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Elkhound Training & Communicating With Your Elkhound

GÆDA and Takoda - Female and Male Elkhound Pair - Demonstrates Communication and Feedback With Handler Merv Carlson of Kamia Kennels

"Loose leash training - do the training in a smaller area - the Elkhound wants to learn"

As I have said in the other training section, I am not really a dog trainer as such, but if you have a smart dog, or dogs, then it's pretty easy to get them to do things you want, which is in a way, dog training.

GÆDA and Takoda are shown here, I am trying to illustrate a loose leash working session. Just so you know, Takoda wasn't scheduled for this photo shoot, he just showed up, but GÆDA she is happy to work around him anyway. She is a great girl, she wants to watch and please, you'll see her throughout this video watching me, she pays attention.

Now, in my opinion, and please, accept this only as my opinion, I think leash work should be done in a confined, or smaller area, and when the leash comes out, it's work time. I will clarify my thoughts on this. I don't have collars on my dogs, I don't leave the harness on, when I am going to work with the dogs, the harness comes out and the leash. The dogs know, once they see the harness, it's work time. They immediately know, hey time to wise up.

In my opinion, many people start a pup with a collar and hook on a leash and begin walking - like immediately. No leash training, no leash work, just start walking. Personally I think this sets the pup up to associate the leash with walking, or going somewhere, not actually "working".

So, I think the first thing to having a dog respect the leash, the collar, or the harness, is first have the "work".

In the first segment you will see that you don't need a big area to do leash work. Just a small area works fine. We are not walking, we are not stretching out, exercising, anything of that nature right now, we are doing leash work. Ideally when on a leash your dog should be paying pretty close attention to what your doing, so that they know what they should be doing. Now, I am not suggesting that this video shows any real training, this actually shows a couple dogs pretty much trained, so it doesn't actually look like any training is going on, however, leash training a pup, well it's exactly the same.

Only difference is, you would be giving a slight tug perhaps, and a ton more praise. With a pup, the minute they step forward when you do, they get a praise, when they turn when you do, they get praise, when they stop and so on, praise for correct behavior immediately. Now it's much easier for the pup to learn if you do the same thing over and over each day. Pretty soon the pup will be turning and following and stopping just like GÆDA. I don't do anything really different with a pup than I would with an older dog on leash training.

Short leash or long leash, pretty much the same idea

Don't get caught up with having your dog right exactly next to you, you may want to use a long lead sometime in the hills or brush, let them learn to stay close but have some room

I will try to illustrate with Takoda some loose long lead work. Takoda is pretty much a pro when it comes to long or short lead, although he prefers no lead of course, but he likes to communicate, so working with him is easy. Takoda takes his cues from me with virtually no hesitation ever, he is always watching me and keeping things in order.

Now I like to use a long lead with a pup as the pup can go from side to side, front to back, have some room, and basically I don't move. I let them go all around, pull and tug, fight the lead, do whatever they like. Then I will just walk forward a ways and stop, I let them come and move all around again. I continue this routine for days.

Once I have them moving in the same direction as me at the same time, using a come, or by me command, and perhaps a slight tug, then it's big praise. Big fun time. Eventually they will be turning when you turn, as they keep running into the end of the lead. Pretty soon they will be watching you and turning before hitting the end. They still won't be by your side, but they won't be running out of lead.

This is progress at that point. Now, it's repetition with pups. Over and over, the leash work is pretty much always the same, big fun time when they get it right. Don't go doing a whole bunch of different routines, just do the same routine each day. Once you have done some "work", then of course you can go for your walk. Always though, make sure the pup knows the work is first and for sure, the walk is after and maybe.

Regarding Pups: you may need to run around and play with the pup first, play some tug of war with a rope toy, or some play fighting, some times they have a ton of energy and can't think straight to work, so just some burning around does make a difference, then bring out the leash and do some work, then go for a nice walk.

Possibly one of the great things of doing leash work - is the dog knows how to "work around you" when you take him off leash

I think the benefit of leash work pays the most dividends when you take the leash off

In this next segment I am out hiking in early March 2012 with Takoda. Now, there is no leash in this video, nor for that matter the remaining video's, what your going to see though is a dog that will immediately turn and return to me upon a command.

When your doing leash work you really are setting the dog up to work with you in any situation, leash or no leash, as the leash work gets them used to first off "working" and second to knowing how to "stick around". There will be times just like this situation, we had seen some Big Horn Sheep not too far back on our hike and some Mountain Goats, I did not want him to put them on the run, so I was keeping him close by.

This is a remote area, no one anywhere near us, we are the only people who hike up in the back country in the middle of the winter, however where we were hiking was the lower ranges, this is where the Sheep and Goats come down to, and this particular area we picked as it was somewhat easy to get around, the snow wasn't too bad at all, in places almost scarce.

So, Takoda runs no lead pretty much all the time here, but his role is to scout, and he knows, if given a signal to return, it's Return and big time, no foolin, this comes from leash work, setting him up for paying attention.

