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Grady Istre – FIELD DOGS

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Friday, October 20, 2017
Getting ready for waterfowl
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
A matter of control

Discipline and pups
With only a few weeks left of the hunting season, many hunt­ers begin looking ahead to next season and thinking about getting a puppy. Maybe it’s time to retire their old dog, or perhaps they just got tired of losing so many birds without a dog. If you’re one of those hunters thinking about getting a pup, the timing is right. The new pup could be ready for the next hunting season. Whatever the reason, the beginning of a new year seems a good time to talk about puppies and their training.

The first chore with a new pup is the necessity of tackling the issue of housebreaking. If you want your pup to be a house pet as well as a hunter, you will want to get started on this first task immediately. I like to house train my own pups — even those destined to be sold to a client — then move them to the kennel environment after that. That way, they’re socialized and already paying attention to a few commands, like “here” and “sit.” Then, when they start their life as a working dog, they’re already attuned to the human and eager to work.

One of the biggest issues for novice trainers is how much discipline to use on a pup, because just the thought of teaching and reinforcing commands can seem daunting. How much discipline, and in what form, is suitable and/or desirable is a concern. On the low end, a stern-voiced command can be effective, and on the high end, a tone from an electric collar can be used, but with discretion. In fact, I don’t personally use a collar on a pup, but I know other professionals do use them. In any case, it’s important to allow for the individual pup’s temperament. It’s wise not to be in a hurry to correct a soft or timid pup, and it’s even wise to be careful not to diminish even a bold pup’s eagerness to retrieve. A verbal correction or a tap with a stick is usually all a trainer needs.

For example, to teach the “sit” command, I gently press down on the pup’s rear end and praise him when he performs the “sit” on his own. I start this when the pup is about eight weeks old. I often give a bit of a treat as a reward for a willing performance. Then, I introduce the pup to the leash and begin the “heel” command. I use a thin choke chain, but not in a harsh manner. Pups are usually quite willing to walk alongside when you stride out and keep moving. These early commands, “sit” and “heel,” require short lessons on a daily basis.

It sometimes surprises people to watch a young pup perform so easily and with enthusiasm. I admit that I use quite a bit of praise during these early lessons. But the praise is timely and not watered down by too much repetition. These early lessons are important because they show the dog what communication with the human is all about and they come to look forward with the working sessions. One-word commands, given timely, build communication when the pup listens carefully and the praise is at the moment the desired action is performed. When your pup understands from an early age that discipline and training are desirable parts of his life, you will be amazed at how quickly your puppy adapts and comes to be enthusiastic about begin trained.

I like to introduce young pups to not only a few basics, but also to a variety of scenes. I often take them to a pond and carry them out a short distance and gently lower them down into the water. They will then swim the very short distance to the shore. Most pups really take to the water, but I don’t insist on lots of swimming for the first lesson. I also like to work an older dog on short water retrieves, allowing the puppy will follow the old pro into the pond. But, I never insist the pup go into the pond at all because I want to avoid any negative experiences at this time in his development.

The idea is to introduce discipline to your puppy in small doses. Ideally, it should be done in a step-up-the-ladder process, which hopefully will eliminate the need for any harsh discipline as your puppy grows up. After introduction to the basic commands of “sit” and “heel,” he can be introduced to birds. After all, this is essential for any dog whose destiny is to become a good hunting partner. I love to see a puppy interested in chasing a clip-wing pigeon or chasing after an adult dog with a bird. But, as always, introduction to anything new should not be forced, because the pup’s curiosity will be in your favor. Once that interest is solidified, he will become more receptive to a disciplined format for all of his future training.

If you encounter a problem that you feel is not within your ability to solve, don’t be re­luctant to seek assistance from a knowledgeable person or a professional trainer in your area. Overusing or mis­using discipline on a young dog could destroy his desire to hunt al­together. A puppy’s mind is like a sponge, ready to soak up knowledge and experiences at a rapid rate. It’s your job as a trainer to make sure he learns all of life’s lessons in an encouraging, patient, and timely manner. I always like to remind my readers of my Uncle Frank’s advice, “if you don’t know, go slow.”

The rewards of training your own pup are both useful and gratifying. Having a hunting dog partner that’s eager and joyful and ready to hunt anytime you are will add joy and pride to all of your outings.

Have fun training!

Grady’s column generally appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at

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