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Off To A Good Start

Off To A Good Start

Socialize Pup During Early "Training"

This owner has her hands full with her new Lab, but she wisely plans to join a local retriever club and train the pup herself.

In keeping with our theme for this issue--new puppies and younger dogs--it's time to share some ideas and reasoning about the first few months' objectives and what we can do to prepare our pup for the days ahead.

Early "training" requires us to maintain a very positive guiding, directing and encouraging attitude. We combine the positive time--exercise and socialization--we spend with our youngster with the things and places he will work in and around as training progresses and later while hunting or trialing.

Along with socialization, fundamental training is critical. It's not uncommon to see folks having problems with older dogs simply because they have rushed through, or have taken shortcuts around, early developmental work. For example, beginning steadiness drills before their dogs are trained to heel or properly exposed to birds is a mistake in training progression.


Behavioral studies indicate a key period of socialization for puppies to humans is six to eight weeks. This is when the mother normally weans the puppies and they become more independent. The pup's nervous system reaches the structural and functional capacities of an adult by this time, so he's ready to learn and intensive socialization should begin.

Most agree that somewhere between six and eight weeks is the ideal time to place puppies in new homes for further socialization to humans as well as to begin housebreaking and other training. So plan to bring your pup home at around seven weeks old. The precise day is not critical, but what you do from then on is.

Happy experiences during the puppy's first few days in his new home will have a lasting and positive effect as he develops. Give your pup lots of attention and affection and begin using his name--be consistent and you'll soon see a response. Let pup explore while you supervise from a distance.

If he damages something or has an accident, you can only punish or speak harshly when he's caught in the act. The only thing a puppy learns from untimely punishment is fear of you and confusion.

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Off To A Good Start: Part 2


Now is also a good time to introduce very basic commands like "no" and "kennel."

Gradually introduce pup to new people, beginning with a few at a time who know your objective is to build pup's confidence. Puppies who are gently handled by different people usually develop friendly and trusting attitudes toward people in general.

Continue to expand the pup's environment by going for walks in the neighborhood. Along the way meet new people and other dogs, along with lots of new sights and sounds. These walks on lead are not only good for social behavior; they're great exercise.

Putting your puppy in situations where he can't lose helps build confidence and minimizes future behavior problems. If you see your pup acting concerned about loud noise or storms, divert his attention to something fun and exciting. If the pup senses you're not in the least bit worried he will soon share that attitude and pay no attention to the noise. On the other hand, your showing concern will only reinforce the pup's concern.

Thinking about the responsibility you've accepted by taking on a new pup may even concern you a bit, but don't worry--you'll make it. Granted, the emotional roller coaster of joys and disappointments related to owning and training a hunting dog can be a real character builder, but believe me, it's time well spent--how can you beat a great life experience when it also results (we hope!) in more birds in the bag next year?

Let's get back to our pup's development. Now might be a good time to introduce the training table€¦not for training, but for grooming. Put your pup on the table and begin with short grooming sessions; if your pup fusses make him stand calmly, then reward correct behavior with a little praise. Most pups like the attention, enjoy being groomed and soon reason that the table is a good place to be, which is key to future training.

Early on you should introduce the kennel and begin to associate the command/sound cue. Say "kennel" each time you put your pup inside and gradually increase the separation time as he adjusts to being left alone. If you keep the pup indoors, a crate is a must from day one.

Travel might be the next logical step. At first take short trips and reward with a run in the field or something else exciting and fun. If your pup's only rides are to the veterinarian, he soon may come to think travel is a bad deal. And always confine your pup to a travel kennel; it's safer for both you and the dog.

For the first few rides you may want to wait a couple of hours after feeding, as some puppies experience motion sickness and a full stomach only aggravates the problem. Even so, most are okay after a few trips and happily bound for the car when they see an open door.

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Off To A Good Start: Part 2


Additional Things To Consider

As you introduce your puppy to his new home, remember the "pack instinct" that every dog inherits. It must be tempered to help him interact appropriately with people and other animals. Proper socialization can be thought of as the mortar that bonds and reinforces each element of any good training program.

Most puppies will try to test each family member in attempts to establish dominance as leader of the pack. All family members should cooperate in establishing a code of conduct for the pup. This will help the pup understand he must obey the rules of the house, so be consistent in reprimands. Eye contact and a firm "no" usually will deter undesired actions; if not, a gentle shake by the loose skin of the shoulders sends a stronger signal.

It's best to use the positive approach whenever possible. Your job is to guide and direct, so developing good habits rather than trying to correct bad ones is a better way to go.

Remember that good pups are eager to please yet have an inner drive that will test you all the way. Even so, stay with it--they also thrive on praise, and remember that your guidance through early development is critical to their becoming solid citizens and valued hunting companions.

We plan to continue with proper introduction to the hunting/trialing environment and a little more disciplined yard work in upcoming issues. Good luck with the new puppy!

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