Perspective is defined as: An attitude or standpoint, how one sees or thinks of something. A point of view.
Why is it that we, as humans, must control and manipulate everything to fit into our own perspective? Everything must make sense in the way “we” see the world. We decide what the “right way” is, we make up unnatural games and events for the dogs and expect them to learn and be motivated by what we consider success. This is why obedience based training can be hard on dogs and takes so much repetition. You’re trying to make him do something that for him, makes no sense. The photo below shows one of the common, accepted methods used for “whoa” training a bird dog. From the dogs perspective, how is he to understand what is being done to him? He is tied up by the neck while standing on a rickety barrel. Pigeons are released in front of him to encourage him to move. When he does, a trainer kicks the barrel out and shouts “WHOA” while the dog is shocked or, in this case, hung. Hard for a dog to find success in this.
Dogs see the world in an entirely different way. When it comes to motivation and success, they are simple creatures. I don’t believe they think as we do. It’s more natural, more instinctive than that. They simply want to do what it takes to be successful. Everything they do is based on the predator/prey dynamic. Again, lets use the birddog as an example. The reason he hunts, points and retrieves is because he wants the bird in his mouth. He points when, through experience, he has learned that this pause before the pounce increases his odds of success (getting the bird in his mouth). No matter how frustrating it may be from the trainer’s perspective, the dog will always want to get the bird in his mouth. It’s why he is there. It’s why he hunts. The secret is to show the dog that his odds of success are greatly improved if he will use us. It boils down to building and maintaining trust.
Now, let’s look at the hunt from different perspectives. First, through the eyes of a conventional, obedience trainer:
The trainer wants a dog that is obedient to all commands (enforced with an electronic collar). He wants the dog to hunt and quarter to front (hunt between the 10 & 2 position), stop and remain staunch at the first scent of a bird, maintain steadiness while the trainer walks by, flushes the bird and kills it. He now wants the dog to remain steady and staunch until released with a “fetch” command. The dog is to run out, find the bird, pick it up and return it to the trainer’s hand. At this point, the trainer snatches it away from the dog, puts it in his vest and sends the dog on. Sounds simple enough but what’s in it for the dog? It makes no sense and has minimal, if any payoff from his perspective. Eventually, success to many dogs, what motivates them, is simply avoiding the pressure or pain.
Now let’s look at the same scenario from this trainer’s dog’s perspective. Keep in mind, I have put this in the context of thoughts to help the human reader. The dogs aren’t really “thinking” these things, they are simply reacting to different natural and learned stimuli.
“I’m to hunt and run only between the 10 & 2 position. But from my experience, the birds are in birdy places, not just right out front. And what about the wind direction. I need to hunt into the wind. OUCH!!! Ok, 10 & 2 it is…..Now I’m to stop at first scent. Well boss, I think I smell something but I’m not sure if it’s old scent, ground scent or if the bird has run off. OUCH!!! Ok, I’ll wait right here…..If there is a bird there, you’re gonna make me wait here while you go out and steal my point. I don’t like it when other dogs disrespect me like that, I don’t like it when you disrespect me like that either….Now that you’re out front, if I move and try to help get the bird I found, you’re gonna shock me again. So much for ME being successful…..(BANG)…..Well, you managed to shoot it but if I go before you say so, it’s gonna hurt….. There’s the “FETCH” command….. I’ve gone out and found the bird and I’m bringing it back to you….. Here you go boss, delivered right to your feet. OUCH!!! What? You want it in your hand? Well pick it up then. OUCH!!! Alright, here it is….. Well, we got it boss….. What? You’re putting it in your vest? You’re not gonna share it with me? You’re gonna steal it again? Great….. Yeah, ok boss lets “hunt em up”.
Finally, the hunt through the eyes of a Higgins Gundog:
(Whenever possible, we release the dog and begin the hunt into the wind.)….. “I don’t smell anything around here boss. there’s a birdy place over there, I’ll go check it out. Nothing yet. I’m getting pretty far out here but you’re still walking this direction. Everything is good. Now I see you‘ve changed direction. You must know something, time to swing to front.”….. (We don’t hack at the dog, no verbal commands, whistles or hand signals. Control is by the handler’s body movement.)….. “I SMELL SOMETHING!!!”….. (Dog points. Handler is quiet, stands still and waits.) …..“I gotta be careful now, no reason to get pushy. I could try to catch the bird but I know I have a better chance of getting this thing in my mouth if I wait and let him shoot it….. Wait a minute, it’s trying to sneak off! My predator instinct tells me that I need to follow (stalk) the prey and get it to stop. Gotta be careful though, don’t want it to run off or flush….. Boss has not gone out front yet so I am free to go.”….. (I always encourage dogs to manage their birds. He is free to make decisions. Once he has the bird set, I will circle around and go out front. The dogs understand that once I am out front, if they move, I will stop. If they continue to move, I will leave. If this happens, they have learned that their odds of success have dropped to near zero.) …..”Ok, got the bird stopped, now I need boss to get out there and kill it!” …..(This is where a Higgins Gundog, with a flash of the eyes at the shooter, will defer. He trusts the shooter.)….. “There it goes!!!…. Can’t move yet, if I do, he won’t shoot”…..(BANG)….. “Did he get it?….. YES!!!!!!…. Can’t leave yet, I don’t know if it’s my turn”….. (Dogs learn by association. I don’t want him to associate the bang or the fall of the bird with a release. For this reason, every so often, I’ll make the retrieve myself.)….. “I’m waiting, he hasn’t left to go get the bird yet, might be my turn”…..(fetch command given)…. “YAHOO!!!!!! It’s my turn!!!!”.….(Dog runs out for the retrieve)…..”I found it!…. Can’t wait to get it back and show it to boss”….. (Dogs don’t hand things to each other. If they want to give something, they put it on the ground near the other dog. For this reason, I don’t teach retrieve to hand. It is unnatural and requires unnecessary pressure. I encourage a natural retrieve where we share the kill. When he brings it to me, he will put it on the ground in front of me. I take it and usually hand it back a time or two. Sometimes, I’ll even continue the hunt and let him carry it for a few minutes.)
In summary, dogs are well evolved predators. They know this game. I encourage trainers, handlers and owners to take some time and think about the world from a different perspective. Dogs have a lot to teach us. As the old saying goes: We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are. Let’s work on that.