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Ten Commandments of Dog Training

by George Hickox

Training a young dog is an art, a science and a religion, as helping a genetically sound pup to become a world-class bird dog is a passion that requires a substantial commitment of time. Self-trained dogs are normally delinquents. When you purchase a pup, you make a pledge to bring that dog along right, and just as with other arts, sciences and religions, there are guidelines. If you adhere to the following 10 Commandments of Bird Dog Training, your chances of producing a first-rate gundog will be much improved.

1) Socialize Your Pup
I can't stress enough that puppies not properly socialized will never reach their full potential. In my experience, pups isolated from positive people contact prior to 12 weeks of age are a trainer's albatross.

I recently received a letter from an individual who had purchased a six-month-old dog. Since birth, the dog had been kenneled with its littermates, and when anyone approached the enclosure all puppies had sought refuge in the doghouse. At eight months the pup was reticent and timid. I was sorry to have to tell the owner that because of this lack of socialization it would be almost impossible to make his dog into a first-rate hunting companion.

During your dog's first six months it is critical that the pup comes to know and love you and that you learn to understand the pup's developing personality. You will see the pup mature and its ability to concentrate increase. A key ingredient in training is to know when the dog is ready to learn as well as when it's ready to move on.

To properly expose the pup, take it for walks where it will be introduced to new scents, people and other animals. Let strangers spoil it. Pup needs to see the world, not just your backyard.

2) Keep Your Pup Healthy
Establish a relationship with a local veterinarian, and keep pup's preventatives for parvo, distemper, adenovirus, coronavirus, leptovirus, rabies and heartworm current. Regular checkups will ensure that pup stays healthy and free of parasites. Vaccinating against Lyme disease may be recommended if this tick-transmitted disease exists in your area.

Check pup's ears and skin for mites and fleas as well as its teeth for tartar buildup. A table where the pup will get used to being off the ground and handled at eye level is a great training aid and makes it easier for you to give a thorough canine health care exam.

Use a quality chicken- or meat-base food. Do not feed too much protein to your growing pup. Slow, even growth is preferable to fast growth. A premium chicken-base food in the 24- to 28-percent protein and IS-to 20-percent fat category is about right.

The amount you feed will change rapidly as pup grows. The benchmark is being able to feel the dog's ribs. Do not overfeed, as a fat puppy is more prone to hip and bone disorders. And always be sure pup has an ample supply of fresh water.

3) Do Not Rush Training
I tell clients in my dog training schools, "If I wanted my son to be a plumber, I wouldn't give him a wrench on his first birthday." In other words, do not expect unrealistic feats from your pup. Too much early formal training may take style and pizzazz out of a youngster. It is wiser to err on the side of caution.

Pup will need to learn certain commands from a safety standpoint and for acceptable behavior in the house. For example, early on you will want to teach the pup "No" and that biting is intolerable. You can also start teaching "Here" by running away from the puppy saying "Here, here, here." When the youngster gets to you, reward it with a treat, an "Attaboy" or a pat.

When the dog is 10 to 12 weeks old, you can begin teaching "Sit, Hup" or "Whoa." Don't make the dog comply for long periods. Your job at this stage is to show the pup what the command means, not demand that it responds like a pro. I don't like to teach "Sit" to the pointing breeds before I teach "Whoa." Pups that are taught "Sit" first have a tendency to sit when being taught "Whoa."

If you have a pointing breed, you can play "wing on a string," but don't overdo it. This is a sight game and, if overdone, may encourage creeping. I play this game only to bring out the pointing instinct in dogs up to 12 to 14 weeks old. Developing retrieving instincts early is beneficial. Use a rolled up sock, dog training dummy or tennis ball. Start the pup off retrieving in a corridor so it cannot run away with its prize. The object you use for these sessions should not be left around for the dog to chew on; it is a treat.

4) Be the Pack Leader
It is imperative you understand that pup is a pack animal. If you are not perceived as the pack leader, pup will do whatever it wants whenever it wants. That dream of a well-behaved gunning companion will become a nightmare featuring a bird busting rebel hunting out of range.

I'm not saying you need constantly to project a tough-guy image, but I do believe it is necessary to be a fair boss. It is much easier to establish yourself as pack leader early on than to try to realign an 18-month-old delinquent.

An effective way to establish yourself as boss is to place two fingers into pup's mouth behind the canine teeth while grasping the dog's lower jaw with your thumb. Pup will try to pull away and get your fingers out of its mouth. Don't talk; just keep your fingers where they are. The dog will eventually accept that you are in control.

Also, don't strike a dog with your hands. You don't want it to become hand-shy. Picking the pup up and handling it, using the training table and touching the pads of the dog's feet will help the young dog understand that you're in charge.

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