GUN DOG Q&A: How to Stop Blind Whining
July 08, 2014
"I have a 7-year-old chocolate Lab who seems to be a quick study when it comes to bird hunting. I personally trained her for upland hunting. She picked up the game relatively quickly. After a year, she was finding birds with the best of them. The retrieve was never a problem. Although this was mainly game farm hunting, it was still very enjoyable to see her work.
This year I was fortunate enough to fall into a goose hunting club where she was put through a different set of circumstances. There are water and field retrieves. Again, she was a quick study.
The problem comes when she is not retrieving, particularly in the field. We hunt from pits at the end of which is a dog box dug into the ground. The box is big enough for two dogs. On the lid are two windows for each of the dogs to observe incoming birds. Getting in the box is not an issue. Waiting for the retrieve is the problem.
It does not take her long to start whining. I assume this is out of boredom, for she has relieved herself and I have found no injuries prior to her entering the box. I enlisted the use of an e-collar. This proved promising but not the entire solution.
She would quiet down for a brief time then be back at it. On her last hunt this season I decided to go against my training beliefs and increased the intensity of the collar. After two incidents and responses by me at the moment of the whine, relief. I think she may have gotten the message. She was silent for approximately two hours.
Can you give me any thoughts on my approach? What can I do in the offseason to avoid this next year? Although the higher voltage was successful on that last afternoon, I do not want to do anything that would harm her attitude toward birds or jeopardize her response to the collar in the future."
From what you say about her, I get the picture she is a pretty intense dog in that she gets into her job totally, not just casually. So with her personality, I think the whining started because she was excited, anticipating something would happen soon. I suspect she whined and eventually a goose came over, was shot and she got to retrieve. She was rewarded for whining, in her mind at least, so that she now knows whining long enough will bring a goose over.
It is always self-rewarding in that it gives her a chance to let off steam from the building excitement, and it works — a goose comes by often enough to keep her keen on it. So the whining tends to escalate. Breaking the habit is not easy and will take a lot of time and patience. Your e-collar might work temporarily but she will revert as soon as she makes a sound or even thinks about it and a goose happens to come in.
The surest way of breaking the habit is what Skinner with his training box called a slow-down schedule, a very difficult thing to learn for anyone. A way that you can do it is to have her sit in her dugout, box or pit so she can see a dummy being tossed. Start by having her sit quietly for 1 minute. If she is perfectly quiet for the full minute, toss the dummy and have her retrieve it to you.
Walk her around for a few minutes and set her up again, but this time she must wait 90 seconds before the toss and retrieve. Getting to retrieve is her reward for being quiet.
Keep gradually increasing the time she must wait for the reward. But don't increase by the same amount every time.
If she does whine during a wait, stop, take her out of her box and walk her away, quit for the day, back up a few steps and go again the next day. Don't say anything, just end it for the time being. Never reward her for whining or for doing anything you don't want her to.
Keep working until you get her up to a 10- or 15-minute wait for the dummy to be thrown. By then you might also consider using something other than a bumper such as a make-believe duck or goose dummy or even a real dead bird. You want to get her over the excitement and learn that being quiet is the way to get birds, just as she has learned whining brings the goose.
You want to keep it enticing for her by adding shooting blanks when the bird is thrown and so on, but be careful not to get her too cranked up or you might have to back up again and go slower for a while. You should also do some of this training at the club where you shoot geese so she is in the real setting.
After you have been able to keep her quietly waiting for the extended time and you go on an actual hunt, if she whines in the blind, get her out, walk her around a bit and replace her as you did in the training when she wasn't quiet. She may never be totally fail-safe so you want a way to remind her of what is correct.
Keep the lessons short, do only four or five repetitions of the drill at any one session and try to do them twice a day, especially at the beginning. You don't want her to get bored, but rather you want to keep her enthusiasm up.
You can do this by interspersing play retrieving between the wait-quiet lessons. Best of luck in bringing her to her full potential.