For Early Retriever Training
by Joe Law
30 January 2012
of the main attributes that distinguish retrievers from other breeds of
dogs showing strong hunt and pursuit characteristics is the retriever’s
ability to retrieve game with a soft and gentle mouth. This is an
extremely important attribute to a hunter of game birds that must be
retrieved in a condition fit for the table.
Soft mouth is
fundamentally a breed characteristic that needs to be maintained and
bred on and therefore given careful attention in any breeding programme
of retrievers. It would also therefore be wise to look for good mouth
habits in the parents of any retriever pup you may seek to
From an early age some pups will show a natural instinct to want to
carry objects around with a soft and tidy mouth and this is often a
good sign. That having been said, young pups will often bite down hard
on a bird and then grow out of that tendency when raised properly and
learn not to consider game as their food. Early retriever training is
therefore usually best introduced on training dummies with only an
occasional opportunity to experience retrieving fur and feather.
is questionable if an inherently hard-mouthed dog can be changed into a
soft-mouthed dog with training. Certainly, steps can be taken to avoid
mouth problems developing and it is wise to avoid any rough tug-o-war
type games when playing with a young dog. From an early age a
should be encouraged to bring objects it finds to you and be rewarded
with much praise when it responds in a correct manner.
love the thrill of the chase and will happily chase after objects that
are cast for them. Young retrievers can also love to be the one who is
being chased, and this aspect of play is to be avoided and discouraged.
A young dog must learn early that it is not part of retrieving for it
to run off with a dummy and we simply don’t play that sort of
game! The “Come” or “Here” command is a very important part
young dog’s early training and by using praise and reward a correct
response should be taught and maintained both on and off lead and be
reliably established before formal retrieving training commences.
“Fetch”, “Hold” and “Give” commands need to be taught with the dog
responding to these commands with a firm but soft mouth. The
trainers own demeanour while teaching these commands needs to firm,
patient and consistent with short and frequent sessions producing the
best results. Inexperienced trainers often overdo the use of
force in attempts to hasten the process but this usually has an adverse
effect and only slows progress. Excessive force can also result in
other faults such as the dog adopting a stand off position at the point
of delivery and even freezing on the bird. The use of food as a reward
motivation during this process is not usually recommended, as its
presence seems to only encourage the dog to spit out the dummy in its
anticipation of receiving a treat. Only when the correct responses are
well established can food be offered as a final reward.
these basic fetch, hold and give responses are routine then it will be
time to combine fetching, carrying and delivering the dummy with other
basic obedience exercises of heeling, sitting, staying and coming. When
these basic skills are in place a dog is ready to be introduced to the
excitement of retrieving sighted articles that will be cast and
retrieved. The retrieve will now become the reward for properly
executing all the basic commands and food rewards can be reduced and
eventually omitted. From now on the dog should only be released on
command to retrieve when the retrieve is being carried out in
conjunction with excellent line manners and steadiness.
once these basic training behaviours have become routine, there will be
a whole new and exciting world of retrieving opening up for you and
Photo by Lara Sedgmen
This is an edited
version of an article that first appeared in the May 2012 issue of Dogs
page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc.
(Affiliated with Dogs NSW)