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Most dog trainers believe that a puppy of less than six months is too young even to begin training for his life's work. In a book, Gun Dog, soon to be published by E. P. Dutton, an amateur dog trainer named Richard Wolters describes a method by which he claims he can turn a six-month-old pup into a full-fledged gun dog with the dispatch of a modern housewife brewing a pot of instant coffee.
Wolters' method is based on recent findings in the field of guide dogs for the blind (A New Lead to Superdogs, SI, June 13, 1960). He begins training the puppy at the age of 49 days, the precise age at which scientists have found that a guide dog's learning processes become active.
For the next five weeks, the puppy—which must come of good sporting stock if the experiment is to succeed—is taught the basic lessons of social behavior. At 12 weeks he is ready to begin his technical training. Using an ordinary chicken wing attached to a fly rod, Wolters conducts his classes in daily 10-minute sessions right in the family living room. The curriculum itself is divided into 12 lessons, each of which may take anywhere from one minute to several sessions.
Wolters' first lesson teaches the pup not to bolt in on a bird and scare him off. He casts the chicken wing, tied on about eight feet of line, in the air but does not let the pup catch it. As soon as the pup stops chasing after the wing, Wolters drops it on the floor in front of him. The dog soon understands that if he rushes in he loses his quarry.
In the second, third and fourth lessons Wolters refines the dog's point, a form of stalking that comes naturally to certain breeds. When the pup grows tired of chasing the wing he will change his tactics and stalk in on it. As soon as he does, Wolters signals him to stop and stay before he reaches the wing. This is the beginning of a point.
Sometimes a young pup becomes so excited at the scent of a bird that he points prematurely. In the fifth lesson he must be taught to move in cautiously until he is close to the bird, but not so close that he flushes it. Wolters puts the pup on point several yards from the chicken wing. Then, using slow, easy words and gestures, he encourages him to move in close. If he bolts, he swings the wing out of reach.
By continuing to make the chicken wing play the part of a live bird in further situations, by using a scrub brush as a dead bird (the bristles teach the pup to mouth it gently) and by using a cap pistol to simulate a shotgun, Wolters confidently claims he can teach his gun pup all the tricks of the field.
"Remember," Wolters concludes, "we can't teach a dog to hunt; his breeding takes care of that. But we can teach him how to hunt. Given the proper training from his 49th day on, any spring puppy from good field stock can, in my belief, become a full-fledged gun dog by the time the next fall season opens."