Clement "Cj" Walton
Our dear mentor in the art of understanding gundogs
In the beginning of February 2009 we got the sad news telling that Clement Walton from Maine, USA, had passed away. For a moment it felt like the firm ground had been jerked away from under our feet. Clement had for years been our most valued "internet-mentor" in the art of understanding gundogs and had become a dear friend, although we had never met him in real life. To those of you readers who are, or have been, a member of the "Working Gundog List" discussion group on the Internet I do not have to introduce him more precisely, I believe. You know him very well already.
In order to properly introduce him to those of you visitors who did not know of him at all, and for the sake of honouring his memory to the best of my ability, I feel I must start pretty far back in the history of the Internet. I'd say it was around the breakpoint when the Internet developed beyond the digital Bronze Age and technically moved into the digital early Iron Age.
It must have been in October - November in 1995 when we bought our first PC. One of the incentives to get a PC was probably that we wanted access to the then a rather basic Internet to discuss dogs with folks from around the world. The PC had Windows 3.1 installed as an operating system and for sure there were more windows on the screen than we could handle, at least to start with. Both of us had earlier only limited experience of MS-DOS computers at our work. However, during the next winter we managed to get connected to the net. At first we had software from CompuServe that handled mail and discussion forums only. When we wanted to search for websites the computer told us that there is no "browser" installed. At first we did not understand what a "browser" was and why it was needed and gave up the trials to reach the entire net, for the moment.
Despite of our ignorance about the new digital world, at some point in time the forum software found us a huge open discussion forum for working gundog owners. I logged into it and started to participate cautiously in a bad, untrained English. I do not remember the list name anymore, or many other details, but I will forever remember its moderator, you will soon find out why.
I guess he also owned the list in one way or another. I soon understood that the forum was divided into roughly 3 types of camps. Those who were pro e-collar training, those who were against the e-collar and those who were indifferent to what method they used as long as it gave some kind of results. I soon found myself in the conservative minority group that was against most use of the e-collar. Into this group a man who called himself "Cj", i.e. Clement Walton, also belonged. Another very strong character in the "anti-electric group", a very knowledgeable setter and pointer man from Scotland, was Derry Argue.
I believe that it was Derry, once he found out that I was on his side of the fence concerning the use of the e-collar, who encouraged me to write and discuss a lot despite of my rusty English. Pretty soon, in the heat of the discussion, I expressed my dislike of any kind of officialism and committees. I wrote, I do not remember the context, something like; "A camel is a horse that has been constructed by a committee!"
Now I got the first reply from Cj, that I would never forget. In a very patient and competent way, showing the great skills as a lecturer that his life-long experience as a researcher had given him, he explained the superior qualities, and the excellent construction features the camel was fitted with, in order to survive in the trying desert environment it was so superbly well adapted to.
I was totally taken by surprise - he had fired at me and hit me right between my eyes in a friendly way, with a paint ball. So skilful and full of confidence was his post, together with a not so small amount of subtle humour, so I did not have to reflect for very long over it before I understood that from now on I had to select my words carefully, otherwise he would make me stand out as someone who "speaks more truth than he knows", as we sometimes say in Sweden.
As I later learned, Cj was a retired researcher in biology, a lifetime hunter and birddogger, field trial judge, gundog instructor and you name it; if it had anything to do with hunting and gundogs he had most likely at least some experience of it. And he was curious about a lot of things, there was no way to write something he did not immediately understand, unless you were prepared to explain at least the core of it, if he requested a deeper explanation. Quite naturally, since one of the first questions a researcher would ask is: "Why is that!"
What followed now was this period when Cj, Derry and some other folks, including me, fought the meaningless fight against the larger pro e-collar- and the indifferent trainers group. As the moderator and list owner was a keen pro e-collar man he was rather aggressive towards us. I came to remember the moderator as kind of a Julius Cesar; "The one who is not with me is against me!" Freedom of speech and a free opinion was permitted as long as it coincided with his opinion. If it did not, then he wished us to a place were the temperature was considerably higher than the average on the earth.
