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Trained vs Inherited Behavior

A dog is a product of myriad behaviors and reactions. Some of these behaviors are inherited and some are trained. If you are going to make a reasonable choice in selecting a puppy, then you need some guidelines on what behaviors are inherited and what are trained. Then you can select parents with the best set of traits in inherited behaviors, and you will maximize the odds of coming up with a puppy that fits your requirements, and that fits your level of dog training skills.

Inherited Behaviors
Over the course of a number of years I have had the wonderful opportunity to observe the behavior of a large number of dogs, and also to observe the behavior of quite a few their offspring of several generations. These observations have left me with firm opinions on inherited behaviors. I have many times seen a certain strong behavioral tendency in a particular dog, and I have seen that same strong behavioral tendency transmitted through several generations of offspring.

Dogs come in all flavors and types of combinations of behavioral traits. They are all different. I typically explain the differences somewhat simplistically in terms of the strength or weakness of a few inherited behavioral traits.

A major sample of these behaviors which have a great hereditary element is:

1. Retrieving Desire- The response of chasing a falling or fleeing object is instinctive. A typical puppy will automatically chase a thrown ball or stick. He may not bring it back, but he will generally chase it if he sees it. Note that he must see it. Some puppies may not develop the eye muscle patterns to track a rapidly moving object until they are 10 or 12 weeks of age or possibly later. Make sure pup is tracking the ball with his eyes before you decide he doesn't have retrieving instinct.

A respectable degree of retrieving desire is a definite requirement for a good gun dog, but he can have an excessive amount. In the field trial breeding pool, over the past 20 or 30 years we have been breeding a steadily higher percentage of dogs with too much go power and retrieving desire.

As field trials have evolved over the past 50 years, they have become to a great degree a test of lining behavior. To train field trial caliber lining behavior requires a great deal of repetition and some amount of pressure in the form of correction. The dogs that are superior candidates for this type training program tend to have an excessive amount of retrieving desire and they tend to be hyperactive.

2. Delivery to hand - Some puppies that have plenty of instinct to chase a falling or fleeing object but are short on the behavior of bringing it back. The delivery back of the falling object appears to also have a strong inherited influence. Some puppies seem to have a strong tendency to bring back the retrieve. Some have a tendency to grab the retrieved object and run away with it.

I have had the opportunity to observe a large number of puppies bred from American field trial stock, and also a large number of puppies from British field trial stock. Of the puppies I have observed from British field trial breeding, I estimate that 95% automatically return with their first retrieve of a stick or ball, and deliver it to hand.

Puppies from American Field Trial stock are much less prone to bring it back. I would estimate that 30% to 40% of American puppies have a tendency to run off with the ball. This is the precursor to hard mouth behavior. Running away to the bush with the prey is what at a wild dog does just prior to eating his prey. I would expect most of these non deliverers to have a tendency toward hard mouth when they get on birds.

3. Soft Mouth vs Hard Mouth - We've been selectively breeding sporting dogs to develop a soft mouth for probably hundreds of years. Most dog folks will agree that soft vs hard mouth is a genetically transmitted behavioral trait. Our training practices in American Retriever field trial circles have reversed that breeding selection process.

It is now standard practice to force-fetch train nearly every field trial dog. This conditioning process is a necessary precursor to the process of forcing dogs to go on lines. We are producing some great lining dogs with these training practices, but the force-fetch training process also compensates for hard mouth. Therefore we are no longer selectively breeding for soft mouth in the field trial breeding population.

4. Swimming - Swimming is an inherited instinctive behavior. You can take any litter of puppies that is 7 or 8 weeks old, entice them into the water and they will swim automatically and never miss a stroke. A few puppies if they miss this intro at 7 or 8 weeks will have trouble later in triggering that swimming behavior. Occaisionally you will encounter an older puppy in the 6months to 12 month age range that will take several weeks to learn to swim. If you get them in the water at 7 or 8 weeks you can preclude the slow learners.

There is one point to emphasize on water and puppies. Don't put young puppies in cold water or during cold weather. Water temperature should be at least 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the weather should be warm to hot. Putting puppies in extremely cold water will simply train them to not like it.

