Thursday, 11 July 2013

Balanced blogging... force free Gun Dog Training!

In the interests of 'balanced blogging', I'd like to show some examples of positive, force free training that cover most if not all of the jobs a working gundog would do.

Some of these will be with actual gundogs, and some will not, they will be pet dogs doing 'tricks' that can be applied to a variety of activities.

Whilst thinking about the previous blog, I have to say, (and this is absolutely no defense for the actions taken by Mr Upton), there ARE a lot more trainers out there behaving the way he does, treating dogs the way he does, and in a fair few circumstances, getting good results from it.

So first of all I'd like to address why that is.

Traditional gundog trainers don't start training a dog until it is around 12 months old, some wait til 18 months and they will tell you that to start earlier will ruin the dog...

Now I start training my dogs at 8 weeks old, and if I am lucky, I buy a pup from a breeder who has started the pup off at even younger, housetraining, chew toy training, the beginnings of recall, sit and settle down in a crate or kennel can ALL begin at around 5 weeks old!

So to hear that gundog trainers wouldn't start until the dog was practically an adult baffles my mind... until you realise that by training, they mean using fairly harsh physical punishment.
And now it makes sense - because you WILL ruin a puppy, you will kill all trust he has in you, if you start strangling him, lifting him up by his scruff or his ears, hitting him, kicking him etc, when he is a little baby. You also risk serious injury or killing the dog too.

So, for a lot of these pups they have spent maybe the first year or more of their lives doing nothing more than running around, being fed, playing and having fun. They have absolutely no reason not to trust their owner/trainer, because that person is the enabler of all the fun (bear in mind most of these dogs are also kennelled so their exposure to humans is very limited, what they do get is then awesome).

Next, when you are looking specifically at working dogs, doing the job they were bred to do, you must realise that there is one HECK of a lot of functional reward going on there. These dogs are not cooped up in a home and they are not going nuts being prevented, as many of us have to do, from doing what they inherently and instinctively are driven to do.

So, the dog is now 12 months old, and he is itching to get out there and hunt, he wants feathers in his mouth, he wants to retrieve, to mark, to quarter and flush, he is bursting to do this job and to please this person who has been his fun, his food source, his world...

And then that person sets him up to fail and punishes him physically. Whoa! But hang on.... there is still the FUN FUN HUNTING FUN OMG FUN... but wait.. erm.. hmm this guy, he was mean...

Well maybe that was a mista...... OW, he hit me...  oh now it's getting confusing!

So little baby gundog has suddenly discovered his owner is unpredictable, but he has always been a source of fun and still is, he is baby gundogs entire world and still is... and he enables those functional rewards, doing what baby gundogs want to do.. WORK...

It is against THIS backdrop we have to consider that, whilst it may APPEAR that harsh, force based methods work... its actually the truth that these dogs enjoy their jobs DESPITE the abuse they suffer under the guise of training.. not because of it.

People will of course tell you that the majority of dogs working successfully in the field are trained using compulsion, force based and physical punishment methods. They will also tell you most of the dogs winning field trials are also trained this way... ergo it works, ergo it is necessary...

But that isn't really the full story now is it. If all the dogs in a contest are trained the same way, that just means all the dogs in the contest are trained the same way.

If 50% were trained one way, and 50% were trained another way, THAT might give you some indication of whether force based training is 'better' or 'necessary'... but the currently status quo does not reflect this, because there are still more old school force based gundog trainers around.

So lets consider my point - these dogs are doing the job and doing it well not because of force based training, but, despite it.

Lets have a look at what positive reinforcement, force free gundog training looks like.

Here's Thomas Aaron from Fetchmasters, training young dogs to remain steady when the dummy is thrown, first without and then with, gunshot.

You'll notice, this IS a little scrappy, its rough and ready, but that's cool because Thom is clicker training, he can refine these behaviours later on. No they probably wouldn't win a UK field trial but hey, he's training a working dog, not a competition field trial animal (I am sure he could!)

What you will see is that the young dog is CHOOSING to exercise impulse control HIMSELF, he is not choosing to sit because he fears the repercussions, he is doing so because he understands that IF he does so, he earns his (functional) reward.. being allowed to go retrieve the dummy.

Nice. I like this, this dog is enjoying his work, he is building on his relationship with his owner/trainer here and no force is required.

Here's some non-gundog work that is totally applicable, training a sendaway, a drop on recall and heel, all completely fun for the dog, completely force free. This is Kikopup, aka Emily Larlham and she is a fantastic clicker trainer.

One of the most pervasive and I think, horrible concepts within traditional gundog training is the 'forced retrieve or forced fetch'.
I have just watched a video that claims the force fetch is the ONLY guaranteed way to teach a solid and reliable retrieve in a gundog. The vid (which I won't subject you to here, shows two very very miserable unhappy looking young labradors being subjected to ear pinches).

The concept of the force fetch is that the dog is taught the ONLY way to avoid pain (pinched ear) is by hanging on to that dummy until the handler asks him or her to hand it over.
This is negative reinforcement in action - the dog is subjected to something unpleasant (the ear pinch) which is removed as soon as the correct action is taken (holding the dummy).

In contrast, a clicker trainer teaches a retrieve by marking (clicking) the dog for first touching, then mouthing, then holding the dummy, then holding the dummy for longer and longer periods, and back chaining the sequence of behaviours, so the final stage 'present the dummy into the hand' is the first thing learned, then the distance is increased until the dog is retrieving the dummy to the hand.

Because the first thing learned is the last thing in the finished behaviour, it is also the most ingrained behavior, the dog knows that THIS is when the reward comes, and so he is not going to drop that dummy anywhere, which translates to, he is not going to drop the bird on his way back with it, because above all, it is returning the bird to the hand that is the important behaviour here.

All this is also fun for the dog to learn because it involves learning each stage with lots of praise and reward. You can see this in action here, in this video by Donna  Hill


No pained expressions here, no looking away, ears back, pawing at arms trying to avoid the punishment - here this dog is having fun AND learning efficiently and effectively.

So given that all this is possible, why DON'T people use it - I really don't know and I would love to hear peoples explanations as to why they think causing pain and discomfort and fear is acceptable and necessary, and why clicker training wouldn't work - I really would, and I promise you I won't call you an asshat if you come and talk to me. If you refuse to LISTEN and TRY of course, then you are THE biggest asshat going, but if you genuinely have not seen this stuff before, if you don't know how it works and you want to know, come talk to me!             


Pup said...

I know 2 people who have trained their working labradors, both of which have been winning field trails, from puppies with clickers and force free. Both dogs work brilliantly, and their results speak for themselves.
So it is more than possible. I wish more would do it.

Nitesite Just Fieldsports said...

That is a great question and one that many people are concerned about
Gun dog training, gun dog breeders and gun dog kennels.