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10 Pitfalls in Retriever Training

Top pitfalls trainers face and how to correct them
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7. Counterproductive Interference

Many hunting dog prospects spend much of their time in uncontrolled environments such as the home, apartment or office, where they remain unconfined during off-training periods. Well-meaning friends, visitors or neighbors commonly confront them with opportunities for dysfunctional behavior/activities. Dogs are learning all the time, not just in training.

Question what is being learned outside the controlled training environment. Many times the experiences occur while the owner/handler is not present. People love to amuse themselves by playing with an eager, enthusiastic retriever, and they may be promoting unsteadiness by tossing repeated, meaningless retrieves; encouraging free running or swimming; or perhaps even a bit of rough house, tug-of-war, or chase. Guests, kids at home and neighbors all may unintentionally become ambassadors of hyperactivity and dysfunctional habits for our gundogs.

People may also interfere with the concentration of your dog/pup during training by attempting to praise, interact or provide treats while the dog is involved in a session. These acts are seemingly harmless from the individual's perspective. They want to interact only briefly with your dog, but the practice must be discouraged and avoided.

a. Establish rules for family members to follow when handling the dog while you are away.

b. Instruct visitors and neighbors about acceptable conduct with your dogs, especially pups.

c. If you cannot control the situation while you are absent, control the dog's environment. Invest in a space where the dog can remain away from others while you're away, such as an outdoor pen, enclosure, etc.

d. Don't allow others to interfere with or distract your dog while involved in training.

8. Late Whistle Introductions

Often, individuals introduce whistle commands far too late in the pup's training cycle. Starting pups very young on the whistle for recall (here) and sit (stop) pays huge dividends, yet most ignore the opportunity. Introduce the whistle by associating pleasurable experiences early during puppyhood. Pups will readily respond to the recall whistle by eight weeks old. I have had entire litters of six-week-old pups rush to the whistle peeps in excitement.

When pups associate a positive experience with the whistle, they will respond to accept their reward of affection, food, treats, or a short retrieve ... always something positive. The same is true of the "sit" whistle. Pups can consistently comply with this whistle command by three months old. They will eagerly sit on the whistle when the associated reward is sufficient and the commands are conducted infrequently.

Waiting to implement whistle commands offers no benefit. Too often, six- to seven-month-old pups pay no heed to their handlers' recall command, making the training challenge more difficult. Similarly, once the pup has advanced in basic training and is charging hard on retrieves, whistle stops are much more difficult to introduce.

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