5 Tips for Retriever Training
What goes into developing a confident and reliable retriever for your hunting needs? Listed below are five of the most important training components when starting a young retriever.
Before you can begin training your retriever to mark and fetch, it should first develop a solid foundation in basic obedience. Whether you train your dog yourself or attend a basic obedience class, you should not move on to any hunting-related skills until your pet has mastered commands such as Sit, Here, Heel and No.
Rock Solid Recall while Distracted
Next, your dog needs to develop a reliable recall that is consistent 100% of the time, no matter the distractions presented. After your dog has mastered recall in the classroom or yard, work on long-range recall by using a check cord to remind your dog the intended command. When you are confident in your pet’s abilities, move to off-leash training with the help of an electronic collar.
Steadying Your Retiever
A retriever needs to sit by the hunter at all times and not leave the owner’s side until he or she is sent to retrieve the bird. For some retrievers, this is a difficult task due to their excitement. Once your dog has mastered basic obedience, steadying is the next step which is to ensure your dog honors his or her commands at all times. The first step is to use a prong collar to give your pet leash commands if it tries to break position. Once your dog is steady with the collar and lead, use an electronic collar to provide corrections if your dog strays. You can practice this step long before your dog is ready to hunt with you by using a place board and practicing long sit/stay commands. If your dog cannot master this skill with few distractions, it will have a difficult time doing so when the reward is the retrieval.
Sit at the Sound of Gunfire
As an extension of steadying your dog should learn from a very young age that gunfire does not automatically mean it is time to retrieve. By teaching the dog to dissociate the sound of the gun with a downed bird, you can help him or her associate the sound of a gun with calmness, leading to full attention on the hunter’s commands.
Conditioned retrieve refers to teaching a dog to fetch on command, instead of out of natural instinct. There are two common ways to teach force fetching, mainly with negative reinforcement or positive reinforcement. The first method involves applying uncomfortable pressure to the dog, typically its ear or toes, and teaching the dog that the only way to turn off the discomfort is to take something into its mouth, like a dowel or bumper. Over time, retrieval commands are overlaid. The second method is common among the British and is picking up steam in America. Here, the dog is trained to retrieve using positive reinforcement only, by engaging the dog with a dowel or dummy. At first, the dog is rewarded for simply interacting with the dummy; next, the dog is rewarded for picking up the dummy; next the dog is caught to “come,” and so on. Overall, there is not a right or wrong way to go about retriever training, but these five basic skills are paramount to having a well-behaved dog in the field.
Joe Scarpy – Bull Valley Retrievers