To train your hunting dog, you must be a leader

Written by: Phil Monahan

Murph looking for leadership

Your hunting dog already knows what to do in the field, but he or she looks to you for leadership.

photo by Paul Fersen

Some of the most interesting things about working with Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels—I was taking a dog-training course and writing a book with him at the same time—are the subtleties that are far beyond the actual mechanics of running drills. Perhaps the most important premise (and the thing that most people simple don’t get) is that dog training is more about training yourself how to train the dog.

If you buy a proper and well bred hunting dog, the dog instinctively knows what to do. What is needed is the ability to channel that knowledge into a working relationship with you, the hunter. While the dog is genetically programmed to point or retrieve, you are not genetically designed to train the dog.

The reason many people think training a dog is difficult or fail to get the desired result is that they expect the dog to understand us as humans, as opposed to learning to communicate with the dog in terms he can understand. This is where training yourself is so important.

One of the first things Mike teaches is that dogs are pack animals and respond to pack behavior. Dogs will look for a leader, and if they can’t find one, they will attempt to become one. Until you understand pack behavior and learn to communicate as the leader, through body language and leadership behavior, you are going to have difficulty. Yes, you can simply take the shortcut and zap the dog with a e-collar, and he will respond to avoid the pain But that’s not training; that’s forcing. And as soon as the collar comes off, you have a different dog.

Does this mean you must get on all fours and act like a dog? Of course not. What it means is you need to interact with the dog the ways a pack leader does. You need to learn to lead, and the dog will follow.

There is a great book that Mike recommends called Leader of the Pack by Nancy Baer and Steve Duno. This book is a great way to begin to understand the proper relationship hierarchy that is so critical to getting your dog to respond to you.

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