Question: I just got my first puppy that will be trained as a gundog. He's a field bred English cocker. My pup is now 11 weeks old. I know I want to follow your philosophy of reading my dog and take time to train him as HE is ready for each step etc, but how does an amateur know when the pup is ready to begin? What signs do I look for that he's ready to begin training and progression?
Answer: I think it's a good question and unfortunately there isn't going to be a black and white answer that I can give you for most situations. There is rarely a benchmark or achievement that the dog reaches to tell you or act as a signal to move forward. Instead, you work on things and when they go well, long enough and consistently enough, we take a step forward. Meaning, you might make the drill more challenging or do it in a new environment, etc. The way to find out when they are ready is simply to try and see what happens. If it goes well, keep going and be repetitious to strengthen that behavior. If you run into issues, take steps back and fill in the holes. A lot of that comes from experience. I'm lucky to have many years and dogs under my belt and I have a good feel for what that progression looks like. I can tell you this...in my early years, I moved too fast too soon and in the end it took me longer to accomplish my goals with the dogs. These days I error on the side of taking my time before moving forward and in the end I think it actually speeds things up overall.
I hope this makes sense. Keep me posted and let me know if I can help along the way. Your friend, Jeremy