EARLY PUPPY DEVELOPMENT:
The First 270 Days
Sur le Delavan Kennel no longer offers "Puppy Training" and this article sums up why.
The new puppy arriving at your home has been abruptly uprooted from a known, comfortable environment and the companionship of siblings, and immersed in a completely foreign setting. He is confronted by and must adjust to, new sights, sounds, food, people, and often dogs. This can be a very intimidating situation for an eight to ten-week-old pup, the age at which most new prospects are acquired.
Puppies, therefore, require lots of attention - the more, the better. They need to be introduced to their new family, new home and/or kennel, car rides, and other dogs in a manner which ensures a safe, positive experience. It is extremely important that your puppy not be subjected to loud noises or other frightening - to a puppy - situations. He needs to feel that he is at the center of the universe, and in an exciting, wonderful, safe place. This early socialization is vitally important in shaping your pup’s personality. How it is handled will have long-lasting implications for you and your gun dog. As versatile gun dog trainer Joan Bailey notes, "How a dog is brought along during the first months of life will largely determine his future as a useful gun dog."
Revered Michigan grouse dog trainer, Roy Strickland, suggests in Common Sense Grouse and Woodcock Dog Training, "If you possibly can, keep your dog inside your house as your constant companion. You'll go a long way toward training him simply by being with him. Dogs love companionship and get lonely easily. Dogs denied human contact and friendship have no reason, or desire, to please their masters."
Hall of Fame trainer D. Hoyle Eaton, who won the National Championship at Grand Junction, Tennessee, with four different dogs, once observed of his big running all-age contenders that “If you make them love you they will never run off”. Hoyle obviously believes that proper socialization is fundamental to successful development. It is interesting to note that D. Hoyle Eaton’s Riggins White Knight and Red Water Rex dogs, and Bob Wehle’s Elhew pointers were all descended from the immortal Lexington Jake, and shared similar intelligence and temperament.
One shouldn’t be overly anxious to “train” a new pup for the first thirty days after arrival. Use his name when you call him, play retrieving games - three or four repetitions at a session - and work on housebreaking. Don’t “paper train” your pup. Take him outside to eliminate - hourly when awake, after every nap, when he “circles” or hunts for a spot, and when he wakes up at night. He will be going to the door to be let out in short order. When unsupervised, keep your pup in an appropriately sized crate. He will be reluctant to soil his bed. If your crate is too large, he may decide to use one end for his “toilet”. The best way to housebreak a pup is to proactively prevent a mistake.
Your pup should also be gently, but firmly, taught the meaning of the word “no”. Don’t expect immediate compliance or adult behavior from your pup, and don’t overcorrect and, thus, intimidate him. Use the “no” command sparingly to deter potentially dangerous behavior like chewing electrical cords, or serious uncivilized behavior like chewing the furniture, eliminating in the house, or drawing blood in overly enthusiastic play. Companion gun dog trainer Dick Weaver wisely cautions, "Never discipline a pup for picking up, and carrying, if you want it to (naturally) retrieve. This is different from chewing, which does require discipline." Divert your pup’s attention to more socially acceptable behavior, when possible. “Puppy proof” those areas to which your pup will have access. Let your puppy be a puppy!
If it becomes necessary to physically discipline your pup to deter undesirable behavior, such as biting, avoid slapping him on the muzzle as this may make him head shy. Ahead shy dog will shrink, or pull back when you reach for his collar or try to pet him. Instead, lightly slap the pup on the hindquarters while sharply commanding “no”. Avoid using a folded newspaper to punish your pup. He should learn to relish, and not fear, loud sounds. If your pup fails to respond to the "no" command, you can simultaneously shake him lightly by the scruff of the neck while giving him a stern look for additional emphasis. Your intent - and the result - should be to startle him and redirect his attention, and not to inflict pain. Similarly, to deter an older pup from jumping on you, use your knee, rather than your hands, to push him away. Don’t worry about correcting this behavior until the pup is at least twelve weeks old. At this age, he will be bonded to you and can understand that you are rejecting behavior, and not him. As Joan Bailey wisely observes, "Discipline is teaching, it is not punishment."
