Getting your puppy started with retrieving is a lot of fun. We’ll be looking at the ‘puppy retrieve’ in three parts starting today.
How much your dog wants, or does not want, to retrieve, and how gently he does so, is a combination of both his inherited genes and of his early experiences whilst carrying items in his mouth.
The principle focus of our early retrieving practice is to cherish and nurture the desire in your dog to chase after a dummy, pick it up and bring it gently back to you.
A dog that has very little urge to retrieve will need that desire to be nurtured very carefully indeed. He will need to be greatly praised for chasing or picking up any object at all, even if they happen to be your most precious items.
This can be challenging when raising a gundog puppy in the home, but it is a vital part of his education.
Protecting ‘soft mouth’
It is wise to treat every retriever’s mouth with the greatest respect. Nothing should be pulled, snatched or tugged from him. Items you do not wish him to have should be put carefully out of his way.
Retrieving should always be rationed, always a privilege, and never allowed to become boring. A puppy can quickly become bored with repeated retrieves and a ‘refusal’ to retrieve in a pup that was previously enthusiastic, is a sign that you have seriously overdone things. Make sure you always stop with him wanting more
A natural approach
If you are lucky your gundog puppy will chase after a dummy and bring it back to your hand from the very beginning.[wp_ad_camp_1]Many dogs however require a little help.
Some dogs will chase but not pick-up, some dogs will carry out a nice retrieve and then mess up the delivery.
Some gundogs (thankfully a small minority) have absolutely no interest in chasing anything.
This kind of problem is less likely to arise with a field bred dog.
You can begin establishing a ‘puppy retrieve’ as soon as your puppy has settled in to his life in your home. Here are some reminders for you to keep in mind before you begin:
Gundog puppies – rules for nurturing the retrieve
¨ Never snatch anything from a gundog’s mouth
¨ Do praise a gundog for carrying objects in his mouth
¨ Do not play ‘tug of war’ with a gundog puppy
¨ Do not throw more than three or four retrieves in a row for a young puppy
¨ Do not throw retrieves every day
¨ Never chase a puppy – especially when it is carrying something
The objective of early retrieving is to achieve a good delivery to hand whilst maintaining the puppy’s joyful enthusiasm for the retrieve. The ‘joyful enthusiasm’ must however take priority. Without it, there is no retrieve. These are the components of the retrieve.
- The outrun
- The pick-up
- The return
- The delivery
Ideally we teach them all together in one neat parcel. However, it helps to look at each step separately as each is dependent on the step before.
The outrun – don’t make him wait
The first step in any retrieving programme is to establish the enthusiastic chasing of thrown object. We are not concerned in the first instance with ‘steadiness’. Do not attempt to restrain your puppy or make him wait. The puppy is allowed to chase the thrown dummy in the very beginning in order to establish and maintain enthusiasm and keenness.
Once the dog is retrieving with style and speed, then steadiness can be instilled. With some keen dogs this will be at a very early age, with others it will be much later.
Select the retrieving item
Your first task is to find something your pup wants to retrieve. We are also not concerned in the beginning with what the object is, provided it is safe and durable and can be used over and over again. A white or light coloured puppy-retrieving dummy makes a nice start but is certainly not essential.
Please remember the importance of never scolding your puppy for carrying any object no matter how precious it may be. The natural delivery (pup willingly bringing you his prize) is a wonderful thing but fragile at this age and easily crushed by a harsh word or snatching. First things first – lets get the puppy keenly racing after that dummy.
The first few throws
Take your pup where you have a little space and a nice flat surface where he can easily see the dummy when it lands. A large room or outside on the lawn is fine. Make sure there are absolutely no distractions (other family members, pets, leaves blowing about etc will interfere and should be avoided).
Get his attention on the dummy by tapping it in your hands and gently throw the object a short way. Just a few feet is sufficient. If the pup picks up the dummy and brings it back to you, encourage him right in close and make a gentle fuss of him when he arrives.
Don’t hurry to take the dummy off him, let him hold it for a minute or two if he wants to whilst telling him how clever he is.
Gently take the dummy from the puppy and throw it again as a reward. Do not offer him treats in exchange for releasing the dummy. Just take your time and roll it gently out of his mouth when he loosens his grip. If he still seems keen, repeat one more time, and then put the dummy away.
If he was less interested in the second throw put the dummy away now. Repeated throwing rapidly results in a bored puppy and it will then be harder to get him interested next time. Stop whilst he is having fun – his attention span will grow as he matures.
In Part Two we will look at what happens when your sessions do not go according to plan
This article is adapted from ‘The Right Start’ available from The Gundog Club bookshop.
If you enjoy my articles, you might like my new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
Hi Alistair, to work amongst game you need to train amongst game. And that usually means getting help via a pro trainer who will also be able to get you access to a rabbit pen. Pippa
Alistair Stobie says
Thanks for all these thoughts. Despite training a Cocker and being trained initially by triallers I am changing my approach closer to one you write about.
It works as long as there is little live game; steady to turn, steady to stop etc.
Add game and he hits 6th gear its hard to be encouraging when the turn whistle is missed. Not yet thought it all through.