Summer vacation is finally here, and with it comes warm weather and a burning desire to get outside. Wherever you go this summer, take your dog with you when possible.
Just like you, dogs enjoy being out and experiencing new things. The more settings and situations you can get them in, the more well-rounded, happy and disciplined your gun dog will be. And the sooner in their life you can do this, the better it is for both of you.
Socializing your gun dog pup is one of the most important things you can offer it. Remember, hunting dogs are intelligent and they need mental stimulation. Take your dog on walks in the park, to the beach, on mountain trails and even around town. The more environments your dog can be in, the less stressed it will be when it encounters new settings and people on future hunting trips.
Meeting people on hiking trails, at the beach and in the park is a great way to socialize your dog. Most folks love meeting dogs, especially puppies, so the more people your pup comes into contact with, the better.
When your pup meets strangers, be prepared for the situation. Have your pup on a leash and control it. If you’re on remote trails, having it on a long check cord is fine. Look ahead to see what other people and their dogs are doing. If someone is letting their dog run wildly, bring your dog in close to you and get control of it. You should be ready to pick your dog up if the other dog turns on it. Unfortunately, not all dogs are friendly and want to play; some are looking for a fight.
Avoid letting your puppy run toward or jump up on strangers. It’s best to have the pup sit at your feet and let the stranger approach you slowly. It’s good if the approaching person is calm and extends an outstretched hand, not acting overly excited in either voice or physical actions. It’s best if the person can make eye contact and smile at the pup, since dogs acutely read people’s expressions. The same goes for you when meeting someone else’s pup.
As the stranger gets near to greet your dog, encourage the person to stay standing rather than kneeling to the level of the dog. This will help ensure the dog maintains its composure and doesn’t get overly excited and jump up on the stranger. Consistency is key in this training process, and this is when you teach a dog that it’s not okay to jump up on people, no matter how excited they are or how cute that may seem.
Summer is also a great time to expose your pup to water. The further into summer we get, the warmer the water will be, so take advantage of that situation. Regularly taking your pup to ponds, lakes, creeks and rivers, and even to the beach, will help get it used to the many forms of water it may encounter come hunting season. Make sure the water is clean and free of algae.
If your dog is reluctant to get in the water, having a bumper to get the dog excited can help. For this, set aside the dog’s favorite bumper, as they will recognize it and desire it more. Some dogs get particularly excited over duck and goose training dummies, and this can be just the ticket for getting them inspired about water entry in unfamiliar places.
If your pup is young and entering water for the first time, you may need to get in the water with it. Whether that is it in a swimming pool, lake or river, your presence in the water sends the message that all is safe. The more fun you can make the swimming experience, the more likely your pup will join you in the water.
If your pup avoids getting into cold water, perhaps a heated outdoor swimming pool is where you’ll need to start. In this situation, hold the pup and support it when it swims. Playing with a bumper in the pool can divert attention from getting wet and wanting to retrieve and interact with you. This is where praise is important, so reward your pup and have fun. The hope is the pup will be so focused on retrieving or playing with you that it will forget about the uncomfortable feeling of being wet.
Swimming is not only fun, it’s also one of the best workouts a dog can get. It’s also low impact, an aspect that will greatly aid in keeping an aging dog in shape. If the dog will swim by you, hop into a canoe or onto a paddle board and let the pup swim alongside. If the dog gets cold or if it needs a rest, take a break sooner rather than later. Don’t push too hard, since you want the experience to be positive and you’ll want your pup wanting more.
The key to successful summer training sessions and to introducing your gun dog pup to new things is keeping it fun. Just like kids who are on summer break, dogs want to have fun, too.
The more experiences you can introduce to your dog, and the more people it can meet, the tighter the bond will become between the two of you. Summer is a great time to brighten your dog’s world, all while having fun, instilling discipline and developing consistent communication. And with the whole summer ahead, there’s a lot of fun to look forward to.
Note: To see some of Scott Haugen’s puppy training video tips, visit www.scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter.