Two Generations Of Training Philosophy

Two Duffeys in the gun dog world are better than one...and not surprisingly, their thoughts on training are complementary.

(Question) How about giving us--the shoe-leather foot hunters who don't have big training areas, paid-for hunting grounds and money for all the mechanical gadgets you pro dog trainers get for free and you writers try to sell--some real solid advice? I'm tired of reading tips and cures and mechanical answers for hunting dog training. Give us a few bones with meat on them. Can you? (Ohio)


(Answer) I hope so. Despite being splattered with at least a few shot from the pattern fringe of the double-barreled blast directed my way, my sympathies are largely with you. I would have to plead no contest to crimes committed. But I don't believe a mea culpa is necessary. I hope under a law that considers mitigating circumstances you can class my offenses as misdemeanors.

Doing a random check of carbons kept to try to get an idea of how often I misbehave, I ran across one whose original had been lost during magazine ownership changes. I'm hoping it not only exonerates me of your charges, but offers you some basic dog training percepts that don't require gadgets, grounds and gold. As far as I know, my "positive rules" appeared first in one of my early books about 45 years ago and the observations by my son, Mike, a generation later.


Specifics are a professional gun dog trainer's bread and butter. Thus, we are inclined to dwell on them at great lengths. In emphasizing problems, what caused them and the techniques available to correct them, we often ignore generalities that should precede the specifics.


Why, how and what to do when training a hunting dog are most operable within a framework of general rules; a philosophy that outlines an overall approach to getting the job done.

Those who read the stuff my typewriter has been turning out (in an effort to help sportsmen develop pleasurable sporting dogs since the 1940s) know I deal mostly with specifics, practically and pragmatically. But more than a touch of theory or philosophy lies behind that. Therefore, I offer you seven positive rules that apply to ALL dogs, be they retrievers, flushers, pointers, trailers or couch potatoes:

1. Tell your dog. Don't ask him
2. Be consistent.
3. Give a command only when you are prepared to enforce it.
4. Punish only when your dog understands what the punishment is for.
5. But DO punish when your dog has learned a command but defies you.
6. Praise LAVISHLY when your dog does right.
7. Never fool your dog.

Since those rules were first published in Hunting Dog Know-How (a book on training all types of gun dogs I wrote back in 1965), in some irreverent quarters they've been dubbed "Duffey's Seven Commandments." Theology not being my bag, such was never intended. They are seven positive rules that will make it easier to apply the specific techniques by which dogs of the sporting breeds can be developed into useful gunning companions. The degree is dependent upon what ancestral genes have given each dog, plus the skill and diligence of the individual trainer.

When you TELL a dog something, snap it out incisively. There are times when you can'thelp yelling at him. Go ahead and do it. If it doesn't get his attention any better than a firm verbal command, at least it will make you feel better and your dog won't be confused'¦as he will be if you ask or beg him to do something. He may think your softly delivered entreaty is praise for disobedience.

Contradiction will get you a mixed-up dog. That's why consistency is so important. Don't punish a dog for something one day then let him get away with it the next. There's no deviation. It's either right or wrong.

Dogs in training are like children. They'll push you as far as they can get away with it. So upon giving a command, see that it is obeyed. If you're not in a position to enforce that command, or prepared to mete out discipline for refusal, keep your mouth shut and your whistle out of it.

Patience is for saints, although the word is often invoked as a desirable virtue in a dog trainer. Some adults (wives) have asked me, "How can you be so patient with kids and dogs, but impatient with adults?" The answer is that I don't expect much from a child or a puppy, but once a human or a canine has been exposed to learning and matured, unreasonableness or faulty performance is difficult to suffer.

So, while patience may have its virtues in some phases of dog training, tolerance is on very shaky ground. Consistency and persistency are the keys. Sometimes, when properly directed, impatience and venting irritation or anger can pay off'¦but not frequently, constantly or excessively. Nothing sets back a training program like flying off the handle when enforcing or demanding something of a dog that is unaware of what's expected of him.

Praise (in contrast to warranted and "knows what it's for" punishment) works wonders in impressing a dog with what you want him to do. This includes encouragement when he does something desirable on his own hook, without any command from you. Too many would-be trainers stint on "reward" in the form of verbal praise and physical petting, egging him on in an excited tone when his reaction to something new and strange is good, like snuffling about and becoming animated when he encounters bird scent, or "sweet-talking" him when he is casting or quartering properly and voluntarily checks in with you or maintains contact. All of the foregoing should elicit a positive response from the trainer.

