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Starting a Puppy

Things to consider when starting a new gun dog.

Starting A Puppy

This is going to be an exciting and interesting spring and summer. I have a new pick-of-the-litter puppy coming, and it's the first pup I've started from the beginning in several years. Recently I've taken the easy way of choosing prospects after they've reached four or five months of age.

Of course in choosing an older pup you have to be certain you're dealing with folks who understand the importance of socialization and early development, and you have to be willing to pay the price for an older pup. But the bottom line is that you can see pretty much what you're getting with indications of strengths and weaknesses being more evident.

In any case I'm starting from square one with this pup; I'd bet I'm not the only one with a new pup. So I thought we might share some ideas and reasoning around the first few months' objectives and do what we can to prepare our pup for the days ahead.

Early efforts require a very positive guiding, directing, encouraging mode of training blended with exercise and socialization to the things and places your dog will work in and around as training progresses, then later while hunting or trialing.

Along with socialization, fundamental training is critical, but only in proportion and at the correct time. It's not uncommon to see folks having problems with older dogs simply because they have pushed them too fast and/or taken shortcuts around early developmental work. An example of this would be early steadiness or other obedience drills before pups understand the world around them and have had time to realize their inherent instincts and simply discover that they're predators.

Let's not make that mistake.

How to start a new gun-dog puppy
Where did you say we're going?" As we begin with a new pup our efforts should be of a nurturing, guiding manner - helping the pup learn about new places and things as we begin to build a solid foundation for future training.

Socialization: Exposure To People, Places and Things

Behavioral studies indicate a key period of socialization for puppies to humans is from six to eight weeks. This is when the mother normally weans the puppies and they become more independent. Believe it or not, a pup's nervous system reaches the structural and functional capacities of an adult by this time, so he's ready to learn and intensive socialization should begin.

Most agree somewhere between six and eight weeks is the ideal time to place puppies in new homes for further socialization to humans as well as beginning housebreaking and other training. So somewhere around seven weeks you should plan on bringing your pup home. The precise day is not critical, but what you do from there on is.

Happy experiences during the puppy's first few days in the new home will have a lasting and positive effect as it develops. Give your pup lots of attention and affection and begin using the pup's name; be consistent and you'll soon see a response.

Let pup explore while you supervise from a distance. If he damages something or has an accident, you can only punish or speak harshly when he's caught in the act. The only thing a puppy learns from untimely punishment is fear of you.

Now is a good time to begin introducing very basic commands like "No" and "Kennel."

Gradually introduce new people, a few at a time who know your objective is building the pup's confidence. Puppies who are gently handled by different people usually develop friendly and trusting attitudes toward people in general.

Continue to expand the pup's environment by going for walks in the neighborhood and meeting more people and other dogs, along with lots of new sights and sounds. These walks, on a lead, are not only good for social behavior; they're great exercise.

How to start a new gun-dog puppy
Exposing our pup to a variety of environments is the best way to build a solid foundation for training.

Putting your puppy in situations where he can't lose helps build confidence and minimizes future behavior problems. If you see concern for loud noise or storms, divert his attention to something fun and exciting. If the pup senses you're not in the least bit worried he will soon share that attitude and pay no attention to the noise. On the other hand, your showing concern will only reinforce the pup's concern.

Thinking about the responsibility we've accepted and our potential effect on this pup's development may spook you a bit, but don't worry; you'll make it. I feel what's really important is personal enrichment as you work through the puppy project along with experiencing the "emotional roller coaster" of joys and disappointments related to owning, training and handling sporting dogs. Puppies and their owners can learn a lot from each other.

Let's get back to our pup's development. Along about now might be a good time to introduce the training table, but for grooming rather than training. Begin with short grooming sessions; if your pup fusses make him stand calmly, then reward correct behavior with a little praise.

Most pups like the attention, enjoy being groomed and soon reason the table is a good place to be--which is key to future training. Early on you should introduce the kennel and begin to associate the command sound/cue.

Say "Kennel" each time you put your pup inside and gradually increase the separation time as he adjusts to being left alone. If you keep the pup indoors, a crate is a must from day one.

Travel might be the next logical step. At first, take short trips and reward your pup with a run in the field or something exciting and fun. If your pup's only ride is to the veterinarian, he may think travel is a bad deal. Always confine your pup to a travel kennel; it's safer for both you and the dog.

For the first few rides, you may want to wait a couple of hours after feeding, as some puppies experience motion sickness and a full stomach only aggravates the problem.

Even so, most are okay after a few rides and happily bound for the car when they see an open door.

A Few Things to Consider

As you introduce your puppy to his new home, remember that the instincts every dog inherits must be tempered to help him interact appropriately with people and other animals. Proper socialization can be thought of as the mortar that bonds and reinforces each element of any good training program.

All family members should cooperate in establishing a code of conduct for the pup. This will help the pup understand it must obey rules of the house, so everyone must be consistent in reprimands. Eye contact and a firm "No" usually deter undesired actions; if not, a gentle shake by the loose skin sends a stronger signal.

It's best to use the positive approach whenever possible; your job is to guide and direct, so helping your pup develop good habits rather than trying to correct bad ones is a better way.

Remember the good ones are eager to please, yet have an inner drive that will test you all the way. But stay with it, as they also thrive on praise. And remember, your guidance through early development is critical to their becoming solid citizens and valued hunting companions. 

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