When you reach for your pup’s collar, extend your hand under his chin and initially grasp the collar at the underside of his neck. This will encourage him to “stand tall”. When you reach over a pup’s head to grasp his collar at the back of his neck, he will often tend to “shrink” at the prospect of being constrained or controlled. This detracts from the proud, confident demeanor which we seek to nurture in a puppy.
If your pup is housed in an outside kennel, put him next to a friendly dog, preferably a young, playful individual, to provide some stimulation. Take a kenneled pup out for play sessions as often as possible to ensure proper socialization, and that he bonds to people, and not dogs.
A month after your pup comes home, he should know his name, and come when called if he is not engrossed in some fascinating activity like chasing butterflies or eating rabbit turds. He should enjoy retrieving several times before becoming distracted, or bored, with this exercise. Let your pup occasionally drag a light twenty-foot cord when exercising, until he ignores it. Use this cord to gently encourage him to come when called, even when “busy”. Squat when you call him, so that you are welcoming, rather than intimidating. Use a light cord to gently bring your pup to you during retrieving practice, if he tends to “parade” or wants to play “keep away”. Praise him liberally when he complies. Don’t play “tug-o-war” with your pup, as it may encourage him to become “hard mouthed”, or cause bite abnormalities. Allow him to hold the retrieved object for 30 seconds or more, while praising him, before gently removing it from his mouth. With encouragement, almost all Elhew pointers will retrieve naturally. Training your Pointing Dog for Hunting and Home, by Dick Weaver, is an excellent resource that details the author's proven method of developing a reliable, natural retriever.
As soon as your pup can negotiate the terrain, walk him regularly in bird habitat for short periods of time. Encourage the pup to investigate interesting sights and smells, and to do so within the ten to two o’clock arc. If the pup potters, or hooks to the rear, don’t wait for or follow, him. Keep moving forward, while encouraging him to regain the front. You should establish the direction and pace, and not the pup. The exception is when your pup is obviously “making game”, at which point he should not be discouraged from following his nose. With experience, you will learn to detect whether your pup is truly working birds, or simply distracted by intriguing varmint scent.
Once your young prospect is enthusiastically running and hunting to the front, he should be encouraged to turn to the outside at the completion of each cast. Turning inward is inefficient, and wastes effort recovering the same ground. To accomplish this, you must anticipate the completion of the pup’s cast and – by momentarily increasing your pace, modifying direction, and/or offering verbal encouragement - direct the pup forward. This is most easily accomplished in open terrain, as opposed to the grouse woods.
A trip to the western prairies is, for a six to twelve-month-old pup, invaluable in this respect. An early season trip to the prairies will also expose your prospect to an abundance of young pheasants, huns, and/or prairie grouse. On the prairies, your pup will learn how to hunt to the front, work airborne scent, get birds pointed, and to stand off game. If you can undertake such a trip, it will prove to be an excellent investment in your prospect which will accelerate his development, and provide dividends for many seasons. Datus Proper, in Pheasants of the Mind, correctly counsels, "Do not think of training as a substitute for hunting. Only fields and wild birds will make your pup as clever, bold, and enthusiastic as his inheritance allows."
A comfortable foot handled gun dog will exhibit a natural tendency to quarter likely habitat, while successful horseback field trial pointing dogs are inclined to hunt edges. Both predispositions are genetic. One genetic predisposition is not necessarily "better" than another - just different, qualifying dogs for specific purposes.
A foot handled gun dog pup should be encouraged to quarter upland bird habitat, but not necessarily in a mechanical, "windshield wiper" fashion. Similarly, a gun dog should not be dependent on direction from his handler upon completion of each cast. He should learn from experience to blend his quartering pattern with the more deliberate investigation of promising objectives, and even the occasional hunting of an appealing edge. He should search for birds in likely places, and pay limited attention to marginal cover. Hand and/or whistle signals are for non-slip retrievers and flushing spaniels. Accomplished pointing dogs are primarily self-directed.
