Too Early To Start - Page 2

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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Principle number two, a puppy begins learning from the moment the puppy is born. The mother quickly teaches a puppy many life skills in and out of the whelping box. Then as the puppy grows older, his siblings begin to teach him social order lessons. However, we don’t want the social order of the whelping box to be engrained too heavily into the puppy before going home to his new owners, so we remove the puppy from his littermates at 7 weeks old.

Proper introduction to birds is often better left to a professional trainer.
Photo by: Author
Once with his new family, the social order is established once again. It’s at this point you assume the role of "Alpha" dog and teach him how to be a good citizen. By establishing consistent rules and holding a high standard, young dogs will quickly understand what is acceptable and unacceptable. This applies in the home as well as in the field. It is not fair to the young spaniel to be allowed to get away with one behavior one day and not the next. If this is allowed to happen, a dog can quickly get confused and this will set you back days or sometimes weeks in training.

Simple obedience of "No", "Here" and "Hup" can be started as early as 8 weeks old. Give yourself and the new pup the first week to get accustomed to the new surroundings. At such a young age, "Here" is probably the simplest command you can teach. It’s only when the dog gets older and more independent that the command "Here" becomes more difficult.

Principle number three, gun dog training books are wrong! Well not really, but often gun dog training books spell out a timeline that may or may not apply to the maturity rate of your spaniel. Some dogs will be able to learn multiple concepts at the same time while others will not. The role of the trainer, when teaching a young dog a concept, is to read how well he comprehends the lesson and adjust your program accordingly. Again, this is where the gun dog training books are defunct. No book can teach you to "read a dog", only years of practice will help you master such a skill. Additionally, books typically only give you a single approach to train your spaniel and if that doesn’t work, well you get the idea. By establishing a solid relationship built on trust, you will find it possible to communicate with your canine beyond the spoken word, which will pay large dividends in the end.

Principle number four, you should see some sign of maturity before entering into any type of structured training program. It’s not uncommon for an immature pup to be distracted quickly by other things that are going on around him. Many young dogs are incapable of maintaining any form of eye contact with the trainer for more than a second or two. Others will allow their minds to drift off while in the midst of doing a retrieve and will start to veer off line towards something else that seems to be more attractive to them. Every pup will come into it’s own, at his own pace. Rest assured, if the breeding is there, one day you will notice that you have his full attention during your sessions and he will be ready to take on the challenge of structured training.

So, what is too young to me? Too young is pushing that puppy into concepts he is not ready for. Often, training manuals and canine behaviorist studies are great sources of information, but terribly deceptive when it comes to what your puppy is ready for. Remember, "nature" will only take you so far. Nurture that puppy and take your time and above all be patient while you wait for the light to go on. Work on the basic concepts like obedience, socialization, and simple retrieving. Keep your standards high and be consistent with the message you are sending to your young dog, and have fun!
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