Training a new puppy - page 2

August 27, 2002

Ok, so it's been awhile since I have written anything here, but we've been busy just the same. I now have Sala and her sister, Senna, here with me know and over the last month I have been doing quite a bit of work with with them and have moved them along quite a little bit in the past month. The weather has finally cooled a bit, we've been at work, so let me get you caught on below.

Now, these are pups. We are starting from the beginning here. Job #1 at the start of their journey has been to just get them introduced to birds, and the gun. For specific methods let me refer to the archives and the training columns on introducing the birds and the gun.

Specifically, this required alot of patience. The weather was so hot and these pups really had a rough time of hit in the field was around 95 degrees there for a month. Our sessions had to be very brief. Finally, last week, using carded or kited pigeons to train on I finally got the pups to hunt and chase up a few birds so I could fire a blank gun over them. I will be working the pups seperately for most of the training, it's counter productive to work them on the ground at the same time in the field.

These sessions went well enough that over Labor Day weekend, I figure that I can start shooting a shotgun over them and throwing a few dead birds for them in the field while a partner blanks some distance away. I think this will conclude their introduction to birds and the gun. After this there will be no more birds for them until I have taught them a little bit of the "whoa" command. They are hunting birds with their nose now and they will be used to the gunfire after next weekend. This is a crash course. The introduction is over... Moving on...

Everything with a bird dog is either "whoa", "heel" or "come". Everything useful thing you can train a bird to do is simply one of these commands. Everything your dogs screws up and does poorly for you in hunting season is simply the failure of one of these three commands.

I like to start with "Whoa". Again, refer to the archived column for my detailed training method on "Whoa". But with a pup, I start one step back when they are this young before launching into my sling method.


I start with "whoa" because it is the least invasive and traumatic to start with and because it is the most important bird dog command. If you have everyting else and no "whoa" you ain't got nuthin'. With pups this young, I just start them on the ground, standing in front of me on a leash. I get on my knees and physically, yet very calmy and gently put the pup on "whoa". I simply hold the pup there for a few moments, giving the command softly and stroking the pup down his side from his shoulder to butt, until she will just stand there without struggling for a few moments. Then I release her and play with her and let her go. I do this about a half dozen times every time I have pup out. I can't let them stand there by themselves yet, but they do accpept and even enjoy the command while I am there holding them and stroking them up. It's a good place for them, a safe, happy place that they will learn they will never do wrong by just standing there on command. This is always good, it's always safe. Later, we will teach the pup, in a dramatic way, to choose to obey this command on her own. The sling will be used for this later. It works like a charm. I predict that I will only have to sling these pups for two sessions and then I will be able to start working them in the yard and will have them stopping and standing on command in less than one week.

We have also been working on "Come". I have a whole piece on training the "come" command. I have used everything in there and it all works but you know what? I am coping out on the come command anymore. It all started with a 3 year-old dog that wouldn't retrieve to hand for me and I had to figure out a way to get over this without force breaking the dog. As I said, it's all either "whoa", "heel" or "come". Which one was the dog failing? It was "come" obviously. She would come back and drop the bird about 5 feet out. To fix it, I went to cookie training route. She already knew come and would always obey, even with a bird in her mouth, but she would just not bring it all the way in to me. So I started training her on "come" again with the bird, but with rewarding her with a dog biscuit if she would come and put her head right in my hands. After a couple of days she was coming in and knocking me down. Then I just added her favorite retrieving dummy, a stuffed Taco Bell dog and kept the "cookie" in the routine. She had to come to me, put her head and the stuffed toy in my hands to get her treat. If she dropped the toy on the way in, I would just stand up and say "No" and not give her my hands to put her head in, I would back up a few steps and coax her back to the bird. When the gave me the bird to hand, she got her biscut. About two days of this and she is now a great retriever. Right in my lap with the dummy or shot bird every time now. And no, she I don't trade her for the shot bird in the field. All she gets is a splash of spit from my hand. Read on....

