Let’s start with a damage report. My wife has lost about five pairs of shoes (I know it’s more, but I don’t think she’ll miss the others), and the kids have lost enough toys to fill a small toy shop. I lost about seven days’ worth of lunch for work that was left on the counter for me and a couple of suppers when getting up to get something to drink. My German Shorthair pup, Magnum, is digging up my front lawn. Suffice it to say life will never be the same again, but it’s definitely worth it.
In January, when I drove to Witbank to pick up Magnum, my wife and kids weren’t able to go along. On the drive back home he eventually settled on my lap and fell asleep, so, from the start he looked to me as his safe haven. The first couple of days he slept on the shirt and socks I wore on that day.
At first I was under the impression that I need to take on the “alpha” role and show dominance and get the pup to be submissive to me. This was my first rookie mistake because when your gun dog doubles as a pet it gets a bit more complicated. After some sound advice and research I decided to make Magnum part of my “pack of animals” at home. In a pack, every member will play a different role, with me as the pack leader. My two young boys will definitely provide entertainment, and as my wife works from home she’s able to spend more time with Magnum than I am, so she’ll take on a comforting role. It’s important that everyone in the family understands their roles and this be kept in mind when giving commands.
Here are some tips on becoming the pack leader. Don’t allow the pup on the couch or bed (my second rookie mistake). Puppies tend to get away with murder. You always need to be in an elevated position otherwise your pup will think he is equal to you. This goes for any family member giving a command.
You must decide when your pup plays, eats, trains, etc, and this can be reinforced by putting your pup in his mobile kennel for short periods.
For grooming I place him on his kennel or use a table. This puts you in control and builds trust.
The above tips are part of an ongoing process. You can’t be a pack leader for a week then be absent for a month and still expect your pup to see you as the leader. Also, remember that your pup will challenge you from time to time for dominance.
Before training starts, acquire all the accessories you’ll need, e.g. dummy birds, 1.2m leash, 10m leash, kennel, whistle and treats/hooves to chew on. Decide on your training method. I opted for “positive reinforcement technique” as my primary tool.
Following a few basic tips can make training a lot easier. Go to a Field Trial event or South African Versatile Hunting Dog Association (SAVHDA) seminar or open day and see what the experienced dogs are doing.
Avoid all situations where your pup can be hurt or scared.
Praise your pup when he does something right.
Don’t overdo any training. Do a specific exercise at least three times but not more than five, whether he does it right or wrong.
Your pup is a “toddler” and only wants to play. He needs to associate you (and training) with fun and games. If you see the pup doesn’t want to train at any given time, just play around as this helps with bonding.
Never compare your pup to other pups of the same age. Each dog has its own personality and strong and weak points. For example, some pups will have a strong retrieving drive and will develop that skill faster.
Thanks to great prep work done by Von Kyroch Kennels’ owner, Johan Botha, Magnum was already introduced to water, wing/feathers on a string and pole to train him to point and retrieve the dummy. This is why it’s important to know where you are buying from. Rather pay more and buy from a reputable breeder. I’d like to use this opportunity to thank Johan for all his effort with this litter and I know the other puppy owners are also reaping the benefits from this.
From the start I noticed that Magnum reacted very well to treats and I decided to continue using them in training. Note that I cut down the recommended amount of kibble because of the treats. You must keep an eye on your pup’s weight. He needs to be able to run, and there’s a list of problems that might result if a pup is overweight or out-of-shape.
First on my training list was the command to sit. I was amazed how quickly he understood it and I started using a hand signal (left hand up in the air like a police officer commanding you to stop) with the voice command. By the following day Magnum had learned to sit to a hand signal alone.
The wing/feathers on a string and fishing rod are lots of fun. You can see the change in your pup’s attitude and in his eyes. This is a sign of a strong instinct for hunting.
Last on our list was the “fetch” command. For this I use the hallway in my house – I close all the side doors so that the pup is able to move only away and towards me. Throw a ball down the hall. Once he’s consistently retrieving, move outside to a courtyard or enclosure that still restricts movement to a degree. After that, move the training to a park or into the veld. Here I made a rookie mistake: I was rewarding him with treats and he started dropping the dummy a couple of feet away, before reaching me, in anticipation of his treat. Now we’re at an impasse, as I don’t want to give him a treat when he drops the dummy and he doesn’t really want to retrieve for me anymore. So I tried other methods; I filled a dummy with feathers and this worked but not as well as I’d hoped. Then I tied feathers around the dummy. That didn’t work at all – he simply started pulling out the feathers as soon as he reached the dummy. In the end I decided to go back to basics and now we’re back to training in the hallway.
I admit that I have made a lot of mistakes during the first month but I have also learned a lot. Spending time with your dog means you’ll quickly be able to gauge his ability. Some of the mistakes I made was comparing Magnum to other pups of his age and not getting him into the veld enough. Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun for you and your pup and don’t be too hard on yourself or him.
As a general tip I’d suggest becoming a member at your local Field Trial Club or join SAVHDA as soon as possible. There are a lot of knowledgeable people out there that can help you to attain success. Also, look out for my article on our Facebook page and website about our visit to a SAVHDA Seminar for junior dogs and beginners that was presented by Matthew Berry at Boavida Gundogs and Wingshooting in Hartebeeshoek earlier this year.