Tips for Beginning Retriever Training

Article originally appeared in “On the Wing”, a monthly e-mail newsletter by Pheasants Forever

Train To Your Expectations

There are many schools of thought regarding the best methods for training a finished retriever. The extent and style of training will often depend on the activities you plan to perform with your dog. For example, your standards of acceptable training may be very different if you plan to do a lot of Hunt Tests or Field Trials versus an effective dog for recreational hunting. We tailor our training to the individual needs of the dog owner.

Most retrievers from good hunting lines will show natural tendencies to hold, carry and retrieve objects in their mouths. Some pups will retrieve directly to your hand with very little or no training. Others will drop things on the ground or just run around playing keep-away. Our goal is to develop a finished bird dog that consistently delivers birds to heel and hand. In order to achieve consistent delivery, force/hold and force-fetching a puppy is ideal around 6 months of age or whenever his adult teeth have come in.

Basics Don’t Change

Whether for hunting or competition, there are some basic “Do’s & Don’ts” for retrieve training that are fairly constant. These are essential to build the foundation for a well conditioned bird dog that consistently retrieves to your expectations.

Basic Do’s & Don’ts

  1. When the pup gets to the point it is no longer returning to you with an object, put a check cord on the pup so they are forced to return to you.
  2. Praise your pup when he returns to you and while he is still holding the object in his mouth. Do not remove the object immediately, let him hold it and praise him.
  3. Watch the corrections you give when retrieving. Higher drive pups can be corrected more while with a lower desire retrieving pup you may need to do less correcting.
  4. Start by throwing retrieves in confined areas. This helps limit distractions and encourages direct returns. A hallway works great for doing this.
  5. Avoid training sessions being too long. Keep them fun and make them successful.
  6. Introduce your pup to birds and feathers as young as possible. Getting a puppy into water at a young age is always a great idea as well.

Right From The Start

If possible, it is much better to avoid undesirable behavior from the start since it is much easier to learn proper behavior when you don’t have to unlearn improper behavior first. From a very early age, it is essential to consistently reinforce the behavior you want. If the pup is picking things up and carrying them, use encouragement to get him to bring it to you. When he brings it to you, praise him and let him enjoy the prize with you. The most important thing is to start your pup off right by making it fun to retrieve the right way every time.

To learn more about Todd’s training methods, visit www.arrowheadkennels.net.