I will let you into a gundog training secret – don’t let the pup know she is being trained! What do I mean by this? All training should be fun, and it starts when the puppy is first brought home, with the SIT! command.
The first lessons
Whenever you feed the puppy, you should take the opportunity to teach this command.
Start by showing the puppy her meal, then lift the bowl up – the puppy will watch the food, and as her head goes up her backside (British for fanny) will go down. As it does give her your version of the verbal SIT! command.
As you place the food down for her, tell her she is a good girl in a pleasant tone, stroke her down the back then give her the food.
The puppy is learning, you have not had to push her tail down and there is no stress involved. She gets fed, associates sitting with your verbal command and pleasure from the food and your praise is linked in her mind with this happy state.
Thirty seconds at each meal time for a week, and you are in the happy position of being able to try the command away from the meal.
This time, have a little treat in your hand, show the pup the treat and let her smell it.
Give her the verbal sit command and lift your hand (always the right hand), praise her as usual and give her the treat.
An hour later (remember, little and often) if the last attempt went well, call her and lift your hand giving her the SIT! verbal command. When she sits, praise her up and make a fuss of her. No treat this time.
We are looking to give the treat every third time or so, and gradually replace the food treat with the pleasure of your attention, for the SIT! only.
Moving to the next level
When you are happy that the pup will obey reliably, try raising your hand without the verbal command, and using the verbal SIT! without the hand signal. The idea is that the trained animal will understand that she must obey a variety of signals for this one command.
With the command working at close distances, try moving back a metre/yard, and repeating the command. Do not go too far at any one time.
Once she has sat, move in quickly and praise her up, encouraging her (with food or praise, depending on her personality) to sit until you are with her. Now the emphasis should be to return to the dog, but gradually increase the distance at which she sits.
Do not call her up initially, she has to (gently) learn to remain sat until you go to her. This is to encourage her to stay until you want her to move.
With the sit command clear in the pup’s head, and when she is able to sit at a distance until you approach her and release her, start teaching her to sit to the whistle.
My personal preference is to give a short peep (the quieter the better) at the same time as you raise your hand – she will probably be sat before she realises it.
Whoops, the secret is out
Now I have inadvertently let the cat out of the bag; Dogs have better hearing than us! So it really isn’t necessary to shout commands or blast whistles at the top of your lung capacity.
We have a few more variations on the sit command, gradually increasing the distance and decreasing the reward.
An important one is to sit to shot, and this is introduced by going where a shotgun can be fired at 2 or 3 hundred yards, with you close to the puppy and giving a sit at the sound of the shot. She may need a little comforting if she is nervous, but don’t over do this because you may end up inadvertently praising nervous behaviour.
So by the time the puppy is a year old, she should be sitting to your verbal command (myself, I use a quiet sssstt!), in response to a raised hand at a distance, in response to a shot, and in response to a whistle.
What we are aiming for.
You need, during this year, to have increased the distance at which the pup is responding, initially without distractions and later with distractions, ensuring that the command is always obeyed.
Do not repeat a command unless you can enforce it.
If she does not sit go to her, and without saying a word or hurting her in any way, drag her back to where she was when she disobeyed, tell her off in a gruff voice (but not too gruff, you are building a team here and trust is very important) and then repeat the command!
Within a very short time, you can build a great relationship with your puppy based on fun and a few seconds each day. Don’t go overboard and repeat this until she is bored, remember to keep it fun.