First steps for your new Pup [Back to Monthly Pro Staff Articles]
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Buying your first gun dog is an exciting experience. You're bringing a new responsibility into your life, and it's important that you are ready. You will be sharing the blind with your new hunting partner for many years, so it's important to start out right. Pro-staff member Jim Elam of Lake Country Retrievers sat down with me and discussed a few key ideas that a new gun dog owner should keep in mind.
Before going out and buying the first cute ball of fur that licks your face, stop! Educate yourself first. Read anything you can get your hands on and watch training DVDs and internet videos. Jim highly recommends Bill Hillmann's "Training a Retriever Puppy." He claims this is "the best DVD for early training techniques and ideas."
While you're reading articles and watching films, Jim suggests that you "go to hunt tests and meet fellow gun dog people. Talk to owners who run dogs that you like." It's also important to research the puppy's parents. Pay attention to the parent's temperament and their level of desire to work. Jim explained that these traits will generally be passed down to their offspring. Jim likes to pick puppies from "proven stock." This means that the parents should be hunt test competitors or field trial dogs.
Jim and I agree that health clearances are also extremely important to ensure the value and well-being of your pup. Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM) and Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) are genetic traits you want to avoid. Hip and elbow clearances of parents are also important. By researching the puppy's pedigree, you are creating a higher likelihood of having a healthy dog that loves to train and hunt as much as you do. If you choose a puppy out of any litter in the newspaper, you are taking a greater risk on the quality of your new gun dog.
Now that you have properly educated yourself on training techniques and have carefully selected the litter, it's time to pick the puppy. This process is a lot of fun! When I'm looking at litters, I like to bring the puppies out and see them interact with each other. By watching them play you can see the pups that show dominant characteristics, the ones who play well together, and the adventurous or shy ones. Once you've seen them interact, select an individual pup who displays a desirable temperament, and let it wander around awhile, away from the litter. Is he or she curious or fearful? Does it want to be left alone, or only want to be by your side? Curious and adventurous is good, but wanting to be alone and fearful is not ideal.
Now that you have a glimpse of the pup's personality, bring out a dead pigeon or duck wing and use it to get the puppy excited. The pup should have a natural love for it, and if they do, you may be looking at your new puppy. However, if they don't, Jim and I would recommend picking out a new puppy and repeating the process. My personal gun dog, Buck, was not my first choice out of the litter; I picked one of his brothers first. The brother was aloof and wanted little to do with the dead pigeon. Buck was the second pup I took out of the pen, and never went back. Buck showed no sign of fear, he was very curious about who we were, and he loved dragging the pigeon around the yard.
Now that your pup is home, the real fun begins! House breaking and crate training, learning their name, and introductions to new smells and sounds are all great experiences for you and your new pup. Jim and I agree that the puppy should never know what a bad day is like. Monitor their eating and drinking habits so you can get them outside before an accident. Praise them when their behavior is correct as if it's their biggest accomplishment. Slowly introduce retrieving in a short hallway, making sure they can't do anything but bring the object back to you. Jim emphasizes not to throw more than three retrieves at a time. It's important to leave the puppy always wanting more. That will make the experience even better the next time and build the dog's passion for retrieving. You should never allow them to get tired or bored with it.
My last two pieces of advice for bringing a new puppy into your life would be first, to never allow a bad habit to form now that you won't find acceptable from an adult dog, such as, jumping on people, biting, chewing, tug of war, etc. Second, have fun with the process! The puppy will add incredible amounts of laughter to your household, to which both Jim and I can attest. Right from the beginning, you and your pup will share an incredible bond that will grow with every memory that is made.
For more helpful tips and advice you can contact Jim or myself at:Info@loneduckoutfitters.com