There are many different opinions on pup selection, starting, training, breeds, the list goes on. I think its important to do your research on which breed will suit your situation & also which breeder has the type & temperament that you are after. But let's assume you've selected your new sidekick, they are sitting up proudly next to you & you are wondering where to from here. These are my thoughts...
The bond you have with a pup is equally, if not more important, than their work potential.
I often get asked how I select a pup. I have often asked this question too. & what I have learnt works best for me is choosing the pup I feel I can have the best bond with. I've had some incredibly talented dogs pass through my team through no fault of their own, we just haven't clicked. Like not being best friends with every person you meet, its the same with dogs. There are so many different personalities out there, in people & dogs & you don't always bring the best out in each other.
Flora was one of my best dogs, beautiful in nature & work, but she passed through a few homes before she landed with me. So if I feel like I don't have a good bond with a dog, I often feel like I won't be able to do that dog justice in reaching their full potential & will move them on to a more suitable home. And some of the dogs I have a great bond with aren't necessarily the most talented workers but they work their hearts out for me & I get to work alongside my best mates every day.
So establish that bond with your pup, take it everywhere with you, give it your time & attention & it will reward you by giving you its everything.
Let your pup be a pup
We often put too much pressure on ourselves & the pup to hit big milestones too early & we can often come undone with our good intentions. So remember the pup is like a young child. We want to set them up for wins, encourage every attempt & build up their confidence to think they can do anything.
Its never too early to learn please & thank you.
In saying a pup should be allowed to be a pup, that is no reason your pup can't still be learning manners from day one. Teach them not to jump up or only when asked. To be respectful of your space. To tie up & learn to be calm in kennels. Travel in vehicles. Socialise with other dogs. Whatever basic manners you wish for your pup to learn. With one exception to this.....& that is teaching a pup to sit.
Sit & Stop
So this is a tricky one. Its one of the first lessons we want to teach our pup & its the first thing other people expect them to know. But the catch is if you are wanting your pup to learn to work stock, it is too easy for us to put a sit & stop on them too often & we can curb their natural instinct. Most of my dogs have learnt to sit for food later in life, if at all. Its just not that important to me for them to know. Of the late & great Greg Prince's order of starting pups, learning to stop is not even in the top 5 because we want to encourage their natural work out first. So, if you want to teach the pup to sit for food ect early, try & have a different command later for when you ask for a stop on stock. And be very careful that you don't overuse it when starting on stock. Its like teaching a horse to stop before you teach it how to walk under saddle. You end up not going anywhere. Set up the situation so you can control it without needing the brakes. Then later on teach the brakes so you can step up the situations. It will be worth it, trust me.
Every single pup I have owned has, at some stage, decided there are more interesting things to do than heed my call. Without exception. Its a boundary they all seem to have to test & one they all grow out of. Usually it hits around the 4 - 6 month mark. I recently learnt the benefit of a pup dragging a long rope. Set yourself up for a win, they are faster & often more clever than us so try to stack the odds in your favour however you can.
Grow 'em Slow
One of the best pieces of advice I was told early on by Scott Amon of Barru Kelpies was to not let the pups get over fat. Up until they are about 3 months of age, they can be roly poly but after that, be careful not to let them become too plump as it can interfere with their growth. They should be covered but a little lean, shiny coated & full of energy. If they are carrying too much weight, their bones can grow too quickly & cause issues best avoided. I monitor my dogs weight by feeling over their hips. I dont want to feel sharp hip bones but I also don't want to be feeling fat dimples (looking at you Charm). Some pups may be naturally lean & need extra food to keep them healthy so monitor your pup as they go through different stages of growth & they will thank you for it later when they are joint pain free.
Little Pups Have Little Legs
We all know how important it is to keep pups exercised, mentally & physically, so they can burn off that extra energy but it is worth keeping in mind they are still forming all their joints & bone structure. So try to avoid letting them jump off heights that put too much stress on their legs upon landing. And keep their exercise gentle, not running them too far or too fast & over taxing their reserves. This will set them up well to be fit & fabulous once they finish growing.
I'm sure there are many more tips & tricks I will remember as we go along but the absolute top tip of all is, enjoy your time with them. We never know how long we have with them so love them as much as you can so the memories are enough to heal the hurt long after they leave us. A life with a dog by your side is one of the most fortunate. Cheers, Teesh