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Most gundog puppies are something of a compromise.
Unless you live alone, you will probably have to share your puppy with other members of the family.
In many ways this will benefit the puppy and enable him to grow into a confident, friendly, and well socialised dog.
But there is no doubt that raising a gundog puppy with the minimum number of ‘faults’ and the best chance of a good outcome, will depend on the way that he is handled as a puppy.
And this is where conflict between family members can rapidly escalate.
Working gundog faults
We recently had a discussion on my forum which involved some misunderstanding.[wp_ad_camp_1] The misunderstanding arose between those that raise their puppies purely as family companions, and those that raise their puppies with gundog work in mind.
The fact is, there are puppy behaviours that are considered normal in most families, but that can seriously interfere with your puppy’s prospects of being a good working gundog.
Let’s have a look at some common, and not so common faults in gundogs
- Poor delivery
- Boredom with retrieving
- Over independence
Concern over noise was one aspect of raising a gundog puppy that many of my pet gundog forum members did not understand. However, noise in a gundog is a serious fault. It is an eliminating fault in KC competitions and will lose you marks in GC field tests.
Noisy dogs are unpleasant company on shoots, distracting to the guns, and disturbing to game. So, noise is a big NO-NO.
Yet many pet dog owners encourage or at least fail to discourage, noise in their puppies. And whilst noise at home and in the car may not necessarily predict noise in the field (this may be largely related to excitement) it makes sense not to encourage it.
Spitting out dummies and balls instead of placing them in your hand may seem inconsequential in a pet dog, but if a working gundog spits out a wounded bird, that bird may then escape and cannot be humanely despatched.
All gundog puppies should therefore learn to deliver a retrieve right into your hand.
Nowadays we can remedy a poor delivery by training the hold and release using an event marker, but this can be time consuming. It is better to encourage a neat delivery from an early stage.
Boredom with retrieving
Retrieving drive comes in many guises. In some puppies it is powerful urge that is very hard to quench, in others it is a little flickering flame that must be nurtured, fed, and encouraged.
Sadly, even the most passionate retriever can be sickened of the whole game if given too many retrieves as a puppy. And desire, or drive, is very hard to restore once quashed. This is a problem to look out for in families where several people play with the puppy
In the ‘good old days’ of dog breaking, gundog puppies were allowed to run free for the first few months, hunting and chasing to their hearts content.
Fairly severe methods were then used to impose obedience at a later date.
This practice is somewhat less common these days, especially amongst retriever trainers, but the first part (a lot of freedom) still occurs inadvertently in many pet dog homes.
Unfortunately, these are the very homes where most wish to train with very gentle methods and the combination does not bode well for gundog work.
Puppies intended for gundog work should not be given too much independence. They only need sufficient independence to enable them to confidently do their job. Keeping your puppy close is very important.
Some less common faults
There are some less common faults such as clinginess, or reluctance to hunt, and fear of loud noises.
But these are actually less likely to occur in pet homes which house busy families, where puppies tend to be given plenty of freedom and are pretty well socialised
Basic Puppy Guidelines
Here then, are your puppy guidelines. Simple rules to abide by and teach your family, in order to give you and your puppy the best foundations on which to build his gundog skills
- Don’t respond to any noise your puppy makes, don’t chat to him, feed him, put his lead on, or anything else that he likes when he is whining or yapping.
- Do teach your puppy to be quiet in his crate and in the car. Including when other exciting things are going on around him, or when visitors arrive
- Don’t pull things roughly out of your puppy’s mouth
- Do encourage him into your arms and make a big fuss of him before you gently remove the toy or ball and reward him with another throw or two
- Don’t allow anyone to throw endless retrieves for your puppy
- Don’t allow your puppy to chase your other pets, your cat may be able to outrun him now, but chasing animals can easily become a habit
- Do always stop retrieving games whilst he is still having fun
- Don’t allow puppies to play with retrieving toys
- Do keep puppy dummies and balls out of his sight and reach when not being used for retrieving
- Don’t allow your gundog puppy out of your sight, or more than a few yards from you outdoors until he is retrieving at longer distances
- Do keep changing direction when outdoors with a gundog puppy so that he has to keep his eyes on you at all times
So there you are, a few simple guidelines to help you avoid some of the most common mistakes that new puppy owners make with their gundog puppies.
