Hunting Dogs photo

When it comes to dogs—and gun dogs in particular—more Old Wives Tales (or probably more accurately, Grumpy Old Men theories), half-truths, and myths exist than in any other realm within the hunting world. Here, I’m going to debunk a few of the most common.

“My dog is too old to train.” Actually, old dogs can learn new tricks. They can be trained to do just about anything required of them. However, you will have to un-train everything they’ve learned that impacts what you want them to do, and then you’ll have to re-train them to perform the task. Some behaviors learned early in life might not be extinguishable, and could hamper learning the new task. But, generally speaking, consistent repetition of a task with sufficient positive reinforcement will enable a dog of any age to learn tasks.

“My puppy doesn’t show interest in…” Fetching, birds, water, etc.—when a hunter gets a puppy, he often expects the dog to show interest in his intended purpose right away. While a well-bred puppy usually does, some pups are just late bloomers. If your pup is from field-proven parents, give the youngster time. Provide opportunity for his natural drive to develop and keep all interactions a positive and fun experience. At this point, the puppy can do nothing wrong. Encourage and praise him no matter what.

“High-protein diets cause kidney stones.” This one has been around for quite some time, and like all enduring myths it sounds reasonable. But it’s not true. It has been proven that high-protein diets don’t cause kidney stones in grown dogs or growing puppies. High-protein diets do, however, provide the necessary building blocks for muscle development.

“I must have the pick of the litter.” Much ado has been made about receiving the first pick of a litter. People speak of it as if they’re choosing the first player in the NFL draft, and that their entire hunting franchise depends on picking the next MVP from the likes of 10 puppies. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. All the required homework should have been done when you were choosing the sire and dam that produced the pups. They all receive the same genetic material and makeup; and what differences there are between them won’t be evident at seven to 10 weeks of age.

“You shouldn’t train a dog with an E-collar.” There’s an idea that e-collars are cruel devices that create remote-controlled dogs. That’s patently false. Any tool can be used to inflict harm and pain; it has more to do with the intentions, personality, intelligence, and skill of the person wielding the tool. Yes, an e-collar can be used to unfairly punish a dog, but so can a heeling stick, a rolled up newspaper, and a boot or hand. E-collars allow instantaneous correction of a dog’s behavior over great distances. Today’s fine-tuned e-collars start so low that a correction might consist of a barely noticeable tickle. They can allow for faster learning with less chance of the dog becoming confused about why it is being corrected.

“You shouldn’t train a dog without an E-collar.” On the flip side, there’s an idea that a dog can’t be trained without an e-collar, and that all you need to do is strap one on and push a button. This too, is patently false. If you don’t understand how and why a dog learns, and when to praise or correct his behavior, it doesn’t matter if you use an e-collar or any other tool—you’re just going make things harder than they need to be and any dog you train will likely carry out tasks simply by trial and error. If you can’t train a dog without an e-collar, you can’t train one.

“It’s too cold for the dog.” Certainly there are times when it’s too cold for dogs and hunters to hunt, but these conditions are somewhat rare and pose the greatest threat to water dogs. Continued immersion in cold water will suck body heat from a dog and push him toward hypothermia. However, dogs have evolved to survive the cold. They are efficient when it comes to conserving heat: They don’t sweat, so very little body heat is lost, and their physical exertion creates more internal heat, which their coats help trap. Believe it or not, high temperatures and humidity are much greater dangers to your dog.

“My dog can’t/won’t…” If a dog comes from proven field stock, has received a solid foundation, and has been taught how to learn, there are very few tasks he can’t learn. We use dogs not only to find game, but to detect traces of explosives and entrust them to keep the blind in society safe. If your dog can’t do something, your training methods are more likely at fault.

“My dog is not fat.” Yes, he is. If there’s even a question of whether your dog is overweight, then he most likely is. Obesity is one of the greatest health and performance threats to dogs, which contributes to early aging, taxing of heart and respiratory systems, and issues with joints and ligaments. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs without having to dig through layers of fat, and he should have a nice upward tuck as their abdomen moves towards hips. Remember the old saying: “A hungry dog is a healthy dog.”