The Information Highway for the Outdoors

So you have purchased a hunting dog. Let’s start training.

Ok, now that you have found the perfect hunting dog to fit your needs.  What do you do next? When do you start training?  What do you start training? What type of training is best? There are many more questions here, but lets just start with some of the basics.

First, and foremost pick the right time to buy.?.  What does that mean?  Well, first pick a time where you can take a couple of days off work, without distractions maybe over a long weekend.  Can you imagine what kind of shock you would be in, if someone just plucked you out of the only life and surrounding that you knew, Then, carried you off to be alone in a cage most of the day?  This is no way to treat a new pup.  I like to spend the first seven days with my pup.  Myself and family, devoted to the new addition…. 24 hours a day.  Alot of people believe in whelping. I call B.S. on this… and have had much more sustained success with a hands on welcoming to the new addition to the family.  In the long run… even though the first seven days are hard,  the training in the future goes soooo much easier.

Think of the care of a newborn baby at first.  You are the new mother, father, and family to this pup.  The 24 hour watch is very important for potty training and trust building.  I personally don’t bring my pup in the bed with me.   Instead,  I set up shop where I want the pup to feel comfortable away from my own bed.  A crate, dog bed, certain part of the house, or outside kennel…(yes you’ll be camping).  Although, the outside kennel potty training is not as much a problem, you can use this technique to make kennel clean up much easier.  The trick here is to be there, and be there with gentle open arms.

Potty training 101:

Hopefully, you bought your pup around the six weeks age mark.   At this time they still sleep a lot.  Trick… sleep when they sleep, even if your not tired. Also, they always, sleep in their spot. No, this will not be comfy for you, but you will be happy in the long run.   As soon as they wake, take them to where you want them to use the restroom.  Everytime without fail. Hopefully, the spot you have picked is not too far from the sleeping area.   Remember, everything is positive all the time, and no harsh punishment.

Keynote here for all aspects of training, dogs see black and white, they also hear black and white.  They understand voice inflection well, and they can count.   Gray area no longer exists for you.  It is either all correct or all wrong. Never reward a partly completed command, also never harshly punish a partly completed command.  If you want to confuse a dog teach them “No” in a normal voice, then Holler “NO,NO,NO” in the field or an intense training session.  You just gave the dog a completely new command, that it may have no idea what it means.  Baby talk works great for praise at all ages.  High pitch, soft, and excited words ran together is what I use. Think, stern, simply, and short for corrective inflections.  Some say that facial expression have little effect.  I’ve found them very useful. Animated excited praise, and a glare or grimace for a corrective stance work well for me.  The key is consistency, all the time, and every time the same damn thing.  If you get over emotional, revert to a simple task the dog will do everytime…. praise and end the training session till the emotions subside.  Never end on a negative.

So, back to the potty training.  Accidents will happen… Again, THEY WILL HAPPEN.  In the first days,  a simply stern “No” and relocation to the correct area will begin the correction process. After three or four days, you should be well accustomed to the precursing behavior, and relocate the pup to the designated area before the “accidents” happen.  If the dog is a kennel dog pick a spot and make that their spot to do their business. In the first days even if the dog is in the yard, try to relocate them to their spot.  You are driving home, this is where we do our business.  In very short order you will see the pup want to go to it’s spot on it’s own.  Every Time (whether you put them there) or they go on their own, GIVE lots and lots of praise, even at 2am when you are  dead dog tired.  Over do it.  At least a minute or two of praise.  In short order your new pup will be potty trained.  Normally well within the seven days. Quick note, if they are whining and crying you will probably have to cuddle.  Remember you are building trust and dominance here, which is much easier than when they are a 100 lbs.

While all this is going on.  Talk to your dog.  Yes, use conversation just like you were talking to another human.  I have been simply amazed at how many words a dog can actually understand, and it seems so much better understood with pups that had dialog early.  Remember to use voice inflection and be very diligent with your environment.  Case in point, you ( I hope) wouldn’t have a knock down, drag out argument with someone, if your infant was in your arms, treat your new pup with the same respect.  .

When to start training?  Whether you knew it or not, training started when your were picking the pup, and everything there after.  All of your actions are being absorbed by the pup, like a sponge.  Be very careful, and deliberate with yourself these next few weeks for sure.  With all breeds basic obedience starts it off. For me it’s “Come”, “Stay”, “Sit”(retriever)/ Relax (upland),:”Down”(lay), “Heel”,”Back”, “Place”, “Lets go”, “Drop”, “Their Name” (used for a retrieve/work command and attention/personalization command with different inflection), “Enough” (dominance command),  “Kennel”, “No”,  and “You wanna _____” (I use this as a release from training, giving the dog a time to develop it’s own reasoning) (examples here are “walk”,”run”, “treat”, “play”, “swim”) What ever he/she might want to do with a complete release from training.   So here is the key here.  Write your commands down and laminate them.  Make enough for all those who interact with the dog.  Train the interactors as well as yourself, and use only the commands you have trained and have written down as commands!!! Huge no, no, here. Never train on the fly.  Meaning you have covered, “Come” and “sit”.  Then release the dog from training to take a walk and throw out a “heel” command. Another note, give them a break from training, let them have fun.  Yet, maintain control of them.  They have to be able to get the energy out, but you can’t just let them run wild either. You’ll find the balance.

