In October I wrote about using dog psychology around the house and kennel. This month I want to talk about using dog psychology in the field. Dog psychology is relating to dogs the way they relate to each other. In the West method, you use a pinch-collar and check-cord and the stand command to earn your dog’s respect and establish yourself as leader. This training is not obedience; it is dog psychology. Once your dog respects you, you become dominant. You become the leader. Your dog becomes the follower, and because he is in a submissive state, he is ready to learn. His mind is open and he is willing to take direction from you.
The first step in formal training is having your dog hunting in front of you on the end of the check-cord. He should pull on the check-cord just enough to show his enthusiasm but not so much that he pulls your arms off. Think about it. If your dog is dragging you around the field, which one of you is in charge? He is. Most good bird dogs start off dragging you around the field. To help you gain control of your dog and put you in charge, there are a couple of exercises you can do. For example, when your dog pulls on the check-cord, try turning in a new direction and give a quick sideways tug which pulls him off balance and makes him go with you. Use the least amount of force necessary to get the job done. When he begins to pull again, change direction and give another sideways tug. Repeat until he starts paying attention to you and where you are going.
Another exercise to try is letting your dog get to the end of the check-cord, stand still and give one good backwards tug. You are asking him to come to you. Some dogs come towards you, but when they get close, they pass by ignoring you. Your dog should acknowledge you with eye contact when he comes to you. Continue to use backward tugs until he comes in and gives you eye contact.
The stand command is the foundation of the West method. Maurice Lindley calls it “the glue that holds different training steps together.” To teach the stand command, ask your dog to stop with an upwards tug on the pinch-collar. For additional information on teaching this command, see the book, Training with Mo. When this command is taught properly, your dog stops and stands calmly as you walk around him and in front of him. When I first began using the West method, I thought the stand command was about getting a dog accustomed to someone walking in front of him and flushing birds. Now, I see this command as dog psychology. It establishes you as dominant. Not only do you claim the space in front of your dog, but as he learns to stand calmly, he becomes the follower and you become the leader.
As you teach the stand command, your dog may be jacked-up and want to move his feet, or he may take steps as you try to walk in front of him. He is letting you know that he is still in charge. He should stand calmly with four feet planted on the ground before you begin steadying him on birds. If you advance too quickly, you will struggle with him throughout the steadying process, and he will challenge you for birds when you walk in to flush.
As training progresses, there will be many times when your dog tries to take charge again. Reviewing the stand command or regaining control with the pinch-collar and check-cord between birds are important ways to stay in charge. The steadying process takes as long as it takes, but, if you are patient and use dog psychology, you will discover the pleasure of training a dog that wants to learn and take direction from you.