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Retriever Training Plan

Make a plan and constantly evaluate
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  • photo by Bronson Barclay
  • photo by Jesse Ehren
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Story at a Glance
  • A training plan causes us to remain focused on skill development, to reflect and to document.
  • The plan must be detailed, flexible and under constant evaluation.
  • Successful training is progressive learning achieved through consistent repetition of related skills to the point of habit formation.
  • Training a pup is much like eating an elephant: It's best done one bite (step) at a time.

We have all heard it said, "We don't plan to fail; we fail to plan." This is one of those absolute truths that's true of retriever training, as well as life in general. A training plan causes us to remain focused on skill development, to reflect and to document. It requires one to think in terms of causal relationships rather than individual drills or exercises.

It encourages the handler to proceed more slowly and not skip mastering important small steps, which may prove problematic later in training. A progressive training plan actually promotes the dog's learning chain: sequenced thinking and learning built upon the successes of the former lesson or skill. This is, of course, the way dogs learn behaviors.

The plan itself must be detailed, flexible and under constant evaluation. You may find yourself re-engineering and altering the sequence of things, adding steps, deleting unproductive drills, etc., over time, which is expected and proper procedure. Also remember, what works for one gundog may not work for another. Dogs, like people, have different aptitudes, maturity, temperaments and attitudes. Training plans must be flexible to account for these variables.

Each training session should be a planned, thought-out event. What are you going to achieve? Are today's lessons building on previous exposures/successes? Do we see a natural progression even if we are working on problem areas? This is no place for random jumping about to a variety of drills you read about in your newest training magazine. Stick to the plan!

Successful training is progressive learning achieved through consistent repetition of inter-related skills to the point of habit formation. If you randomly apply tips, concepts, drills, exercises or commands, confusion may occur or you may leave holes in your dog's development, which will become evident in later performance.

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