First, consider the preliminaries:
- Steadiness is an extension of obedience. Ensure compliance with obedience commands prior to enforcing steadiness.
- Avoid too many meaningless retrieves for pups; they serve only to overexcite the dog. Keep retrieves between 2 to 4 per week in pre-training, 6 to 8 marks per week in early basic training and reduce marking drills to perhaps 1 session in 5 as training progresses. Concentrate on memories, site blinds, diversions, etc. Read more about meaningless retrieves and other training don'ts in Retriever Training: What Not to Do!
- Don't expose your retriever prospects to hunting situations until basic training is complete. Ideally, the age for a pup's first hunt should exceed 12 months, allowing greater maturity.
- Too many birds at a young age overexcites pups. Keep bird exposure limited to brief sessions reintroduced periodically throughout basic training. Avoid bird-crazy training sessions unless you have a very low-drive dog needing motivation.
- Involve dogs in group work where the retriever must remain patient, still and quiet while honoring other dogs. The quietest dogs gets the retrieve, thereby making them realize that patience brings about the reward of a retrieve.
- Make the association between gunfire and something to retrieve the best-kept secret between you and your young dog. The connection will be realized quickly enough. Train young dogs to sit at the sound of gunfire.
- Pick up 75 percent of all downed birds yourself the first hunting season, keeping the rookie tied in the blind or at heel to avoid mishaps. We do not want to reward running in with a retrieve, thereby reinforcing negative behaviors.