Start slow, and quick… maybe more accurately–precise.  Young pups 6-7 weeks at most 3-5 minutes maybe shorter per session.  8-10 weeks 5 minutes if first starting, maybe as long as 10 if you have been training since 6.  This extends to maybe 30 min session through the first year.  I highly don’t recommend training for longer than 30 min.  Not because a dog can’t handle it, but more so the trainer can’t.  Meaning, if you can’t successfully complete a task in that amount of time you either need to rethink the method, or break it up into smaller tasks.

The precise part is the hardest for handlers.  Black and White……. period, end of sentence, and do not pass go.  A single command… did they do it?  YES…. immediate praise when command is fully completed. NO… immediate single reprimand command at moment command was broken…. followed by immediate physical correction, then immediate praise after command is complete.  Example, teaching “sit” to Rascal 7 week old pup. Dog is facing you standing, you are petting and keeping attention, while making sure He( in this case) is standing, and you are on their level.  The command “Rascal Sit” is given with proper inflection. (petting and attention stops just before command.   Pause…. one, 1000, (first sessions) hand gently pushes hind end down while other hand holds front up( I call posturing) (Important this is not punishment it is gentle and loving) .  Immediately, when rump touches the ground in a good sit position posture.  Extended Praise is given. If sit is broken praise stops.  After say 5 sessions (one or two days),  after the 1 sec. A Corrective command is introduced “No” with inflection, Then immediate posturing. After 10 sessions (3 days) with young pup, a slight tap on rump simultaneously with the “No”  command.  After 15 sessions drop the “No” and only use a swift tap (not hurtful).  At this point “No” will be used for when the pup breaks. Example.  Rascal sit. Good boy,,, that’s a good boy, great job, you’re doing (he breaks “sit”) NO…. Rascal “sit”, swift tap.  Resume praise. Keep session short and precise. If the pup seems bored, train another task, or release from training.  The key is black and white, and clear correction without harming or frightening.

Let’s run through a few.

Name:

Use it any time you want the pups attention and use with proper inflection (remember proper inflection is your ((remember to tell all people who handle the dog about this) choice. You just have to be consistent with your inflection)). Remember it’s a command, so it’s stated only once.  and followed by praise for attention. Younger the pup the closer you are to it.  Maybe even inches away.  You’re actually teaching name and praise here.  So be consistent with both.  At first you might have to posture the pup before the praise, I do this by gently grabing lower jaw and gaining eye contact followed by praise. Remember, to be in arms reach at least so the praise can be immediate, even with older dogs.  In no time at the sound of their name, their head will turn to you. (I don’t discipline here as typically the dog is looking for a new pack leader and quickly follows in line here.) In fact, I can’t recall one young pup that hasn’t responded quickly.

Come: ( I use Come instead of Here, because here and heel are so close)

Two people, and training aids work well here.  Training aids (cut up small hot dogs, soaked kibble, dry kibble, bacon. I don’t use treats… They really aren’t that good for a dog).  Two people stand apart almost next to each other both at dogs level. Person 1 is holding dog in position facing person 2 and praising. Person 2 has training aid in fist, and gathers pups attention by bringing fist close to nose.  Once attention is obtained person 2 creates space maybe 3 feet while person 1 continues praise.  Command is given “Rascal Come”  person 2 stops praise as command is given and person 1 receives pup gives reward (training aid, and praise.)  Ween from training aid to just praise in short order.  While using training aid only one person has training aid at a time.  A good hunting dog will find the ones in your pocket in short order. 🙂 older dogs that are used to a leash, same setup without aides. Leash is left slack till command, a sharp short tug followed by praise will fit the bill.  Start short.  1 foot or  2 foot expand to max of 10 feet for a while.  Posturing here, a dog is replaced to person 1 with no praise and command is repeated at shorter distance until successful.  One thing to add here is that as the training goes on here, the “come” is followed with a two hands palm down single pat gesture toward ground.  From standing it’s a quick gesture starting with both hands straight out in front like stop signs, to hands palm down below your knees.  Think big here.  You want the movements to be decisive from 100 yards, later on in training.

 

Sit/relax (Upland):

Dog is always facing you…. This will make hand signals so much easier later.   “Sit” is the command.   Until another command is given, that is what the dog should be doing.  Example,  after training “radar” to “sit” at 10 weeks old (many sessions).  I gave the command, went to corner store, returned, and there he sat in the same spot 10 minutes later. Aforementioned, Rascal would sit in the same spot….till released….. for ever… and I mean for ever.   I figured this out when he was 14 weeks, house broken and able to stay home alone.  I was leaving for work and told him to sit, as I opened the door.  I left, and luckily returned for lunch 4 hours later. He was still in the same spot, shaking and cramping.  It was my fault and I felt terrible, thus staying home the rest of the day.  So, remember if you want obedience, and are precise, you have to be diligent not to forget to release the dog from training.

