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Dave's Commentary, Jul. 23, 00

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What does it take to train my puppy (II)? 

Last week, I wrote about getting a pup from proven lines, expecting too much too soon, and reasonable expectations for your young pup.  Today we’ll talk about starting and finishing your pup.

Since I’ve posted a good bit of info regarding training your prospect, I’ll steer away from that and talk about time lines and reasonable expectations for your pup.

A great example is a little Brittany bred and owned by someone else but brought to me for starting and finishing.  The dog’s name is Sassy.

Sassy came to me when she was about 6 months old.  The owner was inexperienced so he sought out my assistance.  His wife was a little worried about training techniques being too harsh but felt better after reading our web site and asking questions about our program.

Even though I knew Sassy came from field trial lines, I was a little skeptical up front.  This pup seemed to have a learning deficit and just didn’t seem to ‘get it’.  She was plenty birdy and was very excited every time we went out, but her yard work was difficult.  She didn’t want to be controlled and she acted as if she didn’t remember her yard work from one day to the next.

I could see easily why the owner brought her to me.  It would have been very easy to lose your cool and ruin this prospect.  My approach remained steady; a soft touch with lots of repetition.

Keep in mind that my idea of a first year Brittany pup is that it only needs to be steady to wing and respond reasonably to commands.  It’s too easy to expect too much too soon.

Most Brittanys require a soft touch in order to preserve the fire that’s bred into them through generations of selectively breeding the best to the best.

All too often I’ve seen folks buy a top prospect then at about 4 months, take it to some “K-9” obedience school.  Now the fire is gone because generic obedience schools teach control over the dogs’ every move.  The pup then won’t leave a 10-yard area around the hunter because he’s awaiting the next obedience command.

Back to Sassy.  She had the fire.  It had to be preserved that was for sure.  After some time she began to show promise.  Her fieldwork was impeccable but her field obedience was marginal.  With more work and strict guidance to the hunter, she went home.

One year later Sassy returned.  It seems that it all finally clicked over the hunting season and she was now a bona fide bird dog but still very rough around the edges.  She had won and placed in numerous NSTRA trials.  Her style is always a slam on point.

When Sassy returned, her ‘rough edges’ consisted of occasional creeping and busting/chasing, not steady to wing, not retrieving reliably, and not honoring.  This is a plate full for any trainer but because the proper foundation had been laid, we could push her a little harder to finish her.

To reiterate, the “foundation” is steady to wing and some field obedience with proper yard work in their first year.  Sassy had this when she left but over the course of a hunting season, she picked up some bad habits.

We worked long and hard with Sassy in her second year of training (the terrible twos!) and she was completely finished when she left.  She is now steady to wing and shot, retrieves absolutely to hand from the position of heel – presents the bird to the handler with her head up at 45 degrees, slams on point and honor, no longer creeps, and is fun to hunt with.

It is true that some dogs will progress faster but the majority of Brittanys will train similar to Sassy.  Had we demanded perfection in her first year it is very likely that we would have ruined her and squashed her fire.  Sassy is a very good bird dog.

So now that you have read about Sassy, I hope you and your new Brittany prospect enjoy similar results.  If you are one of the lucky few that get a dog that does it all with no training, HOLD ON!  You’ve got something special!

Thanks for stoppin’.  Give your pup a treat for me.

For “How to train”, read my training/FAQ pages at this website.

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