Good Dogs

Secrets to a Great Gun Dog

What you need to know before you train a gun dog

For Mike Stewart, a list of rules for successfully 
training dogs, if he is allowed to elaborate, has been known to stretch into days on end. Here are five of the best:

1. Patience and consistency always come first.

“No matter what day it is, no matter where you are in the world with your dog—doesn’t matter if you’re in New York City or on a farm in Mississippi—you have to be confident in your relationship with the dog. That takes time and work. It’s all about building trust between the two of you.”

2. Every dog’s master needs to be its leader.
“As either a trainer or a dog’s master, you need to be calm, controlled, consistent, and confident at all times. To the dog, it’s all about pack mentality. And dogs won’t follow an unstable dog—or an unstable leader. Eventually, they just won’t do it.”

3. Make hay slowly.
“People rush too much in training their dogs. They want them to learn a specific habit or skill, and then they want to test them right away. They often take a dog into the field before it is ready. It requires longer to train a solid habit in a dog than you’d think. I go by the five-times-five-times-two rule. The dog has to perform the same habit five times, in five different situations, and do it at least twice under those circumstances before you’re getting anywhere close. In fact, doing five-times-five times a few weeks, working with them every day, is even better. Then you know you might be near a behavior you can trust in the field.”

4. Don’t buy the wrong dog.
“If you’re a young, professional woman working long hours and living in a small apartment in a big city, even if your dad had German shorthaired pointers all the time when you grew up, that’s still the wrong dog for your situation. Know who you are and what you want from a dog. Do breed research, then research inside that breed. Consult professionals. Different types of dogs have been developed for different things. Think about your life and what you want from your dog. That’s fair to both of you.”

5. Praise them 
and work them.
“A dog wants to please its master. And there’s nothing wrong with praising it every time it does. The way I see it, most dogs are just out for a good time. I equate them with frat boys at Ole Miss. Yeah, it’s fun to stand around with a plastic cup of beer and a cigarette. But if you show them there’s value in work beyond that, if you stop that behavior and show them there’s more that’s possible in their life? Motivate them to see other, bigger rewards? Well, both the frat boy and the dog might very well adopt the new behavior. Then you reinforce it, and that new behavior is still fun. It’s just a different kind of fun.”