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5 Key Points for Training Your Retriever

Robert Milner explains training fundamentals
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Story at a Glance

Keypoints to be discussed in this article are:

  • Obedience first
  • Coming on command
  • Too much dog
  • Electronic collars
  • Selective breeding

5. Selective Breeding

We have forgotten the basic goals of breeding selection and have embarked on a course of producing better dogs by training rather than breeding.

The Labrador is the breed I most commonly work with, and I am alarmed at the trends I see. It has become the general custom to force-fetch train every dog. This corrects any tendency to drop birds, mouth birds or run off to the bushes with birds. It also masks the genetic tendencies toward those behaviors.

We are now masking with training the major trait that we spent a hundred years developing through selective breeding - namely, delivery to hand with a soft mouth. If we take a hard-mouthed dog and put him through the force-fetch program so that he delivers gently to hand, then he will behave like a great dog. We may even make him a field champion through superior training. However, his puppies will still have that genetic tendency toward hard mouth, and we will be going backwards in the selective-breeding process.

Two other examples of behaviors that have a very significant genetic component that we mask with training are:

Hyperactivity
We train the hyperactive dog to be under control and be a gentleman. The electric collar is quite popular for this. Put a hyperactive dog in the hands of a good trainer with an electric collar and that dog will make an excellent gun dog or field-trial dog, but his puppies probably will inherit the same hyperactivity. His puppies will be just as difficult to train as the sire was.

Cooperative Nature
We generally characterize these dogs as "soft" and tend to give them away as pets when they flunk the electric-collar program. Thus we are tending to remove from the breeding pool dogs that exhibit this valuable trait. This trait of "cooperative nature" is of extreme importance to the average hunter, because the average hunter is usually quite unfamiliar with dog training.

The gist of all this is that the average hunter is low in dog-training skills, which is as it should be. The community of dog experts should be promoting the selective breeding of a dog that the average hunter can train and enjoy. We should not be breeding a dog with a bundle of genetically transmitted behavioral tendencies that make him difficult to train into a good working dog. The average hunter should not have to get a Ph.D. in dog training in order to come up with a dog that is pleasant to hunt with and pleasant to live with.

We probably need to look back to England for solutions. They still have the same field trials they had 80 years ago, still selectively breed for major traits and still get rid of dogs that lack a cooperative nature and predisposition toward trainability.

I, for one, get my personal dogs from England. They are calm, cooperative and pleasant to live with, and they find all the birds I shoot. I've gotten lazy and prefer a dog that has gotten most of the required talents through selective breeding.

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