. The hunters are old and getting older and we are not replacing our lost numbers with new people. Farming, social, and conservation practices have all changed since I was a youth. Going for a hunt today often means a week of vacation, thousands of miles in the car, and thousands of dollars against the credit card. Such a lifestyle often is not accessible to the average young person today.

My generation trains with shock collars, prong collars, and check cords. The only rewards are the occasion “good boy”. Hunting came first, and we acquired our dogs as a means to that end.

As my generation disappears and if we fail to replace our numbers, the demand for quality habitat will decrease. The demand for quality bred dogs will decrease. Indeed, if we are not actively replacing ourselves, wild places are going to become as rare as the animals they protect.

goldenPuppyPublicdomainWho is the next generation of gun dog owner? This person is quite different from me. This person grew up in the suburbs. Or the city. He has never hunted. She has a hunting dog, not from a reputable breeder, but from a rescue. This person wants to compete in hunting games rather than actually hunt. Unlike me, hunting is an afterthought for this person, brought about because of a driven dog. Unlike me, this person learned to train dogs with clickers and treats. The gun dog training they require will be long on rewards and short on punishment.

I met the next generation this past weekend. I went to a positive gun dog training seminar. My fellow students don’t want to hunt. I was the only person there who had ever shot a bird. My fellow students had never fired a shotgun. They don’t use e-collars. They want to compete with their dogs in AKC hunt tests. These are good and nice people, but have no clue about what a dog ought to do in the field. My world is alien to them. They want to train their dogs to hunt, but they cannot find someone…different. They seek but cannot find gun dog training which matches their ideals.

There are very few positive reinforcement based gun dog training vendors in the US. But for those who sell these services, their waiting lists are long and satisfied customers are many.

We, in my generation…we have a choice. We can continue to use our tried and true methods. And as the years press on, there will be fewer people who want our services. There will be no money in bird dogs, and so fewer quality bird dogs will be bred. Hunting will fade out of many of our breeds, like it has the Cocker Spaniel and the Irish Setter. Wild places that hold birds will be turned over into farmland or groomed for whitetail deer.

-Or-

We can provide the services that the next generation wants. Services they will pay for. We can mentor this next generation and teach them to hunt. And compete. If we learn to provide the services that the next generation demands, only then will there continue to be the hunters of birds. And wild places which hold the birds. And quality bird dogs who pursue those birds with abandon.

As for me: I still use the shock collar. But I am learning and I am changing. My next pup, I see no need for him to ever wear a collar. Change is inevitable. For the sake of the birds and the dogs and the wild places, it is time to consider a change.

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