In this week’s podcast we talk to Samantha Thorneycroft-Taylor of K9 Foundation in Gloucestershire about how we can inadvertently turn a habit into a repetitive behaviour that needs change.

Have you ever wondered “how did we get here?” or “why is my dog showing this behaviour?”

Chances are that somewhere along the way you have mistakenly allowed or rewarded an incorrect behaviour. Whilst it may need not have been a big mistake at the time, dogs are very clever and can easily turn that ‘mistake’ into a displeasing behaviour.

That ‘thing’ that started as cute has now become a problem.

I’m sure we’ve all been there at some point in our dog’s life; as a puppy, something they did seemed funny so everyone laughed and the puppy repeated that behaviour. As the dog grows older and gets bigger, it’s no longer funny and is quite frankly rather an irritant, but now it’s become a habit that we need to change but where do we start and how do we fix this?

That photo you have of your dog with your partner’s glasses in his mouth? When it happened you probably tried to think of reasons as to why he picked them up; he’s a ‘naughty’ puppy, he’s trying to be ‘helpful’, they smell of your partner so obviously the puppy adores him very much! The truth however is that puppies are inquisitive – maybe he did pick up the glasses on an excitable whim, but the way you dealt with it afterwards determines whether he’s likely to repeat that behaviour in the same way, in an escalated way, or in a better way.

How long does it take to create a habit?

A habit, or new behaviour, is not often created in just one repetition – it takes many repetitions of the same behaviour to then become a habit. This works in terms of teaching a new skill to your dog too; teach, repeat, practice, proof, repeat and proof some more and you ultimately have a dog who understands what you are asking of it.

When a dog displays an undesirable behaviour, it needs to be rewarding (either inadvertently rewarded by you or self-rewarding) in order for the dog to keep repeating the behaviour, and therefore forming a habit.

Every dog is different and so one dog may only need to repeat a behaviour a handful of times in order for it to become a habit, and another may need to repeat it a hundred times. Either way, if it causes you stress, worry, or frustration, then change is needed.

One thing we do need to keep in mind is that habits are difficult to kick to the curb so consistency and repetition are two of the most important ingredients here.

Every interaction with your dog is a training opportunity!

We’ve said it before and we’ll likely say it again, but we really mean it – every single time you do anything with your dog should be viewed as a training opportunity of some kind. With that in mind, is what you are doing right now beneficial or detrimental to your relationship moving forwards?

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What is your end goal for training your dog?

Are you aiming for a fulfilling partnership in the shooting field, or do you have a dog from working breeding and wish to nurture its genetic traits?

This is something to always have in mind when training your dog – is what you are doing now going to help you achieve your future goals?

Even if your dog is still a very young puppy you can start to build those foundational skills that will be expanded upon for the remainder of your dog’s life – teaching him to wait politely whilst you tie your boot laces, and to not bowl you over as soon as you reach for the door handle. This impulse control skill can later be transferred out to the training field and utilised when teaching your dog to be steady to thrown dummies.

When is it training, and when is it behaviour modification?

Samantha and I look at what could be resolved by re-training or adapting the training that you are doing, and when you should consider behavioural modification as your plan of action.

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In conclusion..

There’s a whole host of behavioural issues that a dog can display if we don’t ensure the foundations are properly laid and many of these, whilst it might not seem like it, can interfere with our training successes. A dog that shows lack of focus when out in the field, will likely not appreciate the rules and boundaries at home.

By and large, Samantha recommends seeking the help of a behavioural trainer when dealing with any reactivity or aggressive behaviours – it’s too ‘easy’ to make these behaviours much worse and pretty quickly too, which could lead to dire consequences.

Training a gundog is a journey, one filled with opportunities for growth, bonding, and yes, occasional frustrations. The heart of this journey lies in understanding and shaping the habits of our canine companions. Whether we’re talking about an eager Labrador Retriever or a tenacious English Springer Spaniel, each breed is a creature of habit. These behaviours, learned over time, become deeply ingrained in their character, defining their reliability and competence as working dogs.

In this podcast and blog post, our goal is to equip you, the gundog handler, with an understanding of the principles and techniques involved in shaping your gundog’s habits. We will tackle the thorny issue of time commitment and set realistic expectations for training schedules. We will also delve into the potential for unintended consequences in training and offer effective strategies to correct and prevent these.

It’s important to remember that every gundog is unique, with its personality, strengths, and challenges. While training techniques can be broadly applied, they need to be tailored to your dog’s individual needs for the most effective results. So, strap in and prepare to delve into some of the intricacies of gundog training.


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