September 23, 2010
Getting a good gun dog doesn't stop at picking a pup. . .a lot of training is involved, too.
It's a long journey from picking a pup. . .
I'm picking up a new pup Sunday but my wife isn't as happy about it as I am. Still, I need two gun dogs and one of my current two became prematurely deaf. My wife will fall in love with the new puppy within a week and all will be fine. Hopefully.
I say hopefully because it is a long journey between picking pup up and having a solid gun dog to hunt over. It is a lot of time, effort and commitment; if you don't think so, perhaps a puppy is not the way to go.
I talked recently to an acquaintance, a successful businessman with a lot of discretionary income. He told me he went to a bird dog training seminar and found that most of what he learned was too late for his two-year-old pointing dog. At the same time he told me about some new shotguns he bought, most starting at eight grand.
He has a massive vault full of quality guns. He will go through the next 10 years with a barely trained, minimally controllable dog while, based on past performance, adding a bunch of expensive guns to his collection. He should buy a partially or fully trained dog.
Returning to us regular folks, though, we have, or are getting, a pup and we're going to see it through and accept the results until pup is white-muzzled and can no longer course the uplands. You don't think Mom and the kids are going to allow you to get rid of their dog if he turns out to be worthless, do you?
While thinking about the new pup I reviewed some of what is needed, hoping to help myself as well as readers. Many are standard training practices or philosophies, but many new folks do not know them and some of us experienced folks forget them.
Yard training was discussed in depth in the last issue and controlling your gun dog still deserves the highest priority. Some people consider buying two pups at the same time to keep each other company, maybe even to learn from each other. Every experienced dog owner I know recommends against it; rarely does one pup teach anything good to another, but the opposite is certainly true. Learn to control one before getting two.
Purchase a couple of small crates for pup, one for inside your house and one for your vehicle. A half-dozen heavy, stainless steel bowls are also a good idea. Add a couple of puppy dummies, a collar, lead, rope and a whistle to get you started. By six months or so add a .22 blank pistol and maybe even a dummy launcher. It's also probably time to buy two adult crates. This all costs a few bucks but hey, it's a great investment!
A youngster and his dog are a tough
combination to beat.
My pup's first (with me) vet visit is already scheduled for Tuesday morning, the second day he is home. Monday is busy for the vet and me, but neither she nor I wanted to postpone his physical any longer. He'll be examined, his stool checked and two medical folders will be started, one for the vet and one for home. His "papers" will be included in the folder, as will contact information on the breeder. Feed him a quality dog food, following the directions, and skip the leftovers. By the way, you should be the one who feeds him, not your wife and/or kids.
Always remember that pup is always learning, so be consistent. You can't allow him to jump up on you when you're in jeans and then expect him to stay off your new suit. Pup's just not that smart. He also can't sit on the couch with you when Mom is away but be expected to stay off it when she's home; you are both bound to be busted, and it's your fault. Similarly, do not allow pup to tug and chew on training dummies, shoes, boots, etc.
Prevent problems before they start. Crate train pup, feed him in his crate, teach him to walk and heel on lead, do not let him run loose, teach him to relax on a tie-out stake and so on. Teach pup to do things your way the first time; it makes it easier for everyone, including pup.
Spend as much time with pup as possible, taking him everywhere you can, including into stores or anywhere else he is welcome. This is especially important when pup is young because it helps form a strong bond together.
Taking pup everywhere also exposes him to new people, places and things. Eventually, new experiences will not put him off, so he'll be comfortable everywhere and able to perform at high levels. Interestingly and importantly, you will find that spending time with pup benefits you too.
YADA, YADA, YADA
Pup may be your best friend, but speak sparingly to him. Use as few words as possible because too many words confuse pup and he will tune you out; when you speak, you want pup's attention.
Use short, consistent commands. Do not say, "come" one time and "here" the next. The same goes for other basic commands: No, sit, stay, come, heel, hup, fetch, and pup's name.
My new pup's name is Hawk; it's short, as it should be. One good thing about using a whistle in training is that with it in your mouth you cannot talk much, so keep it there.
Using praise is the best way to train gun dogs; I am a firm advocate of it. When pup does something right let him know right away. Praise can come from a good word or from petting/stoking pup. Also use occasional treats such as hot dog pieces or puppy cookies to reward pup for doing right.
I had one dog in particular that ranged too far and giving him pieces of hot dog is what turned him around. Most top pros use treats; I know two successful pros that give a biscuit to each dog at the beginning of every training session.