Then suddenly things in our anti e-collar group went silent for some time and I wondered what on earth had happened, did the dictator-moderator kill the discussion? One day there came a private message, most likely from Derry, asking me to join a new, private forum, just created by some of the former anti e-collar group members from the other forum, and now run by a gentleman W.D.R, one of the sympathizers to the anti e-collar group. The other people invited to this group where also, like me, more moderate in their opinions about how to train a dog and by what means. Many of them were professional gundog trainers and breeders, outfitters and hunting guides, together representing a huge amount of empirically based knowledge about gundogs. On top of it all we had Cj with his mixed background of empirical and scientific experience. As a novice with only 6 - 7 years of experience of comparatively few dogs I felt very privileged to be invited to discuss dogs among the big boys. Of course I was not the only "common" gundog owner in the group but there was a lot of us novice trainers who thirsted for knowledge.
This new discussion group, consisting of tolerant people showing a good pinch of courtesy and burning with curiosity about the understanding and the training of dogs, particularly pointing birddogs, retrievers and versatiles, started with great enthusiasm. It was not before now, when there were no more a furious pit bull terrier constantly barking at us from the other side of the fence, that we could learn to know each other better. To me, coming from a different culture than the majority of the list members, this was most exciting and educating.
Cj proved not only to be a one-of-a-kind fountain of knowledge; he also had a wry type of humour that he mixed into a lot of the knowledge-based stuff he wrote. As he was not the only member of the list who was gifted with this superb sense for humour, the discussion often turned pretty entertaining. Cj could now and then mix his serious side as a biology researcher with his dry humour and make us laugh our pants of, literally. Here is one example of his humorous capability, best understood by those who thoroughly knows the basic behaviour of well-trained pointing birddogs:
WGD horrors show
This morning I witnessed a multiple canine hunt pack interaction with stress. At 0600 hrs the pack of inside dogs (two drahthaars, two pointing labs and a wirehair, all females) were dancing at the door for their morning lawn wetting exercise. I really did appreciate the urgency but at about the time I reached the door I noticed that I had nine wild turkeys on my front lawn, two were large toms and the rest were nice sleek hens... all browsing the grass for odds and ends. I hated to frighten the birds away but the dogs were ready to flood the kitchen so I just popped open the door and let the whole mob rush for the grass.
The scene was spectacular; nine turkeys froze on the lawn, as five brimming full bitches roared down the steps to land on the lawn in full squat. There was just about five seconds of shock before the turkeys started running in nine different directions, I also had five dogs starting to run in nine directions, one of the drahthaars was squatting, urinating and pointing, the youngest of the labs was in full chase, spraying the lawn as she went. The wirehair went on a stop to flush and then a dripping point, the older lab bitch pointed, peed, crept, peed, pointed and finally just broke and finished the urination at full tilt.
I'm not certain what the other drahthaar bitch was doing but I first recognized her about half way across the mud hole at about two meters altitude. The turkeys got organized and all took flight across the mud hole and on to the top of the hill. By the time the dogs all reached mud hole they were pretty well spattered with urine and they hit that foot deep clay gumbo with a resounding shock wave of grey mud and flailing frogs. A red squirrel was caught in the middle and tried to dash across the mud hole on the surface but it first splashed down and then was projected across the mud hole on the crest of the dog's shock wave. I stood there on the porch and stared at the chaos until the two young labs and the youngest drahthaar bitch roared up the steps and invited me to join in the fun... Of course I was wearing only slippers and the impact knocked me flat.
Then my wife opened the front door and stared at five incredibly cruddy dogs and a naked husband all lathered with thick grey mud. She started to say something and then noticed that a mud squirrel was perched on her bird feeder and slatting mud up against the kitchen window. She stared and then asked the logical question: "Now what the hell are you doing?" she then slammed the door and latched it. A second later the kitchen window opened an inch and we were informed that "nobody gets back in the house until they're washed with the garden hose and air dried!" The squirrel passed on the invitation. Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed.
