Communicating with your dog is of paramount importance, not just in training them for the field, but also so you know your dog feels safe in what they are doing. It is a popular idea that understanding your dog's behaviour is a better way to train them, as opposed to piling on tonnes of voice commands. Excellent communication with your dog gives you control in a variety of situations. As they are a pack animal, they need a natural hierarchy, so you need to establish yourself as the leader.
Avoiding Verbal Communication
Word’s don’t exist in animals brains, though anyone who lives with animals like dogs can see they do have feelings and emotions. We see behaviours and reactions in dogs that we characterise by human words such as ‘excited’, ‘sad’ or ‘mischievous’. However, putting human interpretations on animal behaviour can have an adverse effect, as what you could interpret as playing is actually more an aggressive dominance behaviour.
It is things like that which means it is important to learn their “language” or behaviour, rather than assuming their actions are human-like. When it comes to training gundogs, you can see how scent takes up a significant portion of their brain, so much so they can probably tell you are off shooting before you even organise your shooting clothes for the day!
If you find your gundog gets distracted quickly when training, it is most likely a smell more than anything else. A dog’s sense of smell is better than their sight, which is why they are used for retrieving fallen game birds. In training for blind retrieves, you need to be cautious about other strong scents, as these can be distractions that cause your gundog to pick up the wrong thing.
Safe equals Happy
Security and safety are central to dogs feeling contented and willing to work. Where a human might say they are happy, a dog equivalent would be a feeling safe and unthreatened. Creating a safe environment for your dog is hugely beneficial for their training and when they are out in the field. If you have made yourself a leader; both confident and able to protect your dog, then your dog will be “happy” to obey you, as this will reinforce a feeling of security.
Dog Gestures and Behaviour to Learn
Bark plus bouncing – playful, immature, action of puppies or youngsters
Bark plus step backwards – worried/fearful but bluffing it out
Bark plus step forward – aggressive, dominant, guarding territory
Belly crawl – submissive, or avoiding a command
Growl – warning off inferior dogs, should not be towards a human
Head on one side – uncertain or confused but engaged
Head up – strong, interesting scent found
In your face – dominant, also sign of neediness
Jumping – (cockers) an effort to mark a fallen bird
Licking – a sign of immaturity with dominant tendency
Shake paws – a dominant sign, depending on whose paw is on top
Shivering – usually excitement
Tail frenzy – quarry has been found
Tail tuck – fear, submission (can also mean an in-season bitch is not ready to mate)
Some of these gestures can vary from dog to dog and breed to breed, though they are generally the same, and are a great indicator of how your dog really feels. If you are training your gundog, take a look at the gundog accessories and equipment we have in our online shop that can help!