Learning To Hunt - Chronicles of a Hunter  - Deer Hunting with Deckers Part 2
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Deer Hunting the Decker Hunting Terrier 
Part 2 - "Starting Your Pup, The Early Months"

I still get a chuckle of memories I have as a young boy hunting ducks with one of my lifetime hunting partners Stan. We would gather what little hunting gear we had at the time and head out by foot to hunt ducks near a old logging pond down the road from our houses where we grew up. Stan, always the intellectual one, would bring along his hunting dog, a mixed terrier to fetch the birds we shot. Stan knew that if his terrier "Hado" would fetch up the birds we shot that fell into the raging slough, it would save us from stripping down to our "tighty whities" and swimming for our birds. Of course, since I did not own a hunting dog at the time, I was all for this as I knew I would become the retriever if needed. As I said earlier, I still chuckle when I think back at those days because the words "Hado no!" or "gosh darn you Hado" or "come Hado" still sounds clear in my head as the day Stan would yell those words across the entire hunting area to his beloved Hado.

We have all been there, whether in a duck blind hunting waterfowl, upland game hunting on the prairies or working your deer dog up a ridge, you come across a hunter hunting their dog instead of their dog hunting for the hunter. Nothing can be more frustrating than hunting your dog when you should be hunting with your dog. In this article "Starting your pup, the early months", I will discuss training techniques that I have used that will ensure your dog has the training to be an obedient and controlled hunting dog. I have used these training methods on all types of dogs from waterfowl dogs to deer dogs. They have proven to work and will give your pup the training that is essential to becoming a productive hunting dog.

So, now that you have done your research and picked your pup for the qualities you require, it is time to start your pup with "basic training". Basic training is just that, teaching the pup the basics of who is boss, to sit, back, come and ensuring your pup gets the proper exposure to the outside world. No other training in a dog's life is more essential to the success of a good hunting dog than basic training. Basic training should start the minute you get your pup home. Depending on how you house your pup, you should set boundaries on what is acceptable and unacceptable. You will teach your pup where he is to sleep, where his water and food bowls are and if raised inside, where not to go to the bathroom and what furniture to stay off of. All these rules will set boundaries in the dogs behavior and if done correctly and consistently, the pup will fully understand who the boss is. 

To better understand your pups behavior, you must first understand that if this pup was raised in the wild, it would fall into a "pecking order" within his pack. As a pup, he would be dependent  on the pack to feed him, protect him and provide for him. If the pup misbehaved, the leader of the pack would most likely teach the pup a harsh and important lesson. In a domesticated scenario, you are the leader of the pack and you must establish this role from the beginning. From the first day the pup enters his new home, he depends on you to feed him, protect him and provide for him. And as his wild pack leader would do, correct him if he misbehaves. Using this philosophy, you are certain to establish your role as the pack leader and it also establishes the pups role in the pecking order of the pack.

When training a new pup, I always asked myself two questions before I correct the pups behavior. The answer to the question will determine the reprimand for the behavior, if any. I ask myself, does the pup understand what it is he has done or has not done? And, does the pup completely understand what he has done or been asked to do but just does not want to do it? By asking these two questions before I correct a pup, it acts as a double check to ensure I do not confuse the pup and makes certain I do not over react if the pup does not follow my instructions. 

