Rookie Season
Field & Stream|Volume 125 - Issue 3, 2020
A pup’s first year, from preseason training to fall’s big show
Phil Bourjaily

IT’S 2 A.M., and I’m thinking that the best thing about puppies is that it’s not long before they’re dogs. That’s grouchy and uncharitable, but I want to be in bed at this hour, not waiting in the backyard for a German shorthair pup to pee.

At least I’m not standing in snow. Pick a puppy born between March and May, and those middle-of-the-night outings take place in late spring and summer, and the puppy is just old enough to hunt during his first fall. It’s a long journey compressed into a few months, and there’s a lot to do.

SPRING TRAINING

Zeke yowls in his crate the whole way home from the breeder. I remember now why I waited until my old dog, Jed, was 11 to start again. Getting a puppy is like having a baby in the house. At first Zeke spends several hours a day asleep in my lap as I work, and he is cute. But there are also the interrupted nights, the cleanup, the puppy proofing, the vigilance. The playpen I bought gives me a safe place to stash the pup, but only until he learns to climb out of it after a week and not before he eats his new dog bed. What Zeke likes best is lying under the couch, where he can tear at the upholstery while waiting in ambush for Jed.

Crate training is the first order of business, then basic obedience starts at home and ramps up with puppy kindergarten at 12 weeks. Everything a bird dog truly needs to know it can learn in kindergarten: his name; the commands sit, stay, and come; and how to play well with others. The rest is instinct, honed through contact with birds, but that comes later.

At the first class, we meet the instructors plus 10 other puppies and their owners. We all wear nail aprons full of dog treats. Zeke shines at obedience and flies through

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