So with these pups, I thought, since the response and asscociation seeemed so strong with the reaction to the biscuit on "come", I used it with them. Toot the whistle, call them, crouch down and offer them my hands. When they come in and put there head in my heads and stand there, they get a biscuit. "Come" has been solved. They will recall in, off-lead in the field after just a couple weeks of going through this in the yard. I have been making the piece of biscut smaller and smaller every day. They are just getting a crumb now. But, I put it in my mouth to moisten it with my saliva first and then give it to them for their reward. As they get older, when I call them, all I'll will need to do is spit into my hand for their reward in the field. Saliva is big with dogs. I have been doing this now to retrain my older dogs with this and it works. They come in like mad now. I can hear it from all the old hands about how I am simply making them do a "trick" for a food reward. Yeah, well, bite me. The pups come in and I'm haven't had to pull one of them in on a checkcord yet. It's all a question of just how patient do you want to be? Positive reinforcement is better then negative force any day. All the old hands will surely tell you that too. It only took me about 15 years of fooling with dogs to figure it out. I suggest you just pass "Go" and collect your $200.00 now on this one, trust me.

More in about a week or so...We'll have started on "Heel" by then.

Sep 16, 2002

Alrighty then!! Moving right along. I'm at thei point with these two where now I can see so personality and temperment differences in Sala and Senna. Sala is a real go getter, is really hunting hard now. Senna on the other hand is a bit more sensitive. I have to watch my voice and move slower around her. Senna notices everything and never plows right into something new. She's not timid, she just not what you would call "bold" yet. My point is to watch your pup and match your training sessions to personality of the dog.

I've been working the dogs in the yard on whoa, heel and come. Sala takes to everything and pays close attention to me. I can spend longer on things with her. Senna is more easily distracted yet. I have to give her more breaks and play time during training. Senna does not like "heel". So, I tone my sessions down for her, so she is not fighting me, but learns to trust me, all the time. She may end up being the better hunter, though. She notices every bug on the sidewalk, dove flitting overhead and dog barking down the street. Nothing gets past her. Sala just tunes right in to me, as long as she's getting attention, she's happy. Again, gauge your dog. They are all different.

New Stuff!! We are working on hunting pattern, on a long checkcord, over in the ballfield at the local elementary school. Back and forth, turning this direction and that, calling the dog to turn with me and to travel more left and right than out and back. The only real crime a pup can commit here is to get going backward, behind me. I dump them hard when they hit the end of the checkcord for this. I don't say a word, I just dump them and keep walking. They learn very quickly to always stay out in front of me and to turn with me when I call. I like a 30 foot checkcord for this. Start this when they are young or else they will dump you instead. I mix in some come commands, enforcing with the checkcord and some "whoa", where they just stand there and get praised while and just lightly restrain with the checkcord and stroke their side while they stand at my feet. This is how I condition the dog to "whoa", just repeatedly standing them up for brief periods at my feet. The actual training of "whoa" is a bit different and I will outline my method in the next segment.

Also, new is now I am mixing in a bit of retrieving a tennis ball in the driveway. Again, it's all whoa, come or heel, right. I toss the ball, if they pick it up, I command "come" and coax them in with the lead. Sala loves this, Senna is not a fan, she wants to get away with the ball. I am also cookie training this bit. If they come to me without dropping the ball, they get a bit of praise, I take the ball and give them a cookie. It's all repetition, over and over again. Once I get them to the point that they will bring me the ball on their own for the cookie, I know that they will bring me the first bird that ever drops in front of them. What else would they do with it? They won't know any better and we will have reinforced whatever natural retrieving instinct they posses.

Bird work continues, I am releasing quail and pigeons for short sessions so that the pups are learning to hunting with me. I am where the birds are, for now. I don't care, at this time, if they point. They do sometimes, but then they flush them off. I don't let them chase. Right now, these pups will never be on the ground without dragging a checkcord until after their first full hunting season.

Sep 24, 2002Ok, a very good week or so since the last report. Pups are growing big and strong and can now hunt their way through the cover for the released quail, which they now hunt very aggressively and flush and chase most of the time. At times, we are getting good momentary points, but that all. That's ok, it's normal.

