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BY Bill Gibson on Jan. 19, 2018

After You Bring Your Puppy Home: Pre-Training

Now that you have selected a litter and picked up your new pup, an entirely new set of questions arise: (1) When do I begin training? (2) How should I start the training the puppy? (3) What are the do's and don'ts of owning a new puppy?  

My number one rule in beginning a pups training is, “don’t train in habits that later have to be trained out or at best suppressed.” An example of training in a problem and the mistake that I see made most often is the owner bypasses obedience and begins training by throwing dummy after dummy, letting the pup go for the retrieve without any restraint, grabbing the dummy from the pup’s mouth as he runs by on the return, and then immediately throwing the dummy again and again thereby repeating the same incorrect sequence of events. 

The unintended consequence of repeating this sequence over and over is twofold; (1) the pup is actually being trained to be unsteady and (2) the pup is being encouraged to drop the dummy upon return. The end results are a total lack of steadiness at the line, a compromise of delivery to hand…both are issues that must later be corrected with additional obedience training and conditioned hold

training…and failing to develop focus. A Labrador should possess natural retrieving instincts and should require minimal pray drive development at this early stage of life. 

By way of further explanation, I subscribe to the theory that just about everything that a pup learns from birth to six months becomes so ingrained that it becomes a “conditioned habit” i.e., a habit that can be suppressed for a period of time, but can never be completely trained out, much less eliminated.  

When I say this I think back many years ago to my dog “Rocky.”  I watched as my wife sprayed him with the garden hose at a very young age.  This spraying happened almost daily from the time he came home as a puppy until delivery to the trainer at six months of age.  He loved it; he reveled in it, and actually looked forward to his daily wild romp with the water hose.  

About two weeks after the trainer got him he wanted to know, “what was wrong with my dog.” It seems that they could not properly clean his kennel using the water hose without him going berserk and causing the kennel hands to get soaked.  I told him about my wife and he said he would fix the problem and he did…well sort of.  

When the dog returned home after basic and advanced training and he saw my wife with the hose, he went berserk just as he had done before and we never could get him to stop again. The main point of this brief discussion being, think about what you are doing before engaging in the activity with your pup and “don’t intentionally or unintentionally train in bad habits that you later have to try to train out or at best suppress.” So, where do you begin?

Puppy Training (Eight Weeks To Six Months)

With Puppy training should start the day you take pup home. This early socialization and training forms the foundation for both intermediate and advanced gundog training. During this early training, the pup should be exposed to all the basics including sit, stay, recall, and lead work walking at heel. The puppy should be taught not to jump on people; play-bite and any other annoying habits should be discouraged. The pup should learn to focus on you and the task at hand and to ignore his/her surroundings. 

To produce a confident, happy, stress-free and obedient dog without emotional baggage I expose pup to as many people as possible and to other dogs on a daily basis. The socialization process is vital to normal development and pups future success as he/she develops into a working gundog. So when does training actually start? Training actually starts with “crate training” and “sit training” at feeding time.

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Crate Command

Crate training is a relatively simple process that addresses several fundamental issues dealing with unwanted activity like chewing on household items and learning to go to the potty in the yard. Dogs won’t normally relieve themselves where they sleep and this is why crate training is so important for a pup kept in the house.  

To ensure the pup is properly trained to potty outside you must pay careful attention to them and learn to understand their body language and follow basic rules. You must also remember that when a pup eats or drinks, bodily functions soon follow. So after feeding, immediately carry him outside and stay with him until they take care of the business at hand. I use the command “hurry up” to encourage them to use the potty in the yard. They will soon understand the concept and will alert you when they need to go out.  

The best way to prevent destruction of property is to crate the pup when you are not actively engaged with him/her. How do you crate train a pup?  First and foremost you purchase a crate that is large enough to comfortably hold the pup. The crate should be large enough so the pup can easily stand and turn around. 

Second you teach the pup to enter the kennel on the command “crate.”  If the pup is hesitant to enter toss a treat to the back of the crate and repeat the command “crate.” Pup will soon catch on and enter the crate when told to do so.  

After being in the crate for a couple of hours take the pup outside and let him play and use the potty. At night, let the pup out just before you go to bed and then crate pup until the next morning or until he/she becomes restless, indicating a need to again use the potty. After a few days your pup should voluntarily enter the crate and then remain quit for longer periods of time.

"Sit" Command at Feeding Time"

I opine that feeding time presents an excellent opportunity to start training your pup in a positive manner so they recognize you as the “alpha dog” and to learn to “sit” in calm silence, focus on you and patiently wait for food.  

When feeding your pup (normally twice each day) you need to let them watch you while you prepare the food and offer it. It is important that you get your human scent on the pup’s food so they fully understand the food is coming from you, the alpha dog. I do not recommend using feeding time as the appropriate time to introduce them to gunfire or other loud noises because I certainly don’t like loud noises while I am enjoying a meal and in my way of thinking neither does a dog.

Again, early “sit” training should begin at feeding time. After putting the puppy’s food in the bowl and getting your scent on the food, simply hold the feeding bowl high above the pup’s head which will force them to look up.  Repeat the “sit” command while moving toward the pup and as the angle of the food bowl increases relative to the puppy, they will automatically sit.  

After they sit, have them focus on you and maintain eye contact. Then set the food bowl down, but do not let him eat until you say, “OK.” As the pup begins to sit in anticipation of getting food, continue to give the verbal command “sit,” gradually extend focus time, and after two or three feedings the pup will sit as you enter the kennel with his food bowl and maintain eye contact.  

Once the pup sits, kneel down, set the food bowl down and prevent the pup from eating until you give the verbal command, “OK.”  If the pup gets up from the sit position or loses focus before the “OK” command, simply lift the food bowl and start over. After two or three sessions your pup will sit on command and remain in the sit position, focused on you until you allow them to eat by saying “OK.”   

This is a good time to discuss the importance of proper eye contact or as I call it “focus.” Focus is important in the training process because it is an indicator of the pup’s learning abilities at any given time on any given day, especially his/her biddability-willingness to accept training. 

If the pup maintains eye contact he/she is capable of learning the task being taught.  On the other hand, if pup is distracted, looking around at objects, sniffing the ground, and/or looking away from you, he/she is not learning. The pup is simply going through the motions while in the avoidance mode. How do you begin and maintain eye contact with your dog?  Pre-training at feeding time is the beginning and it continues throughout training.

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