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Flick is growing so fast, physically and mentally. The physical part requires one set of challenges, including how do you keep him worn out so you get a little peace and quiet? I’ll save that for another day.

There is also the mental aspect of his growth. We have a lot of young animals around the house right now, and you can measure their growth by simply trying to hold their head in your  hand. Not scientific, but helpful. So while Flick’s head gets bigger by the day (as do our kittens’), it’s what’s inside that counts.

He’s smart. He’s impatient. He’s creative. I need to keep pace. That little wirehair brain is working overtime, figuring out this big world. And every day, he gets a little wiser. So, something that was a challenge yesterday is boring today … unless I’m on the ball. A bored dog is a disaster waiting to happen, so it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the puppy on his toes – adding dimensions to the tasks he’s mastered, folding in new skills, incorporating another command word, putting distractions and texture to his day.

Now that I think about it, why confine this to young dogs?

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When he’s hot, restraint is what keeps him in the water.

Puppies grow by leaps and bounds – physically, yes, but also mentally. We see it easily enough: legs outpacing body length, ears growing faster than everything else put together. If we are observant we see it in a pup’s behavior. too.

In Flick’s case, it is about what Rick and Ronnie Smith call a willingness to be restrained. And yielding to that is the key to so many other milestones. It starts on the chain gang, accepting the fact that the collar is in charge. From the collar comes the lead and checkcord, heeling, going with you. Only when the pup “gives in,” do good things happen.

The Monks of New Skete don’t use the same terms, nor methods, but their goal is the same: a puppy must learn that he is not always in charge of his movements. Holding a squirming, high-drive dog like Flick is an off-the-charts challenge but teaching it now pays dividends over his lifetime. Example: nail trims four weeks ago were an epic battle with Flick pulling, mouthing, and objecting verbally to every toe’s seeming amputation. A few extra weeks of practice at being still when held, and all 16 toes got a calm, quiet trim.

Now, on to a bath.

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Read any of the good books, ask any of the good trainers, watch the good videos, and you will see the same thing over and over: much of the critical learning takes place very early in a puppy’s life. And that learning – and teaching – pays off for a lifetime. I would only add, we humans can also learn and benefit as much as the pup.

As you can imagine, I am hypersensitive to puppy talk these days and some of what I hear and read is about stuff you and I have lived through, maybe over and over again. So much of the chatter laments a problem that I fear may turn into a long-term conundrum for owner and dog if it’s not handled now.

I may be a slow learner but eventually I do learn, thanks to Flick and the many mentors formal and informal that I’ve had. While there are many ways to accomplish these goals, the key is to recognize that the discipline and mental rigor (on both participants’ parts) it takes now will pay off for many years. Here are some of them:

  • Respect doors and gates, wait to be allowed through them.
  • Know what is chewable and what is off limits.
  • Hold still before anything fun happens (leash, collar, go out, come in, go eat).
  • Other beings are good – humans of all shapes, sizes and colors, friendly dogs and horses, even the occasional cat.
  • Crate is good. Go in willingly, stay in quietly, come out only when permitted.
  • Come when called because then good things happen.
  • Leashes and checkcords = fun ahead, so no pulling, biting, fighting (corollary to the stand still rule).
  • Some behaviors are verboten – “NO” is the signal.

Finally, five pups ago I learned that most behavior problems can be solved with more exercise. Maybe a cockapoo is physically satisfied with a walk around the block, but a bird dog needs a full-out run twice a day. If I were you, I’d find a safe place, keep a checkcord on him, and save yourself some angst – now, and down the trail.

 

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He waited patiently in his crate for Uncle Manny to return from his first chukar hunt of the day, no yips, yelps, or whining. Manny once again did a stellar job, finding and holding birds for our sorry shooting. Everything shot was picked up and returned – I do not deserve that dog.

I’m still taking it easy with him as his broken toe is still vulnerable, so after an hour, Flick is up. New country, new hunter in my friend Joe, and hopefully, a chukar to acquaint the pup with the wonderful world of game birds. Flick covers ground in a miniature version of his uncle’s style – investigating objectives, moving to the front, and checking in visually often enough to keep me somewhat confident he’s not going to run off into the sage.

Feather piles, old scent and distant birds all did what they should, prompting puppy points. More questing and eventually, the real thing: a quivering, leg-up point – for a moment. Bird up! Bang bang! A clean miss and the perfect training scenario. Even with a 20-foot checkcord, I couldn’t get to Flick fast enough to forestall a chase, so I was glad Joe had blanked. Flick was reminded he could not catch birds he busted.

But he’d met his first chukar. His pace quickened, steely puppy eyes searching for more objectives and his little nose up and inhaling scent as if he’d just discovered breathing.