This is a good time to go over what it is we have wanted to accomplish up to now as these dogs are ready for their first real bird dog training session this week and I am going to put it on them both in earnest this week with the training of the "whoa" command. I gauge this point in training as now they are hunting, almost pointing and then flushing and chasing very hard the released quail. They have each been on a couple dozen birds in the past month.

This brings me to the point of want we wanted to get done from puppyhood to young "introduced dog", which is where we depart off into serious "bird dog" trained to end up with a "started dog" one month from today.

I wanted to introduce the pups to vehicles and dog crates, which they are in and out of every day of the little bird dog lives. They have learned to get in and out of crates on command and they have gotten used to riding with other dogs, sometimes strange dogs, in their box with them and will now put up with all of that sort of stuff that comes with a bird dog being hauled around.

I also wanted to introduce the pups to the checkcord or lead and stakeout posts. Again, no training here, just snapping it on them every time they are out until they don't pay any attention to it. Pups are all different, Senna you could hook up to a locomotive with a bull chain through her nose and she wouldn't blink. Sala is not so accepting of leads and tie-outs at time, even yet. So you just keep doing it and letting them sort it out at this point, no force or correction until they just submit once they realize they can't fight it. But I am satisfied that they know about these things enough to move on the heel and whoa training.

Birds and the gun have also been introduced. This is most important, the most fun part of it all and the easiest to screw up. Gun shy dogs are made and not born. So I start with a .22 blank gun and this past weekend fired over them with my 20 gauge shotgun. They never noticed the report, which is really what you want. They love birds, hunt them, chase them hard and even almost point them at times now.

So, there is nothing more to be gained, with our time frame in mind, in continuing down this path. At this point I will take the pups off of birds for about two weeks ands get serious about introducing a command. "WHOA" is the most important bird dog command. Everything we do with a bird dog is either whoa, heel or come. Without whoa, you have nohting. So, I will get with it on whoa this week. This is the first real pressure I have put on these pups. My goal is to have them stopping to command in the field while hunting in two weeks time. Whoa means simply "stop and stand there until I release you" Very simple. The training for this starts out in a very dramtic way for the pup. I think this has to be the most and first really "in your face" type of thing we do with a young pup. This is the one command we will not compromise on and we have to pup know it. All the rest we can train by osmosis almost. This one, we do need to get inside pups head just a bit. I have introduced this command in the yard and field by just restraining the pup on the checkcord at me feet every day for a few minutes and just stroking the pup and saying "whoa", very softly. The pup will almost fall over asleep at times if you do this right as this is very relaxing for the pup and they love the attention. It sets this command up a a very safe and comforting thing to do it this way. But then again, this is the first command that we expect pup to really flawlessly obey at some distance from us and even when we are out of touch with them. So I prefer my dramatic sling method to start to get this across to pup. I know there are a million ways to do this, on a barrel, with a whoa post and pinch collar, training tables, blah blah....etc. Everyone thinks their way is the best and it is, for them. I am the same way. I think that the sling is the fastest way to do this training. I usually only have to use the sling station about 3 days at most before the pup completely understands what is expected and we can move to train in the the yard and field. A brush up is sometimes needed on down the line for head cases (I can see this coming for Sala) but dogs like Senna will be solid on this command in one or two sling sessions.

Nov 11, 2002I ended up my adventure with Sala and Senna when their new owners took them to Japan on Nov 1, 2002

The pups were ready to go hunting, as promised by the end of October. We traveled to Colome, SD to hunt wild and released ringnecks with their new owners who had come to pick them up!

Sala and Senna were completely introduced to the gun, birds and were starting to learn to hunt and point by the time we arrived in SD to hunt. Also, with varying degrees of success, the commands of whoa and come were well started. The pups were also introduced to the electronic training collar in South Dakota, simply to reinforce the come command in the heat of battle, as it were.

There is really nothing to training a bird dog pup. You just need to get them out and work on it a little bit every day. As they get older, you can introduce them to the gun and birds. Just keep at it a little at a time and it's no big deal to take an 8 week-old GSP and have it be performing at an acceptable level on it's first hunt.

This is Senna, pointing a phesant in SD in training
at 7 months of age
The beginning of the end
of the end of the beginning...