Think of Foundation Training much like the foundation of your house. If the foundation of your house was constructed poorly it’s only a matter of time before
It crumbles and falls. Foundation training for a dog is much the same. If your initial foundation training is poor the obedience of your dog will be poor. I tell new people who come to train with us this “If your dog doesn’t listen to you in the house or yard, it sure in the heck won’t listen to you in the field and that’s a fact!”
Example, I was asked to go to a game preserve with a guy who bragged his dog up and down weeks prior to our hunt. This dog was the greatest thing since sliced bread. When we got to the field the guy let his dog out of the truck and all hell broke loose. The dog immediately ran down the field and blew out the 20 birds that were planted for us as the owner yelled and screamed at the dog. I hadn’t even had a chance to get my gun out. Not the greatest thing since sliced bread. Total lack of Foundation Training. It doesn’t matter how good the dog is at finding birds if it doesn’t listen to you. Needless to say, I never hunted with that guy again.
So, what is Foundation Training? For me it’s basic obedience, Come, Hup (sit), stay and heel. I get 40 plus dogs a year to train and the first thing I teach each one is heel. I want the dog to understand from day one that we are working together. Keep in mind the dogs I get in for training are 6 months to a year old.
I train heel starting with the dog the dog sitting. I use a choke chain collar in most instances. Sometimes I use a pinch collar depending on the age, size and understanding of the dog. I step out with my closest foot to the dog at the same time I give a sharp tug on the lead, saying the word heel and tap my thigh. I’m giving the dog multiple messages (stepping forward, tug on lead, word heel and tapping my leg) that are verbal, physical and visual at the same time that all mean the same thing, heel. When the dog gets more comfortable it is likely to pull forward or sideways. If this happens, I correct the dog by saying, No, heel and give a sharp tug on the lead.
Once the dog is comfortable and doing well with heeling, I start to integrate the hup command into our heeling work. I will have the dog walking comfortably at heel, I will then say the word, Hup and snap the lead backwards simultaneously. Again, I’m giving the dog multiple messages that mean the same thing, Hup. If the dog doesn’t Hup, I repeat Hup, snap the lead backwards and push the dogs butt to down. As the dog progresses with Hup, I will integrate one toot on my whistle in place of my voice.
To teach the stay command I use the work Hup again. When I say Hup, I expect the dog to both sit and stay until I release the dog. I teach the dog stay by having the dog sitting at heel with a lead on. I step out in front of the dog with the leg farthest away from the dog, saying the word, Hup turning to face the dog. I also hold a hand in front of the dog’s face, palm toward the dog. When the dog is solidly staying with me in front of him, I will slowly back away from the dog repeating the word, Hup. Note, don’t take your eyes off your dog when doing this training. They are sneaky little boogers.
I teach the initial come command while the doing is actively heeling. While walking with the dog at heel, I will quickly back up, snap the lead and say come. As the dog understands what I’m asking I’ll replace my voice with multiple toots on the whistle. I also, will put a long check cord on the dog out in the yard. As the dog is doing his own thing, I will pick up the check cord and say come. I immediately start reeling the dog to me. When I feel comfortable the dog understands come, I will still do the fore-mentioned training for two more weeks. Never give a command that you can’t enforce the first time you ask. I hear many people call their dog to them and have to ask multiple times. By doing this, you are conditioning your dog not to listen to you the first time. Ask the dog once and make them comply.
When training your dog be giving of verbal and physical praise when they accomplish what you have asked of them. Happy dogs are much easier to train.
If you follow these training tips, in the end you will be happier with your dog and they will be happier with you.
This article was originally written for Boykin Spaniel magazine