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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Exposing young dogs to different situations will help make them bold and confident.
Trainers who don’t live in areas rich in wild birds should seed their grounds with enough pigeons, chukar or quail to ensure sufficient bird contact. (Be careful about using pheasants at the outset, as a bad experience with a tough rooster can frighten a young dog.) Also remember that these are not sessions for teaching the pup to come or hunt close. The pup should be allowed to run and chase to its heart’s content-without being hacked on. (Believe me, both you and the dog will have more fun.)

This early period is also the time to begin socializing the pup. Make sure the youngster is comfortable around other dogs and other people. Take it on a (leashed) walk through town or to the supermarket and let strangers reach down and pet it. Exposure to different situations can only strengthen the dog’s confidence and make it bolder and if you ever plan to hunt with friends who have dogs, it will make things a lot easier.

When the time does come to begin formal training, two cardinal rules apply: 1) The dog must understand the command absolutely, and 2) the dog must be corrected at the place of the infraction soon after it occurred. I have heard dog owners say, "My dog knew he did bad. When I got home he had that look on his face. He knew he wasn’t supposed to piddle on the floor, so I stuck his nose in it and said, ’Bad, bad boy."

Thinking the dog "knew" it was doing wrong is a misperception. Prior to the owner arriving home, the dog was probably curled up snoozing. When the owner put his key in the front door, the dog’s apprehension and stress levels were triggered. Why? Because dogs associate! In the past when the dog heard the door unlocking, it was sometimes greeted with petting and other times by having its nose stuck in pee. The dog now associates the sound of the lock with possible correction. Because the corrections have not taken place at the time of the infractions, the dog has not made the connection between urinating on the floor and the discipline. For the correction to be meaningful, it has to take place at the time of or shortly after the act. Disciplining a few hours later results in nothing more than distrust and uncertainty in the dog.

As for teaching commands, the first six months is the ideal time to start "show-pup" training- without correction for non-compliance. Here the command is repeated over and over while the pup is shown what is expected of it. For example, when I show a pup what "Here" means, I snap a check cord to its collar and gently pull it to me while repeating, "Here, here, here." Only after hundreds of show-pups will I start demanding the pup comply the first time I give the command. The more show-pups, however, the less discipline will be necessary. And the less discipline used, the more stylish the dog will be.

It is also important to be consistent. Dogs understandably get confused when trainers sometimes command "Here," other times "Come," and still other times "Come on over here." Choose one command and stick with it. Also keep training sessions short and frequent. Ten minutes every day is more effective than three hours on Saturday.

And finally, don’t expect a young dog to comply with excellence to commands. Remember that a pup’s attention and maturity levels are limited. Just show the pup and keep playing. There will be plenty of time for advanced training later on.

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