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10 Pitfalls in Retriever Training

Top pitfalls trainers face and how to correct them
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9. Postponing Hand Signals

Another common mistake is to wait to introduce hand signals until a pup has completed extensive marking training and has had some actual hunt experience. This strategy promotes a self-employed, overly independent dog. What we want to produce is an interdependent hunting partner who readily works with us to locate game, and one who easily complies with direction in the field. Get the young dog handling well on casts and whistle commands before providing too many marking exercises and certainly before hunting exposure.

10. Poor Timing

Incorrect timing of praise and rewards for correct behavior is meaningless. Incorrectly timed correction or punishment for inappropriate behavior likewise has no value and is often counterproductive. A simple rule applies here: To be effective in modifying behavior, rewards and/or corrections must occur exactly when the desired or undesired behavior occurs, and at the location of the action. If we wait to reward a great cast or stylish water entry with verbal praise until the dog returns to our side, the dog associates the reward with returning to heel with the bumper, which is his most recent act, not the act we wanted to encourage.

The same is true of correction. Negative behavior or improper response to commands must be corrected immediately at the time of the behavior and as close to the exact spot of the infraction as possible. For instance, a non-response on a stop whistle must be corrected immediately and in the exact place the refusal occurred, if possible. It requires immediately returning the dog to the exact spot where the refusal occurred, making the correction and re-emphasizing the command at that location. This is why we must thoroughly drill skills to proficiency on land before progressing to water, unless we are fond of swimming.

Correction in dog training seems to be a favored method for many trainers. Actually, reward stimulus usually carries a much more powerful behavior modification effect if properly utilized. Yet, from my observation of handlers, they do not properly reward their prospects in training enough for effort, and when they do, it is usually mis-timed, holding little meaning for their dog.

Parting Thought: As always, the best strategy for gundog training is to set pups up to succeed and to not condition in a problem that will have to be rectified later.

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