Trainin’ Dogs with Rick Smith: Indoor Dog or Outdoor Dog?


One question that pops up pretty often is, “Is it okay for my bird dog to live in the house? I always heard that living in the house will ruin a dog for hunting.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many things that can mess up a dog’s potential to hunt – lack of talent, poor breeding, negative experiences, lack of training, poor condition, injury – but living in the house isn’t on the list.

This is an old-time way of thinking, and when we ask where the person heard that hunting dogs shouldn’t be in the house, the answer run the gamut from, “Somebody told me it ruins their nose,” to “That’s the way my granddad did it.” While we certainly can’t argue with the way someone’s relatives kept their bird dogs, we can say that keeping a dog outside has nothing to do with it being a better hunting dog. Many of the reasons are simply old wives’ tales – pure fiction, with no real science to back them up.

Does living in the house ruin a dog’s scent capabilities? Of course not. There are situations that can have a temporary effect on a dog’s nose, usually where there’s an over-abundance of a specific scent in a small, enclosed area; but that can happen outside as well. Cedar chips used as bedding in a doghouse, exhaust fumes from a vehicle, an encounter with a skunk – any overpowering scent can temporarily overwhelm a nose, including our own. And those scents aren’t house dog specific.

Does living indoors make a dog fat and lazy so it doesn’t want to hunt? Nope. What makes a dog fat and lazy is too much food and not enough exercise. The same thing can happen to a dog that lives outdoors. And we are pretty certain that the house dog doing back flips by the door because we took the gun out of the safe is just as excited to go hunting as the dog living outside in a kennel. Only difference is, the house dog heard about it sooner.

In fact, there are a number of benefits to having a bird dog spend time in the house. A stronger bond forms between human and dog due to the greater amount of time spent in each other’s company. The amount of interaction between the dog and its family makes a big difference in the respect level given by the dog in the field, assuming the people involved are strong leaders. Remember, each and every interaction with a dog is training, whether you intend for it to be or not. And the interactions between an indoor dog and its family are far greater in number than those of an outdoor, kennel-only dog. A side-benefit of this is that an inside dog gets a chance to “read” his owner much more often and under varying conditions, often making it far more perceptive than his kenneled counterpart.

If you make use of those interactions, you can gain a lot of ground indoors that will benefit you in the field. Let’s look at a few examples.

Feeding time

This is a great way to position yourself as pack leader. The pack leader is in control of the resources and always gets to eat first. So, when it’s feeding time, make your dog stand and wait while you get the food ready and put the dish down. Give the dog a release cue, whatever command you choose, that allows it to have the food you have provided. The benefit in the field? A bird is, in instinctive canine terms, food. And who does the dog believe the food belongs to? The person who feeds him, of course.

Basic Manners

One instance is who goes through the door first. Always make your dog wait while you walk through a doorway. Again, this is a leadership position. Plus, it gives you a great chance to reinforce the “whoa” command. Just imagine how many times a day a dog has to wait at the door and then be released. Every one is a training exercise and can be transferred to the field.

Sleeping Arrangements

Where a dog sleeps is also a control exercise. A crate is ideal, because it gives a dog its own place, just as an outdoor dog has a doghouse and a wild dog has a den. That doesn’t mean a dog can sleep only in its crate. It can have a dog bed or two throughout the house. And if you want, it can sleep on furniture or your bed as well. If you decide to permit this, you also have to make sure the dog understands that it belongs to you. This means a dog sleeping in your easy chair or on the sofa needs to respectfully get up and move as you approach, rather than waiting for you to drag it off the chair or, even worse, you sit someplace else so you don’t wake the dog. And on the bed, the dog has only the space you have allowed and is not permitted to move over or encroach on your space. Be very consistent about this, and don’t let the dog take over. It’s a battle for leadership, and as long as you stay in charge, you’ll have the dog’s respect.

If the dog is asleep on the floor and in your way, you’ll want to make the dog move rather than stepping over or around it. Gently nudge the dog with your toe, and it will get up and move. In dog language, this is a sign of your leadership, since in a pack the rest will move to get out of the leader’s way. It may seem rude to wake the dog, but to the dog it is just good manners. They understand and accept this readily if they look up to you and respect you.

With an outdoor dog you don’t have to deal with this space stuff, right? True, you won’t be asking an outdoor dog to vacate its doghouse to make room for yourself (at least we hope not!), but you also miss out on a multitude of interactions on a daily basis that help you establish and maintain a leadership position. And even with an outdoor dog, you still have to insist that they stand still at the kennel gate, as well as move out of your space. The difference is, the indoor dog gets far more repetitions, the more repetitions there are, the more the behavior is ingrained and learned. This strengthens the bond between the two of you.

Can you have an outdoor dog and also be successful? Of course! Dogs in training facilities live in kennels for the most part and are very successful. That has more to do with the training and the trainer than the living conditions. Trainers, by virtue of the fact that they tend to have routine behaviors ingrained in themselves, tend to be consistent in their expectations and the boundaries they set. Consistency, as we’ve said so many times over the years, is the key to good training. If your bird dog lives in an outdoor kennel and receives plenty of exercise, training, and attention every day, it is likely to be as successful as its potential allows.

On the other hand, if all that happens to the outdoor dog is to be fed, watered, and cleaned up during the off-season, and then the same dog is expected to hunt for the gun when the season opens with little to no work or training in the interim, the outcome may well be less than satisfactory.

An ideal situation would be a dog that spends time in the house but is also equally comfortable being outside some of the time. Weather conditions also play a role in this, as a dog that primarily lives indoors may not be as acclimated to temperature extremes as the full time outdoor dog. This shouldn’t matter much for hunting, as severe temperatures preclude most hunting anyway. While a short-coated pointer may do well in the heat, it doesn’t have the coat or body fat for sub-zero weather and will need to be taken care of accordingly. And a thick-coated Drahthaar may find extreme heat uncomfortable but have no problem working in frigid temperatures. For both, housing to suit the dog’s needs is best.

Ultimately, the question is not about whether a bird dog can live in the house and not be ruined for hunting. The real question is whether or not the people involved are disciplined enough to be consistent and direct to shape the dog’s behavior. The only person who can answer that question is you.

Originally appeared in The Pointing Dog Journal. Written by Sharon Potter

The post Trainin’ Dogs with Rick Smith: Indoor Dog or Outdoor Dog? appeared first on Garmin Blog.

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