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Scott Rall: For the love of puppy breath

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors columnist 

I have a saying that “at my age I shouldn’t get this excited.” This normally happens when we complete another habitat acquisition or the restoration of that project gets completed. The DNR staff at the area Wildlife office just finished the seeding of the new Worthington Wells WMA a mile north of Lake Bella a few days ago. It does not look like much right now, but in a few months it will be three feet tall and in three years it will be pristine wildlife habitat.

There is one other thing that gets me to the same excitement level. That is the arrival of a new puppy. I made the mistake of letting my daughter and son-in-law take home one of my Labradors for the summer and now they won’t give him back. He was getting up in age but still had a few hunting years left in him. He is now living the life of leisure in his new retirement home in Golden Valley Minnesota.

When you hunt as much as I do, one dog is not enough horsepower. When I had one dog I spouted off that there was no reason to have and own more than one dog. It was until the second day of that dog’s first hunting season that I got an eye-opener as to why two dogs are better than one. That dog Scout caught a fence and was injured to the point where she did not hunt for almost three weeks. I was dog-less and missed a good part of that season.

With a second dog I could have hunted one while the other healed up.

The case of multiple dogs also comes into play when the weather is really hot. A dog can usually hunt for about 45 minutes or less in temps in the 80-degree range. Sure, you can push them harder than that, but it is not good for the dog and many dogs die as a result of being pushed past their limits in the heat. With multiple dogs you can hunt one for an hour and then get a fresh dog for the next hour and the rotation keeps all the dogs safe.

I have bought, trained and sold many hunting dogs over the years. I am no longer in that place. I now go through the process for my own personal benefit, and the making money element is now past. I still help out at Round Lake Kennels helping other folks get what I have. I keep three black Labradors in my space all at all times.

All of my puppies come from this source. This is the amount of horsepower I like and need, and I love black Labradors and love their company.

My new puppy who I have named Sarge in now about 3 weeks old. He will be ready to come home the latter part of June. His current home is at Round Lake Kennels and I won’t get another unless it is out of their breeding program. My two other dogs are named Axle (he’s 5) and Tracer, who is 2 ½. I needed a name that was not similar to the others so there is no confusion when all three are on the loose. I make all three sit 25 yards from the road when hunting and then call them one by one up to the road and into the truck.

At my age I shouldn’t get this excited. We visited the kennel this weekend and held all the puppies in the litter. There is nothing cuter than that picture.

I have another saying that puppies are cool but big dogs are better. I can’t say I am excited about the prospect of getting up in the middle of the night for the first few weeks letting this little bugger out to do his business. It is one of the costs associated with having a new puppy. He will not be old enough to hunt as a full member of the team this next season, but I will be back to full staff by the fall of 2015.

Folks considering getting a puppy need to realize that a well-trained and semi-experienced hunting dog takes two years. This seems like a really long time, but when you see your hunting companion getting to the age of 9-10 you will think that time went really fast. I get calls all the time from new puppy owners asking questions about their new arrival. My response to almost all of them is that the behavior is normal and that 4-8 more weeks will be the solution to the issues at hand.

My favorite issue is that the puppy is chewing up things. What can I do about this? I am of the opinion that puppies experience everything new from their mouths to their brain. Chewing is normal. Keep away the nine best shoes and get them a few chew toys that they can chew on.

I did lose one pair of really good hunting boots that got the tops chewed off by my inattentiveness. When a puppy eats or chews up something he is not supposed to, I call that operator error. Puppies cannot be left unattended for any length of time without them doing all the things puppies do. I just love puppies, don’t you?

A puppy needs interaction more than anything else from zero to 6 months of age. What an owner does with the puppy from an interaction point of view has more to do with a successful outcome than any amount of formal of training can in the first few months of the puppy’s life.

I have said that the only thing a puppy needs to learn in the first few months is not to bark and to go the bathroom outside. I have covered these before many times. There are a few other things that might not seem all that important, but they will make a big impact later in the dog’s life. One is that they need to learn that whatever you want to do to them they need to let you do it.

I will many times over the next few months take my puppy and hold them in a position that they don’t like. They will squirm and squirm and make a ruckus. I will continue to do this until the puppy finally gives up. They learn that I am the boss and I have the control. When they learn that I am the leader of the pack their life will be a lot better off for having this knowledge and accepting this fact.

Another way to do this is hold on to their foot. They will pull and squirm. I will hold the puppy securely and take my finger and gently push it in and around their toes and foot pads. They will say “no way” and you will then say “yes, way.” This will take many tries until the puppy says “uncle” and stops trying to squirm. This training is necessary in the event the dog is injured and needs your help. You will need to be able to remove the splinter or bandage the cut. It doesn’t seem like a big deal in a puppy but it is a big deal years later with an adult dog.

Puppies are only puppies for a short time and you need to work with them at a level that they can understand and learn on. You might think it’s weird but I can’t wait to smell the puppy breath. An adult dog has adult breath, but there is something special about puppy breath. It only lasts a little while, and this time I will have a puppy over the summer. I normally get my puppies in September or October so they are old enough to hunt the following year. Not this time.

I can go outside in the middle of the night with my slippers on instead of the winter coat and boots. I will be back to having my three musketeers in a short month from now. We are doing a little traveling this summer and Sarge and the others will go everywhere that we can take them. Attention and exposure to many different sights and sounds is the best thing you can do for a new puppy. I look forward to the opportunity.