It’s never a good idea to take an untrained dog to the field for a hunt because there is very little to gain and a bunch to lose. I have given this advice many times over the years and some hunters think it’s a good idea, while others ignore it completely.
Every hunter wants to take his new untrained puppy on a hunting trip with him no matter how old he/she is at the time. It takes self-discipline to refrain. So the question lingers: when should you take your puppy hunting? You’d think there would be a simple answer to the question; but, like most answers in the dog training world, it depends.
The last thing you want to have happen to your pup is to frighten him, especially with something that should be music to his ears — like a shotgun blast. Even though you’ve made the effort to give your pup some controlled experience to gunshots does not mean he will handle the noise from multiple guns going off in the field under hunting conditions. Even a dog who has graduated from a basic training course can be apprehensive on his first few hunts. If you compound his nervousness with a shotgun blast, or multiple blasts — you can create a potentially disastrous situation for a young dog.
When there are too many things happening at one time for an inexperienced dog to cope with, side-effects can arise that will set back, or in some cases, even ruin his maturing into a competent hunting dog.
Inexperienced dogs need time to figure out what the hell is going on all around them so that each element of the occurrences encountered in the field can be competently introduced. Fear is not a motivating factor for any pup, so don’t be foolish by exposing your youngster to frightening experiences before he is ready to handle them.
The smart thing for you to do is not take him on a hunting outing until he has had at least a basic training course under his belt, that way he will feel more comfortable performing essential commands. He also will have a general idea as to what will be expected of him in most hunting situations better than if he did not have that kind of education beforehand. Of course, some dogs handle pressure situations better than others, but why not take the safe route?
When educating a beginner dog, training should be done in small doses, never going beyond what the little fellow can handle at any one time. Small steps up the ladder of knowledge are always best. It’s always wise to adapt training to your individual pup.
I know many of you have read or heard a trainer say, “read the dog.” If you can do that, you can know how much a dog can handle and not go beyond his limitations in a training session. As always, tailoring a session to your pup’s abilities, and your own needs, leads to success.
As dogs get older and more mature, they are better able to handle higher levels of learning, knowledge and discipline than when they were pups. I think my Uncle Frank’s wise words apply here: “when you don’t know, you go slow.” It’s of course your choice whether to take your young pup out to the field or not, fellow hunters, but I hope you will now be aware that there are risks involved. Making good decisions is not just something we teach our gun dogs. We as trainers must make an attempt to be become as self-disciplined as the dogs we instruct.
Always have fun training.
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Grady Istre's column appears every other week in WON and he can be reached at reibar.com.