DEAR OLD TRAINER: We live in the country with several acres and a spring fed pond. Sadie, our Lab/Poodle mix, has suddenly started spending all her time at the pond hunting. She’ll come when called, but goes right back to the pond. Every day she brings us frogs, mice, moles, whatever she can find. For the first five years we had her, she stayed with us but now it’s hunting all day. What should we do?
Gina, Auburn, Calif.
A: Pet her and brag on her. She does it to please you. It took a while for Sadie’s DNA to kick in but she has retriever genes on both sides of her family tree and feels — to paraphrase Tom Cruise in Top Gun — the need to retrieve. She satisfies the need by bringing home delicious frog and mouse appetizers.
Retrievers have the desire to bring dinner home to the pack more than other breeds but all dogs feel the urge. Their genetic code remembers when survival of the pack depended on bringing food back to the den for their babies and they like to please the leader by bringing home treats.
Dixie, my Golden/Heeler mix, specializes in terrapins. She comes running up with one, drops it and takes off to find another one. Some days she’ll find three or four on our walk. She doesn’t care that I just turn them loose. She does her duty by finding them. What happens after that is not her job.
Sugarbear, my Samoyed, deals in ground squirrels. She’s so proud of herself when she brings me one she wiggles all over. She sleeps outside and I’ve gotten used to opening the door in the morning to get the paper and seeing a ground squirrel she placed there for my breakfast.
Rufus, my big male German Shepherd has the urge but is unclear on the concept. He brings me desiccated remains of squirrels so raggedy it’s hard to even tell what they are. I brag on him just like I do the others and tell him he just saved the pack by providing stew meat.
All dogs feel the urge to satisfy their genetic predisposition. My Border Collies try to herd kids, birds, people, cats, me, and, if there’s nothing else around, spend the day herding each other.
If you don’t mind Sadie turning into a hunter just pet her and tell her good girl when she brings her treasure home.
If you want to attempt to break her hunting compulsion call her back the instant she heads for the pond and make her sit. Try to satisfy her desire to do something for you by throwing balls or sticks for her to retrieve. Don’t forget to throw a few into the pond. The DNA in her genes craves swimming, so retrieving something from the water is far more satisfying than doing it in the grass.
Just remember it’s difficult to keep a dog from doing what her genetic code compels her to do. You can sometimes channel her desire by devising a substitute activity to satisfy the need but it takes patience and time and training.
I prefer to let my dogs do what their DNA tells them to do, then throw away those tasty snacks they bring me. That way we’re all happy and content.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.