All of my “training” is based on helping the dog understand my role. My goal is to have him understand and accept that I possess a power that he does not. I can consistently catch the prey. I want him to include me as an available tool that can help him be successful in his problem solving. This is an important concept when trying to understand how dogs think. They don’t see ‘‘hunting” the same way trainers do. First, the reason they hunt, their motivation, is to catch the prey (success is a bird in their mouth). A conventional trainers goal is different. He wants to shoot birds over a stylish, good looking dog. One that is steady while maintaining all his natural drive, intensity and focus. The best way to bring these two different goals together, is to step into the dog’s world.
Dogs possess exceptional cognitive powers. Unlike behaviorism, which focuses only on observable behaviors (conventional obedience based dog training), cognition is concerned with the dogs mental state. This is why obedience, although in some cases necessary, is a dead end. It shuts down the mind and stops the natural learning process. To state it clearly, learning takes place in the mind not in behavior.
We’ll use hunting a pheasant as an example. This will be from the dog’s perspective. Part of the cognitive powers he possesses includes problem solving. To be more specific, I like to refer to it as dynamic problem solving. He sees bird hunting the way we see a chess match. Problem solving based on ever changing events. This is what he will naturally use to hunt and hopefully, get this bird in his mouth.
You release him to hunt. The first problem has been presented. “I need to find the bird”. Past experience tells him to use his nose, read the wind, hunt objectives, etc. He smells bird scent. Next problem, “analyze the situation”. What is it, how far away is it, is it moving, etc. He doesn’t want to flush the bird so to deal with this potential problem, he points. Now what? He knows that if he goes in, it will flush and he will be unsuccessful. The best way to fix this problem is to choose an option he knows works. He will “defer to the shooter” and let him go out front to catch (shoot) the bird.
There it is. He has used his cognitive powers to understand that if he remains steady, allows the shooter to go out front and catch the bird, he will be successful and get the bird in his mouth.
More coming up in the next blog about retrieving and how the dog sees it.