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Building a Champion Begins with Puppy Training

Featuring Chris Akin, Webb Footed Kennel

Champions aren’t just born winners; they’re developed from a combination of good genetics and a lot of training time. Chris Akin of Webb Footed Kennel personally trains 26 dogs a day, has a hundred dogs in his kennels, and employs a staff of eight. Over 3800 dogs have been trained in his Northeast Arkansas facility, and he has titled more dogs than anyone in the business. Akin says the key to building a champion dog includes puppy socialization and progressive repetition.

Eukanuba pro trainer Chris Akin holds a lab puppy

Puppy Socialization

“Socialization, socialization, socialization,” says Akin.

“If you told me 30 years ago that the best duck dog would also be in someone’s house as a pet, I’d have said you were crazy,” says Akin. “But I’ve learned that being around people all the time is what makes a great duck dog.”

“Two guys just left our kennel with dogs, one was a farmer and the other was a vet, both bought puppies. Those guys have the best of both worlds, great opportunities for their dogs,” adds Akin. “The farmer can take the pup with him everywhere, in the tractor, in the Ranger, in the co-op. The pup can be with him 24 hours a day.”

“A dog that is spending his time in a dog run or kennel for most of the day is not going to learn much. Just because you don’t have your hat, whistle and boots on, you are still training and working on socialization if the dog is with you. If you have the dog in the truck with you, in the living room, in the boat, he’s being trained and socialized,” Akin says. “Whenever you are telling a dog to ‘come here’ or ‘stop that’ or stay in one spot, on a seat or the floor of your truck, in your day-to-day interaction, it’s all training.”

Akin continues, “Whenever anybody is here buying puppies, they all say the same thing, ‘which one do I pick’…I tell them ‘you’ve already picked your genetics so what matters is what you do from here. So just pick a puppy and start socializing.’”

Progressive Repetition

Akin uses progressive repetition when training dogs. “Training has to be done in the correct steps. Start off easy and make it a little harder each day. Everything in dog training is progressive repetition. If we throw retrieves at five feet to a puppy, then the older dog is going on up to 50 to a 100 yards,” says Akin. “Dogs learn so quick, how much they absorb in a short time is just incredible.”

“Something I heard the other day is ‘Beginners worry about what novices are doing, novices are worried about what the pros are doing…and the pros are worried about the basics.’ Pros have to worry about heel, sit, stay and kennel as much as all the advanced skills,” he emphasizes.

“If we were building a house, I would tell you we are doing the footings today, pouring the slab tomorrow and, framing it next week,” he says. “But as soon as we get it framed, you want to talk about hanging wallpaper but we haven’t even put up the sheetrock.” Akin believes the same methodology applies to dog training. Training should follow a sequence of steps where skills are mastered with progressive repetition.

What about teaching older dogs new tricks? “Dogs are never too old to do continuing education,” says Akin. “My youngest dog (of his active team of 26 retrievers) is less than two years old and the oldest, Preacher, is an 11-year-old and he is currently in training. He is a great dog and has been training his whole life.”

Preacher is a big chocolate Lab, and he is running for his Grand Hunting Retriever Champion title next month at age 11. He is already in the AKC hall of fame.

Parting Wisdom from a Trainer of Champions

“In today’s world, everything is at our fingertips. Websites, videos, books…almost too much info, and people can become seemingly experts overnight,” shares Akin.

His advice is simple. Pick a pup with solid genetics. Focus on socialization and put your time in to help your pup master the basics with progressive repetition. Don’t try to fast track the process by moving on to advanced skills until your dog is ready.

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