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10 Tips to Help Your Pup Become a Great Bird Dog

Winter is a great time to get a new pup. Here's how to be ready for what lies ahead.

10 Tips to Help Your Pup Become a Great Bird Dog

New dogs, new tricks: Here's how to start a puppy on the road to becoming a bird dog. (Shutterstock image)

A lot of hunters get puppies late in the year. The present of a puppy makes for a merry Christmas, of course, but there's usually another reason—to have the pup ready for the next hunting season. Training brings out highly desirable qualities like boldness, drive, intensity, patience, handle and a biddable disposition. Some of those traits are genetic, for sure, but there are 10 things you can do to turn your new puppy into a hunting companion.

1. Make a Vet Appointment

Dr. Johnny Myers, an avid waterfowler and Eukanuba Pro Veterinarian, says vaccinations are critical to your pup's health.

"Vaccines pick up where the dam's colostrum leaves off," he says. "Colostrum is in the dam's milk and is produced by her body during the first few days after the litter is whelped. Colostrum contains a hormone called proline-rich polypeptide (PRP), which either stimulates an under-active immune system or slows down an overactive one. Colostrum helps protect nursing puppies from disease until the pup's immune system develops. Breeders will take care of the early vaccinations, but owners should visit their vet for next-step inoculations around the 6- to 8-week mark."

Dr. Myers suggests that owners ask their vet two key questions. The first is what vaccinations a gun dog needs.

"Vaccinations are broken down into core and noncore types," he says. "Core vaccinations are recommended for all dogs irrespective of lifestyle. Examples of core vaccines include distemper, adenovirus type 2, parvovirus type 2 and rabies. Noncore vaccines are recommended for some dogs based on their lifestyle, geographic location and risk of exposure. Leptospirosis, Bordetella, Lyme, influenza and others are some examples. Gun dogs are exposed to a lot of different environments, so they'll need both core and noncore vaccinations. Your local veterinarian will know what specific vaccines your puppy will need to develop a strong immune system.

"The second question to ask your vet is in regards to duration of the immunity," says Dr. Myers. "The answer will tell you when follow-up shots are needed. Schedule visits to keep core and noncore vaccines current. Your pup also will need parasite control to keep a variety of worms, fleas, ticks and heartworm at bay."

Regular vaccinations will help your puppy develop an immune system that's strong enough for an introduction to people, animals and the outdoor environment and activities.

2. Familiarize Them with Their Surroundings

Early on, it's crucial to help puppies form positive associations with everything they will encounter during their lives. A pup will need to know where he'll eat, drink water, relieve himself and sleep. Puppies are dependent on owners, and routines establish confidence. Feed the pup at the same time each day, train him at a similar time and he'll adjust quickly.

3. Stimulate Brains, Then Brawn

A puppy's body can take a year or more to fully develop, but his nervous system is nearly fully developed at 4 months. Start training when he's young and you'll develop a puppy that understands what is expected of him and is relaxed in delivering it. The physical conditioning can wait until his body is fully developed.




4. Give Them Lots of Attention

Handling a puppy creates a bond with the owner, and a strong bond comes from lots of handling. Pat him all over and talk calmly to him. When you go to stack or style him up during formal training later on, he'll be used to being touched.

puppy in hunting scene
No matter the breed, let your puppy get feathers in his mouth while training. It will pay off big time in the long run. (Shutterstock photo illustration)

5. Manage Expectations

There are some things your pup will have to do frequently, including vet visits, having his ears cleaned and eyes inspected, getting his nails cut and getting shaved or bathed. Run through those several times while the pup is young and he'll be a calm, willing adult.

6. Introduce Yardwork, Commands

Well-mannered dogs come from well-taught pups, so get started with yardwork now. Define what you expect from your dog and teach him those disciplines. Some commands are mandatory while others are optional. Mandatory commands include recall ("come"), steadiness ("sit" or "stay" for retriever, versatile and flushing breeds; "whoa" for bird dogs) and heel. A retriever must retrieve, so that's a must-do command, but many bird doggers consider it optional and require dogs only to "point dead." It's your show, so think about your training platform and work with your pup accordingly.

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7. Practice Steadiness

Expose your pup to things he'll need to do later in life. To begin teaching steadiness, stack a pointing or versatile breed on a bench or barrel. If you don't have either, use the top of a dog box. Make him stand for 1 to 10 seconds at a time. Style his head and tail, repeat the whoa command and stroke him all over. Pat his back, under his belly and his legs. He'll learn to stand quietly, the precursor to the breaking process later on. For retrievers and flushers, work on steadiness with a placeboard. Sit/stay for retrievers or hup/stay for flushers are the normal commands. Practice a few days each week and the breaking process will be much easier.

8. Get Loud

Get puppies used to loud noises and commotions. Expose the pup to construction site noises and beeping horns, or just bang pots and pans together. Praise and pet them when they hear lawn mowers, leaf blowers and the like. The more noises and commotion they hear when they're young, the more focused they'll be when they're older.

9. Take Them to Work

Expand the puppy's mental stimulation by introducing him to the water, fields, woods and coverts where he'll work. Retrievers will need to know what it's like to sit in a blind and ride in a duck boat. Start slowly so the pup has a positive experience. Praise him and increase time and intensity as the pup shows mastery. Take your time and go slow.

10. Start with Short and Focused Sessions

Learning is about teaching puppies new skills. They do well in short, focused sessions. Always end sessions on a positive note as it sets up confidence for the next session.

The only bad thing about a puppy is that their young life goes by so fast. Spend as much time with them as you can, and come next hunting season you'll both be ready to roll.

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