Takoda demonstrates his range and scouting techniques - Off leash

So how many times have we heard of a dog on a leash, slipping the collar off and running away, or the owner finally takes the step to take the leash off, and the dog runs away. Happens all the time. There are countless stories of dogs going a stray. It wasn't that long ago this fall in fact, a couple drive up the back road, they approach my gate, I am out there. I ask if I can assist them, of course while Takoda offers a nice view of his pearly whites, but go figure, they lost a dog.

They were from a different town, came down and were doing a last camp out, and you guessed it, the dog got loose and took off.

Doing leash work is very very valuable to prevent this. Just hooking up a leash and walking a dog, well in my mind, that set's the dog up for a different expectation, a different learning experience. I think the leash work should be setting him up to be off leash. It should be conditioning the pup to learn to "work" around you, stick around basically.

Elkhounds are pretty energetic, they need to burn off some steam no doubt, and a young Elkhound can be a long ways off in a hurry, no foolin. Personally, I would be pretty confident in a confined area that I had the dog under a learned behaviour to stick around and "work" with me before I ever took a chance off leash.

That leads me to a collar versus halter. For the most part, a dog can slip a collar a whole lot easier than the harness/halter. I don't use collars for primarily that reason, however I don't much like to antagonize the dog, which is exactly what I think the collar does. Besides, you might want your Elkhound to give you a pull sometime, well, pretty much impossible without a harness. In some of the regions I take Takoda, I have him give me a pull up sometimes, it's heavy snow, it's steep, he don't mind, so for me, the harness is all the deal.

This video is really just a good video of Takoda ranging around and scouting the area, not really a leash video at all

This video I took on March 3rd, 2012 same as the one directly above, Takoda and I are out in the Rockies west of Nordegg, we had hiked up to a remote logging area we like to go to. It was a great day, the snow wasn't too bad for me down in the lower areas, but right near the top it got a bit much.

The role Takoda plays doesn't change with the season, he does the same thing in winter as in summer, as fall and spring, he ranges around and checks things out for me. He always knows where I am and he always checks in, and then resumes his work, he is tireless in the bush, he performs his role all the time.

What is neat about hiking in the winter is that you can see way further, no leaves, so we actually get to see him range, in the summer we just know he is.

An Elkhound that is well set up as a pup to "work", especially Takoda's lineage, they communicate and range, they always check in. This is a great dog for this type of environment. Personally, I don't much care to get jumped by a cougar, I would just as soon he test the waters with Takoda. The ole cougar would be having his hands full with that bad boy, Takoda he is no slouch, he gets a death grip on that ole mountain cat, he won't be letting go anytime soon.

Your watching an Elkhound do exactly what he has been doing for centuries, traveling through remote regions with his handler. They are a protection dog, hunting dog, but first and foremost, they are a companion dog. This is one of the most loyal dogs of any breed, a one owner dog. Once they bond with you, they will be with you for life, and they would gladly give their life to protect yours. That is what they live to do, watch out for you.

The Elkhound is made for this type of Country - we live in a great region of Canada, lot's of room to hike and roam

This video was just a great video I had a chance to shoot last fall. I was out with Mia, Takoda, and Tora last August, pretty much at the end of the summer and it was a terrific day. We hiked way up to this remote logging clear cut area, right up to the old forest. No one had been in that forest ever. We were probably the only people outside the couple loggers who ever were there, it was pretty neat.

I could see for miles up there, the dogs they were having a break so I took out the camera and did a nice panorama shot. This is bear country, make no mistake, I don't take traveling up here for granted. I keep an eye on my guys, they would let me know in a hurry if something dangerous was around, and with all three, whatever it was pretty much it would be an onslaught of fangs coming at them. These three are pack fighters, if one is going to get a new scar, they all are is what they figure.

Elkhounds are not one dog fight while two bark - it's one for all and all for one with Elkhounds. Elkhounds are a very strong pack oriented breed, and Elkhounds are fearless, they engage.

There is no better dog for this region, Takoda, he comes from the old bear hunting lineage, mean as can be if provoked, Tora, she is a big girl and Mia, well she can handle them both so a pretty capable crew to hike with. About the only thing they would have trouble with is a Big Timberwolf, or a Grizzly.

Takoda and I had a great day in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta Canada.

Takoda he was around this outcrop for a long time, not sure what scent was on it, but he was all around this thing. I couldn't see any tracks that were recent, but he sure thought something was interesting that is for sure.

Dogs disappear in about 15 yards

The one thing that I mentioned above about winter hiking is that you can actually see the dog a lot more on the hike and during the hike. In the summer in the remote regions for the most part I am hiking alone, they check in, but I really have no visual idea of where they are, I can't see them in about 20 yards, they are pretty much out of sight, heck I can barely see Mia right in front of me. This photo shows all three, and Mia is still sitting, but the other two are heading out ranging again.

So, having some confidence in your early training for them to return and check in, and stay close is a pretty big deal, as for the most part I haven't got a clue where they are, they sure don't make a sound in the bush. Now of course if I want them in, I can call, and in short order all three show up, but I rarely call if ever, and I simply find a high point, and wait, they find me.

