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What Age to Begin Training

Your author receives training questions via email on a continuous basis.  That’s exciting to me because it demonstrates that dog owners are interested in a better performance from their dog.  The entire hunting dog experience is so much more enjoyable with a well-trained dog.

By far, the most frequent question always relates to “what age” to begin training.  It’s a difficult question to answer without knowing the dog.  The issue is “pressure” and how a pup reacts when under pressure.  Put too much pressure on a young “soft” dog and you could create long-term damage.  Other pups might be hard as nails and able to absorb substantial pressure.  Although the trend is toward younger and younger training, my approach seems to be going in the opposite direction.  I’m becoming more and more old school.

Old school training says that training on birds doesn’t begin seriously until your pup is one year old.  This gives your dog an opportunity to mature and be able to handle the pressure involved with learned behavior.  Learned behavior is the opposite of natural behavior.  For example, it’s natural for a predator to chase their prey.  However, we don’t want our dogs to chase prey.  We want our dog to point and stay on point until they’re released…this is learned behavior.

For the beginner or amateur trainer/dog owner, here are my suggestions for training a young pup.

Enroll in a puppy obedience class.  A good obedience class instructor will not put undue pressure on your pup.  The pup will learn basic obedience and have fun doing it…and you’ll have fun bonding with your pup.  Keep the training going.  If all goes well, enroll in the next obedience class.  As with all training, obedience training is a step- by- step process.  If the pup doesn’t respond well to a step, then start over again until everything clicks.  It’s like building a high-rise tower; without a foundation, you can’t go any further.

There are two commands that are not routinely taught in obedience school that are important to a hunting dog.  They are the “whoa” command and the “kennel” command.  I’m unsure why because both are important to any dog…house pet or advanced hunting dog.  Ask your instructor to work with you on each of these commands.  Both can be taught at six months.

Okay, you’re anxious to see the pup’s reaction to birds.  That’s fine, but don’t force it.  Allow your pup to develop the natural prey drive by chasing song birds, butterflies, etc.  There is no need to introduce your pup to game birds…that comes later.  Put pressure on a pup around game birds and you could be heading for serious trouble.  Don’t be tempted…it’s not worth the negative results.

Besides basic obedience and permitting the prey drive to develop, there are plenty of other training measures that can be taken to make for a better companion.

Early in the pup’s life, introduce the little guy (or gal) to the automobile.  If you’ll travel to your hunting grounds, this is very important.  Another important training step is to allow your pup to tow around a check cord.  Start with just a normal lead and then a longer cord.  When serious training time arrives, your dog will already be accustomed to the check cord.  Introduction to water is important at an early age.  Let them have fun in the water and they’ll learn quickly to swim.

Another under-one-year-of-age exercise is training to the gun.  This is very critical and must be done correctly.  If you have never worked with gun training, you may want to work with a professional trainer.  If you chose to do it yourself, it’s a step-by-step process…the same with all training.  When your pup is chasing a song bird in the yard, begin by banging some pans together.  Make sure your pup is occupied before making any noise.  If all is well, go to a 22 pistol.  Then, at 100 yards, shoot a .410 gauge…then a 20 gauge.  Take this slowly and always make sure your pup is occupied before making noise.

Folks, that’s a guideline for training a puppy.  Always remember that all training is step by step.  There are no short-cuts.  Good luck!

Paul Fuller is a lifelong sportsman.  He’s been an outdoor writer since 1971. He’s the host and producer of the award winning Bird Dogs Afield TV show ( and produced the epic video Grouse, Guns & Dogs. Paul shot over his first German short-haired pointer in 1961.

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