A quartering type pattern is best developed by walking an irregular, "zigzag", course with your pup and verbally encouraging him to turn back across the front at the completion of each cast. As the pup gains experience and becomes habituated to this ground pattern, he will require progressively less direction. Eventually, he will routinely apply himself to bird habitat in this manner with little, or no, intervention from his handler. Developing this desirable pattern will, early on, require a certain amount of vocalization by the handler. Since the human voice - and whistles - both will spook wild birds, it is desirable that your pup ultimately adopt an intelligent, self-directed, quartering-type ground pattern. The relatively quiet "tone only", or "vibration only", feature on an e-collar is an ideal way to signal your dog to turn back across the front upon completion of a quartering cast, or to respond to a change in your direction. These tones do not disturb game and, therefore, are preferable to voice or whistle commands. They can be initially used in combination with a voice command, and eventually suffice as the handler's exclusive signaling method when direction is occasionally required. The e-collar stimulation mode should be employed only to deter determined deer chasing. More promising young gun dogs have been ruined by the misuse of e-collars than by any other cause - rivaled only by the improper introduction to gunfire. Both are inexcusable.
Gary Christensen, the accomplished professional trainer who developed Bob Wehle’s great Elhew champions of the 80’s and 90’s, has correctly noted that "The most important thing in training a dog is what you don’t do.” In that regard, it is critical to recognize when your prospect is ready for a new stimulus. Avoid rigid adherence to a training schedule which you may have used with your last dog, or which is espoused in the most recent training book, or magazine article, that you may have read. All pups are individuals, and develop at different rates. While we all like precocious, “early bloomers”, a pup which matures more slowly is just as likely to make an outstanding gun dog. As accomplished author and amateur trainer Mike Gaddis has so eloquently noted: “The desire in an exceptional pup is like a rare young wine, kegged from a proven vineyard. Nurture it slowly to perfection and it will pleasure the years. Tap it prematurely, and you will squander it’s bouquet in infancy”.
Exposing a very young pup to planted pigeons or game birds to "imprint him on birds," or to "awaken his prey drive," is an unnecessary, and potentially harmful, practice that can create style, flagging or blinking problems. A well bred pup's "prey drive" is embedded in his DNA. It, most certainly, will materialize when the pup contacts free roaming game birds at an appropriate age. Introducing a pup less than six months old to planted birds, or giving him a bird to maul and carry, will not accelerate his rate of maturity or development. It, however, does have the real risk of being a frightful, negative experience that will be difficult to overcome and, thus, retard his development. To develop a pup's full potential, it is always best to err on the side of caution and proceed too slowly, than to overwhelm the pup with stimuli inappropriate for his age or level of maturity. There are no legitimate short cuts to optimal gun dog development, although there is no shortage of magazine articles, books, DVDs and/or seminars offering them. Anything done quickly is almost invariably done poorly. Accomplished gun dog trainer and author, Dick Weaver, correctly observes, "I dislike short cuts and do not use gimmicks as a substitute for sound training, time and patience." Bob Wehle astutely notes in Wing and Shot, that "The actual mechanics of training are quite simple. The difficult and important part is how the mechanics are carried out, and what you have left when the job is done."
Canine behavior expert and regular Gun Dog Magazine contributor Dr. Ed Bailey cautions: "I think both playing with a live bird and the flipping-the-wing thing at seven weeks - or any puppy age - are mythical nonsense. They both have the potential for setting a pup up for a bunch of future problems. At seven weeks, or even at four or five months old, a pup's orientation is play. Tossing a live bird to a pup is teaching that the bird is a play toy, out of the same box as a squeaky toy. Things that a pup learns at this age are indelible, etched in stone, so it will be hard to unlearn and get past." [For the full text of Dr. Bailey's insightful observations, read "Winging It" in the vol. 30, no. 5 issue of Gun Dog Magazine.]
There are no mystical time slots or critical periods in the puppy's first year when he is especially receptive to training, or when a specific new stimulus should be introduced. A puppy learns every day from both structured and unstructured experiences. What a pup is prepared to learn at any given point in time depends on his individual maturity, intelligence, temperament, and the training previously assimilated. Every pup is unique, and will respond best to a custom tailored development program.
