You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, the old saying goes. But, that was probably written by a lazy old dog or a lazy owner.
An older dog may have a lot of bad habits that you need to correct, but they’re still trainable.
Ideally, we like to start the pup out young, when they’re 12 weeks and older. When you start them with the basics—sit, come, heel, stay—it’s easy for them to learn. They have not developed bad habits yet. A young dog knows no other alternative.
If people wait until their dogs are 1 to 2 years old, the animals probably have learned quite a few bad habits, so more repetition—the key to dog training—will be needed.
If you look at the basic field problems a hunter has, it boils down to sit, stay, and come.
Here is an example: You’re out upland game hunting, and the dog just keeps cheating on you, getting farther and farther away—most of the time out of shotgun range. The dog doesn’t know what “come” means. Most guys will blame it on the excitement of the hunt, but the situations all boil down to the dogs don’t know what sit, stay, and come mean. Excitement is no excuse for bad manners or disobedience.
Simulation is key
Part of the problem is that most hunters don’t understand those three basic commands. To understand them, the handler and the dog have to develop a relationship based on simple obedience in the field.
So often, we teach the dog obedience where he listens real well on the leash or in the house. The hardest part for the average guy is he’s got to take that obedience out in the field, which takes some obvious dedication and repetition under different hunting conditions.
If a guy hunts waterfowl, he’s got to spend time on sit and stay under a simulated waterfowl hunting situation.
An example would be where a handler and dog sit in the rushes along the shore of a body of water and a hunting buddy throws dummies from a distance, at the same time simulating a gunshot. A few decoys can even be thrown in for good measure.
In hunting upland game, come is a command that’s tricky from the standpoint the dog will blow you off so easily because he has four legs and you have two.
Many owners make the mistake of giving the command three, four, five times or more and the dog still hasn’t responded.
As a handler, you have to be disciplined and give the command only once. If the dog doesn’t respond, run him down, make him sit, shake him up, and make him stay. Then walk away 5 to 10 yards, and make him come, sit, and stay. Repeat the process each time the dog screws up.
Along with repetitions, don’t forget the field work.
The key to this is that you not only make him come in your yard, on an open playground, but more importantly, you have to take him in the field— stubble fields, CRP fields. Even carry it one step further, into a cattail slough.
That’s where most guys goof up, they don’t follow through with field work.