If you think there is the slightest chance you may want to get involved in the fun of gundog training and tests, or even participate in gundog fieldwork, do try your hardest to abide by these rules.
How about you?
Is there anything you wished you had not done with your gundog puppy, anything you think is missing from the list? Drop your thoughts into the comments box below
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
Mindy Nathann says
Dear Pippa, I have emailed you and left comments on this website but have not received any response at all. Don’t know what I am doing wrong. I have a 9 month old pointer mix rescue puppy with a very poor, almost none, recall. I have been doing training and trying to follow your books instructions. She is doing well inside but I cannot remove the lead outside or she takes off into the woods. I don’t quite understand the concept of leaving the lead on all the time. Even in the house? I can’t get past this step and need your help. Please respond. Mindy
Hi Mindy, which book are you removing, and which exercise have you got to? Pippa
As the catalyst for this post, thought I’d pop up an update. Pup is starting gundog puppy classes next week. She’s not stopped squeaking 100% but has definitely reduced. I worry sometimes that she’s in pain as she will start when she’s been walking for 10 minutes or even if she’s just been caught in rain showers. It does concern me slightly but I hope that the gundog classes will be able to take a look at it.
She’s bright and full of energy. You can really see the difference between our first more pet bred Lab and her as she’s constantly trying to find the next thing to get into! Here’s hoping I can live up to her – I’m very keen to to prevent us getting to the situation where i phone the gundog club with a dog that’s out of control and ruining our lives!
I hope harmony now reigns back on your forum
As a novice springer owner your website and advice is hugely appreciated. We lost our previous springer who was in rehab as a daily absconder amazingly described as if it was our dog in your series the trouble with springers.
With our new puppy I wished firstly that we never took him home at 6 weeks as he has some socialisation issues with other dogs even after puppy classes which we stopped taking him to as it seemed to make him worse in an enclosed environment as he got older. This is taking lots of effort to resolve and is quite embarrassing while out training and walking him when he meets other dogs , it appears he is the village idiot in meeting situations as he seems to display playful but barking behaviour, but we are worried aggression could come from him or other dogs?
The second issue we have is resource guarding / possession aggression and I believe this stems from following pack leader advice of everything belongs to us where by we tried to control all his experiences with toys and stuff in the house which perhaps lead to him thinking once he had something he did not want to give up. Its been very difficult and sometimes upsetting to
deal with these issues when they happen, thankfully the aggression only happens rarely and we have learnt to avoid the situations and if they do arise we use exchange tactics and we now let him have access to all his toys. The clicker retrieve articles have helped enormously with this and his training, although he does like to play stay away dog on retrieves a lot unless he knows there is something in it for him. His training is really think on your feet at times as he is so much smarter than us, we have recently learned to give him another find or retrieve to get a delivery without stay away dog. He is coming up to 1 year walking and training him is so much fun thanks to following your website and the total recall book. Looking forward to your next part of stop whistle training. Thanks Richard.
We have a 14 month old lab pet gundog. Her gundog training is going well. She doesnt whine at home or in the car or when out retrieving.
But when she is near water she whines in excitement especially when she is watching other dogs retrieve from water.
Any tips for overcoming this? At the moment we dont take her near to water until we can think of a strategy for training the whining out.
There is nothing quite like water for making dogs whine. It is not unusual for young dogs that are normally silent, will squeak in the situation that you describe. Generally it is a good thing to avoid putting young dogs in situations that trigger whining, and to re-introduce the situation in gradual stages (i.e., not much waiting about to begin with, not too many other dogs involved etc.) I am sorry to say that there is no guarantee of a cure though.