Sharpening Your Dog Sense


Last issue we talked about dog sense vs. a mechanical dog. In this writing I’d like to open your eyes to situations and events that can affect the way your new dog hunts and behaves. Sometimes it boils down to the dog owner when we get to the root of the problem. As you read, see if you can use some of the tips to sharpen your dog sense.

Sometimes the human element makes all the difference in the world. Certain dogs, at times, just don’t like certain people. Other times, it might be as simple as putting a stinky collar that smells of old skunk on a dog. That dog may be intimidated by the smell, feeling as if it will cause him punishment. It could be caused by another dog in your pack that is giving off dominant body language from a distance that you don’t see. This will, at times, hold a dog back to where the dog feels safer. I have seen dogs that will hunt beautifully with certain people around but not at all with others. The major mistake was definitely human error to begin with. Taking a dog hunting and turning it loose within twenty-four hours of purchase (unless you previously know the dog well) is not recommended. Also not knowing if the dog has hunted with cut collars, vests, tracking equipment, or any other potentially “new” items can affect the outcome of the dog’s behavior. I know some may disagree that a hunting dog should hunt no matter what. That dog may very well do just that for you, given the opportunity after the “new” has worn off. However, there are those dogs that just won’t work for someone else. That may never be known unless the dog has been owned by more than one person since its hunting career has begun.

The simplest way to cut back on the stress of obtaining a new dog for owner and dog would be to spend some time with the dog in its own environment, hunting and kenneled. Take special care to notice the cues and commands the dog is given from the time he is moved from the kennel to the hunting area and even when on the hogs. I have seen dogs “trained” by the new owners to quit the hog, and the hunters can’t figure out the “why”. The dog’s confidence has been challenged and broken by the new owner’s approach to the bay of whooping and hollering. Maybe the dog’s previous owners only hollered when a spanking was to follow. Therefore, in as soon as two hunts the dog learned to quit the hog as soon as it heard the hunters approaching. Can this problem be reversed? Well, yes, it can, but only if someone is willing to be patient and change human habits long enough to get the dog acclimated to the “new”.
It is not rocket science, but “Dog Sense” not to expect a dog to be a mechanical object. It is a living breathing animal, with senses that most times are instinctive. Dogs do not have human emotions but rather instinctive reactions through conditioning that we humans may interpret wrongly and miscommunicate. Other times humans are guilty of over coddling and petting a dog. We think that we are comforting an animal that is in need of reassuring, when in actuality we are reassuring a negative behavior. In other words, by petting a dog that is coming to you to be petted when it should be out hunting is conditioning and training the dog to come back more often and is getting praised for working less. Any negative behavior (such as growling or submissive peeing) that we react to in a soothing, reassuring manner such as stroking, petting, and vocalizing positively is going to condition the dog to continue and possibly take further steps. This is a big mistake a lot of dog lovers make when getting involved with hog hunting dogs. We unfortunately train the dogs to do the opposite behaviors that are desired.

Some behaviors are hereditary and will show up regardless of conditioning. These dogs are the ones that are more predictable through a long time series of genetics. They are usually more mechanical, regardless of owner or trainer. They are worth paying for because you will have a higher percentage of getting a dog similar to the parentage. Someone that has “Dog Sense” has spent years breeding these similar traits into a dog that almost anybody can be successful with, rather than just breeding any two good dogs together. That person will usually be willing to try and find the right dog to suit your needs and help you work the dog to its full potential with suggestions and support within reason. That is the difference between a person breeding “a litter” and a person breeding for better consistent genetics. “Dog Sense” is mostly about being able to read, interpret, and communicate thoroughly to an animal. It is also about being realistic and not setting your expectations too high to be achievable.

In conclusion, when starting to buy or obtain dogs, set yourself up for success. Start with knowing exactly what you want and expect in a dog and what you are willing to compromise, if anything. Make a list of these traits and then list several of the animals you are considering. When researching the potential purchases, ask the owner about his/her opinion of the dog. Then ask yourself if you saw the same qualities in the dog as the owner did. You and the owner may simply have different interpretations of the dog’s capabilities. However, if the owner flat out tells you the dog won’t fit your needs, be sensible and definitely respect that opinion. Most folks don’t try to discourage you from handing over your money. If you do purchase a dog and it is not working out to your expectations, then politely contact the seller and explain what is going on. Find out if he/she will help you. However, if you take a newly purchased animal out without giving time for adjustments and expect to have the number one all-around-hog-catching team in the country and fail miserably, it is probably your own fault to begin with for expecting mechanical results from the get go. Hunting is just that – hunting not guaranteeing. Hunting with your dogs should be the best type of hunting and a state of mind, a way of life that you enjoy even when you are not in the middle of action. If you are doing it and it seems more like a hassle or a competition between others, you might rethink what you are doing with your dogs and why.
(Article first published in Wild Boar USA magazine, Volume 2, Issue 8 Jan/Feb. 2008)