PUPPY TRAINING: How to instil the right behaviour from the get-go
Puppy training isn’t confined to 10- or 15-minute formal sessions – everything you do will condition the little dog’s mind. Follow Howard’s advice to ensure you instil the right behaviour
Handling an obedient gundog in the shooting field is one of life’s great pleasures. Obedience and a willingness to do as he’s asked will be essential if your dog is to enhance the time that we spend with him. So you’re going to have to put the effort and time into training the dog, ensuring that any time you spend with him ingrains habits and behaviours that you want.
Handlers should understand that even the most dedicated and consistent dog trainers will only spend around half an hour a day engaging the dog in formal training. So ensuring that the other 23½ hours are well planned will have a considerable influence on the development and outcome of your dog. Here at Mullenscote, our young puppies are raised and nurtured indoors from when they arrive at eight weeks until they are at least six months old when they move out into the kennels. For us, a purpose-bought dog crate is an essential part of being able to manage the fragile, energetic, biting, piddling and pooing bundle of joy. Teaching your puppy how to happily and quietly spend time away from you in a safe, secure and warm crate will be one of the most important elements of early puppy training that you do.
First, you must ensure the puppy is comfortable with spending time in the crate. This can be achieved quickly if you do things correctly. New puppy owners: expect a sleepless night or two.
While many puppies will cry and howl when first put into the crate, they will quickly settle and sleep through the night. You will need to sleep with an ear out for when the puppy stirs. The moment that it does, take it outside as quickly as possible in order to start toilet training. We find that starting with the crate in your bedroom helps the puppy to settle quicker. Within a few nights, the crate can be moved away from the bedroom into the room where he will live.
‘If a dog experiences something frightening, it can shape their behaviour for the rest of their lives – changing its mindset can be difficult’
By ensuring that you train the pup to feel safe in the crate you will make the rest of the dog’s life easier and in doing so, yours too. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. Once happy to take himself to his new den you can now safely leave the puppy for a few hours in the day knowing he can’t damage himself or your property. You can take the crate to friends, family and holidays, once again safe in the knowledge that the pup will not damage property but equally importantly, that the puppy itself will feel safer when moved.
I use the word ‘safe’ on several occasions in the previous paragraph, and I do this deliberately. If you think about the world into which we bring our canine companions, many of the aspects that they have to endure leave them feeling anything but safe. People, noises, other dogs, livestock, machines and vehicles can be terrifying for a young or adult dog. The training, leadership and, importantly, the way in which we introduce a puppy to the world will massively influence his future view and outlook.
So let’s wrap the puppy up in cotton wool then? Well, no, not in my opinion. I’m fortunate enough to spend every day of my working life with dogs and their owners. Often, over-protective owners inadvertently create a very shy, retiring and nervous dog and this poor creature will find many aspects of life difficult. Just for one moment try to imagine being inside the mind of someone who is frightened of most things in a world where
no one speaks your language and as a result of this you never get to sit down with someone that can help you overcome your fears.
Getting it right
From the outset, think about everything that the puppy is to meet, greet and face. What are the likely outcomes? How can you shape what experiences the puppy will have? Many first-time dog owners simply won’t have the experience to predict what will happen and this is when studying and taking advice in advance is essential.
The nature of dogs means that if they experience something that really frightens them it can shape their behaviour for the rest of their lives. Once a dog has been frightened, changing its mindset can be a very difficult and long-winded process – although not impossible.
Building a confident, positive, outgoing but self-disciplined puppy is the way forward. Nothing new here. Basic training in a safe, reward-based environment is what we need to do. Use food, dummies and your amazing personality to teach the puppy to Come, Sit, Watch, Finish, Walk at Heel and Stay, and if you teach these effectively with high-value rewards you will build a dog that is so focused on you many of life’s alternatives are barely noticed.
Instilling the wrong behaviours
We mentioned it earlier but the easy bit to understand for most novice owners is the 10 to 30 minutes per day that you spend formally training the puppy. Thereafter, the peer pressure and urge to take the dog to the local park or countryside to let the dog run free is a strong and powerful influence. Try to think logically. Your puppy has been bred and designed to be an intelligent, powerful hunter. All the training that you are doing is about ensuring that he learns to look to you to lead him to his reward: the prey. Initially, his prey is food rewards and the dummies or tennis balls you encourage him to chase and hunt. Once dummy training is consolidated, you can then show him that if he wants to enhance his ability to get prey in his mouth, he must follow you and your instructions.
So, if from the outset you allow him to free-hunt where there is game, rabbits, birds and squirrels, the puppy will very quickly learn that hunting and chasing is incredibly rewarding. This mindset will be massively damaging to the training plan – he is hunting without you.
You will actually be encouraging your dog that, when let off the lead, he is allowed to run off, hunt and not return until he has had enough. This can be catastrophic.
So there’s nothing to fear, other than getting it all wrong! If you are prepared to seek out, listen to and do what successful gundog trainers do then the challenge of training a young gundog puppy will be an enormous amount of fun.
Hopefully you are reading this article before you get your first puppy. If not you’d better pull your finger out! Either way, thinking caps on and let’s get ready to rumble.
Being crate trained is a vital part of ensuring your puppy’s well-being
All training should ensure the pup looks to you to get his reward – the prey
Howard Kirby, Chudleys Brand Ambassador
If you want a controlled hunting dog, don’t let it free-hunt as a pup
You will shape your pup’s early experiences