This summer, I acquired two new pups. Red was a nicely put together female with lots of color. Whitey was a big white male. They came from different breeders and different lines of dogs. Red arrived in June and was 9 weeks old. Whitey arrived in late July and was twelve weeks old. These pups were well-bred and had lots of natural ability, but both had weak links, and their weak links determined how each pup was started.
A weak link can refer to the weakest part of a dog’s training, and it can also refer to a shortcoming or hole that the dog has. When I look at pups and how to develop them, I look for their weak links—which links need to be made stronger? Red was a good case in point. The first time I took her for a run, she made tight little circles around my feet and whined to be picked up. This behavior was definitely a weak link. The best thing to do with a pup like this is ignore the behavior and treat it like a nothing. I decided to take her for a run every day until she showed interest in her surroundings. After about a week with no improvement, we headed to the bird pens that included a pigeon loft and two johnny houses. I was curious if she would start using her nose. To be on the safe side, I try not to show birds to a new pup until she is confident on the ground. After another week of circling and whining, she finally dropped her head and sniffed the ground. A little bit later, she picked up a feather and started carrying it in her mouth. A-hah, I thought. She was ready. I got a quail from the johnny house, pulled a couple of wing feathers and held it by the feet so it fluttered. She showed no hesitation and tried to bite the head so I tossed it on the ground. She became totally focused on the bird pouncing on it and chasing it. Eventually, the bird escaped in the cover, but instead of coming to find me, she returned to where the bird had been tossed down and hunted this area hard. I remained quiet, and after a while, I slowly walked away. It was ten minutes before she came looking for me, and after that, she was a different pup. She had discovered her purpose in life, and she had discovered her nose.
Whitey was a different story. He was bold and very independent. The first time I took him for a walk, he took off, and while he loved to run, it was obvious that he was not hunting. Pups that do not hunt have a weak link and need to learn to use their noses. Independent pups need to find birds with us so they have a reason to go with us, and this was another weak link. I snapped a check-cord to his ID collar and let him drag it so later I could hold on to it to keep him with me. After running him a couple more times dragging the check-cord, I showed him a quail. When I held the bird by its feet and it fluttered, it scared him, but the more the bird fluttered, the more interested he became so I tossed it down. He was definitely unsure and alternated between investigating it and running away. I stayed back and stayed quiet.
Whitey did not get the bird in his mouth that day, but after a couple more exposures to quail, he finally dove in and got the bird in his mouth. Once he did that, I picked up the check-cord and used it to keep him with me. He proudly pranced around with his new trophy, and I remained quiet as he walked in front of me carrying the bird. It took him a couple more exposures to quail before everything started to click, and soon, he was hunting as well as paying attention to where I was.
Red and Whitey had different weak links. In Red’s case, she had to become aware of her surroundings and focus on something other than me. Whitey was impressive on the ground but he did not hunt or care where I was. Both pups were born with the right tools; they just needed a little help discovering how to use them. By focusing on their weak links, I was able to start them on the road to becoming the bird dogs that they were bred to be.