5. Pointing - Many retrievers show a definite pointing response. This is a remnant of the "crouch before the pounce" displayed by their wild ancestors. This "pointing" is generally elicited by a tight holding live bird. The dog generally has to be within one or two feet of the bird for the point response to be triggered. The dog will freeze only for a second or two and then he will pounce on the bird. To get him to hold the "point" for a longer period of time you have to train him to stay standing in position. In addition to training pup to sit and stay, you train him to stay in the standing position on the command "whoa". To get the desired result in the field you must be very attentive and keep pup inside his control distance. Whenever he's acting birdy get ready. When the "point" occurs, you must quickly command "whoa" before pup has a chance to pounce. If you are careful and diligent you can soon get him holding the point longer.

I don't think pointing has any value for a retriever in the upland game or pheasant field. A retriever is a flusher, not a pointer. If you keep pup under control and within 15 yards of you, then you will get a shot at nearly every bird in your path. Introducing pointing into the equation just makes a simple task difficult.

In pheasant hunting, a "pointing" retriever will probably cause you to experience a higher percentage of birds flushing out of range. There is a natural inclination on the part of the hunter to allow a pointing dog to run wider under the theory that the pheasants will hold for pup while you walk over. There are two problems here. First, you will probably let pup get beyond his control distance, and the tight sitting birds that are "pointable" will get flushed because pup is beyond your control. Second, all the birds that are flushing more wildly will be out of range because pup is beyond 15 yards.

Additionally, "pointing" training will probably inhibit pup's talents and aggressiveness at running down crippled pheasants.

6. Calm Nature vs Hyperactive Nature - Hyperactivity is a trait where selective breeding for success in American Field Trials has made a dramatic change in the typical dog. Ask any field trialer what he looks for most in a dog and he will tell you, "A hard charging dog". We have bred this trait to excess in the field trial genetic pool. Far to high a percentage of dogs in the field trial genetic population are hyperactive. In an outdoor kennel they tend to pace incessantly. In a backyard, they dig holes, chew trees, pull up shrubbery, etc. When you take them in the house they display similar behavior. A dog like this is not pleasant to live with, and is very difficult for the average hunter to train.

Conversely, a calm dog is a pleasure to live with, is easy for the average hunter to train. My personal gundog is calm in nature and he has a much fuller life because of it. I am able to take him many more places and spend much more time with him because of his calm nature. Jake goes with me to my Industrial real estate office every day. He frequently accompanies me to show warehouse space to clients. Jake has probably closed more deals than I have.

Jake goes trout fishing and follows along on the bank as I wade and fish a stream.

Jake has gone hunting or vacationing to Alaska, Canada, and most of the United States because he is a pleasure to travel with because of his calm nature.

7. Pain Threshold or Toughness - Toughness is another trait that has been highly valued by field trialers for the past 20 or 30 years. A tough dog is one that takes correction well and bounces back, one that handles the electric collar well. He also tends to be a dog that does not respond as well to more gentle training methods. The tough dog is less cooperative and requires more force to train.

The increasing popularity and use of the electric collar is skewing breeding selection toward this type of dog, especially in the field trial gene pool. A good trainer can take a tough uncooperative dog and put him through an electric collar training program and make a well mannered gentleman out of him. The problem is that the electric collar program doesn't change his genes.

If you saw this dog at a field trial or in training you might say, "That's a very good dog, I think I'll breed him to my bitch." You then arrange for the breeding, and subsequently a litter of puppies arrives. Unfortunately the puppies are going to approximate their parents in behavioral traits. Therefore, that tough uncooperative male is going to tend to produce tough uncooperative puppies, puppies that will need a good trainer and an electric collar training program.

8. Game Seeking Initiative - Game seeking initiative is measured in how many birds the dog finds. Some people say that a dog with this trait "has a good nose". However this behavior encompasses far more than having a good nose. The dog possessing the behavior of game seeking initiative not only has a good nose, he also knows where to use it. This dog will tend to hunt the places where birds, either fresh or wounded are likely to be found. This dog will hunt edges, ditches, cover changes and shorelines. This is a behavior that some dogs are born with a lot of this tendency and some aren't.

Game seeking initiative is an extremely desirable trait in a gundog. The gundog that instinctively hunts the edges, ditches, shorelines, and "birdy" places will flush a lot more birds for the hunter. Additionally he will much more readily dig out the crippled birds on either land or water. The value to the hunter is obvious.