So sit.  Dog facing you, you at their level at first.  For the sake of repetition, it’s the same as above.  Training aid can be used at just above nose out of reach of standing.  Aid in fist, fist palm towards dog.  If pup jumps fists bumps down on nose, then rises back to position.   As soon as sit happens fist comes down and palm is opened, reward is given. Hand returns to above head in stop sign position. Give it a sec or two at first followed by praise.  Then extend and extend.  If a “break” happens, posture the pup and Then give praise. Then later correction command, followed by swift recourse.  Swift tap on hind for younger.  Pig whip ( gently) for older.  Remember we are not trying to hurt. the whip is used mainly for quickness, as trying to get your hand from in front of the face to the hind end takes too long.

Stay:

If you taught sit correctly, stay becomes just a transition.  Give “sit or relax” Hold hand in stop sign, slowly back away. When, it looks like pup is about to break “sit”, give “Stay”/”easy” (Upland). Remember, to close distance before starting praise.  You don’t want praise to be determined as a release from training. If you start praising from 20 feet away and they release, you can’t cover the ground quickly enough to enforce the a correction.  If a break happens give the “NO” correction. Physically pick the dog up and return to exact spot. Re- give the sit and continue Transition. Also important when break happens stop your hand command.  Start small, and give praise early.

“Relax” (I don’t train sit to my upland dogs, unless they will be multi-purpose for waterfowl. Relax is a standing stay position. It is used much like sit)

 

Heel:

Time consuming, crafty, and precision come into play here.  Dog must be able to handle a leash, and have a solid sit/relax(upland)/stay.  Give sit(or)relax…..stay with leash on dog. Walk around from front of dog, to position dogs nose at sit, even with off gun side knee.  It’s important for the nose to be just behind knee.  We want to be the leader, not the dog.  Give dog enough lead (leash) to allow only 6 inches or so of wander.  Grasp lead tightly and place off gun fist with lead, firmly on off gun hip flexor. (hip, but on front side of body).  Done correctly your hand and arm will be in almost an extended  hammer curl position.   Stride with off gun leg, sharp tug on leash up and forward, then immediate slack. (Fist back to hip flexor.) Simultaneous command “Heel”.  Start with maybe 5 steps or 10 for a dog doing well.  No more jerks, just a firm fist planted on your hip.  Remember a little slack. Walk slow and straight.  A smart dog will find the comfort zone quickly.  Important One command “heel”. If the pup breaks go back to “sit/relax” and start over.  Lots of praise is the key here.  even for only a few steps.  Don’t let the dog gain any lead. Slack shouldn’t be long enough for dog to comfortably walk on gun side leg, or trail directly behind.  This is why it is important to be in strong position and have it on the front of the hip. As the lead wraps on your body it takes up the slack.  NO CHOKER COLLARS.  If dog passes you in front stop and twist hip sharply back. (say nothing at first) You can also use off gun leg to give reminder tap to front of chest with your heel. Again, you are training that you are the lead dog here.  Then start walking to regain lead position.  As this goes on, and they get better, start turning the course: Slow S turns at first, stop,  Turn right, turn sharp left, zig zag, circles, trot, run walk, crawl, figure 8’s, make it a game for them.  They will enjoy it. I always turn in front of them first.  So it would be left cause I shoot right handed.  When turning right a short reminder tap with the lead might be needed at first.  Later you will slack the lead more and more, they will lose focus a time or two. Give them some distance maybe 3 feet.  Then a sharp tug and release. Command “Heel” and continue.

Hand signal for heel for me, is left hand, held left of left hip.  Index finger pointed towards ground and motioned in small 6 inch circle from right.   Think of it like the dog is facing you and you are pointing to where you want him/her to be, and motioning for them to turn around at the same time.  Another can be a pat on the back of your off gun thigh.

 

I think this is a good start for now, we will cover more next week.  Only one other thing to touch base on.

Puppies need to chew, provide rawhide or a chew toy, not bumpers for this, bumpers are for training only never use as a toy.  Bumpers should be white or black and white.  The bright orange ones are very hard for a dog to see, in trials we refer to them as “blind” bumpers.  The plastic ones are good, but for young dogs the canvas ones are more comfortable to them.  Use bird wings attached to the bumpers as much as possible, and don’t allow the dogs to chew them.  Use scents with the canvas ones also.

A bird wing on a string can be a fun after training, for a reward, used like a cat yarn ball. Just important not to let them chew them.  I replace the wings back to my freezer for re-use later.

 

Good luck, and have fun.

James

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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