It is always preferable to expose a pup to wild birds, when available. This can be done at any age that the pup exhibits sufficient interest and initiative, characteristics of maturity. As acclaimed author Tom Davis wisely observes, "They will learn from their mistakes, wild birds being the best and most instructive teachers of all." If you don’t have wild birds available, and your pup is beginning to hunt independently on daily walks in bird habitat but is unsure of what exactly he is hunting, this is an appropriate time to introduce him to released (not planted) birds. This is best accomplished by releasing a half dozen strong flying quail in a five to ten acre area, leaving them to distribute scent for twenty to thirty minutes, and then bringing your free running (not check corded) pup through the area, working into the wind. Follow a circuitous route to “take the edge off” of the exuberant pup before approaching the area in which the birds are present. Let the pup work scent and point, and/or flush, the birds. For a puppy, all bird contacts are educational. A couple of such exercises are usually sufficient to “jump start” your Elhew prospect. He will quickly begin to hunt with purpose, and to flash point his birds. With additional experience your pup will begin to hold point until you arrive.
When working a pup on liberated game, use only wary, flight conditioned birds. It is important that your impressionable young dog never catch a weak flyer. Doing so may convince him that he can catch all birds, and encourage him to flush, rather than point, game. With a particularly tenacious prospect, it can take many subsequent unsuccessful attempts to convince him that he can't catch them all - at which point he will resume pointing birds again,. Should your pup catch a bird in training, don't punish or reprimand him. Take the bird from him, lightly compliment him for relinquishing it, resume your workout, and hope that the experience does not set back your pup's progress. Note that it is illogical, counter intuitive, and potentially detrimental to your pup's development to ever intentionally encourage him to chase and catch birds that have been rendered flightless by removing or clipping the primary flight feathers. If you find it necessary to employ pen raised birds in the development of your pup, as most owners do, make every effort to ensure that his experience is as similar as possible to wild game contacts. Don't carry live training birds in the back of your vehicle with your pup. Doing so creates an unhealthy familiarity with birds, and will seriously agitate a tenacious prospect. This stressful practice is counter-intuitive, potentially detrimental to the development process, and confusing to your pup.
Don’t caution, or “whoa”, your pup when he approaches birds. Allow him to learn from experience how close he can safely get to birds without flushing them. If your pup "flags”, or otherwise lacks intensity on point, verbally encourage him to close the distance to the bird by softly commanding “alright” or “okay”. If you can get to him, alternately stroke his tail up and gently push him toward the bird by applying slight forward pressure to his hindquarters. An indecisive pup handled in this manner will either “style up” or allow you to verbally or physically push him into the bird, flushing it. Either outcome is beneficial, and will ultimately foster the style and intensity desired in a class gun dog. A pup learns from every bird contact, including those not handled perfectly.
John Rabidou, accomplished breeder, trainer, and handler of German Shorthairs, and member of the Field Trial Hall of Fame, wrote an article over forty years ago entitled "Don't Ruin Your Pup By Making Him Point." This successful professional's position was that a pup should not be check-corded on planted birds and commanded to "whoa", but rather allowed to encounter free roaming wild or released birds, and to begin pointing them when ready. This advice is as sound now, as when it was initially published. Respected versatile dog trainer Joan Bailey observes, "If you keep exposing your pup to fields, woods, and wild game, eventually- in his own good time- he will point unless you mess him up."
Dick Weaver, who has trained over a thousand companion gun dogs, similarly cautions, "Do not handle your pup on birds before it is ready, and do not try to force the pup to point. Do not check cord your pup into a planted bird and "whoa" it on it's first outings. Do not over train, or over handle, the pup on birds. Your pup should be allowed to find, flush, and chase birds, developing the pointing instinct naturally and building enthusiasm for bird scent. If you allow sufficient time and birds before starting to staunch your pup, it will develop sufficient boldness to handle training.”