Basic training starts with sit, back and come. These very critical commands that if established early, will make certain you have an obedient hunting dog. I start my new pup off with a type of lead called a British-style Slip. These British-style Slip leads are excellent as they work as a collar and a lead all in one. I start by slipping it over the pups head and then letting him run around dragging the lead. Once he is comfortable with the lead, I then take the lead and control the pup. Because I am right handed and usually carry my gun with my right hand, I always train my dogs to walk on my left side. Holding the lead with my left hand, I attempt to walk with the pup on my left side even with my walk pace. You will find the first few times you do this the pup will pull, buck and try everything within his power to pull away from you. Do not let go and just let him get it out of his system. Once he calms down, I continue walking with him all along saying in a calm but stern voice "back"! Back is the command I use to keep my dogs to my side and not out ahead of me. It does not take long before he feels secure with the lead and allows you the control. I walk him around the streets in town getting him used to all kinds of noises, cars, other dogs and allow him to smell everything he chooses to smell. If he gets out ahead of me and starts pulling on the lead, I snap the lead back and say "back! I repeat this several more times praising him along the way and then the training session is over. I continue this drill over the next week or so until the pup is completely comfortable with both the lead and the command back. 
Once he is relaxed walking on my left side, I start working on the command sit. While walking with the lead, I stop and immediately say "sit"! I then pull up on the lead with my left hand while pushing on his butt with the right hand. Then I immediately praise him. I have found that sit is the easiest command to teach a young pup so this should not take long to teach. Once the pup fully understands sit while on a lead, I reinforce the command sit without the lead. When the pup is running around the property or in the house playing, I will spring the word sit on him in a stern voice. If the pup sits I praise him. If he does not sit, I correct him and immediately move back to the lead for a additional training session. With consistent work, it will not be long until the pup will sit on command no matter what the situation is.

I have found one of the toughest commands to teach a young pup is come. This is because the pup normally starts relating the command come as a control command in which naturally he resists. When a pup is young, I start with a playful come by kneeling down and clapping my hands all along saying the word come over and over again. As a young pup, this will almost always work and they come running at full bore towards you and get all kinds of praise for doing it. But, once the pup gets around five or six months old, the pup starts acting defiant and seems to take on a mind of its own and pays little attention to your commands. They take on a attitude similar to a teenager and at times will need to be forced to follow your commands. When a rebellious pup starts choosing to do what they want to when they want to, teaching the command come can become very frustrating for you and the pup. During this time, it is critical you take control of the pup and never, never let the pup take control of you. I use two types of training tools to reinforce the command come to a defiant pup. I either use a check cord or a e-collar. A check cord is a thin type of rope or cord that is about 25 feet in length, flexible and not easily tangled. I will use either a piece of parachute cord or a piece of thick weed eater line. Either method will work but I have found weed eater line does a better job not tangling. I attach the check cord to the pups collar and allow the pup to wonder off all along holding the other end of the check cord. Once the pup is out 15 feet or so, I say the command come. I do not kneel down and clap my hands as I have already established this in our earlier fun informal training sessions. If the pup does not come towards me, I gently pull him along prompting him to come to me. If he fails to come with prompting, I yank on the check cord dragging the pup as necessary towards me as requested while saying in a stern voice "come" over and over again. A few sessions like this will re-enforce the command come and make sure the pup understands who is at the top of the pack. The other way to teach come to a defiant pup, and one in which I prefer, is the use of a e-collar. I have found with using a e-collar properly, you can accomplish the command come even with the most disobedient dogs in one or two sessions. I simply use it the same way I would a check cord but it seems to reinforce what I want the pup to do more rapidly. Now a word of caution here, I do not recommend the use of a e-collar by the novice trainer as if used improperly, you could ruin a dog. So unless you have experience with a e-collar, use the check cord procedure. 

I will talk briefly about the command "stay". If you really think about it, the command stay is unnecessary. Recently I have discovered that the word "sit" means both sit and stay. Another words, if you give the command sit, never allow your dog to leave this position until you release him. Using this method, you have just reduced the number of commands your dog needs to learn and makes it simpler for you when training.

I have trained many types of dogs throughout my life. I have trained Chesapeake's, Labs, Queensland Blue Heelers, Spaniels and of course Terriers. What I know to be true, is that not all dogs and breeds handle pressure the same. Be very cautious with the amount of pressure you put on your dog unless you know what pressure that dog can handle. I try and treat my dogs with respect and in turn they respect me. Although I spend most of my training time praising my pups, sometimes tough love is what it takes to properly train a pup to be a compliant citizen. A well-trained obedient hunting dog will give you years of pleasure and reduce the chances of you being the one who is yelling at their "Hado" in the field.

Look for Part 3-"Starting Your Pup on Deer" in the next DHTR's newsletter. 

Good hunting,
George A Palmer IV
Buckhorn Hunting Terriers