A couple more similar scenarios and eventually the pieces fell into place. Little tail up, leg cocked, nose telling us exactly where the bird hunkered. Checkcord grabbed, hand-over-hand to the pup, firm grip and belly rub, and explosive flush ending in a dropped the bird. Released to retrieve, Flick effected a spirited dead bird search and after another point, got an up-close snort and taste of chukar.

Welcome to our world, Flick.

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You’da thunk I’d remembered …

I wrote about it in my book, have talked about it on the show. But only by re-learning the hard way did I recall the most important ratio in puppy raising: seven to one. Pro trainer after pro trainer has drilled into my head the importance of steaming, heaping piles of praise in relation to tidbits of correction. The ratio for most is 7:1. But that hasn’t stopped me from heading out to the field, checkcord in hand and Flick on the other end, head down and glum for one or more reasons.

Wrong-foot start equals an uphill battle. Without positive reinforcement, a puppy has nothing on which to frame his behavior. Imagine a highway with no lines – that’s a pup with no parameters. He’s weaving, hitting the shoulder, crossing into oncoming traffic and just once in a while keeping to the speed limit.

But halfway through yesterday’s first go-round, the light bulb flashed on again and everything he did right got a “good boy,” treat, or cheerleading session. I remember several female Drahthaar handlers who gushed, fawned and baby-talked their young charges into world-class performance on both sides of the Atlantic. At the time, it seemed over the top. With Manny, it would be, he’d probably wonder what I’d smoked that day.

But with Flick, and I bet with your young pup, all those silly words in a squeaky voice are the fuel of a productive learning session. I might still have trouble being that overt in front of others, but for an audience of one, 17-week-old wirehair, I will show my feminine side if it gets us closer to “fetch!”

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Faith, Hope, Charity. You gotta have all of them when raising a puppy. In fact, if you do, you’ll not only have a better pup, you will become a better person. Trust me. I need all the help I can get in that department.

No, I’m not saying being kind to Flick makes me a saint like the aforementioned, far from it. But employing all three makes training easier and helps maintain the trainer’s sanity.

We all have bad days with our pup. Yesterday was a constant wrestling match, Flick fighting the checkcord, collar, and the guy at the other end of them. His hearing aid was turned off, and obedience was a concept not in his vocabulary. Credit me for being smart enough to head for the barn early after too many close calls. But I knew it would be different next time out, and it was. We are back on track. Faith ruled the day.

Faith’s corollary is Hope. If you didn’t believe in it, you wouldn’t buy a puppy. They are all about the future, dreams, like a constant Christmas Eve. Anticipating your time in the field together keeps you on track, planning ahead, sticking to your training regimen. Hope is what gets you through the hard times, difficult training, the worries when you can’t see your pup in the weeds. Without Hope, what’s the point?

And Charity is what keeps us from taking our pups back to the breeder. Their big puppy eyes make up for the chewed furniture, their tottering gait inspires sighs and a need to cuddle. Charity is what reminds us they are only 17 weeks old, learning about the big new world. I was reminded – again – that virtually everything Flick encounters is brand-new. Horses, fire hydrants, bearded men and big ringnecks all require complex thought processes in that little puppy brain and we should be supportive. We give them break after break because they are so darn cute, and we trust their genetics, their instincts, everything that will, eventually, turn them into wonderful and loyal hunting partners.

If only we can practice those three simple words, over and over again. That’s what we should be training for.

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I felt like he looks.

They are called “creatures of habit” for a reason. Dogs crave routine – feeding times, crate locations, daily schedules, they even key into sounds as clues to what’s happening next in their lives. Easy at home, much less on the road.

Flick is home from his third long trip – this one 11 days, easily his longest. I am so grateful for the cooperation bred into him by Three Devils Kennel – yes he’s young, but handles most surprises with aplomb. Not to say it’s all beer and skittles:

  • I’ve forgotten how often that tiny puppy bladder needs emptying. Eventually, Flick trained me with his yips and yelps and we now stop every 90 minutes or so.
  • While the crate may be in a different location almost nightly, the bedding is the same, smells familiar and comforting.
  • I tried to carry on the exercise and training rituals when possible.
  • I carried enough water from home to avoid that gastrointestinal minefield.
  • Feeding at the same time (despite time zone changes) helped.
  • There is comfort in Uncle Manny being next to a 16-week-old puppy on long drives.
  • Even when I didn’t, the dogs stayed in their travel trailer home-away-from-home. Familiar smells, bed location, all helped.

It all worked, sorta.

And thank you very much if you came to see us at Cabela’s Pheasant Classic. Flick met upwards of 1,400 men, women, children and gigantic plush pheasants without wetting on the table, barking once, or breaking into the nearby pen holding real pheasants. Most notably, he didn’t bite Benny Spies, who probably deserved a nip or two for hiding his darling daughter from us until midway through the first day.

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