Author: Anthony Ferro
The litter announcement was made, you eagerly got your deposit money in as fast as you could, and you’ve been marking X’s on the calendar for 60 days! The puppies were whelped, the pictures were received, and you’ve chosen and named your newest companion afield.
Now what? In this article, we will dive into kennel training, nutrition and feeding, as well as the first few commands to put in place that will benefit you and your dog in the field down the road.
Let us not beat around the bush, the little bugger may be the cutest thing on planet earth, but believe you me, it’s a gremlin in disguise. Nothing, no one or anything is safe in the path of the Tasmania Devil that has overthrown your household! That’s right, a working dog has working needs and it’s up to us as the handler to direct this energy appropriately.
Step one in doing so and perhaps the most important task is kennel training the young tike. For many of us, we work your typical 9-5 leaving the dogs at home in the crate or 8-10 hours some days. Furthermore, let’s think about travel time during hunting season. Not only from field to field kenneling them up, but state to state for many who travel in large chasing quarry. If we set the stage from day 1 that a crate is a happy place, a place of comfort, a spot to nap or chew a bone, or just a place to chill while their owner does human things, the kenneling process becomes second nature and in turn becoming a desired dwelling for your dog for years to come.
Unfortunately for you, it’s an 8-week-old puppy who just left his/her mother and littermates for the first time, life is SCARY! The pup shrieks and shrills in agony, pleading for someone to rescue them from the dungeon-like crate you placed them in with 15 new toys, a dog bed and a blankie monogrammed with the dog’s initials. The pain can no longer be endured and if the poor thing isn’t released immediately, life is over as we know it… DON’T DO IT! Instead, try a few of these tricks to calm the puppy and help them acclimate to their new surroundings with a bit more ease.
First, start by placing a blanket or towel over the crate, making sure to cover all site out of the kennel from any windows or doors. By eliminating the view out of the kennel, we are shutting down one of the dog’s senses (sight) and in turn, localizing the attention on the crate and what’s inside of it with the dog. It’s also an easy way to cut down on the distractions and helping the dog calm down for a night’s rest. Even so, this usually isn’t enough to help them to the point of slumber, so we throw them a curveball.
Turn on a tv or a radio but keep the volume down lower than you would usually if you were listening to it yourself. With the pups site blocked from the blanket, he/she will cue into the voices on the speakers and will inquisitively want to listen. Tricking them to a point, they think they hear you and it often comforts them to know they are safe because mom and dad are in the room. Also, by turning the volume down it oftentimes makes the dog cry at lower volumes, as if they want to make sure their cries don’t drown out their owners’ voices, in hopes that just maybe you will come let them free of the kennel.
Lastly, be sure to utilize all the hours in the day you aren’t at home to kennel train. You don’t have to be at home to hear the cries and just like anything else, practice makes perfect. Often times 3-5 days of this and your new hunting dog is kennel broke and loving life!
A high-performance dog deserves a high-performance food, plain and simple. Often times, high performance comes with a high cost, but if we breakdown what we spend on E collars and GPS systems, on boots and shotguns or dare I speak of the money we pour into our hunting rigs, the bank can’t shut down when it comes to the diet and nutrition of our four-legged working machines.
Personally, I prefer to feed an all life ages/stages kibble strictly based on the convenience of feeding all my dogs the same food. Taking it a further step, not having to switch the dog over to an adult blend a few months down the road when they outgrow the puppy blend, saves them from an upset stomach and a week of the Hershey squirts. Eukanuba, Purina and many more brands make an all life stage 30/20 or 28/18 kibble (Protein/Fat in Grams) that works great on all ages of dogs.
Let’s take the feeding process one step further, and we’ve all seen it. I refer to it as the “Puppy Panic” where the dog literally inhales the food without chewing, as if it was the first and last meal of its life! Sure, they’ve got cute little maze bowls that force the dog to eat around the blocks in the bowl slowing them down. But why not get a two for one out of the deal, slow the puppy down while eating as well as helping maintain proper hydration and increase digestibility. It’s been said that for every 4 cups of food a 50lb. dog or more eats in a day, it is to drink a gallon of water per day as well.
We all know its darn near impossible to get a gallon of water in our dogs a day, but by “floating” the food with water, we are a few ounces closer to that gallon goal! Most 8-week-old puppies and older should be eating a cup to a cup and a half of food a day.
I feed my dogs once a day at 5 pm and I fill the bowl with water until the kibble floats like cereal and milk. When the dog goes to get a mouthful of food it also gets a mouthful of water, making them slow down to swallow the water and chew the food. Furthermore, the kibble soaking up the water becomes soft and more palatable for those young puppy teeth and jaws. It also helps their young stomachs breakdown and digests the nutrients as the kibble is softer and easier for their small intestines to break down the food.
The final stretch and first few commands come into play. Before we touch on these commands, I can’t drive this point home hard enough. There is a difference in asking a dog to obey and command and telling the dog to obey a command.
More often than not we turn on our cutest puppy voice and beg, plead and bribe the dog to do as we wish, this is wrong! The question then becomes who is training who? The dogs, being as smart as they are figure things out quick, they say ‘well, if I stand in the opposite end of the yard-long enough and not come to them, they will come outside with a bag of treats.” At which point the dog has trained you that for your pet to come you must have a treat in your hand…. How many of you are smiling in guilt right now? Instead, we use a tone of command and not a tone of pleading or bargaining.
Name recognition and recall, this is where we begin. You can’t expect your dog to listen or come if It doesn’t know its name. Say it often, say it proud and say it loud!! I truly don’t think you can use a puppy’s name enough in the first month to two months of owning it. A dog that knows its name is a dog whose brain is starting to become biddable. The quicker we can lock down solid name recognition and recall, the faster we can get into some prairie fields and go for a runs/hikes with confidence.
A few tips in helping to drive home the puppies new name is the rule of three. For the first few weeks when calling your dog by its name, say it three times in a row consecutively, “Rain, Rain, Rain…” Be sure to always have an exciting soft tone and it never hurts to coerce them with a clap or whistle. Speaking of a whistle, the rule of three can be taken a further step with the whistle coupled with your dog’s name… “Rain, Rain, Rain….. Toot, Toot, Toot on your whistle.” Dogs minds process commands often and at a faster pace with association. By blowing the whistle three times directly after calling the dog’s name three times, the dog will automatically start to associate three toots on a whistle is the same as calling its name, in turn, recall to whistle has begun.
The two things any trainer or handler must-have in the field to productively train a dog is name recognition and recall. If he/she knows its name we can call and direct them in the areas training birds may be planted, and we can confidently let the dog cover ground knowing it won’t run away as three beeps on the whistle will bring the dog back in front at a comfortable distance. Set the tone for these two commands at the beginning and watch your fieldwork become easier in the end.
There are a million ways to skin a cat or train a dog. At the end of the day, proper introductions to the kennel setting lay the groundwork for miles to come, a healthy balanced food regime and nutritional program in place and hard work drilling home a few key commands and you will be more than headed in the right direction to many sunrises and sunsets afield with your best friend! Hunt hard, Hunt safe and Keep Kicking Dirt!