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 dog’s think. They don’t see ‘‘hunting” the same way you 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 not through obedience, but rather, to step into the dog’s world and see things from his perspective.
Dogs learn by association. To state it clearly, learning takes place in the mind not in behavior. It involves the formation of mental representations of the elements of a task and the discovery of how these elements are related.
We’ll use hunting a pheasant as an example. This will be from the dog’s perspective. The primary part of a dogs predator/prey instinct 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 use to hunt and hopefully, get this bird in his mouth.
Once he has been released 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. Now he smells a bird. Next problem, “analyze the situation”. What is it, is it still, is it running, 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, a strategy that he knows works. He will “defer to the shooter”, remaining steady while the shooter goes out front to shoot the bird.
There it is. He has used the power of associative learning to understand that instead of pursuing the bird, 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. (Hint: Retrieving is chasing birds).