Now that you have your new puppy — and plans to make her a great hunting companion — it is important to lay a good foundation for the skills she will be learning in her formal training. The rules that apply to the typical pet dog are not always conducive to good bird dogging, but the rules that are conducive to good bird dogging still produce a good pet. Below are some rules to help get your pup off to a good start.
- No Jumping. Do not let your young puppy jump off of beds, porches, etc. Ultimately, your dog will learn to negotiate hazards in the field (such as fences and ditches), but until the dog is at least a year old, such activity can damage her hips.
- Appropriate Chewing. A well-bred puppy should have a soft mouth (meaning she someday will retrieve a bird so gently that she not break its skin). To make sure a habit of chewing birds does not develop, I recommend not giving your dogs plush chew toys or squeaky toys. I recommend only allowing your pup to chew Kongs, Nylabones and rawhides. By imprinting her on only these items, she will be less likely to want to crunch, kill or eat a bird in the field.
- Forbidden Games. It is unacceptable for a gun dog to keep a fallen bird away from you. For this reason, there are two forbidden games for a young gun pup: tug, and keep-away. If either of these games (both of which come naturally to dogs) are reinforced, they can slow the process of training a good, reliable retrieve.
- Minimal Retrieving. Some dogs enjoy retrieving so much that it actually compromises their steadiness. There are many bad habits that can arise from not teaching retrieving skills correctly: unsteadiness, playing keep-away, fighting with other dogs over retrieved items. I know you are enthralled with your pup’s retrieving instinct, but you would be better served to develop it correctly the first time. I know, it is hard.
- Limited Freedom. It is a bad idea to let your new pup run free (and this includes in dog parks). It is much easier to train a dog out from you than it is to rein her back in. When you have your pup outside, she should either be on a leash or a long-lead. Period.
DON’T WORRY! When your dog is fully trained, you can judiciously make exceptions to some of these rules. My bird dog plays tug (with a rope) and likes for me to chase her around a little bit. I let her interact with other dogs and people on occasion. But she knows her job and does it well in the field, and she does not have a personality (dogality?) type that is prone to relapse. You will learn your dogs capabilities and limitations in time.