It is equally important to correct pup when he does something wrong. Punishment should be meted out immediately while pup knows what it is for. If pup does not know what he did wrong, do not punish him. If he is aware of his sin, and especially if he committed it knowingly, correct him quickly and with a degree of harshness that ensures that he gets the message.
Do not, however, nag at him and keep punishing him. Instead, move the lesson on to something he can/will do correctly so that you get back to a positive training session.
Never punish pup for doing something wrong after he has responded properly to your "come" command. You must go to him; why should pup come to you and then be corrected?
MEMORIES CAN MISLEAD
My wife and I got married 17 years ago and promptly purchased Sam, a very good dog from one of the top bloodlines in the country, Ru-Char. Sam was not only the first dog my wife had been around, but he was also all a dog could be. My wife has since measured our pups by Sam's remarkable performance using her unremarkable memory.
She actually has a better memory than most but with dogs she is similar to the rest of us. We dog lovers often fall prey to the "Old Yeller" syndrome, where no dog we have, or ever will, can match the performance of a past dog that has gone to those great upland bird covers in the heavens.
Don't try to force pup into a mold or a strict timetable. Remember, even if you did have an exceptional dog previously; give this pup a chance to progress at his own pace.
Training pup is not a race, nor should it be. No pup born during late winter or spring should be hunted its first fall because it is too young; it will likely lead to many years of sub-par performance due to control problems. Controlled bird work is one thing, but do not hunt him yet.
BIRDS FOR BIRD DOGS
While some folks think that all bird dogs are white and have long tails, it's just not so. A field-bred English cocker or English springer spaniel will go head-to-head with the best of them in bird-finding ability. Many people have said this many ways, some pretty cleverly, but it always comes down to the same thing: gun dogs need birds to reach their full potential. There is no shortcut and scent on dummies will not suffice; dogs need birds. Pigeons and pheasants are the traditional training birds for spaniels. Healthy, strong flying chukars also work well and add variety to training sessions--they taste good too. When it comes time to shoot birds over pup, do not let pup retrieve every one. It helps teach control and is important to the steadying process if you wish to work toward that level of achievement. (Once pup is retrieving enthusiastically and reliably he should only be sent to retrieve about one in three dummies or birds.)
There is little in life that will give you the satisfaction that training a good gun dog to perform well will do. Observe the look on a friend's face when he is accepting praise for the good job his gun dog did hunting. Don't be fooled by his "aw, shucks" attitude; he is proud of his dog, as he should be.
Enjoy pup now and through your joint learning process. Enjoy his best years afield and later enjoy his presence by your reading chair when he can no longer push a ringneck into flight, but only twitch in his sleep dreaming of the days when he could. Make him a good one!
|A TRIBUTE |
| Ed Whitaker of Downingtown, Pennsylvania, was my best friend. He died recently at age 90. It is the end of an era in the English springer spaniel field trial world, certainly in the East. Field trialing English springer spaniels from 1955 into the '90s, Whitaker got his first placement in 1960 and qualified a dog for the first Amateur National in the early '60s. Whitaker judged and chaired both Amateur and Open Field Trial Nationals. He finished at least nine Amateur Field Champions (AFCs) and six Open Field Champions (FCs). |
Whitaker was Parent Club president for eight years. The Parent Club is in charge of all activities, show and field, for a given breed. He was a long-time AKC delegate who realized that spaniels were bred and developed over centuries for hunting; Whitaker knew the importance of the sporting ancestry of the breed and strived to preserve it.
Whitaker was acknowledged as one of the finest handlers in the nation during his prime; he was always competitive. Business and field trialing were not Whitaker's most important contributions in life, however. First, he loved his family, especially his grandchildren Carley and Jake. Next, he helped friends and strangers alike with their spaniels.
Whitaker's home and grounds were open to springer field enthusiasts, including hunters. He maintained facilities for pigeons and pheasants to ensure training birds and his three ponds were available for water training. For 11 to 12 years I spent about 40 Saturdays a year at Whitaker's, plus weekday visits. Many people, some clubs and field bred English springer spaniels owe a debt of gratitude to Ed Whitaker for his hospitality, assistance and support. He truly enjoyed helping people find, train, hunt and field trial English springers.
I owe much of my professional writing career to Ed Whitaker because he provided me with the opportunity to gain expertise while learning about dogs from top trainers and about guns and gunning from top shooters. Whitaker's influence enabled me to become an "official gun" for 10 years for as many as six eastern clubs; it was an honor to shoot over the finest dogs in the world. Ed Whitaker was a true gentleman and a positive force for English springer spaniels; he will be missed.