Questions and Answers About Obedience

By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs

When to start training

Question: I have a 10-week old German Shorthair. I know I need to wait until it's five or six months old before I get into serious training, but how about obedience training?

Answer: When we hear advice being given about not beginning the training of a bird dog until he is six months old or more, we assume that the advice is based upon the use of training methods that are harsh. Harsh methods require that the dog is already hooked on birds and that he is mature enough to bounce back from strong corrections.

We are advocates of doing a lot of teaching before we begin training. During the teaching phase, the dog is taught the meaning of commands especially "Here" and "Whoa". We start this training as soon as we get the pup, about seven weeks of age. The training is done inductively using food, fun and natural instinct. During that period, the dog obeys a command only "if he wants to."

Once the pup understands the meaning of the commands and starts becoming very independent (usually at about four months of age) he is taught that commands are not voting issues. Because we use an e-collar at a very low level, we can give timely corrections to a very young dog or a soft dog without upsetting him.


Question: I have a five-month-old German Shorthair. He has a terrible habit of jumping up on people to greet them that I can't seem to break. After five minutes he calms down and is fine. I think that it is great that he likes people, but I don't want to have to scold him every time someone comes to the door.

Answer: Jumping up on people is one of those things that is easy to cure. We use two different techniques to solve this problem.

In the first technique we use a mild "Nick" from an e-collar the moment the dog jumps up on the person. Don't say anything. Let his action of jumping up cause mild displeasure. Once the dog's feet are on the ground, have the person calmly pet him. The dog has a simple comparison to make; jumping on people causes displeasure and having four feet on the floor gets the attention he wants.

The other technique that solves the problem of jumping up on people is to teach the dog to go and stay on a place board (PDJ Nov/Dec 1997). When someone comes to the door send the dog to his "place" so that he can't jump up on people. This technique works very well. For more on place training, see our "E-Collar Introduction" video. Even if you do not intend to use an e-collar, the training methods are shown in detail and you may use other types of corrections.

Balancing Drive and Control

Question: My seven-month GSP will whoa and fetch anything I put out, he does all the obedience stuff and I have got him on birds. But I can't get him to quarter. It's like he looses interest and just quits his drive. Is this because he just wants to hunt for himself and not for me? He goes to the field and wants to wander all over. How do I get him to quarter with drive?

Answer: The usual reason a dog loses drive when quartering is that, from his perspective, you are controlling him too much. You can easily inhibit a seven-month-old dog by "hacking" him from side to side with too many commands. When training a dog to quarter, we are careful to balance the numbers of times we turn the dog during a training session with the amount of drive he exhibits.

First we allow the dog to run far to the front. (Perhaps much farther than the range you may eventually want) Then make a 90-degree turn away from the direction the dog is headed. Give the dog a whistle command to turn. If he doesn't turn, reinforce your command. If the dog shows that he is inhibited when you make him turn, be sure to allow him to run quite a while before reinforcing another command to turn. It is important to keep the hunting desire high by not over doing control.

Another technique that helps a dog accept your turn commands is birds. After he makes a turn guide him into a previously planted bird. If you do this consistently, he will soon become willing to turn on command. After all, you seem to know where the birds are hiding.

When the dog shows that he can be turned several times during a session in the field without losing drive, we begin "bending" him from side to side, being careful to gauge the number of times we turn him with the amount of drive he exhibits. Lots of drive more turn commands; diminished drive, fewer commands. Only after training a dog to turn and bend with us would we begin quartering in a flat side-to-side pattern.

Beginning Obedience

Question: I've got my pup obeying on a check cord, but on his own, no way. (a) Should I be afraid he'd run off in the field? He's 9 months and I have tried an electronic collar but he doesn't seem to associate it with his behavior. (b) Am I wrong to want to train him on my own? Are all first timers this paranoid? (c) He isn't pointing birds yet, should I expect to be able to take him along on some hunts this year? Will he calm down in time?

Answer: There isn't anything wrong with wanting to train your own dog. If you have the desire and some time, training your own dog will be a very rewarding experience. It is normal for a person to be concerned about their ability to train a dog if they lack experience. After all you haven't proven to yourself through experience, that you will be successful. You might want to find someone to work with whose training techniques you like. Their guidance when you train will give you confidence.

Yes, you should be concerned that your young pointing dog will run off in the field when you remove the check cord. Also, your observation is correct about the e-collar. Right now your dog doesn't have a clue as to what to do when you push the button on the collar.

We suggest that you try the e-collar again but first learn to use it correctly. Learning to use an e-collar properly is really very easy when you use the "nick" method we describe in our e-collar introduction video (See PDJ video section)

When first using an e-collar, you must teach your dog how to respond to the stimulation by coming to you when called. This training should be done in a controlled situation where you can guide him into the right behavior if necessary. Do this "collar conditioning" before going to the field and letting him run.

As for hunting with him, there is only one word for hunting with a dog that won't point and won't come when called, "disaster". You may spend the whole day chasing after him as he chases birds out of gun range. Dogs do tend to calm down with maturity but in the meantime, obedience to a few commands will work wonders. On the bright side, you have plenty of time before the fall hunting season to get everything under control.

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Dobbs Training Center
9627 Spring Valley Road
Marysville, CA 95901
(530) 741-0375 - FAX (530) 741-0242