Cj looked upon dogs in several ways. He was about the same common dog lover as probably most of us are. Then he obviously also used all available dogs, including his own, as scientific objects to study and make research on. Since he was a trained researcher he knew how to observe the dogs and their owners in a neutral, efficient way, and to analyse and draw correct conclusions from what he had observed. To many folks on the list, including me, it was pretty educating and also entertaining to learn how a scientist works and thinks. The demand to be carefully organized and have an enormous patience suggests that you cannot actually be trained to be a researcher; it is something you have to be born to do.
Cj also had a habit of being very straight and honest when presenting his knowledge to us. He offered the sometimes very unpleasant truth without any curlicues, thereby causing embarrassment to those who suddenly realised that they had handled or viewed upon their dog in a very stupid manner. More than once did I feel how I turned red in the face when I read his response to a presumptuous assertion I had made. I also understood that a few folks left the list just because they could not stand his straightforwardness. The rest of us who appreciated the raw facts about dogs that he offered so generously, of course saw upon him as an invaluable and a one-of-a-kind gateway to a different and deeper way of understanding our four-legged friends.
So what was so unique with the knowledge he offered? For example the simple heeling exercises he explained and recommended as a basic method for obedience training and to cure some problems, like unsteadiness at flush of bird, are the same that we use here in Sweden and many other parts of the world. There had not been anything unique about that, had it not been that Cj knew precisely why it is done and what it does with the dog, and he could explain it so everyone understood, without making rocket science out of it. Here his awareness of the importance of the smallest detail is demonstrated by his answer to a question from me:
Although our setters knows to walk at "heel" or "behind" of lead they apparently cant walk the way spaniels can (and I have always forgotten to ask the spaniel people how they do it) ="stay somewhere around me but not farther away than 2 meters". Even Springer seems to have a natural way of doing that but as soon as a setter gets a feet in front of you it seems to be pulled by some invisible power and soon it is 20 meters in front of you.
Anything to do about it or give up trying?
Actually the important thing about walking at heel is not about obedience, it is about the dog accepting your control (leadership). You need not be aggressive in training the heel but should be positive. The important things to understand are:
1. When your dog walks past you and its hip comes in front of your knee the dog is asking a question in dog body language. That question is: "Who is in charge today?"
2. When you allow the dog to walk ahead and remain there you are telling the dog: "You are in charge"
3. When the dog has accepted your response and takes charge of the situation by remaining in front of your knee (or by touching your leg with it's hip) the dog has no obligation to pay any attention to you in the field search.
4. When you have surrendered control to the dog by allowing it to walk past you the dog assumes that it is your job to take your hunting cues from the dog and if you try to change that afterwards the dog becomes confused and frustrated. When the dog has been ceded control by your body language it
has no obligation to pay any attention to you during the search.
5. When the dog is brought back to the heel position and the dog's shoulder is behind your knee you have answered the dog's question: "No, I am in charge today" The dog consents to this by remaining in position with it's shoulder behind your knee while you are walking. Thereafter the dog will take its search cues from your movements and will pay attention to you... you do not have to pay attention to what the dog does because you have demonstrated with your body language that you are in charge.
6. A spirited dog will regularly ask the question: "Who is in charge?" by stepping ahead of you from the heel position. If you tug the dog back into the proper heeling position and it stays there you are in charge for the day and the dog has accepted your leadership. (That means that the dog defers to you)
7. Walking at heel thus straightens out the hierarchical relationship between you and the dog and does so in canid body language. If the dog will not walk at heel it refuses to accept your pack leadership. This is all very simple and straightforward and this is exactly why walking at heel
properly and without conflict is the most important lead exercise that can be performed with any hunting dog.
Cj also had an overall view of the relation between dogs and humans that few of us have even been close to. Again his ability to build a whole out of the details and to see the details in the whole made his discussion and advice so interesting and different. He was often critical to not only individual dog behaviourists but also to different field trial and breed organisations due to their one eyed and often homemade view on dogs, their behaviour and their training. He had the courage to openly criticise them although I have un-identified them here.
I have often discussed the differences between cooperative, and uncooperative dogs since cooperation is a common, and not well understood, concept among versatile dog groups. The closest that XXXX and NNN activists have come to defining it is that obedience is what you demand of
the dog and cooperation is what the dog freely gives to you. In a sense that is a correct definition, cooperation, like deference, is given by the dog but cannot be created by the dog owner's demand for it.
