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Breaking Bad Behavior

What to do if your retriever won’t stop whining or can’t sit still
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By Gary Koehler

Over the years, I’ve hunted with retrievers of all sizes, shapes, and temperaments. This extensive game-day roster includes a multitude of Labs, a smattering of goldens and Chesapeakes, and even an aged Small Munsterlander, which was just as quiet and efficient as any dog in the bunch.

What I’ve learned through observation is that not all dogs (or their trainers) are created equal. This should be no surprise to anyone who has ever owned a retriever. But I’m not talking about performance. Instead, the issue here is the dog’s bad behavior—annoyances that drive many handlers to distraction.

Two black Labs immediately come to mind. One would not sit still. That it paced the boat blind from bow to stern for four solid hours made for a subtle form of torture. True, he knocked over only one loaded shotgun, but that was plenty. The other Lab was sequestered on the front deck of a permanent duck blind, where she whined, cried, barked, and whimpered nearly the entire morning.

In their defense, both Labs did credible jobs on downed ducks. The female’s drive was extraordinary. The male was not at all intimidated by long, big-water retrieving tasks. But their obnoxious behavior between retrieves drained some of the fun out of these hunts.

“In most cases, instead of blaming the dog, the owner only has to look in the mirror to see the cause of these types of problems,” says Justin Tackett, who began training dogs at age 10 and now serves as host of the DU Waterdog television show. “If you don’t condition a dog for sitting in a boat, or in a blind, or hunting in a rice field, you can’t expect it to be successful in that situation.

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