Mistakes We Make

Your Mood Can Ruin Your Bird Dog

There are obvious and not-so-obvious mistakes that dog owners make and one of the less obvious is failing to understand that your mood can ruin your bird dog. Many people use a training session or a run in the field with the dogs as a way to unwind from the office or “clear their head” of troubles. Done properly, few things are better for unwinding or clearing your head. Done poorly, you could find yourself with a bigger problem.

Dogs can sense your mood

There’s a growing body of research that reinforces what most dog owners already know, namely that dogs can tell what kind of mood you’re in. They’re especially good at reading facial expressions, a subconscious link to how we’re feeling on the inside, which means it’s hard to fool them.

Imagine your boss walking into a room and he’s bent about something. You know this before he says a word because of the look on his face, his deliberate and possibly loud steps and the non-gentle way he slams his stuff on the desk. Now, instead of asking how he’s doing (it’s obvious) and launching into an update on the project you’ve been working on, you shift to caution mode, waiting for him to speak first and then figuring out the damage control. Your productivity for the rest of the day just took a major hit.

Dog owner bringing the right mood to the training field
Bringing the right attitude to the field makes for a much better bird dog

It works exactly the same for dogs. When they sense your mood is foul, they shift to damage control mode too, hesitant to do anything that might worsen your humor. They can’t focus on what you want them to do because they’re focused on what you might do. They become hesitant, possibly even timid, and in some cases do what you’d like to do with your boss – avoid him. If a dog that normally works within range suddenly starts working farther and farther away and ignoring calls to come back to you, do a quick check of your mood.

Hot tempers cause tunnel vision

One of many items on the We Can’t Explain It But It’s Because We’re Human list is that when we’re pissed off, we tend to block out good stuff and zero in on whatever goes wrong. Little annoyances grow in size until they take up the entire field of vision.

Think of your boss again. Have you worked for someone who never gave you a compliment for doing something well but chewed your ass the one time you made a mistake? This is a guy who walks around with a lot of problems and as a result, he tends to see only problems.

Hauling anger or frustration from some other area of your life into the field has predictable results. You’ll watch your dog with blinders on, looking for any imperfection in his performance. Maybe he’s not checking in exactly as often as you’d like, taking a few seconds too long to respond to the whistle, or showing interest in something that is not a game bird. These aren’t things that should always cause unrest, but if you’re in a foul humor they will, which underscores how a bad mood can ruin your bird dog. The right frame of mind will look at these instances for what they are, what might be causing them, and whether they really justify a correction.

This habit is a strange quirk of humanity and it’s almost impossible to override, but you can head it off by being aware of your mood before you head to the field or the yard.

Bad moods = overreactions

As mentioned in the awareness article, dogs should be corrected, not punished, when training. The difference between the two is often a heavy hand and if you’re already in a bad mood it doesn’t take much to trigger a reaction that crosses that line.

In most cases progress is a good thing and in this case it has spawned a generation or two of dog owners who realize the difference between correcting a dog and punishing him.

We’ve come a long way since the days of whipping dogs who didn’t perform properly, or worse, peppering them with shot. Progress is usually a good thing and in this case it has spawned a generation or two of dog owners who realize the difference between correcting a dog and punishing him.

Even these modern folks can fall prey to the consequences of a bad mood, however, and if you find yourself jumping all over your dog for little things, there’s a good chance that something other than the dog is chafing you.

Try this tomorrow

Two suggestions this time:

  1. Measure your mood before you go Sit down and take an honest assessment of how you’re feeling. If something from work is still gnawing at you, if the kids are getting on your last nerve, today might not be the best day to work the dogs. If you really need to get out of the house, go roll in the grass with them for a while. No training, no discipline, just roll around and scratch and rub and enjoy each other’s company. This works wonders for a bad mood and might just get you in the right mindset to head to the field after all.
  2. Be aware of your reactions to your dog’s mistakes When you’re in the field, take stock of how you react when your dog bumps a bird or ranges too far or rolls in a cow pie. Is your response helping him understand what he should have done and appropriate to his mistake or is it an outlet for other things that are bothering you? Just because your mood can ruin your bird dog doesn’t mean it has to.

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