If, due to a scarcity of local birds, or winter conditions that curtail fieldwork, you are unable to introduce your pup to birds by six to nine months of age, don't despair. A well-bred pup whose first exposure to game occurs at a year of age will, with appropriate experience commenced at this time, normally be just as proficient at eighteen months as a pup introduced to birds much earlier. The more mature pup has a greater capacity to learn and will develop game handling skills at a relatively accelerated rate. Respected grouse dog trainer, Roy Strickland, deliberately avoided exposing pups to any birds until they were thoroughly yard trained - usually at about a year of age. One of the most common mistakes made by enthusiastic, impatient novice trainers is exposing their pup to too many liberated birds - or to birds planted, or confined in releasers - at too young an age. Introduction to birds need not, and should not, be rushed. Trainer-author Joan Bailey notes that "New, inexperienced owners often make the mistake of pushing their young animals too quickly, which causes developmental problems. If in doubt how fast your pup should learn, remember that it is wiser to proceed too slowly rather than too fast."
A check cord is a necessary tool when steadying a dog to wing and shot, a requirement of most field trial shooting dog and all age dog stakes. A check cord is not necessary, or even desirable when introducing a puppy to birds. A free running pup worked on wild birds, or in an area properly “seeded” with liberated birds, will learn to select likely objectives, decipher airborne scent trails, differentiate between a bird and a “hot spot”, and - through trial and error - to point birds at an appropriate distance. A pup led to birds on a check cord doesn’t have the same opportunity to develop these skills.
Similarly, a bird releaser is a valuable tool when finishing a field trial dog – particularly when teaching the dog to stop to flush. These devices are, however, unnecessary when introducing a puppy to birds. Your pup will learn more from encountering alert, wary, free-roaming birds than he will from confined birds in a noisy mechanical apparatus with unnatural odors, which may frighten him upon activation. Joan Bailey appropriately cautions the novice developing a puppy to "avoid planted birds like the plague!" Planted pigeons, in particular, are inappropriate quarry for a puppy. While it may be tempting to employ these readily available birds when starting a puppy, doing so is fraught with risk. Pigeons do, however, have utility when finishing a well-started young dog on game- teaching steady to wing and shot, and stop to flush. Knowledgeable trainers often keep homing pigeons for this- and only this- purpose.
Don’t be in a hurry to condition your pup to gunfire. If done prematurely, or incorrectly, your promising prospect can be permanently ruined. You have until your pup’s first real hunting season to acclimate him to gunfire, and there is no benefit to accomplishing this sooner. Dogs are not born gun-shy - it is an easily avoided, inexcusable, man-made problem.The only safe, correct way to introduce your pup to gunfire, is when he is enthusiastically chasing a game bird, and is an appropriate distance from the gun. The trainer should initially fire (once) a .22 caliber acorn crimped blank or primed shotgun hull at a range of thirty yards or more, and gradually shorten the distance. When the pup is accustomed to the report of this round, a regular .22 or .32 blank can be introduced at a distance, and the acclimation process repeated. Some trainers prefer a .410 half oz. skeet load discharged harmlessly into the air over .22 or .32 blanks, as the .410 report is less “sharp” and easier on canine and human ears. Both Lion Country Supply and Cabela’s sell Gauge-mate chamber inserts which permit firing smaller gauge shells in larger gauge break action shotguns. Once your pup is thoroughly acclimated to a .22, .32 or .410, you can carefully transition to your hunting load. Winchester's low recoil/low noise loads, available in both 20 and 12 gauge, are relatively quiet, as is RST's five-eighths oz. 28 gauge lite load. All kill grouse and quail, and are good transition loads.
This entire acclimation process should be undertaken over several weeks, and not just in a couple of days or training sessions. If at any point during this process your pup appears uneasy or responds negatively, stop immediately, eliminate all gunfire from your workouts for a couple of weeks, and start over from the beginning with .22 caliber acorn blanks. There is no downside to proceeding too slowly with acclimation to gunfire, but there are potentially serious consequences to proceeding too rapidly. As trainer/author George Hickox correctly observes, "The proper window of time to introduce the dog to the gun is not a question of age. The benchmark I adhere to is when the dog is completely comfortable with the flush, and is aggressively chasing birds."
Even though you have correctly introduced your pup to gunfire and he appears to be well acclimated, you should be cautious when shooting over him during his first season. Don’t put him in a situation where several shooters may simultaneously fire multiple rounds over him with 12 gauge autoloaders. Hunt your pup by yourself during his first season, or with a trustworthy companion willing to limit the number of rounds fired over each point, and to not shoot at wild flushes. Shooting at wild flushes may discourage your impressionable young dog from pointing, and may also result in the close discharge of a shotgun which your first year dog is not expecting. As Dick Weaver notes, "Hunters who are more interested in killing birds than in their pup's development will often be at fault in the onset of gun shyness."
