Balancing Positive And Negative Training: Spaniels

Gary Breitbarth

"Each dog is an individual," Gary said. "No two will react the same way to positive and negative training. A headstrong, non-compliant spaniel needs more negatives just to understand what he's doing wrong.


"On the other hand, with the same level of negatives, a soft one would become confused, intimidated, and unwilling to work.

"And, to complicate matters, spaniels come in every degree of toughness and sensitivity between those two extremes. Thus, the balance for each dog is highly individual, and it's up to the trainer to find the most effective mix for his dog."


Gary stressed that, since dogs are pack animals, the trainer must become his dog's pack leader. If he relies totally on positives, the dog will consider himself the pack leader and the trainer just a member of the pack. In such a relationship, the dog is more apt to train the trainer than the other way around.


"No matter where you are in your training program," he said, "you must be in charge and your spaniel must know it. Otherwise, he won't respect you, and he won't work for you. Respect is everything."

Next, you must read your dog correctly. Gary said that the spaniel that is an independent thinker, or what he calls "self-employed," needs more negative reinforcement, but when he grasps what you want, his eyes will really light up! No positive reinforcement you could give compares to the pride the independent thinker feels when he finally figures something out for himself.

On the other hand, the spaniel that just wants to please, or what Gary calls the "pleaser," will do anything that pleases you. All you have to do is show him what you want and then praise him for doing it. Very mild negative reinforcement will suffice with such a dog.

Gary said you can spot a spaniel that has had too much of either positive or negative reinforcement by looking for proper balance. The dog with too much negative training lacks confidence and hesitates. The dog with too much positive training is over-confident and self-willed.

Gary gave these examples of positive training. He said that, in retrieving, the successful retrieve is itself a spaniel's greatest reward, but Gary also adds a kind word. In teaching a spaniel to quarter, he plants birds so the dog finds one when he turns properly on the whistle. In steadying a spaniel, he allows the dog to retrieve when he hups properly.

He gave these examples of negative training. In retrieving, if the dog comes in without the bird, Gary commands "Fetch!" harshly and repeatedly, while walking out toward the bird, until the dog finds it.

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In quartering, when the dog turns the wrong way, Gary stops and recasts him. In steadying, if a spaniel fails to hup properly, Gary doesn't let him retrieve.

Gary emphasized that to be effective, corrections must be both fair and consistent.

Corrections are fair when the dog understands why he is being corrected and how to remedy the situation.

Corrections are consistent when canine misdeeds are always corrected appropriately. If misbehavior is sometimes ignored, the dog must experiment every day to see what the boss currently permits.

"Above all, as the trainer," Gary added, "it's your job to read your dog's temperament correctly and then to balance and tailor all aspects of his training to his individual needs and abilities.

"Then, if you, as pack leader, are fair and consistent, your dog will respect you, work effectively for you, and love you above all else, including himself!"

This tip is from Gary Breitbarth of G & D Kennels, P.O. Box 322, Gridley, CA 95948; (530) 846-6476; website www.ganddkennels.com; e-mail ganddkennels@aol.com. Gary has been training professionally for 11 years. He trains all sporting breeds but specializes in training spaniels for hunting, hunting tests, and field trials. He competes in field trials and has won two National Championships. He does not breed dogs.

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