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The Best Way to Train a Puppy

Young gun dogs are primed to learn if you know how to teach them.

The Best Way to Train a Puppy

It’s easy to believe that young puppies aren’t ready for any training, but they are. You just have to factor in distractions, a pup’s attention span, and what basics you’re hoping they’ll learn. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Eight weeks is pretty standard for puppies to go from the breeders to their forever home. At this age, whether you’re dealing with a Lab, GSP or some other breed, their primary redeemable quality is being adorable. This prompts us to treat them like stuffed animals more than actual animals, reasoning that they just aren’t ready to learn. But they are. In fact, the first couple of weeks after you bring home a pup are full of teachable opportunities. These, when you use them correctly, start to set the stage for your dog’s whole life. This matters—a lot. 


Underestimate at Your Own Peril

You won’t run triple-blind retrieves or witness a perfect staunch point that lasts for five minutes with an eight-week-old pup. You can teach them to sit, lay down, come and place, which is not nothing. 

You can also start to work in some steadiness aspects to the commands, even if you only ask your pup to wait for half of a second longer than normal. Tack on the benefits of establishing a working relationship, the reality of a reward for certain behaviors, and the beginnings of eye contact with your dog, and you’ll start to realize why this matters. 

training a puppy
As soon as puppies leave their breeder and make it to your home, it’s time to start teaching them some basic obedience. This is crucial to a dog’s development over its entire lifetime. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

All of that sounds good in writing, but it’s a hard thing to get past in person. I recently interviewed dog training legend, Bob West, and he mentioned this multiple times. West was working with a puppy and he said not only was he engaged in developing some basic obedience from the get-go, but also taking the puppy into new environments to read its confidence and boldness levels. 

This is a good thing if you understand how to always put a pup in a situation that is going to be safe and allow them to develop confidence and curiosity. Tie that in with those simple commands and the realization that even a baby pup is primed to learn, and the whole thing starts to come together. But the training isn’t the same as it is with an older dog. 

Puppy Training Realities

Some trainers scoff at treat training at any age. Most of the ones I’ve interviewed and absolutely respect, don’t. They use it, and they use it wisely. Our dogs, boasting somewhere around 15,000 to 20,000 years of domestication in their rearview mirror, will gladly work for food. It’s encoded in their genes and making the connection between a requested behavior and a positive outcome is the foundation for so much of the bigger asks later in their life. 

An eight-week-old pup that learns to sit for a single kibble the day you bring it home, will be just as happy to lay down for that caloric prize or come when it’s called. It’ll also start to look to you as the provider, which isn’t a bad thing either. Better yet, it’ll learn to look you in the eyes quickly, which is when you know the relationship is starting to click. That’s a big one, and it’s easy to encourage with treat training. 

training a puppy
The benefits of working for food are encoded into a pup’s genes, which makes treat training dogs as young as eight weeks old an excellent idea. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Now, as a pup matures, you’ll work in more praise and fewer treats, but there will be time for that later. When you’ve got that new addition to your family home for the first few weeks, a pocketful of kibble is your friend. If you know when to use it. 


Puppy Training Timing 

There are few things I’ve looked forward to as a parent more than surprising my twin daughters with a puppy when they were old enough. That time came last summer and it has been controlled chaos ever since. While they are capable of training little Sadie with me, they are also nine years old and often more of a distraction than anything. 

This means that when it’s time to do five or ten minutes of training, I sneak off with the puppy into the yard or drive down the road to the neighborhood park. The idea is to close as many of the pup’s browser windows as possible so that when you create a small training window, the dog will get the most out of it because it’ll (mostly) be focused on you and not on distractions.

training a puppy
While it’s a great idea to start training the basics as soon as you bring a puppy home, it’s also wise to not jump too far ahead of the easiest lessons. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Now, a lot of these distractions are based on proximity, and you can’t get rid of them completely (nor would you want to). I love training in parks or near soccer fields where I know there will be distant activity. A pup that learns to work in a dynamic environment is one that will eventually solve more problems for you while you’re out hunting, like the quail that are tucked into certain spots on a hedgerow or the roosters that are piled up right in the middle of the plum thickets. This type of training environment also allows for some socialization breaks, because if you take an eight-week-old puppy out around anyone, they are going to want to pet it. 

The key to all of this is to remember to try to minimize distractions and work with the few minutes of attention you might get out of any session. There’s no place for marathon training sessions with little puppies any more than there would be reason to teach kindergarteners math for six hours straight. Keep drills short, sweet, and effective. 

Best Tips for Training Your Bird Dog Living in a Big City

training a puppy
Training your puppy starts the day you bring them home and open your mind to the reality that they are much more than a life-action version of a plush toy. (Photo By: Tony J. Peterson)

Final Thoughts

Those kindergarteners who couldn’t handle hours of math lessons could handle learning the fundamentals of the alphabet, and the most rudimentary reading and spelling lessons. Grasping words and language is a huge asset and can set little kids up for a lifetime of academic success. 

The same rules apply to the fundaments of obedience and overall manners that you want your puppy to learn. The sooner you get going with these drills and lessons, the sooner your pup will start to develop into a better dog, that is by no coincidence, a learning machine. This literally changes the arc of your dog’s life, and by default, the trajectory of yours.

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