You can demand obedience through dominance techniques but you have to earn cooperation
through a very different approach. Most versatile hunting dogs that I encounter are innately cooperative although a few lines of inherently uncooperative dogs are actively maintained among the various versatile breeds. Cooperation for the dog is a very simple matter, when the dog accepts you as a pack member it will be cooperative and that means that all of the innate cooperative hunting behaviours are released. When you use dominant training methods and have an attitude of dominance and control of the dog you tend to eliminate or override cooperation, in this respect adult
dogs and human children are no different.
It is probably going to be difficult to explain exactly what pack cooperation that is innate in versatile hunting dogs means in terms of training the dog... in most successful pairings the cooperation "just happens" without overt action by the dog's owner. The skilled and successful trainer will let the dog
develop it's own cooperative relationship with him or her, the dominance trainer will develop an obedience relationship without cooperation although many of our dogs are forgiving enough to cooperate with their handlers despite the trainer's approach to training.
Most trainers who have a functional deference relationship with their dog just let it happen and these individuals are easily identified in retrospect. When a dog starts to get really good only after the handler stops training, the trainer's attitude towards the dog has been totally incorrect and the training methods were completely wrong. This was my particular road to enlightenment, I was never able to train a really good dog until I finally gave up and stopped training a wirehair bitch I had. As soon as I stopped trying to train the dog she blossomed and the dog's amazing progress in bird finding, steadiness and bird handling started me thinking about why training by the book assured mediocrity.
All professional trainers pay lip service to training and work, they're all business and there's no time for play. Dogs, however, have no ability to comprehend a difference between play and work. All skills are developed through play behaviours. Play isn't simply fun, it's the innate method whereby dogs and many other carnivores learn to survive. You can play train an amazingly proficient bird dog, you cannot achieve that level of responsive interaction with dominance based training. To a dog learning is play and play is learning... that's the way they evolved and we can't change that. In reality all play and no work makes a good bird dog. [I know that this idea is anathema to many retriever trainers but the best retrievers I have ever encountered were playful and the all-business dogs were just
average at best]
While their behaviours are complex dogs are truly simple souls. Most complex but successful systems are built on some rather simple rules. We started to realize this when we started manipulating games theory to see how life would be if organism X tried a different game strategy. Take for example the ergonomically and neurologically complex physiological interactions involved in balancing a tall object on your fingertip. A computer program to simulate this behaviour could be enormously complex but the procedure itself operates with two very simple rules: 1. When the object tilts you move your finger in the direction of the tilt. 2. The faster it tilts the faster you move it. These two very simple responses are the basis for all balancing displays and they are very successful in stabilizing any precariously placed object.
Hunting with the dog is exactly the same, it's an enormously complex interaction that operates on two very simple rules: 1.Don't interfere.... (Shut your mouth) 2. Follow the dog and pay attention ...(learn from the dog, don't try to teach it). These two operations, if used faithfully, will produce more fine bird dogs than any other training system. It is worthwhile for us to discuss the complexities of behaviour to understand them, but to use these behaviours only a very few simple precepts are required. Our immediate problem is to understand the complex behaviours so that we can accept the validity of the very simple rules of the game. This is largely because we are a technologically advanced society; training is a lot easier with faith than it is with knowledge... but can we transform our knowledge into faith? Permit me to doubt...
Now, please permit me to speculate some. During the all the years I had a feeling that there was something that Cj knew or felt, that he did not really want to disclose to us. In a few messages like this one from 2002 he gave us a clue - but how many of us did combine it to the training advice he gave? What did he hide from us? I felt that he excluded something but not before now, as I am writing his memoriam, have I started to catch a glimpse of what he might have thought of.
He always mentioned "cooperation" and "cooperative dogs". He deeply disliked total control of dogs when hunting, that means that they are not allowed to work by their own initiative and by their own skills, skills and ability to hunt that he knew are superior to human. He kind of separated obedience from hunting. He demanded the dog to be unconditionally obedient in certain situations, particularly when the dog's safety was at stake, but he did not want to use the obedience as a mean to a total control of the dog, but advocated the handler to "shut up and follow the dog" in most situations on the field.
