STARTING A BIRD DOG PUPPY RIGHT CENTERS ON 3 CONCEPTS: SOCIALIZATION; BUILDING PREY DESIRE; AND CONDITIONING YOUR PUPPY TO FIELD SIGHTS AND SOUNDS. HERE’S HOW TO HANDLE THE PROGRAM.
Whenever a new bird dog puppy arrives in your life, your first job is to begin exposing him or her right away to the sights and sounds they’ll come to know afield. However, having a new pup and not-so-patiently waiting to unlock his or her potential begs the age-old question: At what age can you begin the formal training process?
First things first. Before you can begin training your dog, you have to start thinking like a dog.
“Any time you’re trying to teach your dog something, put yourself in his or her position. Look at the situation through your dog’s eyes to make an association,” says pro trainer Ronnie Smith of Ronnie Smith Kennels in Big Cabin, Oklahoma. “When you analyze different situations from your dog’s perspective, that will help solve a lot of problems that arise during training.”
Aside from thinking like a dog, you also need to lay the necessary groundwork before you begin a formal training regimen. There’s no particular age at when to begin serious training, but your dog ought to be ready once he or she has reached and successfully completed the following three key development stages.
1. Socialize, Socialize, Socialize
Good social skills are imperative. Socialization is achieved through exposure, allowing your pup to recognize and absorb social norms from various situations. Your young bird dog is a sponge, so it’s up to you to expose him or her to as many different people, places and things as possible.
“When a dog is well socialized, he or she is receptive to the trainer and the act of being trained,” Smith explains.
During the socialization period, be careful not to treat your dog like a human. “When a dog becomes fearful of a certain situation, it’s our human instinct to kneel down beside the dog to console him or her. However, we’re not helping the dog by positively reinforcing this fearful experience,” advises Smith. “Dogs feed off of our voice’s tone and inflection. Be the pack leader, stay positive and calm, and don’t succumb to your dog’s fear. If a dog knows his leader is OK, he or she will know the situation is OK.”
2. Build Prey Desire
Encouraging your dog’s unbridled passion for game will sustain him or her throughout the entire training process. Give your dog plenty of opportunities to awaken and develop his or her prey desire through exposure to wild birds.
“It takes birds to make a bird dog. There’s no way around it,” says Smith. “If your dog isn’t excited about finding birds, you won’t be able to finish him or her.”
But how do you know when your dog has enough prey desire to reach his or her field potential?
“When your dog can navigate the field and remains so focused and intent on finding birds that he or she isn’t listening to you any more, that dog has a high prey desire level,” Smith says.
3. Condition to Field Sights & Sounds
Once your dog is focused and intent on finding birds, you can safely and gradually introduce your dog to the sights and sounds your dog will come to experience afield. Allow your pup to tag alongside you during the coming fall season, giving him or her the opportunity to make mistakes and experience wild game.
“It’s important to let a first-year dog make infractions the first time they’re out in a wild bird venue so he or she can learn from those mistakes,” says Smith. “A dog that has been exposed to wild birds, new grounds and varying situations will be more easily trainable than a pup denied those experiences.
As the foundation from which to achieve the consistent behavior you desire in your dog, these three development stages will help shape your dog for the rest of his or her life. After your dog has skillfully completed each of these steps, you both will be ready to get serious about a formal training program.