Puppyhood: Immaturity vs. Capability

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Puppyhood: Immaturity vs. Capability

by Sharon Potter

Expecting mature behavior from an immature dog will guarantee failure, instead use puppyhood to foster your dog's desirable traits.

You've waited for weeks for this day, maybe even months. At last, your new puppy is old enough to take its place in your home, your family, and your heart. In all their innocent and youthful exuberance, puppies have no idea what a heavy burden they are carrying — and most of us don't realize we've placed it upon them. That cute little ball of fur is carrying our hopes, dreams, and expectations.

Whether it's your first puppy or your tenth, the fact remains that we have a pretty good idea of what we expect him to do for us as an adult dog. Sometimes those expectations are the result of trying to replace an old dog that we've lost, or they may be thoughts of having a dog that hunts and performs as well as a friend's dog we admire, or perhaps we have dreams of winning in competition. Whatever the reason, we've unwittingly put our new puppy in the difficult position of fulfilling our dreams.

Can this puppy do all that? Assuming that we did our homework before we decided on this particular puppy, the answer is yes. Before we go any further, let's explain what we mean by homework.

First of all, does our puppy have the right genetic material to please us? That depends on what we want. If the parents were high-powered, big-running competition dogs and we want to compete in field trials, then yes, there's the genetic material available for our puppy to succeed. If we want that same puppy to hunt very close on foot, we've probably set ourselves up for disappointment.

The reverse can be true if mamma and daddy were good, solid, close-working pleasure-hunting dogs and we expect something different from Junior. That's not the puppy's fault — it can only use what was bred into it. The puppy can only have the genetic potential provided by the pedigree.

The rest is left up to us, as owners, handlers, and trainers of our young protégé. When choosing a pup, have a vision in mind of what the end product will be, and keep that vision in mind throughout the dog's training. Use it as an end goal to work toward. The important part here is to keep it a vision rather than an instant demand. Getting to that end result takes time, patience, and training. Too often, expecting three-year-old behavior at 12 weeks or 12 months ruins a good puppy.

Learning by Experience
One of the most critical mistakes made with puppies is not allowing them to learn by experience. Every experience comes with a "first time," and there's no way around letting them learn. Don't deprive your dog of the consequences of its behavior!
This is the best way for our puppies to develop good thinking skills, and by overprotecting and over-controlling them, we teach them to not use their brain.

It's kind of like rearing kids: You can tell them the stove is hot, and even pull their hand away, but eventually they will touch it; and at that point, they will find out what "hot" means.

As our puppy gets older (to the "teenager stage") at around eight to 12 months, the lessons become harder.

Think of telling your teenager not to speed when driving the car. If he's like most of us, the lesson will come in the form of a speeding ticket, and having to pay for his mistake out of his own pocket will make a valuable impression.

Again, we repeat: Do not cheat your dog of the consequences of its behavior. (Please note that there are times to make an exception, such as running after cars or onto the road.)
While you're allowing your puppy to learn by experience, you do have some level of control over what those experiences are and in what order they are presented to your puppy. We've found that doing a good job of socializing puppies and letting them explore as their world expands allows them to learn with confidence.

One extremely important experience that is often introduced way too soon is gunfire. This usually happens due to human impatience: "Let's make sure he's not gunshy." If you have to see if he's gunshy, you'll probably be responsible for making him gunshy!

Loud noises need to be introduced carefully, and preferably combined with another distraction so the puppy doesn't focus on the noise. Introducing a pup to gunfire should be the last thing on your list of things to do.

If you take the time to do the socialization and allow the puppy to learn, gunfire will be no big deal. On the flip side, if you rush the introduction to gunfire, you may create the very same fear you are trying to prevent. You cannot make a mistake by going too slow!

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