A few weeks ago my family and I attended the Renaissance Fair and had the pleasure of watching two of the falconry shows by a non profit organization. They had a red tailed hawk, a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a Lanner Falcon, a Vulture, and 3 Harris Hawks. Falconry like dog training is an art that requires hours of training, devotion, finesse, skill and most importantly positive training. As the falconer stated “we will never force the birds to do something we do not want them too all of our training involves positive reinforcement. This became evident during the shows. For the first show they showed us their latest edition, a red tailed hawk. He was still connected to a line because he had not yet been trained not to leave. However, he still chose when and where he wanted to fly for the treats. Next up was the owl and during the first show the owl screeched at them and refused to exit the kennel. Later in the day when we returned he had decided to entertain and flew over our heads for lots of treats. During the first show they also experimented by allowing all 3 Harris Hawks out and it was hilarious towards the end when they wanted them to go back to their house the birds were flying everywhere but in their house, the falconers were well trained providing treats every step of the way. All ended well with all birds accounted for and happily treated.
After the shows I could not help but think how this all related to dog training except that our dogs can’t fly away, but they can run! Dogs like these birds are very intelligent and they base their decisions on what works. If I go back into the kennel the treats stop. If I Iand on that perch I get a treat. If I fly up into the tree the audience laughs (okay may be pushing it a bit on that one) but you get the point. If the falconers did not use positive reinforcement they would never be able to get these bird to do anything. That is the same with our dogs. Bonds and trust are key to dog training and if you don’t build that through positive reinforcement your will not be able to count on your dog when you need them to listen to you. Also, sometimes dogs just don’t listen because they are dogs. For example in the outtakes on the movie “Against the Wild” the husky makes a mad dash through the woods and the trainers are seen chasing him. My well trained dog Yukon became a two legged walking dog when we met up with the volunteer crews on the Vivian Creek Trail and they were sawing a tree and throwing the debris down the side of the mountain. He thought they were critters and he was going to get them no matter what his silly owner said or requested. In both of these cases dogs were being dogs. Just like the birds were being birds. Especially when the vulture steals peoples food during the show who do not put it away.
I think that dog trainers and owners could learn a lot from falconers. Mainly I think we could learn that our dogs make mistakes, they do what works, and we have to be patient and build a strong bond with them and understand each dog like each bird is different.