Should he react badly to some "first encounter," ignoring or at least not fussing about it is the proper tactic. Don't punish, lest he associate that unpleasantness with what he's confused or apprehensive about and misbehave in an effort to avoid both.

Your dog must trust you. In turn, once your dog proves himself, you must trust him. He doesn't possess the mentality to deliberately deceive. You do. Don't do it. Don't lie to him. Don't make a fool of him. Never send him out to retrieve when there's nothing down to be fetched or tell him, "Birds, hunt 'em out!" in a place devoid of game.

It's nothing short of remarkable how quickly a dog will associate a command or urging with something pleasant or desirable that elicits your praise, redoubling his efforts to seek, produce or just please you.

Always be persistent. Alternate punishment and praise as the situation warrants. In exchange for help during training sessions, I once agreed to help a mother and daughter who were doing their own training with some delivery problems they were experiencing with their Labradors. They went

from my place to enter their retrievers in a sanctioned field trial.

After the trial, they phoned to report that their dogs had both placed and thanked me for the help. "But," said the mother, "Do you know what impressed me most? In the three days we spent with you, other than an attention-getting swat, I never saw you strike or shock a dog, in contrast with what seems to be the general rule."

My answer was, "You must have been there during some good sessions, then. I don't hesitate to dish out some firm discipline. Properly, sparingly and judiciously used, electronic collars are most useful training tools. It must have been that none of the dogs did anything serious enough to warrant more than a swat or a shake.

"There's no point in getting rough unless you have to, nor in making harsh treatment a cornerstone of your training program. You try to turn out a dog that's happy about doing right and proud of pleasing you."

The degree and amount of punishment must suit the offense and the individual dog. It's easy to say that tough dogs can take it and soft dogs can't. That may be a reasonable rule for starters, but every recalcitrant dog isn't a stubborn hardhead. There are bold, tough, intelligent dogs that are contrite following a harsh verbal dressing down.

Conversely, there are hesitant, ingratiating, "butter wouldn't melt in their mouth" types who manipulate the restraint (a cautiously sensible trainer imposes on himself) to avoid compliance. They may benefit from a sound thrashing, an exasperated reaction finally convincing them you mean business.

When unwarranted procrastination, lack of compliance or defiance occurs when a known command is given, the best policy is to "get on him" and get it over with. Ineffectual nagging, nattering and hacking is not only ineffective, but inhumane and counterproductive.

However, if driven to getting physical with a dog, use judgment. You have to have some understanding and rapport with your particular dog to know when to lay off and avoid temporarily bowing his mind and perhaps permanently cowing him.

When giving a stubborn dog a necessary licking, bear in mind what I was once told by the late Charles "Chuck" Morgan, one of the pioneer retriever trainers in the U.S. "The first three or four swats are for the dog's good. Anything beyond that, you're doing for your own satisfaction."

Then, after you've done your duty, make up with your dog. Don't banish him to his kennel or keep him in limbo. Don't play psychological games with a dog. The dog will probably make overtures, wanting assurance that the world's all right again. But whether he does or does not, you let him take a scamper to relax him. Then call him to you. When he comes, make a big fuss over him. When he knows he's back in your good graces, go about your business.

Praise, the third "P word" in a practical dog trainer's lexicon, is just as important as persistency and punishment. Lavish praise is never out of order; and I mean really making a fuss over a dog when he does good. Just as commands are given in no-nonsense tones, when the job's done right, you sweet-talk him. He doesn't have to understand the words. Your attitude and tone will convey your sentiments.

If you've skimped on this previously, you'll be surprised how responsive dogs are to sweet talk. After a dog is fully trained, a quiet word or two of praise or a congratulatory pat will suffice as a reward. But while he's being trained, ladling out the praise will be both reward and incentive.

Considering the exposure, it comes as no great surprise that my son, Michael Kevin Duffey, should be deeply into gun dogs, their training and breeding. But it is with some consternation that I note he's embarking on a "dog writing" venture, if not a career.

Probably questioning whether the public will put up with another generation of "Duffey on Dogs" observation and opinions, "the kid" cleverly disassociated himself from "the old man's" ravings and rantings in his maiden column in The Versatile Hunting Dog, newsletter of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA).

