Getting off to a good start with your bird dog puppy starts the first day you bring your pup home. Even at this young age it is important to only reward desired behaviors. A reward can be a simple stroke down the back or any kind of attention. Treats for rewards can be fine for pups but I personally feel these are more for the human then the pup. For these early lessons you do not need to say anything. Your pup will learn much faster by leaving the words out until you have the desired responses and being silent also takes out human emotion.
It is also important for the owner to understand from the get go that a reward is not a release of command. Let’s say you have your dog standing still next to you and you reach down to stroke the dog down the back. This doesn't mean that your dog can leave that standing position they still must stand there...the reward…is a reward. It doesn't mean release.
Then it looks so cute as your little puppy runs up and jumps on you. This only works when they are very small and irresistible. It will not be so cute when your pup grows up. If you acknowledge this behavior it will only continue. It can lead to hyper behavior, annoying jumping and also a lack of respect for an alpha. You, the owner, must be alpha in your dog’s world for any training to be effective.
When your pup comes running and jumping up on you. Do not acknowledge this behavior. Simply push the pup off you with your foot in a gentle manner. Never physically hurt your pup. Do not make eye contact with your pup. If you do then you are giving the pup what it wants, your attention, and the behavior will be repeated. When and only when your pup has four feet on the floor, reach down and pick them up or pet them. This will also start to establish to your pup that when they stand quietly they will get rewarded with attention. This can lead to other desired results in future training.
When you do these little foundation sessions with your pup remember you need to make these sessions, short sweet and simple. If you get the desired action for even a brief second end the session, you can build from there. Always end on a good note.
Another exercise that you can do with young pups is to cradle them like a baby. When they struggle, hold the pup firmly not allowing them to get away. When the pup relaxes, relax your hold. Wait until the pup is relaxed before you put it down. This exercise it to help establish a pup being calm when you are handling them it is also to teach the pup to give in to restraint.
Biting and or nipping are undesired behaviors that should be nipped in the bud right at the start. This is the method that I like to use. When the pup starts to bite or nip I will take my 2 fingers and place them sideways in the mouth with my thumb under the jaw. I then place my other hand behind the head. This helps to brace the pup so they cannot harm themselves by pulling away. Hold this position till the pup stops struggling and vocalizing and where the pup relaxes and gives into your hand being in the mouth and as soon as the pup shows that acceptance and get your fingers out of the mouth, quickly say “release” and roll your fingers gently backwards to take them out.
This changes the rules of the pup’s game. I will then place my hand in front of the pup’s mouth; the pup should LICK your hand. This is a sign of accepting who is the alpha. If the pup should try and mouth your hand repeat the application. I have found that after a couple of applications this behavior ceases. And again I want to stress none of these actions are to ever harm or physically hurt the pup ever. The pup may whine and vocalize some discontent but never pain.
Sometimes your pup finds things that they are not supposed to have. Like your brand new Prada shoe! A big mistake is to punish the pup for having something in their mouth. This can create problems down the road for your retrieving. Best thing to do is calmly get your pup and pick them up and ask for the object from the pup by slowly rolling it back and down towards the back of the mouth. Replace the shoe with an item that they can have, preferably a hard puppy toy. No soft squeaky toys for birddog pups! This can also lead to undesired habits when it comes to birds in the future.
Crating or kenneling from day one will help with house breaking and other behavioral problems. When you put your pup in the crate do not reward yipping, crying scratching, clawing, barking or other undesired behavior. Only go to the kennel/crate once the pup is quiet and calm. When you take the pup out of the crate immediately carry the pup to the same place in the yard to eliminate. Be sure the pup eliminates before taking them back in. When in the house watch your pup closely. If it starts to sniff and circle around pick the pup up and take it back out. At first take the pup out every few hours. If you remain diligent from the start, house training your pup should only take a few weeks. Never use the crate for punishment the crate should always be the pup’s den and a place of safety.
After the pup is used to the collar I like to take about a 6-8 foot lead and let them run around the backyard dragging the lead. When the pup runs by I will simply step on the lead. As soon as the pup stops fighting the lead I will lift my foot off and let the pup run some more repeating the process after a little bit. This will start the pup to learn to give in to the lead and the collar.
To help a pup learn to be still and giving in to a form of restraint when the pup in front of you when they start to move take one hand under the chest and the other hand under the back legs and lift the pup up. When the pup is settles down and relaxes in your hands place the pup back down, when the pup moves, lift up. Do this until the pup stands still, even if you are successful for just a moment you can always build from there. Walk the pup around and the repeat one more time Always set your pup up for success. And keep the sessions fun.
Here is another game for dinnertime. Put the pup’s food on the edge of a counter or where you can easily hold on to the pups collar with one hand and reach the bowl with the other. Try not to pull on the collar while bringing down the bowl of food. Bring it down at a steady pace, not real slow and not real fast either. When the pup starts to pull forward, lift up the food. When the pup stops pulling, start to bring the bowl down again. You do not need to say a command. Your pup is learning that when they stand still the food comes down when they move the food goes away from them. The first time you get the bowl of food to the ground without the pup moving, even for a moment, say ok or tap on the head to release the pup quickly. Remember, you can always build up from there when you pup becomes consistent you can ask for a few more seconds. Keep things with in your pups’ attention span. And keep the sessions light short sweet and simple.
All these little sessions are to help a pup learn to stand quiet. Things like holding fast while being groomed or handled will transition to whoa training, being styled up and many other future foundations of formal training.
If you take the time to do these brief sessions with your pup, you will be laying a solid foundation. Pup will learn faster and be more responsive to training down the road. These exercises can teach them that learning and acceptance is nothing to fear. By teaching your pups’ role in the family from the start you will have a happier relationship with your companion hunting and or trial dog.
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