by Dave Carty
Bad scenario number one: Your retriever runs to the mark and only about halfway back to you, then spits out the bird to devote attention to something else. Two: In the field, the dog won't return when you call, even though it minds flawlessly at home. Three: The dog breaks at the sound of the shot, dives out of the blind and, for good measure, wrecks the decoy layout while swimming through it.
Reality check: These are problems dealt with by every trainer — pro and amateur alike — and they may occur over and over again.
If there is one constant in dog training, it's that there are no quick fixes for any chronic problem — shock collars notwithstanding. There is no trainer alive today who has not run into a wall at some point in his or her career. Verily, while the sheer number of problems is as numerous as the stars in the heavens, most of them fall under four general categories.
Each category presents a dilemma and an opportunity for a sober reassessment: Are the problems due to a glitch in your training? If so, you will need to get through the situation at hand, then work on a long-term solution.
Texan Jeff Henard of High Praise Retrievers has suggestions for both. Henard is equally well versed in the ups and downs of repairing canine behavior.
Problem 1: The dog refuses to complete a retrieve.
"During an exciting situation, the dog's true habits are going to come out, good or bad," Henard says. "My wife is an eighth-grade math teacher, and in a lot of ways, training dogs is like teaching math to kids: You have to teach them to add and subtract before you can teach them to multiply and divide.
"So, if the dog refuses to retrieve, I go out there and first try to get the dog to pick up the bird. If that doesn't work, I'll put the bird in the dog's mouth and make him hold it. You have to try to get the dog to be successful, and your commands have to show the dog in black and white — this is right; this is wrong."
Once back home, Henard says, the dog is re-schooled through a fetching regimen that forces him to retrieve in exciting situations — while guns are going off, duck calls are being blown and so on. Eventually, he says, the dog will show that he understands what it is being asked of him, regardless of distractions.