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Elkhounds have all checked in

The terrain these guys like the best is this type, they love this stuff. It's up, it's down, around trees, over deadfalls, this is some pretty cool area. This is why the Elkhound barks a melodious bark when they bay a Moose, so you can find them. You would never know where they were unless they continued to bark, as they will be moving somewhat, even though they have a Moose, so the bark allows you to find them, of course you should know which way the wind is blowing and come in with the wind in your face if possible when approaching to hunt, although we don't hunt with our Elkhounds.

But, as you can see from this photo, you wouldn't have a clue where they were, and you also wouldn't have a clue where a mother bear was with her cubs, so Elkhounds are crucial to a lot of things, and the ideal dog for this type of terrain. Elkhounds instinctively know what to do out here, I don't have to train them, I simply have them like me, and they look after me, that is about the size of the training for here.

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Elkhounds work no matter the season

The winter hikes are exciting for me, I like to watch the movement, the ranging, how the dogs work. I can't really see it well in the summer, so the winter hikes are perfect. Takoda, or any of the Elkhounds, once we hit the bush, it's work time, any season. They have a job in their mind to do, so it's neat for me as I can find a higher location and basically watch. Takoda will range all around me, constantly checking, looking and making sure he knows where I am and just keeps doing this. We can be out for 7 hours right almost till dark, same thing is going on the entire time.

Zoom lens are terrific, I can be quite a ways away, and still see him, he is signalling me from ridiculous distances sometimes, he thinks I can see as good as he can, however without the zoom I would never know he is dropping his ears when he spots me, but with the zoom I get to witness his incredible communication. It's sometimes uncanny how he knows where I am. In this photo he is scouting around a ravine we are crossing.

Elkhounds know where you are - Winter 2012

The photo I took with the zoom lens, I had climbed out of the ravine, found a bit of a perch to look around and I was able to find Takoda, now I am not 100% sure how he knew where I was at that moment, but when I zoomed in he was looking right at me, pretty neat. Now, in the summer he would have been doing the same exact thing, however I would not have been able to see him, so winter hikes well, they are pretty fascinating to watch your dog at work, as well as get some intense workout at the same time, no doubt.

Elkhounds training on leash - Summer 2010

The fact that I have some dogs trained such as Mia, and or Takoda excellent on the leash makes training the next one that much easier. Here I have young Tora on leash with Takoda on the back country, not extreme area, I needed to be able to still walk with leashes with two dogs, so we were in clearings mostly, but she is getting the idea. After a few trips and more at home and smaller forays with the leash and off leash, she can then move up to coming out here with the big dogs off leash. We normally wouldn't let a pup off leash out here before say six months, then we would be confident it would hang around.

I have no desire to go trying to find a pup in this stuff if they were to go exploring, they could be a long ways from me in short order. Working on the leash and getting the pup to know how to work around you is crucial to free ranging and knowing that they will always return and not get sidetracked.

Takoda and Tora bring Jaegar back to "check in" - Summer 2011

Ashten and I took Jaegar out for some range work with Takoda and Tora, much the same as Takoda trained Tora, Tora and Takoda trained Jaegar. Ashten has Jaegar with her, in this image he is around 6 months old, he is good on recall, she has him great on a leash and he does some free range. So out here basically he is able to just go with the big dogs and they, for some instinctive reason, they keep him close. They all come back within a minute of each other. I have found us a higher spot, kind of a ledge of sorts, and sure enough, in short order here all three come. So, it's big fun time right.

The key when they return is big fun time, let the young guy know, this is exactly what is supposed to happen.

A young Takoda and Mia doing some initial free range work

It seems like a long time ago that Takoda was smaller than Mia, here he is learning from Mia some range work. He is about 4 to 5 months old here, he was basically intent on staying "by me" from day one I so never had to worry too much about him burning off. He really is great that way, I didn't have to do much in the way of off leash work as such as he was pretty much off leash all the time anyway. Mia was always good, she stuck around and was a great influence to him.

Again though for me, having Mia who we trained from day one basically helps pass that knowledge down. We really only have to teach one dog complete, they assist with all the others. I am not doing the initial work in any real remote location though till I am pretty confident Takoda will stick around.

Takoda as a pup with Mia

This doesn't have much to do with leash training at all, but I was going through a couple old photos and saw this, I thought it would be fun to put up, here is Mia, passing down the knowledge to Takoda, hey, stick around , well don't worry, he has really not left her side since day one.

All begins here - Mia was such an instinctive dog, so intelligent, she stuck around from day one on her own

It would be wrong to say I had any real influence on Mia and her wanting to stick around, she was one of those dogs that right from day one, she "stuck around". I have never had to worry about her going anywhere. I walked the perimeter of our property with her as a pup for a few weeks, and pretty much from that point on she would go to the edge, and no further.

She is independent, stubborn, but make no mistake, she is loyal and she knows how to be "by me". This made everything easy for me with the other dogs, as Mia had huge influence on all of them. Mia is a stable dog mentally, she is calm, she is dominant, she is fearless, all these qualities have passed from her to her pups, and through Tora to her pups. This makes training this entire lineage nice, combine that with Takoda's communication skills and you have some pretty easy going.