Taking your pup to the local gun club, or firing over him while he is eating, are both highly risky alternatives to properly introducing gunfire to pups focused on chasing flushed game birds. These and other similar procedures are, therefore strongly discouraged. Don’t risk ruining your pup by taking such seemingly convenient, but inappropriate, shortcuts.
The effective trainer intuitively knows when to quit, and always endeavors to conclude a training session on a positive, successful repetition with their enthusiastic prospect wanting more. They work their dogs on enough birds to keep them sharp, but not on so many that their bird work becomes lackadaisical, or sloppy, due to physical or mental fatigue. They don’t throw the retrieving dummy until their dog refuses but instead quit one repetition earlier on a perfect exercise. They focus on the quality of work, and not the quantity. Young pups are easily distracted or lose interest. When their attention wanders, they lose enthusiasm and the capacity to learn. Effective trainers also avoid over handling their dogs and giving commands which they can’t enforce. The former will cause your dog to “tune you out” and the latter encourages disobedience. Successful trainers always put their dog away happy, and eager for more work. The best trainers, also, as Bob Wehle often observed, "leave no fingerprints".
Puppies should be individually worked in the field, and not with other pups or older dogs. An experienced older dog will not “train” a puppy. The pup will simply learn to trail the older dog, rather than to hunt independently. As the accomplished author and trainer Ben O. Williams has noted, “A smart pup learns to hunt from its genes, not from another dog – or a trainer”. Two young pups worked together will tend to focus on playing, rather than learning to hunt. Even if one of the pups tends primarily to business, the other will invariably follow him around rather than show the necessary initiative to develop independent hunting skills. Competitiveness may also encourage both pups to “knock”, rather than point, birds.
When your pup is hunting independently, and when he consistently exhibits an efficient forward pattern within the ten to two o’clock arc, you can try working him with another dog. If he is distracted by his brace mate, resume working him alone. If you are handling two dogs, make sure that you are able to properly monitor and assist both so that your pup does not regress.
By the time your pup is four months old, he should be introduced to a collar and lead. He should be accustomed to a tie out, if you use one. It is important that your pup be confident and uninhibited on a lead and/or tie out to ensure that you can safely exercise him on road trips. It is also beneficial to take your pup on walks in town, or in the local park, where he can encounter new places and meet new people. Be cautious, however, with “introductions” to strange dogs. An apparently friendly dog can seriously injure a puppy in an instant.
Let your puppy pull on the lead. There will be plenty of time to teach him to “heel”. If you begin to teach the “heel” command at six months of age, or older, you will obtain quicker results without unduly intimidating your pup, as opposed to attempting to teach this command at a younger age. When teaching the “heel” command, a multi-link prong collar, available from Lion Country Supply, Gun Dog Supply, and other retailers is an excellent training aid. Some trainers also experience good results with the Delmar Smith “wonder lead”.
Most pups are ready to be introduced to the “whoa” command at six months of age. The value and use of the command is often misunderstood by the novice. It is, of necessity, taught to any dog which will be steadied to wing and shot – a requirement for most field trial competition. Some professional guides also steady their dogs to wing and shot for safety reasons - to ensure that their dog is not shot in the back of the head by a careless client. The great majority of gun dogs, or what Ben O. Williams refers to as “shooting pointers” are, however, never steadied to wing and shot. Most bird hunters prefer that their dog relocates on running birds without being released, and break shot to more quickly recover birds not killed cleanly. In addition, it is very difficult to keep your dog steady to wing and shot if your hunting companions’ dogs are not similarly trained. This level of training is, therefore, not required - or even desirable - in a “shooting pointer”.
An interesting characteristic of Elhew Pointers is that most become relatively steady to wing, and break shot, after a season or two. They seem to learn that there is no reward for chasing birds not shot and that their energy is best directed to hunting for more birds rather than chasing the last one encountered into the next township. This learned behavior is, likely, an artifact of the Elhew pointer’s superior intelligence – the primary characteristic for which Bob Wehle bred for 66 years.
