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Positive reinforcement breeds enthusiasm

Dick Haines of Baker City, shown with one of his Labradors at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area on Saturday, discusses the art of training hunting dogs without the use of stern discipline. - The Observer/DICK MASON
Dick Haines of Baker City, shown with one of his Labradors at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area on Saturday, discusses the art of training hunting dogs without the use of stern discipline. - The Observer/DICK MASON
The best way to train man’s best friend is to be his best friend.

Dick Haines of Baker City is convinced of it, so much so that he is devoted to taking the bite out of training hunting dogs.

Haines explained why and the art of humane dog training Saturday during presentations for Ducks Unlimited’s Youth Outdoor Day program at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area.

Haines believes canines can be taught to be excellent hunting companions without using stern discipline. He has trained his dogs this way for years and will continue to for one primary reason: it keeps dogs’ love of going on hunts alive.

“I’ve had dogs which have hunted enthusiastically until they were 14 or 15,’’ he said.

Had he been stern, Haines believes the dogs likely would have burned out years earlier.

“Too much discipline can take away enthusiasm,’’ said Haines, a farmer and a small-business owner.

Dogs can not only be enthusiastic hunting companions their whole lives, they can also be avid pupils.

“Dogs can learn new tricks at any age,’’ Haines said.

Dogs can be taught to respond to positive reinforcement regardless of their seniority. The reinforcement Haines speaks of sometimes involves responding positively to a situation when an owners’ natural instinct is to discipline.

The use of electronic collars is a good example. When dogs do something like jump at the front door when the doorbell rings, owners may instinctively yell at their pets. Some owners may even activate a shock collar.

Haines takes a different route. He does not yell but instead snaps a small, inexpensive clicker. His dogs instantly stop barking and run to him. The reason: they know they’ve learned they may receive a reward when they hear the clicker and respond to their master.

“I’ve interrupted their behavior (by using the clicker) and brought their attention back to myself,’’ the calm, friendly dog trainer said.

Haines never uses the shock mechanism on the electronic collars his dogs wear. The strongest thing he ever activates is their gentle vibrating mechanism. Haines uses it when he wants to get the attention of one of his dogs — especially when it is far away. For example, if a dog has strayed one-half mile or more while hunting, Haines will turn on the vibrator. The dog will then look toward Haines, who gives it a hand signal directing it back.

Ty VanLith, left, and Kurt Boyd enjoy the company of one Dick Haines’ Labradors Saturday during Youth Outdoor Day at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Ty and Kurt are students at Island City Elementary School. - The Observer/DICK MASON
Ty VanLith, left, and Kurt Boyd enjoy the company of one Dick Haines’ Labradors Saturday during Youth Outdoor Day at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Ty and Kurt are students at Island City Elementary School. - The Observer/DICK MASON
Haines urged people during his Saturday presentations not to do things that muzzle their dog’s energy. For example, after riding for miles in a vehicle, dogs enjoy jumping out of a parked car or truck and racing around an area. Some owners sternly prohibit this because their dogs can create havoc with nearby people and pets.

Haines always first lets his dogs out in an area where there are no people or animals to disturb. His dogs burn off pent-up energy without bothering a soul.

When training hunting dogs, people should remember that canines do not reach maturity until they are age 3, which is when Haines begins serious training. The training will not work as effectively, though, unless a dog’s owner has established trust with their canine.

“If you develop trust, the dog will want to please you the rest of its life,’’ Haines said.

Haines stresses that his training methods are not revolutionary and that he learned his techniques from books by Mike Gould and the late Bill Tarrant. These dog trainers helped popularize the positive training methods many people are now using.

The methods the authors have promoted develop dogs that are more enjoyable hunting partners, Haines said.

“Sixty percent of a hunt is the quality of companionship of a dog,’’ the Baker City resident said.

How can you tell on a hunt if your positive reinforcement training is working?

“Use the enthusiasm of your dog as a gauge.’’

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