Training a retriever can be one of the most rewarding experiences any hunter can have. There are no secrets involved: just patience, repetition, perseverance, consistency and the ability to anticipate reaction. In short, the trainer needs to be just a little smarter than his pupil. This is not always as easy as it sounds. The goal for the hunter is to have a well-trained, well-controlled hunting companion that is easy to have around and does not hinder his ability to hunt and enjoy the few days a year that we all have to get away from the boss and the telephone.
Puppies should be started at seven weeks with playful games using the small dummies with a few drops of scent. Tease the pup with the dummy and toss it a few yards. Your excitement will pump him up. This should be fun! As he starts after the dummy call his name. This will be his release later. As soon as he gets to the dummy, start blowing the Roy Gonia™ whistle and start running away from him. In the excitement, he may drop the dummy. Don’t worry; he thinks you are leaving him. If he does drop it, just start over.
When he does catch you with the dummy in his mouth, take it from him and praise him incessantly. Let him know he did well by voice and pats. Be certain to get down to his level as a large person can be very intimidating to a ten pound puppy. Repeat this several times until he’s got it down. Limit these sessions to about 15 minutes so as not to create any boredom. This should all be fun and exciting for the youngster. If you can repeat this exercise two or three times a day for a week or two, your pup will start to get excited every time you grab the dummy. That’s what you want!
It’s good if during these sessions you can be isolated from any other activities and people. The pup’s attention span is very limited at this age and any distractions will deter from his response. Also do not play tug-of-war with the dummy. This can cause serious problems later with real game.
The puppy should, after several sessions, be crazy to get this funny looking bird. When he brings it to you now, kneel down and meet him when he returns with the dummy. This time, don’t take the dummy from him immediately. Instead, hold him by the collar, making certain he doesn’t drop the dummy, and show him how to sit, still holding the dummy. Pet him and soothe him in a reassuring voice until he is comfortable sitting and holding. From here on, never take the dummy until he is in the sitting position.
When taking the dummy from him, always use the same word(s) and never play tug-of-war! When taking it, give the command, (e.g. drop, give, thank you), place one hand on the collar to control him and grasp the dummy, twisting it so it will roll out with pressure applied up against his upper jaw. This will allow for a smooth, easy release. Some pups like to hold on tight. If this is the case take the hand off the collar and wrap this hand over the top of his nose down to his canines, making certain his lips are between your finger and his canines. Apply a slight amount of pressure on his lips against his teeth. This is a minor pain but works well to remind him that the dummy belongs to you. When the dummy is free, pour on the praise. He’s been a good boy! You are letting him know that his job is to get that dummy for you and bring it back and hold it until you take it.
Read your dog. Every dog is different; they learn and remain interested for different periods of time. Learn from these lessons when he becomes bored and disinterested. Fatigue and disinterest are easy to “read” and the duration of these sessions should be tempered by your awareness of these factors.