No one appreciates a whiner… whiny children, spouses, co-workers, each are annoying to anyone around. The same may be said of whiny retrievers. These are the impatient dogs of the field that are highly distracting to others on a hunt. No one likes a whiner in the duck blind or a dog that is vocal when they should be sitting patiently while blocking on a pheasant walk up. Not only are the noisy buggers worrisome to hunters they can flair approaching birds. Whining is properly labeled vocalization. Our friends in the United Kingdom refer to a retriever’s noises as squeaking and the slightest squeak is an eliminating fault in trials and even when picking up on drivens at estate shoots. Keepers and guns alike don’t like squeakers. The unacceptable behavior of vocalization in the UK among sporting dog enthusiasts is a trait that is inevitably removed by culling rather than trying to suppress the problem through training. The reason is simple. Whiners are unwelcomed on a shoot. A breeder recognizes the possibility that the trait may be inherited if it were not manmade. Like produces like so the possibility must be avoided.
One of Wildrose’s most frequently asked questions is how to keep a retriever quiet on the hunt; whining as the dog impatiently endures the boredom often experienced when waterfowling, barking in anticipation of the action as birds approach, even vocalization while out on the retrieve before the bird is picked or when the dog must sit and honor another dog’s retrieve.
The solutions are difficult at best if the practice has become an entrenched habit. The high- energy, over-anxious gundog becomes vocal on the hunt then gets numerous retrieves, the reward. The same dog’s impatience may have been stimulated even further by training practices that actually contribute to the undesirable behavior. We first must address vocalization by preventing the condition from the start rather than trying to correct an entrenched behavior (habit) or taking the extreme approach our friends abroad often do, just get rid of the dog.
Like produces like. As mentioned above, the trait of vocalization may be passed on from parents to offspring. Competent gundog breeders recognize this and strive to produce desirable characteristics in their pups while eliminating faults and squeaking is a fault that should be eliminated. A vocal, high-energy, impatient parent will likely pass along the trait. When inherited, vocalization can be very difficult to eliminate in the offspring.
Because squeaking is such a highly eliminated fault under British Field trial rules, competitors, breeders and serious pickers in the UK cull problem dogs that are vocal early to ensure the animal does not get into their gene pool. Wildrose does the same, placing a high value on dog’s compatible behavior and temperament balance with field performance. By overlooking the fault of vocalization while favoring field performance alone can result in the behavior of squeaking being passed along to the next generation.
Actually, the condition with regard to mating is similar to that of gunshyness in hunting breeds. These problems are largely manmade and usually not an inherited trait but they can be. Neither the habitual vocal or gunshy dog should be allowed to reproduce. But, again, this is the least likely cause of either condition when pups are carefully selected from competent breeders of hunting dogs.
The use of training techniques that do not promote, reward and reinforce patience in all things is a much larger contributor to our problem of discussion than simply genetics. First, recognize that for hunting dogs to perform well all day under any type of weather conditions they must possess a certain amount of athletic ability, endurance and intensity for the work. We are not talking about a dog that is hyperactive that can never settle and focus. Rather, a dog that has a passion for game, love of the hunt and the energy to back up a day of hard work. Such energy, though desirable, must be molded through habit formation to a controllable point… that is patience. Patience and calm behavior must be expected in all things:
- Greeting visitors in the home
- Place training
- Quiet while tied out even with activity about
- Quiet and patient at feeding
- Not over stimulated in training with excess marks (thrown bumpers)
- Training sessions that properly use denials (all birds are not theirs) and delays (patience and quietness before any retrieve). These rules apply in the duck blind as well.
- Patience must be realized before any high-valued reinforcer is given (a retrieve, food, or affection)
- Avoiding the tendency to send a dog too quickly for a retrieve after a gun shot in training or on the hunt.
The Wildrose Way reinforces desirable behaviors to the point of habit. In this case, patience before the reward. Training methods must reflect this every day by employing memories instead of excessive marks, delays and denials in lessons and the use of the cyclical training model (p. 86 The Wildrose Way) to reduce the energy level before lessons begin and between each session. Reward patience and calm behavior just as you would a fabulous retrieve. Remember, a behavior that is not reinforced with a reward will soon fade. Value and reward patience if you desire it to reoccur.
