Importance of First Impressions with Your Shed Hunting Dog Training
With most deer seasons either closed or closing soon, our training focus has shifted to shed hunting in an effort to take advantage of the coming months. With that in mind, I thought I would write about an important part of any retriever training, the importance of the first impression. Whether it be with hopes of ultimately turning out a great shed hunting dog, game recovery dog, gundog, upland dog, or any other working dog, the importance of good first impression is crucial.
The thing about this is that when we introduce our pups to anything in training, we need to remember as handlers that it is our responsibility to ensure that we "tee it up" for our pups to make sure that we begin with the end in mind. When I say that, I mean that there are going to be things that we encounter with our pup in the training process that are going to be "firsts" for that young dog. Some of these things will be as simple as riding on a 4-wheeler or ATV/UTV, swimming for the first time, feathers and or live birds. For our shed hunting dogs, the actual antler is going to be one that is critical! More specifically, it's going to be critical to introduce the antler when our pups are 100% confident that the shape, the scent and the feel of a hard antler in their mouths are a GOOD thing.
If we, as handlers, toss a real shed antler for our pups or dogs, they will likely rush out to pick up the antler and bring it back, especially if he or she has retriever instincts. The problem is, that relative to dummies, tennis balls or game birds, a shed antler is hard, heavy, and pointy. Young pups especially have small sensitive eyes, noses, muzzles and mouths. When your shed dog puppy is improperly introduced to that hard, heavy, pointy shed their first impression is one of pain, not gain. If you are lucky, your dog will drop the shed antler and move on to something else without injury. More than likely, and as I have experienced myself, the dog will drop the shed and avoid the uncomfortable feel, all due to the improper introduction to the feel of the hard antler. Have you ever heard of a "gun-shy" dog? The truth is that pups are not born "gun-shy", but instead when introduced to loud noises the wrong way....we end up with a gun-shy dog. The same is true with our sheds dogs.
We overcome the risk of that negative introduction with our shed dogs by starting them out with something that looks like an antler and eventually will smell like an antler but does not risk the negative connection to something that feels uncomfortable to the "soft-mouthed" dogs and will not jab, stick or poke our dogs when first introduced to an antler. Always keep in mind when training...the things you do with your young dogs will stick with them for a lifetime, both the good stuff and the bad! So, be sure to always begin with the end in mind.
Good luck and remember that when you cover more ground...you find more sheds!