Puppy prac­tice

Ex­pert gun dog trainer Mark Davis pro­vides a bit of af­ter-sales ser­vice to Jim God­den from South Aus­tralia, who has a young black labrador, bred by the Davis', that he's ready­ing for the 2017 sea­son.

Field and Game - - GUN DOGS - Mark Davis has been a Field & Game mem­ber since 1983 and is happy to an­swer any ques­tions about dog breeds and train­ing meth­ods. Send any ques­tions for our gun dog team to ed­i­tor@ fiel­dandgame.com.au and in­clude a photo of you and your dogs if you are alr

My pup is five months old and has the ba­sic obe­di­ence train­ing. How and when would you in­tro­duce gun/noise con­di­tion­ing given there are a cou­ple of fear phases dogs go through as they mature?

This should start with the breeder. We ex­pose our pup­pies to clang­ing din­ner bowls from about five weeks of age, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing the vol­ume and in­tro­duc­ing a clap­per board while they are fer­vently feed­ing.

By the time they are eight weeks, they re­late loud noises to a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. If you bang loudly on their iron fence, they come run­ning to you at a mil­lion miles an hour.

How­ever, if your pup hasn't had some con­di­tion­ing by the breeder, then it is im­por­tant to in­tro­duce this train­ing grad­u­ally. Feed time is, of course, a great time to do this, but make sure you ob­serve the re­ac­tion of the dog and ad­just ac­cord­ingly.

Your gun club can be the next step but again ex­er­cise cau­tion; do not take the dog out of the car and straight up to the first stand. This a com­pletely new ex­pe­ri­ence, with lots of peo­ple and prob­a­bly other dogs, so ease him in to it gen­tly.

Ap­proach from a dis­tance al­low­ing him to ab­sorb ev­ery­thing that is go­ing on, es­pe­cially the shoot­ing, and again ob­serve his re­ac­tions. If he is show­ing no sign of con­cern, great, but if he is a lit­tle re­luc­tant then stay at the car and have a cup of tea. Take your time — he will come around.

Dogs do go through var­i­ous phases, fear be­ing one of them. They may have mo­ments of un­cer­tainty and may be slightly ap­pre­hen­sive when con­fronted with a new ex­pe­ri­ence, par­tic­u­larly young dogs. It goes right back to their wild dog ori­gins when their very sur­vival de­pended on be­ing cau­tious.

They grow out of it as they learn more about the world. It is im­por­tant to be pos­i­tive and up­beat when it hap­pens, that way the pup will gain con­fi­dence from you — pro­vide plenty of ex­po­sure to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and lots of so­cial­i­sa­tion.

How and when would you in­tro­duce the dog to re­triev­ing game af­ter train­ing with a dummy?

Make sure your dog is re­li­ably re­triev­ing dum­mies to hand be­fore mov­ing onto game. I know how dif­fi­cult this is for some peo­ple to un­der­stand, but if you fol­low the cor­rect process, you will elim­i­nate prob­lems be­fore they oc­cur. Hard mouth is one ex­am­ple!

Once your dog is con­fi­dent with dum­mies, move onto frozen game: sit your dog be­side you and hand throw a bird.

Make sure you have con­trol of him and wait a short time be­fore send­ing him. Some may have a sniff first be­fore pick­ing it up, but per­son­ally I have never had a dog refuse to pick up a frozen bird and, of course, there is no chance of the dog dam­ag­ing the bird.

Re­peat with frozen birds for a few nights, but do not overdo it. The next step is cold game: thaw the bird overnight and re­peat the ex­er­cise, en­cour­ag­ing the dog back into you as soon as he picks it up. Re­main calm, you do not want to overex­cite the dog. I have used this method for 40 years and never had a hard-mouthed dog.

Hard mouth ex­ists in gun­dogs for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons: the most com­mon cause is in­tro­duc­ing young dogs to warm game too early. Sim­i­larly, wounded game can al­most guar­an­tee hard mouth in a young dog that has not had dummy and cold-game train­ing.

Too much pres­sure on dogs can re­sult in anx­i­ety and that can man­i­fest as hard mouth. There is also a school of thought that cer­tain breeds of gun­dog are pre­dis­posed to hard mouth be­cause of their de­vel­op­ment over the cen­turies; an ex­am­ple may be the con­ti­nen­tal breeds that were ex­pected to hunt wild boar one day and re­trieve wa­ter­fowl the next.

How­ever, I take the view that hard mouth is al­most al­ways caused by poor or in­suf­fi­cient train­ing.

Barmera Moorook FGA Pres­i­dent Daniel Haines says his dog gets ex­cited as soon as he throws or shoots a bird and she has to re­trieve it, which leads to her chew­ing the bird.

Much of this ques­tion is cov­ered in the pre­vi­ous an­swer, but there is in­deed an­other trig­ger for hard mouth, and that is ex­cite­ment and adrenalin.

A dog that is im­me­di­ately sent to re­trieve as the bird hits the deck or breaks as soon as the shot goes off has a lot of adrenalin cours­ing through its body and that will still be the case when she gets to the bird. This can lead to an over­re­ac­tion when the dog grabs the bird — yep, hard mouth.

The cure for this par­tic­u­lar vari­a­tion of hard mouth is pa­tience: wait be­fore send­ing the dog for the re­trieve, it will take four or five min­utes for the adrenalin to sub­side.

When hunt­ing, this means train­ing your dog not to break or (if you are the im­pa­tient type) ty­ing her up. If there are many birds around, wait un­til things qui­eten down or the shoot is over be­fore send­ing her to re­trieve, or best of all, just shoot a sin­gle bird at a time, in other words, shoot for your dog.

You should still wait un­til the dog qui­etens down, at least five min­utes; this method def­i­nitely helps with su­per-keen dogs.

If you em­ploy this method over a full sea­son or cou­ple of sea­sons, you will end up with a fine re­triever who will be steady and rarely miss a bird.

Jim also asks a gen­eral ques­tion about neu­ter­ing; whether to suc­cumb to vet pres­sure or wait un­til 15–18 months and al­low the dog a cy­cle to help her fully de­velop.

We are now hear­ing that neu­ter­ing dogs too early may cause health is­sues for your dog, and there is grow­ing op­po­si­tion to neu­ter­ing at a young age, or any age for that mat­ter.

My ad­vice is, if you have to neuter, wait un­til the dog has reached 18 to 24 months of age, which al­lows for a level of phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity.

Learn­ing to man­age the be­hav­iours of the un­neutered dog is ob­vi­ously the best de­ci­sion for the dog's de­vel­op­ment and health, but this is not al­ways the best out­come for the dog's own­ers.

I'm sure our res­i­dent vet, Dr Karen Davies, can pro­vide us with more in­for­ma­tion on this mat­ter.

ED: We will ask Karen to look at this is­sue for the Novem­ber is­sue.

Wendy Davis

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