A reinforcer is a response to a dog’s behavior, timed properly by the hander, in order to capture (keep) or eliminate the behavior. An example is food which can be a training asset is some situations. Treats may encourage the reluctant pup to enter a crate. Feeding an older dog his meal in a situation or a location where they may feel uncomfortable may help relieve the problem. A quick toss of a bumper or tennis ball may be just the thing to teach a young dog to load onto a trailer. But reinforcers often become double-edges swords…for good or bad results
Let’s review the reinforcers (see p.52,The Wildrose Way )
If our student gives us quiet, focused behaviors after the bumper is dropped, he gets the retrieve. Quiet results in the reward. Rasping, panting, fidgeting, noisiness, anxious behavior results in a “denial.” We reward the behaviors we want to reoccur. Now the reverse. If we toss about tennis balls aimlessly allowing the dog to bolt for each so we can keep our dog in shape with some hard exercise, what are we really rewarding? Impatience? Unsteadiness? Over-stimulus? We intend to do a good thing, exercising our dog and what we actually did was quite counterproductive to the behaviors we really wanted. Unintentional reinforcers… the tennis ball retrieves… actually reward impatience.
The noisy pup is handed a treat to keep him quiet. Intent… quiet the pup. Actual result… noisiness is rewarded or reinforced with food so it is sure to reoccur.
The out-of-control dog in training is tossed a bumper to get him to return. Actual result…out-of-control behavior (ignoring command) is rewarded.
The fun bumper tossed at the end of a training session as a reward for good work actually reinforces breaking as the last lesson of the day.
The whining dog in the duck blind is touched and stroked by his hunting pal in an effort to quiet the dog. Actually the affection is rewarding the squeaking.
The barking dog is given attention by family members. Their intent is to tell him to be quiet but the dog’s perspective is his barking resulted in attention from the family.
The list of unintentional reinforcers is long and has many applications but they can relate to the noisy dog. The handler responds to noisiness with an intention to correct while the dog perceives the response in an entirely different way.
The best approach to vocalization is to avoid it. Think about the possible causes of the dysfunction and avoid the situation. The approach includes how one selects their dog to the application of training methods, as well as, how the dog is handled on the hunt. Also, owners must share with everyone that interacts with their dog about the consequences of unintentional reinforcers. Everyone must be conscious of what they do and say in response to the dog’s behavior.Remember your puppy or dog is always in training. If any behavior gets reinforced with consistency you better like it as it may well become entrenched.
- Teach pups patience right from the start using place, crate and tie-out training. Never respond to a pup’s vocalization in any of these situations.
- Use lots of denials in all levels of training: tossed bumpers, frisbies, rolled balls, birds in flight and exposure to wildlife in the field. Reward patience and quietness with equal enthusiasm and value as you would an activity such as a retrieve.
- Slow down training sessions for the excitable dog. Your slower tempo will be mimicked by the young dog (intelligent dogs follow stable leaders).
- Avoid over-utilizing marks (anything thrown followed by a quick retrieve) in training. Opt for memories that always involve delays.
- Don’t reward noisiness or impatience with food, affection or a retrieve. The same is true in the duck blind. Noisiness results in a denial of the bird. Pick it up yourself.
- Don’t overuse birds too early in a young dog’s training.
- Avoid associating gunfire with an immediate retrieve.
- Rules and expectations for patience, quiet behaviors apply 24/7 in the home, traveling, on the hunt and during training activities.
As a final note, grasping the squeaker’s muzzle (usually out of handler frustration) never appears to prove beneficial. Likely the dog just sees it as yet another attention-getting response from the handler and perhaps perceived as form of affection. Basically“muzzle clutching” does not have the intended effect.
Continue this discussion with us on the Wildrose facebook page. If you have experienced a squeaker, what was your response…what worked…what didn’t? Ideas and tips are welcomed.