You have just welcomed home the cutest furry four-legged new addition to your bird hunting family, now what? How can you make them the next hunting legend? What are the first steps? We have been asked these questions and many more time and time again; how do you raise the best retrieving companion? My answer: Just like building your life, it all starts with a solid foundation; have a strong crate training method and start retrieving on day one. Its instinctive to start obedience early on, however, building a strong desire to retrieve first is much more important at this young age.

When we arrive home with a new puppy, one of the first and most important steps we take is crate training. Not only will the crate be the pup’s bed, it also becomes their “comfort place”; a place to eat, sleep, and relax. A crate is in no way “cruel” and is never used for punishment. Dogs who are crate trained properly at a young age love being in crates throughout their lives, and are much better citizens in the household and the field. Their crate will be used to feed them, keep them out of trouble while you are away, and helps motivate them to work / play during training times.

During day one, it is very common for the new puppy to cry when first left unattended in their crate. Though hard to do, it is in your (and the pup’s) best interest to let them cry it out. If you come to the rescue every time the puppy throws a tantrum, you are teaching them that whining, crying, or barking, gives them what they want. DO NOT DO IT! You will regret it! Don’t let those cute eyes fool you, if you know they have had food, water, and their bladders recently emptied, just ignore them and they will quickly learn that they don’t always get their way. In our experience this will subside within the first 24-48 hours, with the first night being hell!

When talking about crate size, we start with a small crate just big enough for a food bowl and enough room for the pup to stand up and turn around. We move up in size as the pup grows and learns to potty only outside. Dogs naturally do not want to lie in their own waste. Limiting the space they have available to relief themselves will help them want to hold their bladder until they get to the grass outside. We begin the first week by letting them out about every 4 hours, and increase the time as the pup ages. If they potty in the crate, just take them outside and clean up. Don’t make a big deal out of it yet as they will learn with time it is much more pleasant to go outside.

The second most important step is retrieving. Retrieving begins immediately when the pup arrives home at 7 to 8 weeks of age. It is too often a common mistake to not work with the new puppy in fear of “ruining them”. Pups who start retrieving early on have a huge advantage over dogs that were not worked with when they began gun dog training!

A good time to begin a retrieving session is soon after the pup has been let out of their crate. They will have pent-up energy making this a great time to use it. Keep retrieving very simple, fun, and always end with success. In the beginning, all your pup needs is 3-5 retrieves at a time, at a very short distance. You want to end right in the middle of all the excitement and leave them wanting more!! If you do this 2 to 3 times a day, it can build tremendous drive to retrieve that will last a lifetime. We start with a soft squeak toy to get them interested, then quickly switch over to a small canvas “puppy bumper” or even a paint roller works really well. They prefer the soft texture at this age rather than a plastic knobby bumper. Use lots of praise and encouragement, and if pup runs off DO NOT CHASE THEM, they will think it’s a game. Instead, walk the other way, cheer them on; and they will follow you. You can eliminate the option of running away by retrieving down a hallway or in the corner of a room. This will help them return straight to you; and realize the sooner they do, they get to retrieve again.

Formal obedience begins around 6 months of age. Prior to this they are enjoying being a puppy, getting well socialized, and learning to love retrieving. We will do some puppy obedience with dog food as a treat to teach some basic commands such as sit, here, heel, and name recognition. This is very simple and does not involve any correction, nor do we make them sit and stay to retrieve until much later during formal training. Too much too soon can take away their drive to retrieve. Its good to take them on some “loose leash” walks but the main goal during all this time is for them to have FUN! It is much easier to steady up a dog later on who is crazy to retrieve, than it is to make them want to retrieve after they’ve lost interest.
Good luck with your new puppy!

By Tom Garza