Game seeking initiative is a very bad trait in a field trial dog. To win field trials a dog must consistently take a straight line through cover changes, ditches, edges and shorelines. In fact, you will find that field trial judges consistently engineer tests so that dogs with a tendency to veer off line at cover changes and shorelines will do poorly. For field trials you want a dog that punches right through cover changes, ditches and shorelines with no tendency to hunt.

9. Propensity to Use Nose - Some dogs tend to use their nose more and some tend to use their eyes more to locate game and prey. The nose user has great value to the hunter. When you nick a duck that sails off 200 yards and swims into thick flooded buckbrush, it will take a nose-using dog to dig him out. The dog must swim the 200 yards and then scout the edge of the buckbrush to detect the minute traces of scent left where the duck has swum into the brush. Finding that he then has to track that duck through the water, relying on the minute amounts of scent hanging on the brush. This job takes a confirmed nose user.

On the other hand, the nose user is a liability to a field trialer. In a field trial, a test is set up and all the dogs are run on the same test. Thus you might have a triple marked retrieve which up to 60 or 70 dogs or more are run. All those dogs are leaving their scent and bird scent on the grass and brush as they make the retrieves. After the first 10 or 12 dogs there is a tremendous amount of bird scent strewn about the field. A nose-using dog will become confused quickly in these conditions.

10. Propensity to use eyes - The eye user is the converse of the nose user. The eye user has great value to a field trialer; less to a hunter. The eye user tends to be the pinpoint marker that "steps on" a marked retrieve at 200 yards. He is not distracted by his nose on the way to the bird. This trait has great value in field trials where pin point marking is highly rewarded and where there are oceans of scent to distract the dog that is less sure of the birds location.

For the hunter the eye user has less value. It's great if he pin points that bird 200 yards out, but frequently conditions prevent a clear view or the bird swims or runs off from the landing spot. Then the eye user is at a disadvantage. The nose user will probably take a more meandering route out to the fall, but he is far more likely to find the bird's scent trail and track him down. The eye user will have a lot more trouble and a lot less success when he misses that pinpoint mark and needs to use his nose to dig out the bird.

11. Dominance vs Subordinance - Dominance is a fundamental behavioral trait in all dogs, male and female. It flavors and influences a lot of their other traits and behaviors. Individual dogs are born with some degree to dominate. Obviously the dog with the highest drive to dominate is the one that becomes the pack leader. The dog with the higher dominance drive is also the one that is more difficult to train. The dominant dog checks more frequently to see if the trainer is still the pack leader. The dominant dog typically requires more force and pressure to train. The dominant natured dog is generally the preferred type as a candidate for field trial training.

The dog with less dominance and more subordinance is much easier for the novice dog trainer to deal with. The subordinate natured dog is easily corrected with the raised voice. The subordinate natured dog works much harder at reading the trainer and he tries harder to cooperate. The subordinate natured dog is by far the best choice for the average hunter.

12. Tractability - This trait could also be described as desire to please. Tractability appears to be closely linked to subordinance. There seems to be a much higer percentage of subordinate natured dogs that are high in tractability. You see the occasional dominant dog that is high in tractability but the number is small. By definition a tractable dog is much more desirable as a candidate for training.

Trained Behaviors
The adult dog is the product of both inherited and trained behaviors. To get the best puppy you select the parents with the best mix of inherited behaviors. The puppy will approximate the parents in behavioral traits. Then you train him in the behaviors that you want according to what his function will be. If pup is going to be a hunting dog his training requirements will differ greatly from those of a prospective field trial dog.

The main trained behaviors are:

1. Obedience - Obedience is heeling, sitting and staying. Obedience is an extremely important behavior in a hunting dog. A disobedient dog makes hunting unpleasant even though he retrieves all the birds. Conversely, and obedient dog is a pleasure to hunt with even if he is not the world's greatest retriever. Proficiency in in obedience is measured by the level of distraction he can handle and still maintain his self control. Your dog is truly obedient when you can walk through a corn field flushing pheasants every 5 or 10 yards and your dog stays within 15 yards, comes to heel when called and sits when told to.

2. Steadiness - Steadiness is very important in a hunting dog. Your dog is truly steady when he can sit still as you and your hunting buddy light a flock of 100 mallards, flush them and shoot 4 or 5 ducks as they climb out. Then your buddy sends his dog on the first retrieve. If your dog is still sitting calmly, then he is steady.

