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First Retrievers - Make it Fun

August/September 1993

Debra Folsom

the field for a romp throughthe tules, or a splash in the water does him a lot of good, and in town, a walk or run in the park can be of equal benefit. Locked in a kennel or back yard, day after day, a youngster learns very little. Get him out with you where he learns to interact with humans and the great outdoors. This will make him more trainable for a Gun dog. Many people think that by sending a dog to a trainer, he will automatically be able to turn him into a duck dog. Unless a dog is well socialized and adjusted to a variety of normal situations encountered outside the dog run, the trainer often faces an impossible task.


Not all retrievers have the same desire to retrieve or love of birds, but started early, we have seen some marginal dogs become excellent retrievers. They don't all love water either but it is easier to get used to on a warm day playing with the kids or chasing after you as you set your decoys.


We start our pups retrieving a small canvas dummy. They are light-weight and easy to carry even during teething. You can start him retrieving this in the house and then out in the yard. Hold him up so he watches and toss the dummy with the other hand. As the dummy lands, release the pup while calling his name. Later if you expect him to honor another dog's retrieve, if you use his name to send him, there will be no doubt which dog was sent to retrieve and which dog should honor. When the pup picks up the dummy, clap your hands and call him to you while moving backwards. Catch the pup in your arms and take the dummy from him commanding, "Drop." Of course he doesn't know this command so you might have to open his mouth for him. By moving backwards as he returns, you encourage the dog to come right in to you rather than move away or drop the dummy before he gets to you. First retrieves should be in plain sight and be a fun event for the pup. Don't try to steady him at this point. This is a game you want him to love to play. Quit while he's still anxious for more, rather than go on and on until he loses interest. There's always tomorrow!


Many pups won't want to bring the dummy back and maybe even play "keep away." Don't let this habit develop. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to break up. With a very young pup, go back to a hallway inside the house and throw the dummy to the end of the hall, where there is nowhere else to go, but back to you. In the yard attach a 75 foot nylon line to his collar and when he picks up the dummy, give him a 

the dog, or both in the rope. It's best to wear longjerk commanding "here." A rope is also useful in the water, but take great care not to entangle yourself, the dog, or both in the rope. It's best to wear long pants and gloves when working with ropes. If you throw the dummy in open swimming water, the dog has no choice but to return to shore. You can move around the shore and greet him as he lands or put him on the rope and jerk him up to you.


When your pup is retrieving the dummy well, replace it with a dead pigeon. The younger you introduce him to feathers, the better. A steady diet of birds is not good because we want to keep him retrieving the dummy as well. Don't throw the bird for him, then the dummy, because he'll probably ignore it and go looking for another bird. If you're going to use both in one session, start with the dummy and save the bird for last. If the pup wants to chew on the bird rather than bring it back, throw it in swimming water and he won't have much choice. Don't scold him. Proper bird handling is not a natural trait. It is a trained skill we'll teach him later. Early retrieves should be fun and exciting for the pup. We want him to love it. We'll teach him how to do it properly later. Don't throw sticks for a retriever. You'd be very embarrassed if your dog retrieved a stick and left your duck floating in the pond. Only dummies and birds are acceptable objects to retrieve. And remember to put your dummy away. It is not a chew toy.


It's very simple to introduce a shot at a distance as the pup is returning from a retrieve. A small blank pistol is best, but any gun is fine at a distance. A 12 gauge touched off beside him is likely to scare a pup right-out of his skin, but a smaller gun 25 yards away, shot while he's doing something he likes, usually has little effect. When he's accustomed to the shot, have an assistant shoot the gun and throw the dummy while he watches. Pretty soon he'll be anxiously looking for the throw when he hears the shot.


Even if your pup is too young to take along hunting this season, a trip to the duck club can be a beneficial training experience. Just getting a youngster out in the field with you provides an opportunity for him to develop the skills he'll need for his career as a duck dog.

With the hunting season fast approaching, most of us will be making a trip or two out to the duck blind to set decoys, rearrange cover, etc. and this can provide some excellent opportunities to expose a pup to many of the things he'll encounter in a day's shoot. Just getting a youngster out in

jerk commanding "here." A rope is also useful in the water, but take great care not to entangle yourself, the dog, or both in the rope. It's best to wear long pants and gloves when working with ropes. jerk commanding "here." A rope is also useful in the water, but take great care not to entangle yourself,


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