We often receive questions about how we start our puppies. The most important lessons a puppy needs are basic obedience- Come, No, etc. We also like to add “No Chewing” to our list of basic commands. Working on these commands as a part of everyday life teaches a puppy how to learn and that you are in charge. Two commands for the field are also important to start on at an early age- Whoa, and Fetch.
The method we use for early introduction to Whoa comes from George Bird Evans’ book “Troubles With Bird Dogs”. It consists of throwing a treat out in front of the pup and teaching it to Whoa before he/she is allowed to go after it. We like this method because the puppy learns that Whoa means to wait before going after something desirable. Later Whoa will be used in the same way, only on birds. Don’t overdo it, three to five times in each lesson is plenty.
Restrain the pup by pushing it back every time it lunges, not by holding on to it with steady pressure. Give your release command as soon as your pup gives in and stops. We use OK and two taps on the head for the release. During these first lessons you are only trying to get your pup to stop. Eventually the pup will Whoa without being restrained and you can gradually increase the length of time your pup stands on Whoa before being released. Later you can graduate to walking away, etc. Try to include at least one correction during each lesson. For example wait long enough so your pup breaks and requires restraint. This reinforces that you are in control and that pup has to wait for you to release him/her. We also like to end on a positive note, one on which the pup does what is asked without being corrected. We continue this lesson until the pups are old enough to handle more serious yard training.
Here are videos of two pups getting their first Whoa lessons. Both are typical reactions to the first lesson.
Other than basic obedience, early play retrieving is probably the most important lesson for young pups. It’s important to bring out their retrieving instincts early. Then if you have trouble with retrieving later you have something to fall back on that they’re familiar with. Use a dummy that is only for retrieving, not a toy or something the pup has access to otherwise. We start with a rolled up sock and change to a work glove after a few lessons. Again, don’t overdo it – three to five retrieves per session, and make it a fun game. Some pups will come right to you but most try to run by at first. Use a hallway or similar area and position yourself so there’s room to get past you, but you can still catch your pup when he/she tries to run by. Here are the same two pups’ first play retrieving lessons.
Occasionally you run into a situation where things don’t go as planned. Stay positive and keep it fun. In the following video the pup is hesitant to pick up the sock. After being teased with it for a short time she decides it’s OK and runs off with it. Teasing them in this way works very well. Hold the dummy out to them and pull it away when they reach for it. That makes them want it even more. This also works very well with birds. Pups are often hesitant to pick up a dead bird at first so we tease them until they are really trying to get it, then throw it and command Fetch, the same as with the sock in the video.
These simple lessons will lay the foundation for later training.