So can gundogs really be clicker trained?
Or are you doomed to failure?
This article is part of a series on clicker training.
Let’s have a look at the feasibility of clicker training your gundog.
All dogs can be clicker trained to carry out many basic tasks such as the ‘sit’ with relative ease by any handler prepared to learn the techniques. They are not complicated.
With gundog work however, we are ultimately looking for a good deal more. We are expecting a dog to remain focused on the task in hand despite huge and unpredictable distractions.
This means proofing our training to a very advanced level. And it is proofing that can present more challenges to the clicker trainer.
Temperament is a factor
The temperament of a working gundog varies from one breed to another, and between individuals within a breed.[wp_ad_camp_1]The temperament of a dog is an influencing factor on the difficulty or otherwise of ‘proofing’ each skill we teach our dogs.
There is no doubt that some dogs with a suitable temperament are capable of being trained to a high level in fieldwork by a skilled clicker trainer.
Retrievers are often (but not always) less challenging iin this respect than spaniels.
Whether or not every gundog no matter what its level of ‘drive’ can be taught to work under field conditions without the use of any aversives whatsoever, and in a reasonable length of time, is still open to debate.
The reason that there is a question mark over the feasibility of training some of our higher drive working dogs (in particular the spaniel breeds) without any aversives, is that clicker training relies on controlling the dog’s rewards, and ignoring his mistakes.
But in the field, a simple mistake can lead to the dog discovering a whole world of rewards over which the handler has no control. These intrinsic rewards are the enemy of the clicker trainer, and a powerful challenge to those wishing to achieve high level field awards with high powered gundogs.
For those whose dogs are predominantly pets, the question of training duration will not be so relevant. But for those of us who are training a dog to do a job of work, we want the process to be completed sooner rather than later.
Although basic behaviours can be established rapidly with a clicker, there is some evidence to suggest that the major part of training which involves dealing with the distractions found in the field, may take longer and be more challenging with positive-only training techniques than it is with the judicious use of corrections.
However, no controlled comparisons between the two techniques have yet been carried out, so much is down to speculation.
Selective use of the clicker
Some clicker trainers feel that mixing clicker training with other training methods is a betrayal of the underlying philosophy behind this method. I do not support this viewpoint and regard clicker training as a science, not a way of life.
I consider that clicker techniques are a valuable tool for the gundog trainer to have access to if and when he needs them.
With certain provisos, there is no reason why clicker training should not form a part of your training technique, together with more traditional methods if the system appeals to you. For more information you might like to read up on mixed training methods
Pros and cons
How much is possible is gundog training is still something of an unknown quantity, though a few specialised trainers are beginning to appear.
You can find out more about the pros and cons of clicker training for gundogs, together with lots of information for those that want to have a go, in the Clicker Gundog section on this website
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
Excellent post, again. Thanks 🙂
I use my lab predominantly in hunting and I have often considered using clicker in my lab training, but then decided against it. However, I’ve noticed that my dog has become trained to the click of the safety pin in my shotgun. When she hears the click, she becomes alert and focuses on the direction of my gun barrel.
This brings some level of convenience to my hunting blind with my dog. She can relax and even rest during slow flight, but as soon I click the safety, she is back in the hunting mode 🙂