A great hunting dog starts with the right training as a puppy
By Sloan Williams & Samantha Williams Weaver
Our passion for the outdoors developed at an early age, and dogs have been a part of our lives since the day we were born. We currently own our own training facility offering gun dog training, upland training, HRC event training, obedience, boarding, etc… and absolutely love what we do!
If there is one question we are asked the most, it would have to be, “We are getting a new puppy – what do we do?” And of course that one question involves a lot of other questions… house training, crating, how do we…, what if they… and the list goes on and on.
The most important thing to understand is you are bringing a puppy into your life and you need to make sure they fit into your schedule. If you take the time to teach them how to be a member of your family, they will bring you many years of happiness. We would like to share some tips on bringing a new fur-baby into your home.
Bonding – We like to get our puppies/or send them home on the 49th day for the bonding process to start. Spend as much time with them as you can so they get to know you and trust you. If you feel your life is too busy to spend much time with your dog in the beginning, it may be best to wait. This is a very important step if you want your dog to do what you ask him in the future.
Potty Training – The best advice we have for potty training is to use the crate method. Anytime you are not able to supervise your new pup, put them in a crate. Whenever you take your pup out of the crate, take them outside to use the bathroom. Celebrate and tell them what a good dog they are when they ‘go.’ If they don’t go potty, put them back in their crate.
Take them back outside about 30 minutes to an hour later and repeat the process. Once they successfully ‘go’ outside, they may stay out with you as long as they are supervised. Take them out every couple of hours when they are not crated. They will eventually let you know when they have to ‘go’ by standing at the door.
Crates – Many people feel they are punishing their dog by crating them. We never use a crate as punishment because the goal is for the crate to become their home and safe place. The size of the crate should not be too large for the dog – there should just be enough room for them to stand up and turn around. This will mean buying a few crates as they grow.
Using a crate too large for your pup will allow them enough room to use the bathroom and get away from it. For the most part, they will try not to use the bathroom where they lay. We use the “kennel” command when we ask them to enter their crate. This key command means ‘enter’ – it is used to tell them to go through a doorway, into their crate, into a car, etc.
Collar/Leash – We put a collar on our pups within the first few days so they get used to wearing it. They will scratch and try to get it off until they get used to wearing it. Once they are comfortable with the collar, clip a leash to the collar and let them drag it around.
As the leash gets caught on furniture or you purposely step on it, they learn to give to pressure. This will teach them not to keep pulling or trying to drag you as you walk them. If you plan on hunting with your dog, this will also help to implement the “heal” command.
***It is very important you never leave your dog unsupervised with their leash on, especially around stairs or anywhere they could possibly get caught and hang themselves.***
Socializing – Take your new pup with you to as many different places as you can. Bring their crate in case they need a break from being around a crowd. The more places and people you can introduce them to, the more relaxed they will be in different situations later on. You want to be able to trust your dog around small children as well as adults.
Noises – Slowly introduce your dog to a lot of different sounds and noises. Storms and fireworks can be frightening to young dogs, and if introduced too quickly, they can develop a fear that will follow throughout their life and cause harm to them as well as your property.
We suggest making noise while they are eating and their focus is on something else. Begin at a distance and then eventually move closer as you see they are not affected. Clapping your hands, dropping a pot or pan, etc. are good ideas to start with.
Basic Obedience – Having a dog that is out of control is no fun, nor is it safe. It is important to begin obedience training immediately. We keep the commands simple… sit, here, heal and kennel. Keep in mind a new puppy does not have a big attention span, so keep the training sessions short (no more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time) and fun. Always try to end on a happy note and offer them plenty of praise for their good job!
The previous tips we shared are a good start for all dogs. If your new pup will also be a future hunting companion, make sure you begin with those tips and then start implementing some of the following.
Retrieving – Getting your new pup excited about retrieving objects is a must. We use training dummies or bumpers to tease and get the pup excited. Give a “hup-hup” and then throw the dummy for them to chase. We do not try to steady our pups until later. For now, we just want them to get excited and go.
When playing with the bumpers, we only throw it for them a few times at each session, never wear them out or exhaust them during this phase. We always put them up wanting more. A narrow hallway with minimal distractions is the best place to begin your pup’s training. At this point, it doesn’t matter if they bring it all the way back to you – just keep them excited.
Swimming – Introduce your pup to water as soon as you can. Make sure the water isn’t too cold or they may learn to hate water very quickly! The best way to get your pup in the water is to get in the water and call them to you, let them follow an older dog into the water or if they are in love with the training bumper – throw it just past the water’s edge for them to retrieve. Never force or drag a pup in as this will ensure you won’t have a water dog!
Birds – If you plan on having a duck dog, it is important to make sure your pup is excited about retrieving something with feathers. If you have access to training birds or frozen wings, this will go far in getting your pup fired up about retrieving. Use the same technique as taught in retrieving. Give them a “hup-hup” and let them go.
Gun Shots – Use the same technique as above when introducing your pup to noises. It’s best to start with a pop gun or a quieter gun at a distance while their focus is on something else, such as food or retrieving. Slowly move in as they become more comfortable. If they act scared, back off farther and start the process again slower.
Boats – Getting your pup in a boat at a young age is also a good idea. Start off in a canoe or paddleboat before putting them in a boat with a motor. When you go to a motored boat, make sure to have someone else in the boat with you to make sure pup doesn’t get scared and jump out while you are operating the boat!
Decoys – As your pup gets more confident and focused in retrieving, start to introduce other distractions. It is important to have them retrieve through decoys, so they don’t become distracted or frightened… and also so they realize they are not to bring the decoys back.
While there is a lot more that goes in to training your new pet or hunting buddy, these are some basic and important steps. Remember puppies are like furry, wiggly children; they have short attention spans and respond much better to a patient teacher, so keep the training segments short and fun.
Until your pup fully understands what you are asking them to do, it is a waste of time to force or punish them. Never get frustrated, aggravated or angry with your new pup. They will begin to associate these emotions with their training. If you start early, offering them lots of patience and praise, you may just end up with the best friend of a lifetime!
Sloan Williams and Samantha Williams Weaver are sisters from North Carolina and owners of S&S Outdoors professional dog training. Follow them on Facebook and @s_soutdoors on Instagram for more training tips and videos.