What Not To Do With Pup

Remember, consistency is the key to success.

Several people contacted me recently for help finding springer spaniel puppies for late winter or early spring. I sent them to reliable breeders and feel good that hunters continue to make good, solid choices regarding gun dog selections.

I believe this is my tenth year with Gun Dog, and for the past decade I have written articles primarily about what to do--or more specifically, what to teach your dog to do.

So this time I decided to try something different--namely, what not to do regarding pup.

Do not get two puppies at the same time, thinking they will keep each other occupied. Two pups are far more than two times the work. Work with one at a time and you'll find that is enough. Additionally, two pups seem to help solidify negative behaviors, rather than encourage positive behaviors.

Finally, and this is huge, you want to be the number one thing in pup's life; a second pup as a daily sidekick precludes that.

Buy puppies produced from good field-bred parents, or at least from parents that you have seen hunt yourself. Even buying pups from field trial champions provides no guarantee, but it certainly increases your chances of having a good gun dog. If you buy a pup with no instinct to hunt, you're likely to be without a real hunting dog for another 14 years.

Do not take your children when you go to look at puppies. Here is something you can put in the bank; your youngsters will love whichever puppy you bring home. But if you take the kids along, they are just as likely to fall in love with a pup from a family of mutts that has not seen a bird in multiple generations, or the most timid puppy in the litter because they feel sorry for it. Needless to say, neither of these is a good gun dog prospect.

Do not select an oddball, or rare, breed just so your dog stands out from the crowd. Fact is, you often do not know what you are getting with the uncommon spaniel (and other) breeds. Breeds with very low numbers offer very little biological diversity, which does not bode well for your pup.

Do not allow time to pass without taking pup to the vet for a full checkup. Good breeders will allow a physical screening and often provide a refund or a new pup if problems exist (get it in writing), but it must be done right away.

Do not allow pup to take all day eating. Instead, provide pup 15 minutes, and then take any leftover food away from him. This teaches pup to eat when you want him to eat; it is a big time-saver, and it helps tremendously when traveling for family visits, hunting, testing or field trial trips. Most importantly, it keeps pup from becoming a picky eater, which is a waste of time and can lead to unhealthy eating habits.

When teaching "no" or giving other commands, do not shout. Shouting teaches pup he does not have to respond to, or obey, commands until they are shouted.

Do not give pup commands that you do not intend to enforce. Also, do not repeat commands multiple times until pup performs. That teaches pup he can perform the command when HE feels like doing so.

Do not wait until you have given a command several times before you enforce it. Give the command once, then make pup comply. Your dog will learn what to expect, and he will comply reliably upon hearing the first command.

Also, it is imperative to go to pup to punish him--never call pup and have pup come, and then punish him. Pup will quickly learn to not respond to "Come" or "Here" if he associates these commands with punishment.

Do not allow pup to behave inconsistently. Pup is not smart enough to understand the difference between your outdoor clothes and your dress clothes. If pup is allowed to jump up on you when you are wearing your jeans, he will certainly think the same behavior is appropriate when you are in your best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes.

Never allow pup to jump on you or anyone else. Ditto with getting on the furniture, begging at the dinner table, entering prohibited rooms, etc. Consistently enforcing all rules is one of the most important tenants of gun dog training.

Do not jabber endlessly to pup. Remember the episode of the old Seinfeld television series about meaningless talk? They referred to it as, "yada, yada, yada." And that is just what it meant--nothing.

Talking to your dogs should consist basically of his command words: hup (sit), stay, come, heel, no, fetch, over, back and good boy. That is plenty of words for a dog. After all, my dogs read my body language and mood better than a wife of 35 years--they don't need a sermon to catch my drift.

When you give pup a pat on the head for doing well and say "good boy," he darned well knows you are happy with him; you need not go overboard. When you repeatedly lay it on too thick, you condition pup to ignore much of what you're saying.

Do not be in a rush to expose pup to gunfire. Take your time, and introduce him to gunfire gradually, and in the correct way.

Training pup is not a race. It should not be an ego trip, either. People, men especially, invest too much of their ego and pride in how their gun dog performs.

Get over it. I don't care how good your dog is; I guarantee we could go over a hill and around the corner and find a gun dog just as good as our best. There is nothing wrong with that.

The point of having a gun dog is to have a hunting partner that helps you find birds and retrieve birds if you do your part by shooting those he flushes.

We love our dogs, and yes, we take pride in them. But enjoy your pup, and do not always expect him to be the best dog in the world.

Hunt together, have fun together and grow old together. It's a pretty good deal.

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