The “whoa” command does have utility for the “shooting pointer”. Compliance with this command facilitates examination of the dog, medication, changing collars, pulling cactus spines, and other routine tasks. Teaching this command is, therefore, recommended even for the pup who will not be steadied to wing and shot.
The “whoa” command is easily taught by posing the pup on a small, high table, or on the end of an oak barrel. Stack the pup up on the platform. Alternately stroke his tail up, and gently push forward on his hindquarters while repeating the command “whoa”. Control his head with your off hand, focusing his gaze forward. He will naturally resist your forward pressure, and stiffen. The pup wants to jump off the platform, but at a time of his choosing. Your intermittent forward pressure will keep him slightly off balance and encourage him to “style up”, and to stay put. With a couple of minutes of this exercise twice daily, your pup will quickly learn this command. When your pup will remain posed on the platform without restraint, he is ready to transfer what he has learned to the ground. Attach a lead to his collar, command him to “whoa” while styling him up, and move away from him. If he moves, set him back and start over. Gradually increase your distance. Soon he will stay put while you walk in front of and/or around him. This degree of compliance, while not sufficient for a field trial dog, is entirely adequate for a “shooting pointer”.
A genetically talented puppy, such as most pure Elhew pointers, can be developed into a competent companion gun dog by a thoughtful, patient novice willing to invest the appropriate time and energy. Doing so is one of the more enjoyable and rewarding aspects of gun dog ownership. The services of a "professional trainer" are not normally required. Should you, however, find that unforeseen circumstances dictate the hiring of a trainer, those to whom you consider entrusting your prospect should be thoroughly vetted. There is no examination protocol, apprenticeship program, proficiency test, or licensing requirement for dog trainers. Anyone can proclaim themselves a "professional," and solicit clients. Most self-anointed "professional trainers" don't know what they don't know. These well-meaning, but ill-informed individuals often myopically adhere to the same regimented training program/schedule which they have always followed. That genetically talented prospects usually manage to survive these inappropriate protocols, should not be interpreted as evidence of their developmental value.
Developing a puppy requires patience, common sense, and consistency. As Ben O. Williams observes in Bird Dog, The Instinctive Training Method, “A bird dog with excellent genes will offset any owner’s amateur training skills as long as there is close camaraderie between the two.” His excellent book is an intuitive, common sense, minimalist approach to puppy development reflecting his extensive experience in assisting genetically talented gun dog prospects in realizing their full potential. It is a valuable resource for both novice and experienced trainers and is highly recommended.
Earl C. Crangle’s Pointing dogs: Their Training and Handling, written more from a field trialer’s perspective, is also a valuable resource. His chapters on field work, yard work, breaking on game and backing are particularly good and will provide the most experienced trainer with new insights. Earl was a close friend of Bob Wehle's, and enjoyed considerable success with several of Bob's Elhew dogs.
Training Your Pointing Dog for Hunting and Home, by accomplished grouse dog trainer Richard D. Weaver, is a thorough, comprehensive, easily understood companion gun dog training guide by an author who obviously has acquired rare insight into pointing dog behavior from extensive personal experience. The author advocates a two-phase development program, according to age and experience. The level of training recommended prior to, and during, the pup's first bird hunting season will, when assimilated, produce a competent "shooting pointer" whose performance fulfills all expectations of the majority of gun dog owners. Weaver's second season tutorial builds upon first season successand results in a completely "finished" bird dog for those owners desiring this level of training. Every developer of a companion gun dog should read this book.
Training a bird dog is not a mysterious, complex task. There is really nothing fundamentally new in bird dog development. As Dick Weaver observes, "There is no shortcut to a well trained, well adjusted dog. Successful development simply requires kindness, consistency, patient repetition, appropriate experience and - most important - good genetics to make an outstanding gun dog." Legendary Michigan grouse dog trainer, Roy Strickland, often observed, "Developing a dog that's a pleasure to hunt with takes time, patience, firmness, love, and - perhaps hardest of all - the right dog." The owner of a well bred, pure Elhew pup has accomplished the most difficult part.