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Obedience for Retrievers

California Waterfowl Magazine - Spring 1988

Debra Folsom

Your pup is making some beautiful retrieves in and out of water now and you're proud, except for the fact that they drop the dummy at your feet. Sooner or later, you're going to have to teach them to "HOLD". They are at least five months old now and has their permanent teeth. Let's start with some basic obedience. It's not as much fun as retrieving, but think of it as a necessary fundamental in the educational process to become a hunting dog. We are going to expect a lot of him throughout his retrieving career, and the more discipline and response to our commands we can accomplish, the better, so let's get it done.


You will need a heavy link choke chain that will slip easily on and off the dog's head and a six foot nylon or leather lead, about one inch wide. The thinner, less expensive choke chains bend and break. We suggest you buy good equipment and put it away after training so it doesn't get chewed or lost. You can now replace the soft puppy dummy with a couple of white, plastic, knobby dummies, usually available in sporting goods stores or pet shops. They come in red and gray as well, but these colors are difficult for a dog to see since dogs are color blind. The white show up best and we want to teach our pup to rely on his eyes as well as his nose. Red and gray are used for more advanced work.


The standard position to heel a dog is on your left side, using a choke chain. Leather and nylon collars are good for attaching identification, but never use them to obedience work the dog. Put on the choke chain and remove it after the lesson, as you would the bit and bridle on a horse. There is a correct way to put on a choke chain so that it releases when you release the pressure on the lead. Put on incorrectly, it will remain tight around the dog's neck even when you release the tension on the lead.











The choke collar is used with the same principle as the bit in a horse's mouth. It is used only to correct speed or direction, with a sharp jerk. A steady pull on the reins toughens the horse's mouth, likewise the dog's neck. Have the dog sitting on your left, move forward by giving a short forward jerk on the collar, commanding "Heel". The dog should learn to walk with his head approximately even with your left knee. When he's too far forward, jerk backward, again commanding "HEEL". If he lags behind, jerk forward. Always use the verbal command with the physical correction, so he will learn the meaning of the word "HEEL". Avoid towing the dog or having him tow you. There should be slack in the lead when not correcting the dogs position. Introduction to a leash and collar can be traumatic for young pups, so be lenient. Use discretion and have a short session. Don't make it a miserable experience.

To sit the dog, jerk straight up on the lead and command "SIT". If necessary, push down on his rump at the same time. Practice getting him used to sitting straight beside you and up on his haunches, not leaning on you. The dog should sit up and on his own feet. Turning to the right, at heel, is accomplished by using short jerks pulling toward you. Jerk away from you across the dog's neck to turn left. Use your knee to bump the dog out of the way if he runs into you. Don't let him sniff the ground, keep his head up and attentive. Set out some obstacles. Dummies laying on the ground work fine, and practice heeling around them, making left and right turns, figure eights, etc.

Dog at heel position

on handler's left side.


Now we've mastered basic obedience and our dog is still wild to retrieve, whether it be on land or water, so let's begin teaching the command "HOLD". Have the dog sitting on lead, open his mouth, put the dummy in, adjusting the lips so they are not pinched by the teeth. Close his mouth and command "HOLD". You may have to hold his mouth closed or support the bottom jaw, again commanding "HOLD". Leave it in a short time and take it commanding "DROP". If he spits it out, pick up the dummy, slap him underneath the chin with it and replace it in his mouth, commanding "HOLD .... HOLD". Try to keep the dog's head up either by slapping his chin or pulling upward on the lead. He is less likely to drop it if his head and chin are up. When he catches on to the concept of holding in a "sit" position, which usually will take several lessons, start to walk with him, holding the dummy. You want to be able to heel and sit the dog without him dropping the dummy until you take it using the command "DROP".


The next progression is to have the dog sit, holding the dummy. Then move backward away from the dog and call him to you, commanding "HERE". When he comes to you, sit him in front still holding. Repeat this a couple of times before you take the dummy. This will accustom him to come into you and sit down without dropping the dummy. It's a good idea to stroke the dog's head while he's holding, commanding "HOLD", so he gets used to your reaching toward his head without dropping the dummy. He must "DROP" only on command.


All this will take time and persistence. Don't get discouraged. Take advantage of small gains and end the session with a positive note. You can teach an older dog to hold as well even if he's been dropping the bird for two years. You just have a bigger training job on your hands.


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