The vet check-ups, the settling of your pup in his new home and your grandiose plans of training–with a new pup, you’re taking on a nine- to 12-year commitment (or more) to health care, nutritional needs, socialization, exercise, training and overall nurturing for your new buddy and hunting partner.
There is no "off season" in these considerations. We’re talking a year-round, long-term commitment.
Sorry if it sounds like I’m coming at this on the strong side, but I’ve seen too many great prospects left standing in the kennel or turned in for adoption. Most of these cases could have been avoided, but let’s look at this from a positive angle.
You got this pup because you enjoy the outdoors and hunting, and I guarantee if you approach it from that perspective, you’ll not see caring for your new hunting partner as work. I’m also sure you’ll realize that the benefits of a healthy, well-trained hunting partner yield rewards beyond belief.
Let’s begin with a hodgepodge of puppy-related topics and suggestions that will help lay a solid foundation for your pup and the plans you have for him.
OFF TO A GOOD START
Proper socialization boils down to using your head when introducing your pup to new stuff.
Just home from the breeder, your pup is likely a little homesick and obviously doesn’t understand our vocabulary, so go easy in the beginning.
Give him time to take in the sights, smells and sounds of his new surroundings. These early experiences set up the process of socialization, eventually progressing through all aspects and levels–from the home or kennel to the backyard, people, other dogs and travel kennels.
There are also the pre-hunting considerations, like introduction to fields, water, birds, gunfire, boats and so forth. Each is critical to the development of a solid, self-confident and productive hunting partner, and this is all dependent on the groundwork you begin during your pup’s first few weeks in his new home.
If you plan to keep your dog in the house, crate training is your No. 1 objective, and it is important to teach your pup the crate is his safe place. Crate training goes hand in hand with house training and the general learning of good behavior.
When you begin crate training, pick a time after play/exercise when your pup has had time to eliminate and might be ready for a nap. I suggest you place the kennel in the laundry room or another room off the beaten path with fewer distractions.
At first you can expect the pup to fuss a little, but don’t fall victim to his whining. Just go about your business; letting him win here puts the pup in control. Left alone, your pup will soon be fast asleep and begin to understand this "cave" is his safe and comfortable place.
Potty training also goes hand in hand with crate training. The first thing you do upon letting the pup out of his crate is take him to a certain spot in the yard to eliminate.
Other key times for trips to the backyard are shortly after feeding, or when you see the pup posturing as some indication of his intent.
Most pups soon associate the act with the designated spot in the yard and begin to let you know when they need to go out. The more regimented and attentive you are, the sooner this association happens, while unnoticed accidents tend to take the process in the wrong direction.
THOUGHTS ON TRAINING
Dogs are pack animals that expect and respect a leader in their social order. It is important you establish yourself as that leader who sets up clear rules and expectations of behavior. By doing this, you help your pup understand his place, and this establishes a positive attentiveness. The pup’s frame of mind will be calm, self-controlled and in learning mode.
A few simple rules at the get-go make training easier down the road. As you begin, be firm but gentle until the pup begins to understand the parameters of what you are trying to communicate. Punishing him would only cause confusion.
Be consistent, include all family members in the overall plan and be sure they know command sounds and what is expected at each stage of progress. Encourage family members to give a command only once and to follow through with each.
We should reward a pup for the correct response or behavior with praise, but don’t overdo it. Too much praise can overwhelm and wash out what was learned. Rather, it is often best to repeat the command right away, giving your pup the opportunity to perform correctly again. The correct response followed by a little more praise to reinforce this response results in a stronger understanding or "fix" in the learning process.
This is true in all training and is especially important with younger pups. Appropriate praise with the correct response, and subtle pressure with no response or an incorrect response–it is through these consistent parameters that our pups begin to react correctly and dependably. Remember, too much pressure or too much praise both work against you.
It doesn’t matter if you’re training for the next national champion, a hunting partner or simply a good citizen house pet; the fundamentals are the same and are the key to your success.
Begin by overlaying the pup’s chosen call name as a cue to gain his attention, and get him to come to you when called by means of a "come" command. Treat training is an acceptable way to get these steps of training underway in a hurry. Get the pup’s attention, show the treat and begin to overlay the name as he starts to you, then give him the small treat a
nd a little praise on arrival.
In later sessions after the pup is heading your way, you can start to associate "come" as a sound cue to establish it as a command. Only later, once the pup understands "come" as a command, can you apply any sort of pressure when he doesn’t respond correctly.
Any time you plan on giving a command or advancing the understanding of a command, I recommend you first make sure you are in control. In this case, a long lead is your best option, so if your pup decides to play "catch me if you can," you’re able to reel him in for an assisted correct response, plus a little praise for getting it right.
STICK WITH IT
My intentions in this article are only to point out the importance of correct socialization and the fundamentals of training to get you started. Nothing I’ve said here is rocket science, but rather, all common-sense concepts. So if you’re good with the basics, you can find plenty of detail in the great books or videos listed on the Bookshelf or DVD pages in this magazine.
Other great sources for help in the basics are the local dog clubs or classes offered in your area. Above all, stick with your program. The rewards that a solid training effort with a great prospect can bring you over the years are almost unimaginable.
Best of luck with your pup!