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Bonding With Your Gun Dog

Bonding With Your Gun Dog

Being pup's pal reduces the learning curve.

Having a gun dog that is also a family pet vs. being primarily a kennel dog has long been debated, sometimes heatedly. I believe the evidence has finally convinced most gun dog owners that family pet status is the way to go, though there are plenty of holdouts who can be quite strident in their opposition on the subject.

Water retrieves are fun and help get pup fit; he likes it best when it's birds.

I just received a telephone call from a friend named Jim who was interested in getting a good English springer spaniel pup. Jim and I have remained only loosely in touch over the last 20-plus years, but whenever we speak by phone or meet it is as if we had seen each other just last week. I believe that is because we both have an extraordinary affinity for springers, good shotguns, bird hunting and clays shooting. Jim is very serious about his wingshooting, and very talented.


There is one additional factor more binding than the others, the one that cements our intermittent friendship. We first met when we each obtained a pup from a litter that produced a bunch of superior gun dogs, and all were also great pets; they were pretty near family members in most cases. Our respective pups turned into the best gun dog either of us has ever had. In Jim's case he has had two gun dogs since the pup being discussed, and I have had seven.


In addition to normal crate training and basic obedience training, Jim put pup in his vehicle and took him everywhere. Not only did pup go everywhere with Jim; in most cases he was taken inside houses, offices and other buildings Jim visited whenever it was possible. If a fellow has just a little pushiness to go with his friendly personality and smile you would be surprised what is possible in terms of getting pup in places that most dogs are banned. Jim's pup saw the inside of a lot of different places.

Even though Jim had no children to play with pup, his pup was one of the most socialized, even tempered and easy-going dogs one could ever wish for.


Most times Jim went outside pup accompanied him, whether Jim was doing chores, taking a hike or running an errand.


Jim worked hard on "heel" and "come," and he let his pup know he was serious when he gave either command. Jim also praised pup readily whenever pup complied with commands. As a result of Jim's firmness, consistency and praise, pup was quite safe with Jim in all situations because pup stayed close and would return to him immediately when hearing the commands "heel" or "come." Jim and pup were emotionally close, and pup stayed close and responded immediately to commands, all of which kept pup safe and happy.

Jim is a recreational power boater who enjoys spending a lot of boating time on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, as well as an annual two-week summer trip to boat on a couple of large Adirondack lakes.

Guess what? Jim's pup became a boater, too. Anchored here and there, in and out of the boat for myriad reasons, pup spent plenty of time in the water. Naturally pup was only allowed to splash along in shallow water for awhile, but in the bay's tributaries especially, it was easy for a young pup to get in over his head. Other than needing rescued by Jim's guiding hands a couple of times, pup handled his dunkings smoothly.

According to Jim it is impossible to determine how much pup learned being on and around the boat and water with one to four people around him regularly; everyone was friendly and pup rarely experienced a harsh word.

Having a safe, competent friend to shoot birds will help your summer retrieving program on water or in the field.

Boating on the bay, rivers and lakes offered numerous experiences for pup, from traveling fast and smoothly, to slow and choppy, to staying out of the reach of a big Jimmy, or male blue crab, when crabbing.

It might sound to some like Jim's pup lived a life of leisure and had little to do except pal around with Jim and whoever else was available. That is not so. To "heel" and "come," Jim added "hup" (sit), "stay" and retrieving. Pup especially liked retrieving, and became very proficient at it. While Jim primarily hunted upland birds, pup's water work paid off when hunting farm ponds and creeks. Few birds escaped pup's excellent nose, and pup did not know what "quit" meant when retrieving.

Jim spent a lot of time walking pup in low grass when pup was young, undoubtedly seeming to pup as if they were wandering aimlessly. Actually Jim was laying the basics for quartering while pup still liked being close to Jim.

The bond between Jim and his pup was far stronger than any formed when one's dog spends his life in a kennel. They were more like pals than dog and master. It seemed that if Jim's pup could figure out what Jim wanted during training, the pup did it regularly from then on.

My littermate pup to Jim's pretty much got the same treatment, minus the boating. My pup went on vacations to the big woods in northern Pennsylvania and Canada. Reading in a recliner next to a lake, I was quite surprised the first time my pup became hot and jumped in the lake. Pup took a short swim and returned to my side as if he'd done it ever day for years. My pup also went frequently to club training sessions and hunt tests so he had plenty of socializing.

Both pups took to birds as if they had read their own strong pedigree. Both also had lots and lots of birds much of the year, mine year-round and Jim's at least the seven months pheasant preserves were available.

When I got my pup I pretty much latched onto the breeder, who became a great friend as well as a mentor. He kept Jim and me informed about the other pups in the litter, and every one turned out to be successful in the field.

Jim knew one other person who had a pup from our litter, and while I think that gentleman started his pup on birds too early, that pup handled birds with great enthusiasm and talent. That pup was also taken everywhere with his owner and spent most of every day with him at work.

Fact is, all our pups were well loved pets that spent a great deal of time together with their owners.

Do not, however, get the idea that these pups were scarce on training. On the contrary, all the pups received a lot of training, both fo

rmal and informal. Because we owners were pals with our pups, each pup strived to please us, and they all had very shallow learning curves.

I will always keep my gun dogs inside and spend a lot of time with them because it has always worked.

Jim is a sociable person with many friends, but he has taken to heart a long-time saying to produce excellent gun dogs. Jim has truly made pup his best friend.

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