Starting A New Puppy, Part 2

Starting A New Puppy, Part 2

A couple issues back we talked about starting a new puppy, with the intention of working through a series on the subject. Last time we jumped the track to deal with requests for help with "gun sensitivity"; that done, let's go back to helping our new dog get started on the path to becoming a successful hunting and/or competitive field dog.


This time, we'll emphasize early training or "yard work" to be sure we establish a solid base as we move our wonder dog along.

Training objectives
In the beginning it is important to remember our pup has no idea of what's going on. With a mishmash of new sounds and pushing and pulling, none of which make any sense to our pup, "training" can be downright confusing if not done correctly.

Our first objective is to help the dog understand the parameters of a desired response in a positive way, being sure to avoid confusion as we define what is expected. Realize also, we're hoping to nurture a learning kind of mentality, setting the mode for future development, where the pup can enjoy and look forward to work/training.

During this learning phase, most good trainers use very little pressure and for the most part don't overlay command words until the pup begins to comply. In early training some trainers use an "avoidance" technique or approach to training, then after commands are understood/learned, correction or punishment can be brought in to discourage disobedience.

Avoidance technique involves light pressure--emphasis on light--that is released as the dog responds correctly.

A big benefit with avoidance training is that the pressure or discomfort to the dog is more of a subtle irritation rather than pain. During learning, subtle pressure is less likely to overwhelm and "wash away" any comprehension or inhibit progress because of fear of correction rather than focus on learning.

When using avoidance your dog will soon learn to escape the discomfort by a correct response, which is supported by praise and reinforcement from the trainer. And as training progresses your dog gains confidence along with an understanding that it is possible to totally avoid any discomfort by a quick response to commands. This is where you begin to overlay or associate a "command word" or sound to become a cue to this response.

Examples of commands where we don't first associate the cue word or sound are those associated with teaching the dog to heel or sit'¦in fact, most commands. It does no good to use a word cue before you get some compliance.

Starting Your Puppy

Don't miss part 1 of this story! Find it here.


Think about it--while your pup is new to the lead and fighting it all the way, what good would it do to start yelling, "HEEL'¦HEEL"? He's not even listening and he's not doing what you want, so he doesn't understand'¦the only possibility is associating the cue word with confusion, pain, or the wrong response. Thus, while teaching the basics you're better served keeping your mouth shut at the beginning.

So, although it's not always possible, where we can we'll use avoidance methods and when not, a gentle blend of correction and praise to establish parameters and encourage the desired response. Only after it's certain commands are understood will we begin to elevate levels of distraction and reinforcement to ensure obedience in all situations.

Fundamental Commands
I've often said, "If he won't obey you on a four-foot lead, he'll surely not obey you at 100 yards," so if your problem's been some macho misconception that yard work is sissy stuff, forget it. No matter what your goal--a companion house dog, a hunting partner or a top field trial contender--it all starts the same.

"NO!" isn't a command we set up with specific drills to teach or enforce, like KENNEL; it's learned early as a part of everyday socialization and later reinforced in proportion to understanding to gain obedience.

NO is a real command, however, with only one meaning but endless uses; it simply means, "Stop what you're doing." NO is also one of the very few commands where we associate the cue sound at the beginning.

Teaching NO is not like teaching typical action commands; here we begin overlaying the word cue as a command from the start. When you want to stop pup from chewing your shoelace, barking or any other undesirable action, give the command and you'll be surprised how soon he understands, stops and turns to you for direction and approval.

Don't forget a little praise for the correct response, but also realize this proof of understanding obligates you to stronger reinforcement when your pup chooses to disobey.

"No," along with all the other commands, is fundamental to developing a good citizen and field champion alike. Proper use of each tool enhances your foundation in the building and handling of a working dog.

The reward is worth the effort it takes to be consistent. A time will come when you're able to stop the dog even before an action, simply because the command "NO" is in place and you've learned to read body language and expression, to anticipate each move.

Also remember that training basics are far more dynamic than sit and roll over; we're developing a working relationship, a learning mode, gaining a respect and understanding for each other, literally developing our foundation. Even at this point you can see the importance and how a program without these fundamentals can't be dependable.

Caution: When reinforcing NO, it's generally no

t a good idea to "pop" a young gun dog with rolled newspaper, thereby avoiding the chance of his later associating the loud pop of a shotgun as a negative.

KENNEL means to pass through, go into, or get up on whatever is indicated by our hand or arm gesturing. Again, it has several uses yet a clear meaning. It's totally ridiculous to have individual commands for table, boat, truck, door, kennel, etc.

Our dogs read body language better than we do, so use this to your advantage. When you give the KENNEL command, help the dog understand. Use a little pressure at first, overlay the command as you begin to get the correct reaction and praise his correct response.

The kennel box is a good place to start. Run a lead through from the back and out the open door, then attach the lead to your dog's collar with him sitting near the opening. As you give the KENNEL command, have a friend tighten the lead to direct the dog in; at the same time you might give a pinch or push his rump with your hand, then praise him for going in.

It's important the dog remains kenneled until a release command is given, like "Okay."

Never let your dog come back out on his own; if he tries, bump his nose with the back of your hand and repeat KENNEL. "Kennel" means to go in and stay until released; do not say, "KENNEL, STAY," but keep it clean, with one command per action.

Another idea as we expand the meaning of KENNEL is to get up on something, using an ottoman or similar low, flat-topped object. This idea works especially well with young dogs.

Attach a short lead to his collar, then call his name and pat the top of a low table or platform. A slight pull on the lead will not only direct but help leverage his climb.

There's no problem with using an excited tone to help give confidence, and don't forget the praise. Then reinforce with KENNEL while being sure the dog remains atop the table until released with "Okay." Once the dog seems to understand the lead pressure and you patting the tabletop, begin using KENNEL to initiate his action.

As always, use your imagination to create other scenarios and opportunities to enhance training. Be consistent and stick with it, and you'll see results soon.

In following issues we'll continue our yard work with HEEL, SIT, COME, and a discussion of WHOA.

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