Jun 7, 2017

The Importance of Training Your Puppy Right Away

By: Jesse Dieckman

One question I get asked quite often is, “When should I start training my puppy?” The answer to that is right when you get home. At this point, the puppy should be about 7 to 8 weeks old. This time is important with your puppy because this is considered your bonding time.

When training your puppy at this young age, you should keep your sessions short and sweet.   Having a training goal in mind that you would like to accomplish is always a plus as long as it is within a reasonable expectation. I would recommend starting with the command “sit” or “here.” One way to do so is say the command, then put the pup’s haunches down with your hand to create that behavior. Then, be sure to reinforce the good behavior with a positive a treat. You will need some repetition with your pup to reinforce the command and what it means. Be patient. It may take some time for the little guy or girl to understand and do the action on his or her own, following your command.

Next, I would go to the “here” or “come” command. For this, the simplest thing to use is a check cord. In the first stages of this training, let the puppy drag it around for a while with you in the back yard. You want to create some space between the two of you when you talk to your pup. This allows you to get his/her attention. When you want the dog to come to you, talk to your pup with a “hup hup” or a “hey hey” little whistle, if needed, to get their attention.   Use the command “here” or “come.” Then, praise the pup to let them know they did it right and that’s what you wanted. Praise and reinforcement are important to do!

The same positive reinforcement is used to teach “kennel” and place board work also.   Use the treat as bait to put in the kennel. You will find that the pup wants to go in the kennel to get the food. You should repeat this behavior about 4 to 8 times per training session. Make sure to use the word “kennel,” show the treat, and then put it in the kennel.   This same training technique works with the place board. Instead, you start by putting the treat on the place board to get the pup onto the place board. The key is that it must feel good to the puppy, and be a happy place in order to get him/her to want to go there. After he/she wants to go there, it will be followed by a comfortable feeling of being there.

The same basic foundation also works with retrieving. Start off by only throwing a few to tease the pup by showing him/her what you are throwing. Then use a short toss down a hall that is walled in with the doors closed. This will help to insure that the pup comes back to you. Use a light check cord and if the pup is hesitant to return, give a slow and subtle pull back to you so they learn to bring the dummy back. I feel this is so important because there have been times when I get a dog in and the retrieving skill is lacking. The age is usually 6 months for more formal training. The young dog comes in and does not have much for retrieving desire at all. That little time spent each day with the young puppy helps out a lot in developing the dog’s desire and drive to retrieve.

Socialization for a puppy is also important in their development. Many puppies are scared of new people, guns, loud noises, birds, weather, vehicles, water, steps, and stairs, almost anything you can think of. Anything a pup does for the first time can be spooky or a bit scary to them. It’s important to get the pup in a relaxed and mild setting to teach the pup and expose them a little bit at a time. Use your voice in a happy but higher pitched voice to get the dog excited about doing something new because if you make it exciting to them they are more likely to enjoy doing it. Then, praise them when they do what you teach them to do. That’s important to do that with puppies at young age because they want to know they did great thing and now they will want to do something else that’s new for them again.  

                I once had a young dog come in and the owner had done nothing with her. It was scared of everything; guns, water, steps to stairs, new people, and even birds. The owner asked if I would help and I said, “Sure.” It took three times the effort to train that youngster because she was not exposed to the different elements the first time at a younger age. After 6 months of training, the dog liked to swim, retrieve birds with guns shooting and jumping in the truck with other dogs and new people.   After showing the dog’s accomplishments to the owner, he remarked that the dog had a really good pedigree and he knew the dog would be a good hunting dog. I had to laugh at that, inside knowing that if that dog was never trained, it would still be as scared and afraid as the day she came in.

Keep in mind, I agree that a really good pedigree helps out a lot. This is especially true when you’re in field trials, hunt tests, or to make a really good hunting dog. If you want your dog to be good at something, then ask the right questions of that breeder. I myself like my dogs with that on and off switch. A dog that can turn it off when he/she gets home. The dog lays down on the place board, living room or mudroom.   The key is the dog likes to chill out or just relax inside the house, clubhouse or any other building, if you will. But, when it’s out in the field, it’s GAME ON! Let’s go to work and have some fun with the training or hunting.

Having a positive attitude and the fact that I like the work of training makes it much easier to do, knowing the dog enjoys it. I also get to enjoy the dogs that I own out on guided bird hunts at the game farm the Highlands Hunt Club in Cascade, Wisconsin. Each time I take the dogs out, the people enjoy watching them do the work of hunting the birds. Often times, the hunter says to me, “Man it sure is nice to watch those dogs work out there. They just love what they do.” That’s true. The dogs love it and you can tell at a young age if your dog has the desire for birds.

If a well-behaved and well-trained dog is what you want, then take the time to make it happen.   It’s tough to do in a very busy world that we live in, but a little bit each day can go a long way. We owe it to our dogs as pet owners to work with them and teach them how do things without being in a huge rush. One of the biggest reasons I guide pheasant hunts so often is because the people flat out tell me they just don’t have time for a dog. I can respect that 100 percent. If your life is made up of traveling a lot or just working long hours and nobody is around to take care of a dog, please do not get one. It’s an everyday responsibility. If you do get yourself a pup, keep in mind each dog is different in so many ways. Their personality and trainability make them unique in their own little way.  

Good luck and enjoy your man’s best friend.