Proper training begins even before the pup is born. While it’s not always possible to buy a pup from champions, selecting the proper breed and temperament is essential.
Choosing a pup starts with choosing the dam and sire, whenever possible. The pup’s parents should be active, alert and amenable to training and preferably gaming dogs themselves.
But even the best of parents have offspring that differ in personality. Some pups simply don’t have the interest or temperament to be working dogs. No amount of training can overcome that limitation.
You’ll also need to zero in on what you intend to use the dog for. Flushing dogs stay close to the hunter, typically within a few dozen yards. Spaniels are often seen in this role.
Pointing dogs take on the task of finding birds, then holding a point until the hunter catches up to flush them. Most pointers will also be trained to retrieve downed birds.
True retrievers find downed birds and, as the name suggests, retrieve them. Sometimes that entails moving through thick, tall brush. At other times, your canine partner will swim out in water you would find too cold and fetch a bird.
Once you’ve found a pup from a breed that fits the bill, it will take several months to determine whether it can be completely trained. Intelligence and a willingness to learn are essential, but they’re not enough. It must also be able to take instruction and not become distracted easily. Most puppies are active and easily distracted at first. It will take time to discover whether that energy can be directed to suit your goals.
When you’ve determined you have a good candidate – healthy, good stamina, responsive to commands, eager to please – real training can begin.
The basic commands taught to any companion are done first, of course. They’ll all be needed out in the brush or woods, just as they are at home. Sit (or hup), stay, leave it, drop, down and a number of specialized behaviors will all be used.
Added to those elementary tasks, a pointer will need to be taught self-restraint. It should locate and point, not flush game early. A retriever should locate, retrieve and then release the game. Those that insist on retaining game, or put up a struggle, flunk the test.
Training will have to be carried out for at least an hour every day, usually two in separate one-hour sessions. For those who haven’t the time, expertise or interest ‘started’ dogs can be purchased, but at a premium. A ‘started’ dog is one bought slightly older and already trained up to a point.
What point that is will vary widely. Don’t be shy about asking for details of the training regimen. ‘Started’ dogs cost two or three times what’s already a more expensive pup, $2,000 is not unusual. You want to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
In either case, you’ll need to continue a patient, time-consuming training routine if you want the dog to serve its intended purpose.