Books from Swan Valley Press

How to Help Gundogs Train Themselves

How to Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves

How to Have the Best Trained Gundog

How to Have the Best Trained Gun Dog


Griffon: Gun Dog Supreme

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Helping Dogs Train Themselves

By Larry Mueller, Hunting Dog Editor, Outdoor Life

New insights into a dog's all-important first year reveal ways that you can help a pup get off to a good start.

outdoor life photo 1

Author Joan Bailey takes a break from a field test in Iowa to work with a young pup.

You may have read about Joan Bailey in this column before. Some people know her as the self-proclaimed "Nag of NAVHDA"-the push and shove that moved the movers of the early North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA). Rolf Benseler, president of Klub Deutsch Kurzhaar, USA-the excellent new German Shorthair group-introduced Bailey at a judges' seminar as the Margaret Thatcher of the dog world. He now denies giving her that much scope, claiming instead that he only thought of her as prime minister of hunting dogs.

But I'm afraid he's too late. Joan Bailey is hard to demote. Not even the stroke she suffered could do it. Those who read my column "Bringing Training Into The '90s" (April 1991) know of Bailey's strong-willed determination. She surprised the medical profession and her friends-in fact, everyone but herself-by returning to her feet to hunt again behind a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. She did that for herself. Her latest surprise is for us-everyone in hunting dogs.

One day UPS rolled in with a first-draft manuscript that was exactly the opposite of my expectations. Bailey had not neglected the nuts and bolts of puppy rearing, but her principal thrust throughout was "how to help gun dogs train themselves." I can't imagine an idea more attractive to dog owners. Eventually, this phrase became the title of the book.

outdoor life photo 2Joan Bailey prefers to buy 10 to 12 week old pups. She then "conditions" them through socialization, and eventually exposes them to birds.

How could Bailey be adamant about not training during the first year, yet write a book about helping a pup train itself during its first 12 months? Perhaps we writer types can become too fixed in our own word definitions to communicate well. Anyhow, to me, training means anything I do to modify a dog's behavior. To Bailey, the word "training" is association with obedience, discipline and pressure, and that's for the yearling and older. Bailey chooses to call puppy training "conditioning." I call it "play training." Once I got our buzz words in perspective, I knew that Bailey had an important book in the works.

The subtitle is "Taking Advantage of Early Conditioned Learning." It's a little like mama coyote taking eight-week-old pups along on short hunts. She doesn't yank them by the neck, push down their rumps or yell orders in a foreign language. She simply exposes them to life. Mama knows that the youngsters have canine instincts, and she understands how the pups will react. They learn swiftly at this important time because they're too young for their own ideas to get in the way.

"Conditioning" is more difficult for us than it is for mama coyote. We only know how humans react. We need a book to learn how baby canines react. When we fail to learn this, we send wrong and often conflicting signals...

Bailey helps the reader avoid the dog/human language barrier by drawing heavily on the works of researchers and animal behaviorists such as Eberhard Trumler, John Paul Scott, John L. Fuller, Edward Bailey, and Konrad Lorenz. And she keeps everything in perspective. She does not select bits and pieces and elevate them to article of religious faith, as writers have in the past. A good example is the 49-day separation theory.

Scott and Fuller did the study that pinpointed seven weeks as the time that pecking orders begin in litters.There's no immediacy at exactly seven weeks. Yet once the word got out, the 49th day was all but written into law. Buyers are still insisting on pups exactly 49 days old.

Bailey points out, the pecking order isn't the only thing happening within the litter. She quotes Ed Bailey and Eberhard Trumler, who say that three to 12 weeks is the critical period for development of the learning process that sets the pattern for relationships with other dogs, humans, and place. She prefers to buy a pup that is 10 to 12 weeks old.

Another thing happening at this time is that the pup is learning how to learn. Trumler says that curiosity in pups begins at 17-18 days. From then through 16 weeks, curiosity and ability to learn accelerate in proportion to how much we challenge the pup's mind. For that reason, eight to 16 weeks is the most precious period in the pup's life. The more we expose the puppy to experience, the more it trains itself-and the quicker it will learn for the rest of its life.

Bailey prefers to have the pup in the house, where its exposure to life is an ongoing process. And she wisely insists on just one pup. Two will divide their time and attention. And worse, two will continue the preoccupation with pecking order while ignoring her much of the time. She adds these marvelously nurturing twists. Let me show you what I mean.

Say, for example, the pup finds something very dead, picks it up and proudly heads your way. Most trainers will fill the air with a roaring, "No!" Bailey says, hey, deal with the stinking mess. That pup is trying to please you. You can't say that's wonderful to bring me the dead bird I want, but a crime to deliver one I don't want. Maturity will teach the dog the difference without the confusion your interference would cause right now.

In the beginning, Bailey doesn't use the fetch command, either. She tosses the dummy and encourages a retrieve with an excited, "Get it," or, "Bring it here." Remember, this is puppy conditioning. There is no pressure. The pup may suddenly decide not to retrieve this time. If Bailey had said, "Fetch," the pup would have learned it wasn't necessary to comply. Save the fetch command for controlled conditions in later, more formal training.

Bailey says, yes, teach a pointing dog to sit. But do it later-after the pup is completely trained to whoa. That's in the dog's second year.

Once again, however, I remind you that How To Help Gun Dogs Train Themselves was not meant to be a training manual for a finished dog. Bailey said that she would deal with that all-important first year which is often neglected. She said that she would show how exposing the youngster to life in the home and field-along with properly guided no-pressure responses from us-can have the spring-born pup hunting for the gun by autumn. She has. In fact, many hunters would be satisfied with such a dog if it never learned another thing in its career.