Socializing to Different Training Environments
For your dog to be confident running through alder thickets, prairie grass and sage brush, or swimming in ponds, lakes and rivers, he needs to be socialized to and trained in those kinds of environments.
Jared Moss of Best Gun Dogs in Beaver, Utah starts working his puppies in cover at around 10 to 12 weeks of age by simply going for a walk. As he explains it, monkey see, monkey do. Dogs are pack animals, and they follow the leader of the pack. That should always be the handler, but it also can be an older, more experienced dog. A puppy or litter of puppies will follow a leader into the cover because someone else is doing it. That experience gives them confidence, and from confidence comes boldness.
“It’s important to walk your puppy through the type of cover he will be working in so he develops confidence,” says Moss. “When you start doing formal training, the number of new scents and sensations, as well as the environment won’t be difficult or distracting for him.”
Desensitizing your puppy to things such as new smells and sounds that come with the woods and waters is key to getting him to focus on pointing or retrieving when the time comes.
“I just had a 16-week-old pup brought to me for formal training, and I’m not sure he had ever been in the dirt before,” explains Moss. “When I put him on the ground for a walk, he just wanted to smell every piece of dirt and rock, instead of focusing on me. It took some time to acclimate the puppy to the world, and owners can fast-track the process by introducing their puppy to areas in which they’ll work.” Puppy socialization to the environment should include exposure to water, as well as lots of different terrain. Exposure should start early and occur often.
Socializing to Training Equipment
Moss explains socializing your puppy to training equipment in three basic words: Keep it simple.
“Take it one step at a time,” he says. “You don’t need to grab a starter pistol on your very first time out with your pup. It’s just going to overload him.”
According to Moss, if you can get your puppy used to dragging a check cord through cover, then trickling in dummies, starter pistols, and other training equipment later on will be seamless.
Moss starts socializing his puppies to training progressively. He lifts them in and out of a crate, drives them to and from training fields, and stakes them out while he works with older dogs. All that work gets puppies used to the process, sights, and sounds of regular training.
Next, at around 10 to 12 weeks of age, he introduces a puppy to two pieces of equipment that are paramount for any formal training setting: a collar and a leash.
“I put a ¾-inch collar on my puppies, and tie a 6-foot piece of paracord to it,” explains Moss. “I let them drag around the cord and get used to the resistance. After a while I’ll start stepping on the cord and give a command. If I see them about to jump on the couch and I don’t want them to do so, I’ll step on the cord and give the ‘down’ command. Stepping on the cord and giving a command helps mold the behavior I want to see from my adult dogs.”
Determine what you want your dog to do—or not do—and use the collar/cord combination to train.
Nutrition can help with the socialization and learning process, especially if a puppy’s food contains particular nutrients. Docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, is an important omega-3 fatty acid that promotes neural development during the rapid growth of a puppy’s brain and nervous system.
“Puppy food high in omega-3 fatty acids is important for your sporting dog’s brain development,” says Moss. “I feed my dogs the Eukanuba Premium Performance Puppy Pro until they are a year old. Not only does it give them the DHA that they need for learning, it also supports joint health and promotes slow, steady growth, to help ensure strong muscles and tendons into adulthood. Feeding my puppies a balanced diet with high-quality ingredients is integral to training. I’ve found it contributes to fewer repetitions to get the desired results.”