Although formal training for a bird dog usually falls to one specific family
member, the whole family can help with other important aspects of the puppy's training
long before it begins the long journey to become a polished bird dog. In fact,
when the family pitches in on the early training, the formal bird work will go
Ideally, before the puppy arrives at its new home, schedule a family meeting.
Talk about the expectations for the puppy, and ways each family member can
contribute to its care and training. Where will the puppy stay when no one is
home? When will it be fed, and who will feed it? Who will exercise the puppy?
Where will the puppy's food and leash be kept?
Even more importantly, explain the ways that the actions of family members
could negatively impact the puppy's progress.
Here's an example, using an everyday situation:
When Mom brings Little Johnny home from school, the puppy is in its crate in
the kitchen. Mom presses the answering machine button on the phone in the
hallway and starts listening to messages, while telling Johnny to run to his
room and change into his soccer uniform, or they're going to be late.
Although Mom and Dad don't let the puppy out of its crate until it puts all
four feet on the floor and is quiet, Johnny doesn't wait for that. He can't
wait to see that puppy. As the puppy jumps on the crate door, yelping, Johnny
opens it. He and the puppy dart to his room, where the puppy immediately squats
on the carpet. Whoops.
"Hey, Mom!" Johnny yells. "The puppy went to the
bathroom in here!"
Mom is listening to the last message, this one from dad, who says, "And
don't forget to bring the puppy to the game! It will be a good experience for
Mom barely has time to clean up the puppy's mess and find Johnny's soccer
shoes; there's no time to put the puppy's crate in the van. Exasperated, she
pushes the puppy back into the crate in the kitchen, and she and Johnny head to
All Family Members Must Reinforce Proper Behavior
What has the puppy learned? If I jump up and yelp, I
can get what I want. My bathroom is anyplace I have to go. And by not
accompanying the family to the soccer game, the puppy has missed out on a great
opportunity for socialization involving new people, places and noises.
When there's a rule, such as: The puppy should not be let out of the crate
until it's standing quietly, all family members must enforce it. If that
doesn't happen, the puppy gets mixed messages.
A puppy is a big responsibility, and requires a little extra planning and
thought amongst family members. The extra effort will be worth it. The more
uniform the training, the better off you will be as the puppy continues its
Here's how the situation could have gone:
As Mom pulls into the driveway, she reminds Johnny about the "four feet on
the ground and quiet rule," and asks him to take the puppy out for a quick walk.
She listens to phone messages as she grabs the soccer gear, and picks up the
puppy's crate to load it into the van. She, Little Johnny,
and Little Champ head to the game.
One way to unify the early obedience training and socialization is to enroll
in a basic obedience class, involving the whole family. Although only one
person will work the puppy in the actual class, the whole family can watch and
also practice the techniques at home.
Any skilled trainer worth his or her salt knows that a huge part of dog
training is people training. With the family members trained, the learning
sessions can continue at home. Since short sessions, no more than 10 or 15
minutes are best for puppy training, each family member should be encouraged to
take a turn.
If necessary, develop a schedule. With young children, make sure an adult
supervises so that the training cues are uniform. Also, both praise and
correction must be uniform.
When the puppy is showing good behavior, those actions should be recognized
and rewarded. If the puppy misbehaves, that bad behavior must also be recognized.
It must be corrected, and if need be, the puppy must be disciplined.
Here again, depending on the age of the family children, adult supervision
may be needed to ensure that praise and correction are uniform. Family members
should understand that disciplining the puppy doesn't mean that you don't care
for it and love it. In fact, teaching the proper response (for example, "No!" and
For example, don't etch any milestones into stone, such as "the puppy will
heel off lead by the time it is 16 weeks old," or "the puppy will go into the
crate on command at 12 weeks old." Keep trying, don't skip days, keep the
lessons short yet consistent, and the puppy will keep progressing at its own
Puppies should be exposed to as many different types of terrains and
situations as possible, everything from suburban sidewalks to fence rows, from
puddles to woodland streams, from trips in the car to sideline manners at the
The whole family can take the puppy for walks, and let the youngster explore
new places and things. Offer lots of encouragement if the puppy is hesitant
when encountering new things.
Yes, it's true that eventually, it will primarily be one person who is doing
the training for the formal bird work. But won't that person's job be so much
easier if the student arrives positively socialized to people, various covers,
other dogs, and travel?
That's a puppy that won't be apprehensive or preoccupied with other things,
and that's a puppy that will be easier for that person to train. Involving the
whole family in the early training of a puppy can create that type of student,
a young dog that arrives ready to learn, a trainer's dream.
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