The unsteady dog is a liability to you and to himself. The unsteady dog is the one that breaks to retrieve while the bird is still falling. Then he progresses to breaking every time you shoot. Then he progresses to breaking when he hears the "click" safety being switched off before you shoot. However this last behavior doesn't last very long. The unsteady dog puts himself out in the blast cone of the shotgun frequently enough to be deafened at a very young age. After a season or two of hunting, the unsteady dog probably cannot hear a safety click anymore. He will have lost his hearing to shotgun blast.

The unsteady dog also is likely to come to early end to his career. Breaking and putting himself out in front of the guns while shooting is going on is likely to end with the unsteady dog being accidentally shot. Thus steadiness is a very valuable behavior in a hunting dog.

3. Lining - Lining has great value for a field trial dog. A good lining dog will consistently win field trials. Lining means the ability to line a dog up on blind retrieve and send him out on a line, when he has seen nothing fall. To win field trials the dog must be capable of taking that line within five to 10 degrees of direction. That is very "fine" lining and requires a tremendous amount of training to achieve.

For a hunting dog, however, lining has little value. The hunting dog will be most productive when he hunts where the bird is likely to be. In a hunting situation, when a duck or pheasant is knocked down, the hunter frequently doesn't know exactly where it fell. Additionally if the bird is still alive, it is not going to stay where it fell. The productive hunting dog will head out in the general direction he is sent, but will check promising pieces of cover as he quests out in search of the bird.

In contrast, a lining dog will charge out on an unerring line, regardless of what tempting chunks of cover are off to the left or right. The lining dog has much poorer odds of coming up with the bird in a hunting situation. If you are training a field trial dog spend a whole lot of time and emphasis on lining.

If you are training a hunting dog, you only need the dog to go out in the general direction he's sent. You don't need a great deal of precision. The hunting dog will be more productive when he goes off in the general direction indicated and checks promising pieces of cover on the way out.

4. Whistle Stopping and Hand Signals - For blind retrieves you need to send the dog out after an unseen fallen bird and you also need to be able to correct his course or "steer" him on the way out to the fall. Stopping on the whistle to turn and look at you is the prerequisite to hand signal. The dog has to see the hand signal in order to respond to it.

There is another major disconnect between field trial dogs and hunting dogs in the area of stopping on the whistle. In field trials, judges are typically score a dog down considerably for popping, or turning to look for a hand signal when the handler has not blown the whistle to signal the dog to stop and look. Popping is undesirable for a field trial dog.

For the hunting dog popping is a plus. A dog that on blind retrieves stops and looks to me for a hand signal every 20 yards or so is ideal. I can send that dog on a blind and know I won't have to fight him over stopping. Popping is a sign of intelligence. The dog understands that he is on a blind retrieve and is cooperating by looking to me for the next hand signal. The blind retrieve can be accomplished quickly, efficiently and in total silence. That is by far the best performance for a hunting situation.

5. Staying in the water - Staying in the water is by far the biggest difference in field trial performance and hunting dog performance. Field trial dogs that stay in the water win field trials. Hunting dogs that stay in the water die of hypothermia.

Staying in the water can be defined by looking a a fairly common field trial test and standard field trial training scenario. Imagine a long narrow pond that is 50 feet wide and 400 feet long. The dog is run from one end and the bird falls at the other end. A field trial dog who has been properly trained, jumps immediately into the water, swims the 400 foot length of the pond to get the bird, and returns swimming the 400 ft length of the pond. He will swim 800 feet in the water.

A dog that has not been trained to stay in the water will simply run around the water and down the bank, jump in to retrieve the bird, and run back on the bank. He will swim a total of 20 feet in the water.

Now suppose we have the same pond and same retrieve with a view variations. Suppose the water temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the air temperature is 28 degrees, the wind is blowing 20 knots and spitting snow. Also suppose that there are 10 ducks to be retrieved at the end of the pond. The bank runner will make those 10 retrieves fairly quickly and be warmer from the exercise

The water-trained dog might swim all the way for all ten ducks but it is not likely. It is more likely that he will succumb to hypothermia before he gets past the fifth duck. The moral of the story is that staying in the water not only has a negative value for a hunting dog, the behavior is downright dangerous.

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