I have to mention again; this is only speculation from my side and I cannot be sure of anything. Still I am more or less convinced that he had one, for him a very important issue in mind. It is something that has not been scientifically proved yet, since no one has ever made any research on it. He was sure that man and dog had selectively been evolved together, to form a unique bond between man and a certain species of animal, the dog. However, being a scientist he was by profession prevented to use any hypothesis that had not been properly proved to be true. My guess is therefore that he would have liked a lot to be able to openly say something like: "We have evolved together with our dogs for at least 35000 years. We have developed a unique understanding of, and cooperation with each other. Do not let our modern technical thinking hamper the genetic prerequisite we and our dogs have for a natural cooperation"
WGD 07/09 2002
Recent theoretical work on the dynamics of small groups suggest that interactions in terms of degrees of distance between components are much higher in irregular groups than in structured groups. This is one case in which games theory is clearly of predictive value in evolutionary biology. The mathematics of small group dynamics suggest that an irregular social arrangement responds to change (either internal or external) much faster than a structured pack hierarchy; e.g. a human/canine pack mixture with stronger bonds between humans and dogs than between dogs and dogs is much more adaptable and durable that a single species pack.
I suspect that this is an ecological advantage that promoted the rapid evolution of dog/human packs and that dog/human packs are more stable and adaptable than all dog packs. The evolutionary advantage is perhaps significant and reciprocal since small dog/human packs appear to be more beneficial to humans (in terms of stress and longevity) than small packs composed entirely of humans. I think that the behavioural evidence for the co evolution of dogs and humans is very strong and worthy of study as a unique evolutionary phenomenon. This is one aspect of evolutionary biology that has been seriously neglected by ethologists.
Was his hypothesis about the selective co-evolution between man and dog the main reason why he looked upon the missile like performance of the modern type of birddogs, guided by electronics and other gadgets, with a certain amount of scepticism? It was pretty obvious that he preferred a silent co-operation and mutual understanding between dog and man, as much as he disliked any attempt to "communicate" with the dog by artificial means?
A charming fellow showed up at the hunting camp this year with his English pointers. He brought a stack of bird dog trialing magazines for our edification (the ones where the winners are pictured holding their dog's tail up in the air). The pointers were nice dogs although we didn't understand why he arose before dawn each morning to run his dogs for a half hour before we went hunting. He was impressed with our dogs, they found a lot of birds, but they had a pretty "close" search that wasn't up to his standards. When he took his nice 4-year-old bitch out of the travel crate she was impressive, packaged dynamite...
There were four collar changes required to hunt the dog in New Brunswick bird covers. First the dog was held tight while the regular leather collar was removed. Then the dog was fitted with a beeper collar that had more programmed sound sequences than my laptop. Above the beeper collar was mounted a 1 mile range TriTronics super collar with short whip antenna. Above that was mounted another wide nylon collar bearing a bell. The dog was now equipped to communicate with the owner. The hunter then strapped on his multi-function e-collar transmitter in a very elaborate shoulder holster... he was not equipped to communicate with the dog. The bitch only weighed 40 pounds (50 pounds with collars installed) and was unable to turn her head very well but that didn't matter to her, she was only going one way.
We picked a very large bird cover for this dog and she was launched without ceremony (and launched was the appropriate word). I turned up the power on my hearing aids and listened carefully as the bell sounds dwindled to silence. The dog's owner was really good, he announced that she had a bird and started off in the direction of the beeper. We worked through the brush for about 500 meters and came on the dog locked into a beautiful three-point stance. Very impressive... the owner asked what we thought of the dog... that flushed the grouse... we missed.
The dog was launched again and she bored straight uphill and was out of sound range in less than a minute. She didn't come back after three or four minutes so we assumed she had another bird. We couldn't locate the beeper until we had laboured to the top of the hill (lots of sharp wild raspberries encountered on the way). She was down the other side of the hill at the edge of the swamp. And she had a woodcock pinned. We took no chances and spread out and positioned ourselves before the bird flushed. Success... we all hit the bird... two 12 gauge and one 28 gauge does a number on a small bird. No problem with the retrieving, there was no need. We collected a woodcock wing for lead and pesticide analysis and then relaunched her.
