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Starting a new Retrieving Puppy
by Joe Law

23 December 2012

Whether you have trained dogs before or you are relatively new to this venture every fresh start with a puppy will be a somewhat different experience. Previous experiences certainly add to both your knowledge and skill base but because every puppy comes as a unique individual every new start is going to provide more experience with new opportunities and challenges.

Training programs do vary and truly experienced trainers know that what worked in one training environment involving one set of personalities will not necessarily produce the same outcomes in another. Flexibility in approach to training is one of the hallmarks of truly experienced trainers. Flexibility however, should not be confused with inconsistency. Flexibility requires an ability to empathise with your dog, having considerable patience and perseverance along with the ability to initiate new ways of simplifying the learning process for your dog. Inconsistency, on the other hand, is more likely to be recognised and associated with a lack of the above qualities and resulting in situations where the dog is unable to understand what is being asked of it in order to be correct.  Inconsistency leads to confusion, uncertainty and ultimately the lack of trust between dog and handler.

PuppiesThe first six months of a puppy’s life is a period of rapid growth and development during which he must learn to cope in the environments that are about to surround his future life. From the time you take delivery of your new pup his education will begin and you will play an integral part in his development. While this period is not generally considered to be a time for formal retriever training much needs to be done to condition your dog for his future role in life. Through play and pleasant experiences with you he will learn to cope in a number of different environments. Combined with good nutrition, rest and quiet time he will also learn to meet and greet strangers of both human and animal kind. He must learn to accept being confined in a crate and being restrained by collar and lead. He will have a short concentration span and tire easily so training will be carried out in short sessions. It is important to find time and expose him to those environmental situations that involve noises, crowds, travel, stairs and ramps. He will need to be introduced to different terrains that involve various forms of cover and water.

Your pup can learn and should be taught to come when called and this can easily be introduced by using food and praise as a reward. In the same way simple obedience commands of sit, stay and heeling can be introduced at an early age. His natural drive to retrieve can then be awakened with some playful fetch games but these should be carefully managed so that bad habits of breaking, whining and barking along with failure to return and deliver to hand are not inadvertently developed.

Formal structured retriever training is best introduced after the pup has reached six months of age and will be best left as subjects of future articles.

Photo by Lara Sedgmen

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the July 2013 issue of Dogs NSW magazine.

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