It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins for a reason. For something so intangible, pride carries a big, heavy, dangerous stick capable of damaging nearly any aspect of life. Our passions are not immune. Reluctance to admit that you don’t know everything about training is a sure way to let pride ruin your bird dog.
Pride is not all bad, of course. You and your dog can do some fine work if you take a little pride in it. Excessive pride, hubris, is where things go awry, but hubris sounds like something a bunch of professors sitting around in tweed jackets would say so we’ll just call it pride from here on out.
How pride gets in the way
Americans, and American males in particular, tend to look at most situations and think, “I can figure this out”. On the instinct list it comes right after the desire to breathe, eat, and reproduce. In a few areas like taxes and medical emergencies, we aren’t the least bit afraid to ask for help. But training a dog? Come on, how hard can that be?
Almost as hard as admitting you can’t figure it out.
FACT: If you own dogs long enough, eventually you’ll get stumped. It might be your first dog or it might be your fortieth, but that dog will find its way into your life and ultimately into your head.
When you do get stumped and progress grinds to a halt, pride will be that nagging impulse to keep doing what you’re doing and plow your way through. It will remind you that you’re smart and don’t need any help and can figure this out. And it will pretend it doesn’t notice as you dig your hole deeper and deeper.
Learning to recognize the signs of surplus pride is critical if you don’t want it to ruin your bird dog.
Pride is a wall between you and the answers you need. Push it down and you’ll be amazed how much help is waiting on the other side. The catch, of course, is that walls don’t move easily.
What does pride look like?
Pride wears many disguises. We’ve all seen the guy who obviously needs some help but insists that he has it all under control. Chances are he knows he needs help but his ego won’t let him accept it. If you find yourself turning down unsolicited offers of help, it’s a good sign that (a) you need it and (b) you should try a little humility and accept it.
Sometimes offers of help are scarce, but an observant dog owner can see signs that it’s needed. An obvious lack of progress over an extended length of time is a big red flag. If the dog isn’t moving forward, you’re both stuck, and it’s time to get some help. What’s stopping you from asking?
Here’s the thing: Everyone was new to dog training at some point. The good ones, the ones you find yourself looking up to, weren’t afraid to admit they didn’t know it all. They asked for advice, sometimes from many people, and in spite of their success they’re still learning today. Humility goes further than pride.
But I want to train my dog myself…
Few pursuits are as rewarding as training a dog yourself. For some, finances leave no other option. For others, the experience is irresistible. Regardless of what took you down the path, it will give you an education in bird dogs that you can’t get any other way.
If your education was anything like mine, however, it’s littered with an F or two. Maybe even a few Ds. And these came because – you guessed it – I was too proud to ask for help. No smart person is completely self-taught and no good dog trainer figured it all out by himself.
I’m not trying to talk anyone out of training his dog, What I am trying to do in a not-so-subtle way is make sure that if you go this route, a sharp awareness of both you and your dog is at the top of your list. Let this be your alert system for pride taking over and don’t allow too much of it to ruin your bird dog.
If you’re stuck it’s because you don’t know how to get around the problem. You might eventually figure it out on your own and you might not. In the meantime, how many bad habits is your dog picking up? It’s always smart to keep some perspective on what’s going on in the training process.
Where to get help
I’m pretty comfortable saying that no matter what you’re experiencing with your dog, someone has been through it before. And bird dog people being who they are, there’s a really good chance they’ll share what they learned. Here are a few places you can turn for assistance:
- Local trainers – A trainer who lives close by can be an invaluable resource. When you go to see one, let the first words out of your mouth be “I need some help.” Unless he just hung out his shingle (or her shingle – there are plenty of exceptional female trainers) this person knows a lot more about training than you do, so humility will serve you well. Explain your problem and don’t leave out anything you might have done wrong (humility, remember?). Some trainers will give you advice free of charge, some will want to be paid. You can avoid an awkward situation by asking up front what they would charge to help you out. You’ll have to make the economic decision about whether it’s worth the fee to get over this hump.
- NAVHDA or an area pointing dog club– these groups specialize in helping dog owners get the most out of their pups. They offer all sorts of resources for training, not the least of which is experienced members who have been there and done that. https://www.navhda.org or search for “pointing dog clubs in my area”.
- Online communities – Various forums and online communities offer training help with the caveat that anyone can come off as an expert online and really not know what he’s talking about. Members tend to self-police this, but be warned. Here are a few of the more popular ones:
Try this tomorrow
Is there something you’ve been trying to teach your dog for a while that he’s just not getting? Be honest with yourself about whether this is the normal learning process playing out or whether you’re stuck. If you’re stuck, take a few minutes and explore the resources above and see if you can find someone who might be able to help. Then push that pride aside and ask.