Q: I just acquired a new puppy. What can I be doing with it now, until it is old enough for gun dog training?
A: Socialize your puppy as much as possible. (Check with your vet to get recommendations about Parvovirus in your area.) The more your puppy gets out of the house to see strangers, kids, other animals, different kinds of outdoor environments (different kinds of cover), etc., the less overwhelming its first exposures to hunting and prey will be. This will allow pup to focus on finding and catching prey.
Take your pup to places where it can find, bump and chase prey (quail are great because they have a lot of scent and are exciting to dogs). Allow the pup to catch and get to know a few birds. This is extremely important to a pup, they must know what species of prey they can be successful with, and that they have the power to find and catch them.
Once the pup is having fun, searching for, finding, bumping, chasing, catching and killing prey, he is ready for gun proofing. See entry on gun proofing.
Claim space with your pup. See this video, The Walk: http://youtube/I3FEQcCY1E0
Q: What should I avoid doing with my pup before he is ready for gun dog training?
A: Avoid a lot of obedience work (sit, down, stay, right, left, fetch, out, back, etc.). Too much focus on early obedience takes a pup’s focus from the environment he should be learning from and teaches him that his handler is most important. Too much early obedience will hardwire
the pup to focus on the handler in the field when he should be confident enough to focus on his bird. Good leadership and management (example: limit a pup’s options in the house—if he is loose in the house to wander around you will inevitably find him in a far corner of the house eating your favorite shoe just after squatting on your wife’s favorite rug. If he is limited to the kitchen you are cooking in you will notice when he scratches at the door to go out and will notice when he is checking out the garbage pail..) will go a long way in creating a well behaved pup in the house without the use of a bunch of ‘commands’.
These are things the average owner can do to while they wait for their pup to mature enough for formal steadiness training as well as the recall and gun proofing. Getting the pup exposure in the field can begin as soon as a new owner gets the pup home. Just use common sense and don’t overwhelm the pup with aggressive birds or terrain that could discourage or frighten the pup. Don’t get the pup overtired or sore by running, jumping or swimming too much. Slow down and enjoy the puppy, you will have a good 10 years to hunt with him!