Performing with Confidence and Drive
by Joe Law

13 June 2013

Many triallers when training young dogs reach a point where their dog appears to slow and lose interest in retrieving.  This can be a critical time for both the dog and the handler and requires careful thought, patience and time to work through this stage in the dog’s education and development.
The first step will be to examine the possible causes and these can be various. There is little doubt that breeding can be part of the explanation and if your dog has been bred from sound stock with parents and grand-parents that have displayed strong retrieving drive then it is more likely that the problem and its treatment will lie elsewhere.  Training faults are often developed by putting too much pressure on young dogs to perform perfectly from the outset. For example, young retrievers will need to be gently weaned off tendencies to play with the dummy, putting the dummy down and not delivering to hand. Dog handlers who lack patience and respond by placing undue pressure on the dog to perform can easily create both confusion and uncertainty in the dog’s mind resulting in a no-go reaction from the dog.  Unless this situation is turned around quickly a young dog can easily lose all interest in retrieving.  In the above situation it is often better to immediately cease retrieving games in the field and move to a place not associated with retrieving, such as your garage or lounge room and gently encourage you dog to take and hold various objects. The aim would be for the dog to associate a command such as “fetch” with the act of getting and holding something in its mouth. The command “hold “ can then be used to extend the time the dog holds the dummy (or object). Finally, when “fetch” and “hold” are understood and the dog rewarded with praise for this achievement a further command such as “give” or “drop” can be introduced to teach the dog to release into your hand. Only when these commands are comfortably understood and reliably complied with will it be time to associate them with even the simplest acts of retrieving.

Good trainers soon learn the importance of combining patience with the ability of simplifying tasks into numerous smaller tasks when working through a problem. Well timed praise handed out at each moment of compliance is a tried and true formula for success.

Photo by Lara Sedgmen

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

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