Recently, I was asked by a new pointer puppy owner what he should be working on with his new puppy. My answer may have been a bit of a surprise. I think the most important thing he could do with the puppy is to properly socialize it. I’ll point out here that my focus on gun dogs is in developing well mannered hunting companions. There are two critical phases of canine development. The first is between 4 and 6 weeks old, and the second is between 6 and 12 weeks. During this time it is critical to understand these phases and treat the puppy accordingly.
The first phase is the pack socialization phase. During this period, the puppies begin to venture around and out of the litter box more, their teeth emerge, they start on semi-solid food, and are weaned. During this period, the dam spends less time with the pups and as a consequence, they begin to focus on each other. It is during this period that dogs learn how to relate to other dogs. They begin to establish a hierarchy, and learn proper canine social behavior and communication. Puppies taken from their mother or littermates before 6 weeks often have serious behavior problems as they mature.
The second phase is the human socialization phase. During this phase, the puppy’s focus should be on people and the human environment. Most gun dog puppies should be taken between seven and eight weeks of age. It is critical that the breeder begins the human socialization with the puppies during this stage. The new owner should continue this work. If there is ever a time a dog should not be stuck in kennel in isolation, now is it. This is where the dog’s connection with humans is largely established. We do everything we can to develop hunting companions that are team players and a pleasure to be around.
During this period you should purposely focus on eye contact and facial expressions. Pups are very focused on the face; spend two minutes with a puppy and you will see this. This is where you begin to establish a strong partnership with your dog. You can also begin to work on come, sit and heel with your new puppy, but by far, the most important thing you can do is socialize the puppy. Spend time with the dog, get him into new surroundings and let him experience new situations. Don’t put too much pressure on him, but get him out and about. Kids are excellent at socializing puppies; they fondle, chase, and love them up. Neither seem to be able to get enough, the kids or the puppies.