Puppy Introductions: Water, Game and Gunfire

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Puppyhood plays an integral role in the future of your hunting dog. Introducing her to critical aspects of the hunt, including game, cover, water and especially gunfire, at critical ages and in a controlled manner to ensure a positive experience is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re training a pointer for the uplands, a retriever for the wetlands or hounds for small- or big-game, by keeping new experiences positive and slowly increasing the scope of that experience will guarantee your gundog loves all the aspects of her future job.

Water: Dogs usually take to water easily, but if you mess this up, it could set your training back weeks. For the best results, make the introduction on a warm day in a pond with lukewarm water and a gently sloping bank. Those three factors will eliminate most issues as the pup will be warm from playing, confident and willing to explore as it cools off. If a pup is still hesitant, don't force the issue. Instead, wade out into the water with the dog and splash around, or seize on a dog’s predilection to be part of a pack by bringing a more experienced dog along to lead the way.

Game: Whether it's a pheasant, a raccoon or a cougar, the key to introducing dogs to game is to start small and make it fun. Don't throw a small puppy in a scenario with a hook-spurred rooster; instead, try a wing-clipped pigeon or quail, then chukar, then hen pheasant. Let hound pups smell and explore a fresh-killed raccoon and then chase a live raccoon in a roll cage – or even the family cat up a tree (just not too often) – to awaken his desire. The goal is for the puppy to gain confidence and proficiency in handling smaller game, which will help him tackle larger prey without hesitation.

Gunfire: Early experiences with firearms can have a lifelong effect on a dog. A gun-shy dog is a manmade problem – poor judgment in this area has ruined more good dogs than anything else – and it's almost always avoidable.
Don't surprise your dog by firing a shot while he's eating. Instead, build your dog's confidence with prey drive. Get him focused and amped to chase after your intended species by teasing him with a wing or while engaged in chase with other game. When he absolutely wants that bird or coon, you can fire a shot while he chases, but do it with a small caliber or gauge and from a distance.
If the dog is startled and stops, wait a few days and try again from farther away. If he doesn't pay any mind, move closer. After a couple of days, he should equate gunfire with prey and get excited when the guns come out.
Puppies catch on quickly, but the greatest folly amateur trainers make is progressing too fast. Take your time and have fun.


About the Author

Brian Lynn
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Brian Lynn has enjoyed a career in the outdoors industry for more than two decades, including as senior editor and gundogs editor at ESPNOutdoors.com and Outdoor Life magazine. Currently he defends hunting, fishing and trapping trapping from the animal-rights movement as the vice president of marketing and communications at Sportsmens Alliance


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