By Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels - Home of Drake the DU Dog
A desirable attribute of a good waterfowl retriever is the smooth delivery of downed game that is neither mangled nor crushed nor partially plucked. Both style and function dictate that retrievers not incessantly drop bumpers or birds on the return.
A gundog with a sloppy mouth attempting to deal with a lightly crippled drake mallard or pheasant will interrupt the hunt with an unnecessary frolic, possibly resulting in a lost bird.
Developing a dog that consistently delivers to hand is largely a matter of conditioning. Some pups will retrieve objects directly to hand naturally, while others bolt away with their prize and still others drop the bumper at your feet on the return.
Early on, natural delivery pups need only be encouraged while insuring that we don't interrupt that tendency with inappropriate behaviors or expectations. The sloppy-mouth pups will need a bit of gentle, repetitive, special attention to amend their behaviors before they become too entrenched.
Let's develop a gundog that always delivers undamaged birds to hand, never drops - even at the water's edge - and makes a stylish presentation upon return. We refer to this training sequence as conditioned delivery. View conditioned delivery as an important part of the training process, not as a piecemeal problem-solving activity.
Teaching appropriate response to hold and release an object on command is comparable to the importance of teaching sit, stay or down on command. All are natural behaviors in a dog, yet we want unconditional compliance on command. Conditional delivery training produces desired responses relative to the retrieve on command.