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field notes: on puppy training

Emily Degan

For some hunters, the off-season can be torturous. Not only are shooting and weekend adventures at a minimum, but this it’s also time to put in the hard labor of planting and puppy training. We thought we’d share a few tips to help you get started on the latter.

When to start?

Winnie remembers her first swim!

Winnie remembers her first swim!

Most experts agree that you shouldn’t start training your gundog until he/she is at least six months old. While every dog is different, puppies younger than six months generally have a shorter attention spans than older puppies, causing training at that age to be both frustrating and futile.  

Additionally, excessive repetitive training of young puppies could cause boredom, quelling the desire to retrieve. Likewise, too much corrective training of young puppies could diminish your dog’s confidence, making him afraid of retrieving.

You might also want to delay training until your dog has been vaccinated against leptospirosis, a potentially serious disease spread through soil and water. Talk to your vet about if/when your gundog should be vaccinated against it.

Do’s and don’ts:

  • Train obedience first – teach sit and stay before teaching the retrieve; it’s easier to teach the break from patiently waiting to retrieving than to correct it
  • Let him explore – allowing your dog explore the fields/waters he’ll be hunting nurtures his predatory drive and builds confidence
  • Avoid isolation – let your gundog become a part of the family; human interaction and play build communication skills and the desire to please
  • Don’t shout or repeat commands – he’s likely not responding because he didn’t hear you, but because he doesn’t want to; change the training method or focus on positive reinforcement to obtain desired responses
  • Assert your dominance – remember that you are always in control; never plead with your puppy to come or to retrieve

Happy training!