Whether or not you are planning on training your puppy for hunting or you simply want him to be a good citizen, you still need to teach him to be obedient. I’ve gotten so many phone calls from distraught owners that have just lost their dog to being hit by a car. Simple obedience might have prevented a lot of heartache. Teaching the puppy to be steady to wing and shot is one thing, but keeping him out of harm’s way is our real goal. We’ll begin Sparkies* obedience training with three simple commands: heel, sit/stay, and come. The key here is that these are commands, NOT requests. A puppy is never too young to start obedience training. “Heel”, “sit/stay”, and “come” are commands you can teach your young puppy, before formal training begins. These skills will enhance your hunting companion’s performance and make your days more enjoyable.
Nothing can be more frustrating than being in the blind with someone that has an unresponsive dog. The whole day is spent listening to the owner screaming at the dog: “so and so, get in here!”, “you sit!”, “get out of my lunch!”, or “get down!. We’ve all heard it and been glad that was not our “blankedy/blank dog”. Basic obedience is easy and well worth the piece of mind it brings.
I always start obedience training while the litter is still together (5 to 6 weeks of age). Training begins with collar conditioning: ¼” thick cotton cords with non-slip knots, placed over the puppy’s heads, around their necks. While the puppies are playing, they will learn to ignore their collars. This makes the transition to real collars much easier and less distracting to the puppies.
The training equipment we’ll use for our obedience training will consist of: 1) 6 ft. leather leash, ¾” wide; 2) 15 to 20 ft. of heavy cotton/canvas lead (some times referred to as a lunge lead), ¾” to 1” wide; and 3) medium link stainless steel choke/training collar. The reasons for the leather leash as opposed to something else: it won’t burn your hands like nylon will and it gives you better “feel for the dog” (how he is acting and reacting). We need the proper collar because it needs to fit correctly and have the right size links. We need Sparkie to hear the “zip” and “snap” as corrections are made. To function properly and humanly the training collar must be put on the puppy correctly. (See illustration)
Place the choke chain around
Sparkie’s neck so that the end of
the chain, which is attached to
your lead, goes over, not under
You won’t necessarily need the collar or leach for earliest training but it can be useful to place the collar on Sparkie as a signal that it’s time to learn/work.
Lets begin with “sit/stay”. We can introduce this command when we feed Sparkie or give him treats. To start: whenever / wherever you see Sparkie sit, say “sit” and praise him. I like to use treats and lots of “Gooooood Dog!” for this one. You may also find it necessary to guide your puppy into the proper sit position by placing your hand on his rump and gently guide it into position. Don’t allow Sparkie to sit sloppy. Make him “sit pretty”, legs underneath him, not out to the side. Later on, when Sparkie has “sit” firmly entrenched in his mind, we can teach him “whistle sit” (substituting one blast of a whistle for the word sit).
Many trainers today are combining the “sit/stay” commands. “Sit” meaning sit and stay there until you are told to do something else. I like to teach “stay” separately. Have Sparkie sit, command “stay”, step out in front of and face him, tell Sparkie “Gooood Stay!” You can regain your original position very easily from this position. You will find it easy to back up one or two steps commanding “stay”. If Sparkie starts to move, make yourself bigger by holding your arms out and up commanding “stay”. If Sparkie does move, reposition him and begin the process again. Eventually Sparkie will catch on.
The “come” command can be taught in the same manner. Whenever Sparkie comes toward you, for whatever reason, say “come” and get down to his level by kneeling or crouching and encourage him with a treat. Praise, don’t forget the praise. While you’re playing and rolling that tennis ball for Sparkie, after he retrieves it, call his name and move in the opposite direction. Sparkie should respond by running toward you. As he gets closer, crouch down and encourage him some more. By crouching, you don’t seem so intimidating to a puppy.
After Sparkie has learned the “sit/stay” and “come” commands, you can begin to teach the “heel” position. Position yourself so that Sparkie sits by your left foot (on you right if you are a south paw). Walk two steps forward, calling “Sparkie” as you go. Sparkie will come along willingly, rather than be left behind. When you stop and Sparkie catches up, put him in the sit position, but this time use the command “heel”. Repeat this several times. Later on, when you put the lead on Sparkie and he starts to balk, you should be able to regain control by telling him to “heel”. If the “heel” command has been learned, Sparkie should take the correct position. Using your lead, work on all of the commands.
Gently work your puppy on these basic commands. By starting early, you teach your puppy how to learn, making later training go much easier. How the training is introduced may influence your puppy’s lifelong attitude toward training. Remember, short sessions of ten minutes or so are better for your puppy than long sessions. Long sessions may cause your puppy to get bored and refuse to respond.
Hint: Local YMCA/YWCA, AKC breed clubs, or Petsmarts hold “formal” obedience classes. The age for these classes is usually three months and up. Organized classes allows your puppy to socially interact with other dogs his own age and provide those distractions you need while teaching obedience.
*Sparkie is the name of our mythical student.