According to Mike, the one book he recalls from among the many on my library shelf is a thick, hardbound volume entitled, in embossed gold lettering, What I Know About Dogs by David Michael Duffey. Presented by a practical joking friend (the late Grady Marler), the book contains nothing but blank pages.

To further ensure that no one can accuse him of learning anything he knows about dogs (which is considerable, in his opinion) from the old man, Mike has this to say:

"For those of you lucky enough not to know me, I grew up the son-of-a (not what you think) little known and obscure outdoor writer named David M. Duffey. His passion was (and still is) hunting dogs. He's always been a believer in knowing what he writes about through firsthand experience and, as far back as I can remember, we always owned at least eight and sometimes as many as 20 hunting dogs of various breeds.

"Since he traveled a lot and my sisters preferred dishwater to dog (expletive deleted), I grew up and learned much of what I know about dogs at the back end of a shovel. If I had a penny a pound'¦"

Fathers being more charitable about their sons (even smart-ass ones) than the other way around, Mike has more credentials than he confessed to, including considerable experience and success as a professional trainer. How far he goes in the writing game is still speculative. Fortunately, modesty is not a requirement for being a successful scrivener.

Mike has independently concocted eight basic rules for successful dog training that he unblushingly entitled "Mike Duffey's Golden Rules of Dog Training." They make sense and tie in with the gun dog guidelines already suggested. So I'm repeating them here:

1. THE FIRST SIX MONTHS ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT TIME IN A DOG'S LIFE. Don't waste it. If you want your dog to develop his full potential, this is the time to introduce and expose him to birds, fields, water, retrieving and all kinds of other things that will be an important part of his adult life.

2. THE SECOND SIX MONTHS ARE THE NEXT MOST IMPORTANT. Most good dogs should be capable of putting in a productive hunt sometime between six months and one year of age. Certainly, they won't be finished performers, but they should be able to give you an enjoyable day in the field, finding, pointing and retrieving at least a few birds. By the time most dogs are two or three years old, they should be coming into their prime. People who make excuses for a four- or five-year-old dog that is not everything he should be are just kidding themselves.

3. KEEP PUPPY/PLAY TRAINING FUN FOR BOTH DOG AND TRAINER. If you don't really enjoy fooling with your dog, you're better off doing something else you enjoy or get paid for and buying a trained dog or hiring a p

ro to train yours. By the same token, if the pup is not enjoying it, you'll never develop him to his full potential.

4. LEARN TO "READ" YOUR DOG. Always be aware of what he is telling you by the look in his eye, the way he carries himself and the way he holds his head, ears or tail.

5. ALWAYS QUIT BEFORE YOUR DOG LOSES INTEREST. This goes right along with reading your dog. Keep things short and sweet. You want to quit while he still wants to do more.

6. ANTICIPATE DISOBEDIENCE OR MISTAKES AND BE PREPARED TO ACT. Timing is very critical to successful dog training and sometimes a reaction is too late.

7. SOFTER DOGS NEED MORE ENCOURAGEMENT, PATIENCE AND TIME. Ideally, your personalities should be similar. If they are not, you may need to adapt your personality to the dog.

8. DON'T BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES! Get out with your dog and enjoy the process together.

It's a nice feeling for a father to find himself in agreement with his son's opinions and I couldn't agree more if I'd written those guidelines myself'¦and maybe over past years, I have written something similar. It would be nice to know that something worthwhile rubbed off on the kid.

For both Mike and I know that in the art of dog training, only a few arrogant imbeciles would lay claim to "originating" an operating rule or a technique. Dogs and dog trainers have been around for as long as jokes and comedians. We all learn from others, past and present. Just when we think that through hands-on experience we've made a discovery or originated a break-through, along comes another trainer who says, "Oh, yeah! That really works. I've been doing that since old Bill Smith showed me how when I was a kid."

Achieving success as a gun dog trainer and recognition as an authoritative writer about the subject doesn't put a man on monetary easy street. Quite the contrary; it costs time and money to learn canine characteristics firsthand through daily contact, care, training, hunting, investigating and discussions with thousands of other fascinated men and women who know more, as much or less about the subject than you.

But for me, it's been a hard to beat lifestyle. I hope that Mike will also come to know that the greatest satisfaction derived from the effort comes from the knowledge, or at least the belief, that through publication of what we've learned and earned we've been able to explain the necessities of what goes into understanding, caring for and training the gun dogs that thousands of sportsmen take afield each hunting season.

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