Pup’s first year … or so

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Your hopes and dreams are wrapped up in that little ball of fur you just brought home. Training started the moment you gathered him up in your arms for the first time, and it never ends. It is a continuum of more and bigger distractions your dog must endure while executing a command, and “finished dog” is always a relative term.

Sure, we all have our “plan,” such as it is. If it works for you, you are a lucky dog owner. You can skip the rest of this article.

But if you’re hoping to up your game with the new kid, maybe it’s time to look at well, a different way of looking at things. Or if this is your first pup, maybe you at least need a starting point … sort of a report card on how things should – generally – look at any given time. Here ya go.

You can’t go wrong with a few basics: Legendary trainer Delmar Smith suggests we never give a dog a chance to fail. His son Rick sums up the fundamentals: your dog should stop, go away from you, and come back to you when you want. The devil, of course, is in the details.

Every dog progresses at his own pace, but here are some rough guidelines on your first year (or so) together:

Age 2-4 months: Acquaint your apprentice with people, places, grooming, doctoring, and once vaccinations are complete, other friendly dogs. Time for housebreaking, crate training, teaching pup to respond to his name, and the meaning of “no.” Mild exercise only – his joints’ growth plates aren’t ready for sustained running or jumping. Acquaint him with a collar and leash, but no yanking please – you get more cooperation with praise than punishment.

Five-seven months: Obedience is the primary goal … coming when called, yielding to a leash. Bold pups can explore the field on a checkcord, learning the windshield-wiper pattern you’ll want in the field. When your flusher pup sits on his own, overlay “hup.” Start gently holding your pointer while introducing “whoa,” on a training table if you have one.

Introducing dead birds will kindle prey drive, and if you can keep up, you might check-cord your pup into the scent cone of hard-flushing live birds. Pointers might flash point, and with a firm grip on the cord they will start learning steadiness to wing. Spaniels and retrievers that know hup can be encouraged to sit on flush, but this exercise is really about getting them fired up about bird contact, not obedience.
Fun times in warm, shallow water are also in order, but let pup decide when to swim. Introduce gunfire, starting at a distance – cap guns to blank pistols to small gauge shotguns, always while pup is reveling in bird contact.

Eight-11 months: Introduce the electronic training collar, using it only when you are certain he fully understands a command. Pointing instinct should be well developed by now. Retrievers and versatile dogs should bring retrieving bumpers back, at least most of the way, some of the time. If he’s been properly introduced to guns, take him hunting for short stints – joints are still growing. Field dogs should be patterning back and forth (checkcord attached), close for the spaniels and retrievers, at natural range for pointing breeds.

Twelve-16 months: Your adolescent dog should have most obedience commands down pat. Pointers should stand a bird until it flies – flushers should hup on the flush. “Blind manners,” sitting still and quiet while hunters call ducks, can now be a priority for any dog expected to work the marsh. Ditto for easy marks (watching falling birds to ensure accurate retrieves). Some confident dogs might be ready for force-breaking.

Dog training is a lifetime of devotion, effort, fun, headaches and heartaches, occasional triumphs for each of you. It’s a series of baby steps and quantum leaps, plateaus and regression. Even the best pup will go off the rails, so plan on frequent remedial work. But when he points his first ringneck or churns toward a downed pintail you’ll know it was worth every minute.

About the Author

Scott Linden
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Scott is the creator and host of Wingshooting USA television series, the most-watched upland hunting series in the U.S. He is also a popular seminar presenter, and blogger at outdoorlife.com and scottlindenoutdoors.com. Scott’s book What the Dogs Taught Me was released in June, 2013 from Skyhorse Publishing of New York. His book Fun Family Outdoor Ideas was published in 2000.

Scott’s byline has been seen many times in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Quail Forever, Shooting Sportsman, Pointing Dog Journal, Gun Dog, Versatile Hunting Dog, Quail Forever, Pheasants Forever and Sports Afield magazines. He is a frequent guest on television and radio talk shows, designs dog care and training gear, consults with apparel and equipment manufacturers on product development, and serves as a technical advisor and stock footage supplier to network TV and feature-film productions


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