My wife and I have been married for 33 years, and have always had a lap dog. Growing up, she always had small dogs. Of course, like many young girls, she loved dressing up her dogs. She even dressed up our lapdogs on holidays. When we brought gun dogs into the family, I told her the dress-up days would not carry-over to our pudelpointers.
Then, and rather quickly, things changed. Before I knew it, at nine weeks of age, some pups were wearing pullovers. It was winter, and these were pups we were training for people. The pups were noticeably cold when outside, and there’s no doubt that dressing them up in warm clothes helped keep them comfortable, whereby allowing us to spend our basic training time, more efficiently.
Our latest dog, Kona, was very leery of things moving around him when he was a puppy. At four months of age, when I started hunting quail with him and running him through Scotch broom and vine maple thickets, he was sometimes apprehensive. My wife had the idea of sewing loose pieces of material to a dog vest, and running him in fields. Kona didn’t like it at first, but it worked. On the next hunt, a few days after wearing his vest with moving parts, Kona did great, focusing on the birds, not the brush moving around him.
We also dressed Kona up as a puppy to get him used to wearing hunting vests later in life, both for waterfowl and upland birds. One day, at five months of age, he got tangled up with a big, mature male dog. His wounds didn’t require stitches, just ointment and bandages. But the bandages were in a bad spot and wouldn’t stay on. One bite was on the front of the chest, the other on the underside of a front leg. We had to shave the wound areas and apply ointment, and Kona kept wanting to lick them. Putting a snug shirt on Kona kept the bandages in place, preventing him from licking and further irritating the areas, and they quickly healed up. Dress up days took on a different form when that happened.
When Echo, my then four year old pudelpointer, didn’t do well on a pheasant hunt, I couldn’t understand why. The brand new vest fit her well and was easy to see, but she just didn’t like it. She’d never shied away from vests before. It took me a while to figure out the vest was very noisy when Echo moved through dry habitat. She didn’t like that. I took it off, replaced it with her old, familiar vest, and she instantly started hunting like her usual self.
Once home, I washed the vest to soften it up, and trained with Echo wearing it in short and medium grass habitats. She did great, so we continued our training in thicker, taller cover. Soon we were hunting in the tall, dry brush, where she excelled as if nothing had ever happened. My mistake was not practicing with the new vest before going on an actual hunt. This is where having dress-up days when they’re pups, will enhance a dog’s ability to adapt to various vests they’ll wear throughout their hunting life.
The fact Echo grew up wearing clothes since she was a puppy, helped make her vest-wearing experiences, simple. My wife even gets the dogs Halloween costumes, which may not fit the mold of what most gun dog owners would consider manly, but I don’t mind them wearing them as it keeps them conditioned to new things. Not only that, it’s mentally stimulating, which I appreciated. The more moving parts there are on these costumes, the better. This gets the dogs used to wearing vests, working around moving brush, even retrieving big birds like geese and fall turkeys, which have necks, wings and tails that flail all over the place.
While many gun dog owners may not consider dressing up their dogs, there is value to such action. Whether helping heal wounds, or getting your gun dog used to wearing neoprene waterfowl vests or synthetic upland vests, dress-up days will make the transitions smoother.
Puppy clothes can be bought or made at home. My wife made our pups clothes from baby clothes she saved from when our sons were little. Now, as adults, both of our dogs wear all sorts of hunting vests with ease and confidence.
Nine to 10 weeks of age isn’t too early to introduce your puppy to clothes. Don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t laugh or be loud if the dog reacts out of character as this can scar them. When introducing clothes and hunting vests to your dog, make sure to keep the experience fun and positive, as it will pay dividends for the rest of your dog’s hunting life.
Note: To watch Scott Haugen’s series of puppy training videos, visit www.scotthaugen.com. Follow his adventures on Instagram and Facebook.