A squirrel dog isn't worth a nickel without its brain and its mouth. Although he's a young pup, Adam is the brain of the Mountain State Kennel when it comes to training. I (Chuck) am the mouth! Adam has the uncanny knack of knowing what a dog will learn from any experience. I have the knack of putting Adam's ideas into words. On this page, you'll get Adam's best training tips, in the simplest form I can present them.
Adam's Training Tips
What will the dog learn from what I am about to do?
For example, you call and call and your dog won't come to you. You get frustrated. He finally comes and you kick him. In his brain, the command, "Come here" gets filed under "things I get punished for."
Another example: Your pup chases a squirrel up a tree, but doesn't bark. You want desperately to get some fur in his mouth, so you give him the squirrel. Consequently, "chasing squirrels up a tree without barking" gets filed under "things I get rewarded for."
How many squirrels does my dog need to have killed?
This question is very misleading. It's not the quantity, but the quality of the squirrels that counts. A more important question is, what will help my dog learn what I want him to do. Killing lots of squirrels will sometimes teach the dog a lot, but sometimes, it won't.
Here are examples of times when maybe it's best to leave squirrels. Your dog does a nice job on a squirrel, but he misses the tree. The squirrel is up a tree about 40 yards away. Maybe you should pet the dog up and leave that one in the tree, because shooting out a squirrel that is four trees over may confuse the dog.
Or your dog trees a squirrel, but doesn't bark as well as it should. Don't shoot that one either. In fact, when you have a tree that the dog is doing wrong things, you should always consider leaving that one. The squirrel is the reward. Should the dog be rewarded for his performance?
Here's a good one that Adam does often. We're training a pup. He does a great job on a squirrel. We get the squirrel out to the dog perfectly. Adam will sometimes decided that the hunt is over. Even if we have to walk a mile with that pup on a lead, we will pet him up and take him home. That is so much better than having something bad happen at the end of the hunt and with pups, something bad can always happen!
So, sometimes dogs learn more with less squirrels than they do with more.
Adam and Pepper with the first squirrel that Pepper treed on her own in the winter of 1999. Adam is the brains of the training program. Pepper was the "guinea pig," who suffered through training Adam to train. Appropriately, the shadow in the lower left of the photo belongs to me, Adam's dad.
Adam's Training Tips
What can I realistically expect from a pup?
With that in mind, a six-month-old is roughly equivalent to a kindergartner. Did you ever watch a kid playing tee ball at about 6 years old? Once I had a talented little guy on my tee ball team. One day, he stopped the game and yelled into the dugout very excitedly to get my attention. When I ran out to see what was up, he asked me if he could go to the snack bar! This boy is now a talented college baseball player. You can expect as much from your six-month-old future World Squirrel Champion.
A one-year-old dog is reasonably equivalent to a 12-year-old child. Think how much responsibility you would entrust to a 12-year-old boy. YIKES! The same goes for your year-old dog. So, don’t get too discouraged when your puppies backslide or act like adolescent teenagers.
Puppy Training 101: A Guide to Starting a Squirrel Dog Puppy from Scratch
Following are some suggestions for starting with a new weaned puppy, compliments of Mountain State Kennels. Primarily, this guide is intended to help those who are new to training squirrel dogs.
Before you start hunting…
There are lots of beginning hunters in the squirrel dog business and they seem to have lots of puppy training questions. I am not a training guru by any means, but I do like to write. Adam knows a lot about training, but he says all he does in college is write, so he’s not going to write anything that doesn’t get graded! Between the two of us, we have been collecting the training techniques on this page.
Uncharacteristically, this topic is not Adam’s. During my education and training in the area of early childhood development, I learned that young children do not think or reason in the same way that adults do. I believe the same applies very well to puppy development and if I’m right, it could have an impact on the puppy training techniques of new squirrel dog owners.
In my preschool, we have the responsibility of teaching young children. Sometimes, I have to answer questions of parents who don’t understand why we don’t try to teach their preschoolers to read and write, add and subtract. Ultimately, those are the goals that will insure that our children are literate and technically prepared for life, so why don’t we start when they’re two or three years old. Of course, my answer is that we do, but not in the ways you might expect. We teach pre-reading, pre-writing, and pre-math skills.
To give only a few of the examples, let’s consider pre-writing skills. In order for a child to write, they need the small muscle coordination necessary to holding a writing instrument and moving it so as to make shapes on paper that are recognizable as letters and words. When a child is two or three, good preschool teachers work on small muscle development by having the children work puzzles, cut with scissors, paint with paintbrushes, and string beads. Preschoolers need to have a basic understanding of letters, words, and sentences to make sense of written language. Good preschool teachers show children that letters go together to make words, that words have meaning, that there are spaces between words, and so on. These are all pre-writing skills.
Sometimes, parents can accept this approach, but many parents insist that their child must try to write letters and words. When parents push them, a small percentage of children produce legible writing. More often, two and three year olds get frustrated and resist the teaching. Many first-time puppy owners hear the hype about puppies treeing at an incredibly early age. They push for the same from their puppies and everyone gets frustrated.
I believe that puppies are developmentally comparable to preschoolers. If so, we should consider their development and teach pre-treeing skills before they are mature enough to be taught to tree. What are pre-treeing skills? These skills may be common sense or they may be as hard to identify as cutting with scissors or stringing beads. Following are some examples of pre-treeing skills.
·Before a dog can figure out which tree a squirrel is in, its sensitive nose needs to have lots of chances to become familiar the smells of the woods – which are most common, where they occur, etc. This skill is taught by allowing a puppy many opportunities to explore and gather information about the woods. It goes along with my philosophy on pup training: "Keep taking them to the woods and good things will happen!"
· Before a dog can be expected to tree, it needs to know that the final location of squirrels is in a tree – in other words, "the end of the track is up." This is learned by always putting scent on the tree, not on the ground. Until it learns to tree, you shouldn’t drag a squirrel hide or hot dog around on the ground, making trails for you puppy. "The end of the track is up" is one of the hardest skills to teach for a very simple reason. Of all the squirrel scent that a dog encounters, only the last four feet of the track is actually on the tree. Of course, it is also one of the most important skills – that’s why we call them tree dogs.
· Someday, you’ll want to encourage your puppy to bark at the tree. It will be very helpful if the puppy knows and responds to the command to "speak." Now, there’s a pre-treeing skill that you can teach on the back porch with a leftover wiener!
· Learning to come when called is one of those pre-treeing skills that you might not readily recognize, but anyone who has trained pups has been in this situation: the pup is in one place and the squirrel is in another. You need the pup to stop in his tracks and come to you. You call and he goes the other way. So you see that a puppy’s response to "come" is a pre-treeing skill.
Some three-year-olds show a real interest in writing. When they do, good preschool teachers offer support, teaching skills that they would not usually teach for another year. They show the child how to hold the pencil correctly and how to make sticks and circles become letters. Similarly, when puppies show an interest in treeing, they’re ready to move beyond pre-treeing skills. Until they do, I think the first-time owners of squirrel dog pups should be patient and teach the pre-treeing skills.