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?

This question appears to be very simple, but trust me, it's very complex.  Dogs are very conditionable creatures.  Inside their brains, connections are made between actions and reactions.  When they do something, something happens.  From the reaction to their action, they become conditioned either to repeat or to avoid the action in the future. 

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."

 

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?

Starting a new pup can be quite a job, if you take it seriously and try to do it right. Adam insists that we start pups very slowly, in order to avoid puppy burnout.  I don’t know how often I have heard the stories of pups that started out all full of fire, only to backslide a few months later, or to totally blow up. Their owners get really fired up when they come out of the chute fast, and their owners get equally disappointed when the pup seems to lose interest or starts to do stupid things.

Although my education and experience is in the field of child development, puppy development can be very similar.  Most people talk about dog years as there was a direct 7 to 1 correlation between dog year and people years.  In truth, that's not exactly true.  When you think of their mental development, you can equate each month of puppy development to a year of child development until they’re two years old and then age the dog at five years for every year thereafter. 

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.

Also, keep in mind that you can burn a pup out pretty easily.  If you force a child to play a sport beyond the point of the child having fun, they begin to dislike or even resent the same activity that they once enjoyed. Puppies can be the same.  So, don’t burn them out by hunting them for long periods of time.

On the other hand, we all know that you make a dog by wearing out some boots.  The number of repetitions is critical in puppy training, as well.  They need lots of chances to experience and learn the skills necessary to be top-notch hunting dogs.  If this seems to be a contradiction, it's not. You do need to keep puppies in the woods, but it is important to hunt them in short sessions.  Just like a youngster who needs an afternoon nap, your puppy needs rest between sessions.  He will benefit much more from three one-hour hunts than from one three-hour hunt.  One produces three hours of learning; the other has the potential to produce one hour of learning and two hours of burnout.

Finally, when your puppy gets into one of those stages where you want to give him away or kill him, give him a break from hunting.  Work on discipline or just play with him. Especially in the summer time, when it’s hot and you can’t find/kill game for them, bring them along slowly, even the ones that get you so excited that you want to hunt them 24 hours a day.

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…
· Play with your puppy a lot. He needs to know you, understand you, and be devoted you.
· Allow your puppy to be around a lot of different dogs. When the time comes to hunt with them, your puppy will not be preoccupied or scared or try to play with them all the time.
· Teach your puppy to come when called. This will prevent much frustration on your part and there will be training times when you need him to come immediately.
· Teach your puppy to lead. This also prevents frustration and you will need for him to be comfortable on a lead when you tie him at the tree.
· Give your puppy lots of chances to ride in a vehicle before you drive him to the hunting woods. If you’ve ever been car sick, you know how long it takes to feel better. No need to start his hunts out that way.
· Teach your puppy to speak. There may be a time when you want to "tell" him to bark at a tree. He needs to know what you are telling him.
· Train your puppy to be comfortable with loud noises. Bang a metal food pan when you feed him, or shoot around him and reassure him that it is okay. It won’t take long for him to learn that the gun means game, but before he learns that, he may be startled by gunshots.
· Teach your puppy to look up. However you train him to find game, treeing is the hardest part. If you want to try to get your puppy to locate wieners or squirrel tails or hides or dead squirrels, don’t worry so much about laying tracks. Put it UP (out of his reach) and make him look UP. If you want to add scent to this type of training, put the scent ON the tree trunk, not on the ground. You can worry about trailing after he knows that the game is always UP.
· Don’t wear your puppy out. The woods is supposed to be fun. If the puppy gets tired or bored, the trip to the woods becomes negative.
· Take your puppy for leisurely walks in the woods - mostly by himself - and wait for good things to happen. Go and go and go. At some point, the puppy will run on to a squirrel or work out an easy track and you will get it out to them. Until he does, he will learn to get over obstacles, learn the sounds, sights, and smells of the woods, and learn to ride in the truck. I think training tubes and caged game are highly overrated. Apache and Geronimo never saw caged game until they were treeing well.
· Teach your puppy what "No" means. Later, when he does something wrong and you say "No," he will know that you want him to stop.

Introducing hunting concepts…
· Don’t take your puppy to the woods with another dog until he is old enough to keep up.
· Find a way to allow your puppy to see squirrels before the squirrels see them. Adam got a couple of pups started by baiting squirrels into a squirrel feeder and sitting by the basement window with a pup in his arms. The feeder was about thirty yards from the woods on a pole. When a squirrel got into the feeder, Adam would shoot the pup out the door onto the unsuspecting squirrel. It had the choice of "holing up" in the bird feeder (ours is big) or running for it. Either way was a good experience for the puppy. Another way is to set up a feeder in a place where you can sneak around the corner of a building and let the puppy see the squirrel.
· Don’t scare your puppy. Young puppies will be afraid of things that won’t scare them later. Allow the puppy to discover "scary" things slowly. If caged game scares the puppy, don’t push it. If you use game in a cage, allow the puppy to go to the cage; don’t throw him onto it.
· Allow your puppy to let you know when he is ready. There is NO timeline for dog training. Every dog is different and starting early does not always mean success.
· Have a word or sound that means you see a squirrel. Later, when you used the word or sound, he will know what it means.
· Don’t take your puppy to the woods with any dog that you don’t know. If there is any chance that another dog will be aggressive or run off game, either leave your puppy at home or don’t go at all.

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.