Too Early To Start

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Too Early To Start

by David Krassler

This month I would like to address a question that I have been asked on numerous occasions. The all too famous questions: "When is a good time to start training a young dog?"

Animal behaviorists have written volumes about the social development of a canine and generally agree that puppies should be removed from their littermates at 7 weeks old. It’s from that point on that man begins tinkering with "Mother Nature". Often a 7 to 8 weeks old puppy will go to their new home and be thrown into situations he may not be ready for. Eager new owners often let the excitement of owning a well-bred gun dog get the better of them.

Reputable breeders recognize this fact and constantly modify their breeding program to produce faster and faster maturing canines. Despite professional breeders best efforts, one thing remains the same, dogs mature at different rates and the environment a dog is raised in can often be the difference between a top-notch gun dog and a "pot-licker".

I will be the first to admit that having a puppy that’s a sponge at 8-12 weeks old and absorbs everything you throw at it is exciting. However, this is often little, if any, indication to how well the dog will do when he matures.

During the past 15 years, I have been amazed with the wide range and level of training that dogs come to our facility with. I have seen both ends of the spectrum. In some cases, I have seen owners bring dogs in that barely even know their names. When questioned as to how much training their dog has received they sheepishly answer, "None, I didn’t want to ruin him before he came in for training." At the other extreme, I have seen owners bring young spaniels in where they have applied so much control on the dog that he becomes very mechanical. Both of these situations are equally troublesome and can be avoided by applying a few simple principles.

At a young age, "Here" is probably the simplest command you can teach. It
Photo by: Author
Principle number one, "Mother Nature" does not bless all dogs equally when it comes to ability or rate of maturity.

As a professional breeder, I place a high importance on how biddable dogs are. After years of being around spaniels, it has become easy to spot dogs that exhibit a high desire to please. Finding that balance between "willingness to please" and independence is what most professionals look for. Willingness to please is a trait that is passed on through genetics and fostered throughout the "bonding process" that takes place when you get your new puppy.

At a young age you should begin to introduce your gun dog to as many new elements as possible. Trips to the country fairs, the local park, public places, kids and other people will build a solid foundation on which the rest of his life will be built. Take walks in the field alone with your new companion. After a short time, he will become accustomed to the cover, wind and new scents. Leave the whistle at home for the first few trips in the field, you just want that little sponge to soak-up everything. The trust and confidence your pup will have in you during this process will also bring the two of you closer together. Watch the way he reacts to new things, but be sure not to coddle him too much. He will show you, through body language, how he sees the world. Make adjustment, you want him to learn there is a big world out there and he is part of it.

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