She found another grouse, about 700 meters from the first bird, and one of the crew managed to drop the bird with one shot. Then back to the truck. The dog was just getting warmed up and the next cover, a four or five acre grouse "hole" wasn't a problem, she blew through it in about eight seconds... we hadn't loaded the shotguns yet. There were apparently no birds in the next cover... about 800 acres of alders. It was lunchtime and the dog was just getting into gear... we were exhausted.
The next morning we ran his 10-month-old male... a western (big going) dog from Oklahoma the owner said. This male was larger and the three collars didn't bother him a bit. I didn't get to shoot over the dog, couldn't get to him in time. But one of my hunting companions (a marathon runner by avocation) managed to get three woodcock and a grouse over the dog. The dog's owner missed these birds... he's a high school gym teacher and in good condition but he was hampered by the transmitter holster and the sweat fogging his glasses. The pointers were lovely animals and did a beautiful job but it's an athlete's game. A two hundred meter Drahthaar is about all that I can handle. I forgot my camera and was sorry that I didn't get any pictures of the small three collar pointer in full battle dress... maybe next year.
In his last mail, in the late autumn 2008, to the working-gundog-list he again expressed his great interest in the possibility of an innate and mutual understanding between dog and man. I think it is reasonable to believe that he would have loved to dive into an arduous research work to find out about the very interesting subject. However, in the last sentence he wrote for us it seems like he gave us a clue that his time was limited and that he would soon face the final curtain.
There are many interactions between people and dogs that I don't understand. How does a dog 'know' that we are in a good mood or when we are happy? I'm well aware of a number of cues that signal to a dog that a human is upset or angry but I've missed some (but not all) of the signals signifying happiness to dogs. I have studied many instances of canine misinterpretation of human behaviours since they shed light on how dogs come to correctly understand human body language and auditory signals. Some of this is training related learning (not training itself) but much is simply absorbed from social contact but precisely how is speculative at best. I am certain that much of what dogs "understand" about human behaviour isn't learned but is quite probably innate, I am equally certain that some of what humans "understand" about dogs is also innate but it's enormously difficult to separate innate stuff from learned stuff. Correlating age-distributed behaviours of dogs with age distributed behaviours of humans takes a lot of time and plenty of notebooks to document. I don't think I have enough time to come to any solid overall conclusions in this area.
Now Clement has left us and there is no way for Maud and me and the other list members to express our sorrow in words. To Maud and me he was kind of a father who tried to guide us in the right direction with our dogs. Sometimes he went more scientific than we with our level of education could handle and a few times there were different opinions that I strongly believe derived from the different lineage of dogs, with perhaps very different inclination for cooperation with man, we had with our dogs from both sides of the Atlantic ocean. He was a good man to argue with. Indeed, he taught me how to argue in a sensible way and to abstain from doing so if I had nothing sensible to say. Whatever, the knowledge he gave us about understanding dogs is invaluable and we shall preserve it just as dearly as the memory of him.
Thank you Clement and happy hunting to you and your dogs! Maud & Torsti
His son James:
Yes, I think you are correct that he took far more with him than he left for us, but he did leave us with what we really need to succeed with our dogs - the insight to stop and think about what your dog is telling you. I also know he strongly felt
that too many of us sportsmen forget to have fun with our dogs while hunting and forget to relax and work as a team.
Just a few last regards from the other list members:
Waidmannsdank CJ, for sharing your unique insights with us all. /Craig
I WILL miss him - he challenged and led me to discover so much knowledge about dogs!
RIP my friend. May there always be good dogs and enough hard flying grouse where
ever you go from here. /Jere
He was a fountain of knowledge, had a wry sense of humour and above all a real love for his hunting, fishing and gundogs. The last chapter of an enthralling book has come to an end. What are we going to read now? /Marg
How very sad. Cj was one of the original participants of this list. He always had interesting posts, which made you "think" about the process. We will miss you Cj. /Tc
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