Retriever Training: What Not to Do

11 things to avoid during training

1. Too many retrieves

Nothing is to be gained by repeatedly throwing objects for the pup to retrieve. If you have selected a properly bred pup, the retriever desire is there genetically as is marking, delivery and birdiness. This is what you paid for when you bought the pup. Too many retrieves at an early age just promotes:

  • Hyperactivity and excitement
  • Boredom, if overdone
  • Running about with the object or dropping it in pursuit of more interesting endeavors, both resulting from boredom

A couple of short retrieves with a soft bumper or sock per week in a confined area are enough.

2. Tug-of-war

Tug-of-war is a horror to fix when you later expect nice delivery of your bird. Pull nothing from your pup's mouth or do things which promote hard mouth. I actually saw a film on the market that recommends this frolicking practice to increase desire! This is a NEVER.

3. Allowing pups to play with and chew on bumpers

Some recommend this practice to increase a retriever's desire and regard for the bumper, but it does just the opposite, making him see the bumper as a toy instead of an element of his work. Teaching your retriever to respect the bumper will directly result in his respect for retrieves in the field.

4. Free swimming in swimming pools or ponds

Uncontrolled and unrestricted swimming will produce pups that know no difference when it's time for water work. The pup may decide to hit the water for a refreshing dip when the moods strikes him... right in the middle of your training session. And how does the handler respond? You can find him running the bank in a frenzy, yelling and peeping the whistle. In this case, the handler is teaching the pup something special: "Hey, I'm out here where the boss can't get me... this is great!" I've seen this too many times. Handlers teach too early that the pup can get beyond his control. I try never to let a pup discover that he is not in some way under my control.

5. Chasing a pup with an object in his mouth

Never chase a pup for any reason: in play, when he won't come or when he is carrying an object. The pup will soon pick up that bumper or bird and stand there or bound around hoping to solicit a chase from you. This is a bear to correct.

6. Not coming when called

Settle this early and don't reward running away. Never call to punish. Don't call and then do things the pup doesn't like, such as give him a shot, put him in the crate, etc.

7. Overuse of bribes

Take this example from Wyoming. The pup would not come, so tidbits were used to encourage the pup. This is not a problem in limited use at first, but these handlers took the low, easy road and kept up the use of food treats as the reward for coming when called. The dog now only comes when tidbits are offered. No reward, no compliance. Who is training whom? Get the pup to understand two words at a very young age: "No," and, "Here."

8. Bolting or running away

When a pup merely bolts to avoid your desirables, this must be dealt with quickly and at an early age. If it persists, when you start to train and the pup decides there are better pursuits elsewhere, you will have a much faster and more determined fugitive on your hands.

9. Allowing pups to run free

This is much like #8: When a pup tires of present company and he has been allowed to run free for months before beginning training, he takes to the wind. I have one in training now that often runs away, and you never know when he'll take off. He'll make a couple of nice marks, and then he may over run the next one and return some 45 minutes later. Keep pups under control at all times.

Wait until dogs are older to shoot over them10. Shooting over pups while too young

Most gun shyness is manmade. Forget introducing gunfire by shooting over pups while they eat. How would your kids react to surprise shots while they partake quietly of their Cocoa Puffs? Gunfire conditioning comes much later and employs a much more logical, progressive format.

11. Other common, ill-advised practices include:

  • allowing playing with dead birds

  • putting the pup on live birds too early, which may scare him

  • letting the pup jump off objects, i.e. boats, porches, pickup beds - this damages more hips and shoulders in the United States than genetic problems

  • snatching objects from the pup's mouth

  • punishing the pup for carrying valuable objects in this mouth (Nike shoes, etc.)

  • allowing the pup to chase off game (rabbits, chickens, etc.) at an early age - others may claim this builds drive or is amusing for the pup

  • rough housing with the kids, which can result in the pup being intimidated or injured. When the kids pick up or drag the pup by his legs, the pup's hips could be damaged. Never allow kids to play with pups unsupervised - an unpopular statement, I know... but you do want an easily trained gundog, don't you?

  • retrieving sticks, especially in water

  • throwing the pup into the water, especially cold water

Another Wildrose Kennels law of training: "Don't condition something into your pup that you must train out at a later time." Pups don't forget. The most important element in pre-training socialization is to develop the pup's confidence in you. Good or bad, the pup won't forget. So, my friends, let's make it good!

"Don't condition something into your pup that you must train out at a later time." Pups don't forget. The most important element in pre-training socialization is to develop the pup's confidence in you. Good or bad, the pup won't forget. So, my friends, let's make it good!

"Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends." -Alexander Pope, 1709