September 23, 2010
...but it takes a commitment.
Making a new pup feel secure is of paramount importance.
Puppies are cute and adorable, and a gun dog puppy just might be the answer to your prayers to become a super-hunter, a "legend" among your friends. Well€¦
Assuredly, that could be true. Remember, though, that puppies are not puppies for very long, and a lot of things must happen before pup becomes the gun dog that will elevate your status to legendary.
A puppy can become the dog of your dreams, but getting a gun dog puppy is an adventure and a challenge. Getting a puppy should not be undertaken lightly, because getting a puppy is a serious commitment.
The obvious commitments to puppies includes: lifetime quality food and shelter, plus lifetime quality health care, including all necessary shots, boosters and other preventative medicines such as heartworm pills. The obvious commitment also includes keeping pup safe, and providing him/her with a given amount of attention.
Spaniels are "people" dogs. You will likely get the best gun dog from a spaniel that is also your pet. That does not mean that pup should sleep in bed with you, be fed from the table or be allowed to ignore commands or rules. Pup should know throughout his life that he is part of the family.
Your pup is going to be a gun dog, though, and while his ability might not raise your status to legendary, you certainly want pup to have enough ability and training to complement your hunt, as well as be a pleasure to hunt with.
Hunters buying a puppy as a hunting dog also have a commitment to obedience train pup, train him to retrieve and expose him to water, woods and fields, as well as to guns and birds.
You should plan on providing pup with 15 to 20 minutes of training time five days a week for a year, and if you make good on this commitment, you can honestly expect to have an excellent gun dog for years to come. Fact is, gun dogs love training sessions, and they love hunting birds.
I want my gun dogs to be good companions and pets, and good neighbors to others. An aggressive dog or a sneaky dog that might bite a youngster, visitor or friend is unsatisfactory, and I will not keep such a dog. Proper socialization is important.
Both English springer spaniels and English cocker spaniels were divided years ago into two types: show bred and field bred dogs. Both types have their place, but getting a good gun dog can be dicey enough without buying the wrong type of dog; hunters should only buy field-bred spaniels.
Minimally, pup's parents should be active hunting dogs and you should see one or both of them work. If pup's parents are involved with hunt tests (earning, at least, a Senior title; a Junior title shows little) and/or field trials you have probably increased your chances of having a dog that's good in the field.
Do not take your wife to look at puppies unless she is a serious bird hunter. Do not take your youngster(s) to look at puppies under any circumstances. Spouses (generally) and youngsters (always) will love whatever puppy you bring home. Don't take them to look at puppies and risk getting forced into taking a pup home that will not provide you with the absolute best chance to have a good gun dog.
Take note; in the last sentence I used the term "best chance" related to getting a good gun dog. There is no guarantee of getting a good gun dog when selecting a pup, though spending a lot of time with pup goes a long way toward ensuring a good one.
Charlie Waterman, the late Gun Dog "Point" columnist, once wrote that the only way to guarantee getting a good gun dog was to buy a very good one about 10 years old. "It's likely that you'll have a pretty good gun dog for the rest of his life," said Waterman.
The best way to get a good puppy is to find a good dam. The owner of a good bitch will ensure that only a good gun dog, field trial dog or hunt test dog (possibly all three) will be bred to his bitch. Face it, most men cannot control their daughter's choice in boyfriends, but they can sure determine what dog breeds with their four-legged princess.
Pay as much as you must to select a pup from the litter you want, or as much as you can afford to pay. If you paid a little more than you wanted to, or a bit more than some other pups sold for, you will feel justified later when you have a good gun dog by your side. Also remember, a free puppy is usually worth just what you paid for it.
Training a puppy is not a race; too often those who treat it as such, lose. Training a pup is a long-term process€¦actually, it is a lifetime process. That, however, is good, because training a hunting dog is one area of life with a very direct correlation between work and achievement: the work you put into training pup directly affects the results you achieve. Regular, consistent training will reward you with a good, four-legged hunting companion.
I cannot stress enough the benefits to pup and yourself of joining a group of friends or a dog training club/group to train your dog. Training gun dogs can be done alone, but I guarantee that the job can be done better, quicker and with less stress for all concerned when you train with a group. It is also fun, and certainly one can learn a lot from experienced trainers.
Here is one of the biggest, most important dog training tips there is: well-bred pups want to please you; it is a trait that accompanies a good nose, drive, birdiness, biddability, retrieving ability, athleticism and other desirable traits. Pup's desire to please you is very real, and very important to reaching your training goals. If you can make pup understand what you want, pup will strive to do it.
If pup does not want to please you, cut your loses and sell him or give him away--life is too short to deal with a hard-headed, willful dog. Life will hold little joy with such a dog.
I had one dog like that and I grew to severely dislike him. It was honestly more my fault than his, but after awhile it did not matter. We were not making progress and I didn't want to be around him any longer, so I found him another home. Meanwhile, though, I had wasted a year.
Crate train pup, and get him used to traveling (crated) in your vehicle. Take him for walks often, especially to new places with new sights and smells. Take him near water and see how quickly he ends up in it--that's a good thing. Teach pup sit/stay, come, heel and no, but do so gently at first.
Do puppy retrieves in the hallway where he has nowhere to go except back to you. Give him "atta-boys" for doing well, even an occasional dog biscuit. Teach pup to sit and turn in the field, on the whistle: one "toot" for to sit, two "toots" to turn when quartering. Always carry water for pup. Always protect him. Never hurt him.
Getting and training a pup is work; it is time consuming and it is often downright boring. It is also very rewarding, and not just in the field. Rewards come every time you enter your house and hear pup's paws scrambling as he gets to his feet, trying to gain traction on his high-speed race to greet you at the door.
Well-bred pups want to please you; it is a trait that accompanies a good nose, birdiness and biddability.
Author's note: The best book there is on dealing with and training a new gun dog pup is How To Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves, by Joan Bailey; $15.37 + shipping (book rate, $3.77, 10-14 days; air mail, $5.99, 3 — 5 days); Swan Valley Press, 9601 NW Leahy Rd., #209, Portland, OR, 97229, (866-296-6725. For more information or to order online, go to: howtotraingundogs.com .