In April I attended the KZN HPR club’s training weekend at Fairview Farm in Vrede, Freestate. Magnum was a bit handicapped; in recent months I hadn’t been able to get him into the veld as much as he needed. Ideally you should get your pup into the veld for 20-30 minutes at least three times a week. Consequently, Magnum did what I expected during the morning veld session: 60% play and 40% hunting.
We then set off to the dam to do some water retrieves. This was his low-point of the weekend. Magnum had been strong with water retrieves in the past; however some weeks ago he didn’t retrieve the dummy. At the time I made excuses; he might be tired? He doesn’t like the dummy? I left it, but later realized this had been a big mistake. You must enforce commands – any and all commands – without fail. Don’t set your dog up for failure. I gave a command, he didn’t carry it out, and I left it at that. Thus I created the perception that it’s fine for him to follow commands only when it suits him. You don’t want a hunting dog that follows commands intermittently.
In a pack hierarchy, the pack leader is firm and quick to let a pack member know when he is unhappy. Don’t give a command you can’t enforce. If you know that your pup’s response to the sit command is not strong, don’t give the command when he’s 50m away playing with other dogs – he will most likely continue playing, and you’ll be powerless to enforce the command. As a result, he’ll think he need not follow commands all the time and may ignore you. Start at two meters and expand from there.
At one stage Magnum was running toward another dog that was on point. I needed to get him to sit, as he would have flushed the birds, but I stuttered and confused him with my command, which he failed to obey. You must be able to control your pup from a distance so as to avoid situations like this. My inability to do so was a perfect training opportunity missed. The sit command is important, and early in your dog’s training you need to teach him to instantly obey it. Don’t think if you do it in the yard it will carry through to the veld. Do it at every possible location and opportunity.
When your dog fails to respond to a command, be swift to discipline, but be sure he will know what he’s being reprimanded for. If, for example, your puppy comes out of the water with the dummy and doesn’t bring it to you, but instead runs around for a few minutes, recall him and discipline him. Otherwise, you have, in effect, told your pup that he need not come to you on the recall command. You have confused him and weakened your recall command.
During the next field session the focus was on backing. Magnum’s hunting drive is a bit high; he backs the pointing dog but not for long, as he wants to go after the birds. More time spent in the veld will correct this fault. After the backing session we had a run in the veld again, and I could see a huge improvement in all the pups, including Magnum. The playing stopped and Magnum was hunting and not at all interested in the other dogs.
I noticed that Magnum’s drive is so high that he’s not interested in drinking water in the veld. Be very careful of this, as your pup will dehydrate, which can result in medical problems and even death. Keep your pup hydrated and check on him constantly. Grab a fistful of the loose skin on the back of his neck and pull it up – if it remains erect, your pup is in a state of dehydration; if it settles back quite quickly he’s still fine. One solution is to mix a bit of honey with the water you carry in the veld – it’s something special; your pup will want to drink it and it will also give him a bit of energy – which he will need in the veld.
Never run a pup/dog for at least an hour after feeding it. Imagine getting up from the table and running a marathon after mom’s Sunday dinner. Running him on a full stomach can cause injury and sometimes death. Rather feed him more the night before, which will give him extra energy the next day. Give him about a quarter of his kibble the morning before the run.
Overall, the weekend was a huge success and I left wondering how much Magnum would have developed if we had stayed for a week. This month I learned to read a pup and figure out what makes him tick, and how to rectify the shortcomings in your training or development. Ask for help and advice from experienced handlers – the best place for this is at club weekends or sessions. At every session I have attended these past couple of months, I have learned something to put me on the right track, bringing me a bit closer to where I want to be.
There are many different training methods and techniques; the key is to find the one that works for your puppy. You need to be exposed to these, and the clubs and associations are the place for this. Don’t be shy to ask questions, even if it makes you feel stupid. Everyone needs to start off somewhere and the more you expose yourself to events like this, the more you learn and the more your dog is likely to improve. Joining a club is not just about competitions and prizes; it’s about getting your dog to achieve a certain standard.
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