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10 Pitfalls in Retriever Training

Top pitfalls trainers face and how to correct them
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3. Waiting to Steady

People are fearful that if they attempt to steady their pups early in basic gundog training, the dog will lose enthusiasm and drive. Not true if properly accomplished with gentle methods. Steadiness to shot and fall is one of the most important lessons a young dog will learn. Any properly bred retriever can mark and retrieve with very little formal training; it's knowing when not to retrieve that takes the conditioning. Start denying pup retrieves early. Pick up 50% of all bumpers and later 50-60% of all the downed birds on your pup's first few hunts. Condition patience from the beginning.

4. Too Many Meaningless Marks

After a pup is enthusiastic about early retrieves (no more than two to three per session), there is little point in continuing meaningless, repetitive, hand-thrown retrieves in elementary sessions. Once the pup dashes out, picks the mark and returns to the handler, nothing more is necessary. Marks now must teach something - falls in long grass, in water, over water onto land or in high crops.

Marks can be used to teach doubles, lengthen the dog's retrieving distance, or to exercise watching the sky. Excessive marking can be counterproductive by unsteadying the pup and promoting independence rather than interdependent relationships. Additionally, marking to improve memory is actually the poorest of methods. Place more emphasis in the early stages of training on steadiness and memory development rather than marks.

5. Setting Pups Up to Fail

Nothing is learned from failure in the dog world. It is vital that pups succeed every time in training to develop confidence in you and in themselves. Don't expect young dogs to exceed their capabilities. Nothing succeeds like success. If necessary, walk out and help locate the fall yourself, shorten distances, simplify the concept or re-visit basic core skills. Train, don't test.

Teach every skill within a concept and then link them together. Dogs learn from association established through consistent repetition. In effect, we are establishing a learning chain through causal relationships. Be careful not to circumvent this process. Think "win, win" ... how can the exercise be set up to enhance the possibilities of success?

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