March 30, 2015
It's a good time to share some ideas and reasoning about the first few months' objectives and what we can do to prepare our pup for the days ahead.
Early "training" involves a very positive guiding, directing, encouraging mode, blended with exercise and socialization to the things and places your dog will work in and around as training progresses and later while hunting or trialing.
Along with socialization, fundamental training is critical. It's not uncommon to see folks having problems with older dogs simply because they have rushed through training or have taken shortcuts around early developmental work. One example is working on steadiness drills before their dogs are trained to heel or properly exposed to birds. Let's not make that mistake.
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, their nervous system reaches the structural and functional capacities of an adult by this time, so they're 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. It may vary a good deal between individuals, but you should plan on bringing your pup home somewhere around seven weeks. 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, 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 it damages something or has an accident, you can only reprimand the pup if he is caught in the act. The only thing a puppy learns from untimely punishment is fear of you and confusion.
Now is also 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 good for social behavior and great exercise.
Putting your puppy in controlled situations helps build confidence and minimizes future behavior problems. If you see concern for loud noise or storms, divert attention to something fun and exciting. If the pup senses you're not in the least bit worried it will soon share that attitude and pay no attention to the noise. On the other hand, if you show concern by fussing over the pup in an attempt to comfort him, this will only reinforce his concern/fear.
Let's get back to our pup's development. This also might be a good time to introduce the training table, but for grooming, not training. Begin with short grooming sessions and if your pup fusses make him stand calmly, then reward correct behavior with a little praise. Most 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 his crate 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 with a run in the field or something exciting and fun on the other end. If your pup's only ride is to the veterinarian, he may come to 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 OK after a few trips and happily bound for the car when they see an open door.
Code of Conduct
As you introduce your puppy to its new home, remember that the "pack instinct" that 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.
Most puppies will try to test each family member in attempts to establish dominance as the leader of the pack. 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.
Be consistent in reprimands. Eye contact and a firm "NO" usually will deter undesired actions, but if not, a gentle shake by the loose skin of the shoulders sends a stronger signal.
It's best to use the positive approach when possible; your job is to guide and direct, so it's better to help develop good habits rather than trying to correct bad ones.
Remember, the good ones are eager to please yet have an inner drive that will test you all the way. Even so, 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.
Thinking about the responsibility you've accepted, taking on this new pup may spook you a bit, but don't worry — you'll make it. Granted, the "emotional roller coaster" of joys and disappointments related to owning and training a hunting or contest dog can be a real "character builder," but believe me, it's time well spent. How can you beat that, a great life experience and more birds in the bag next year?