Correcting Delivery Problems
September 23, 2010
Also, a letter from long ago sparks a tribute.
As a subscriber to Gun Dog for 20-plus years, I have really appreciated your training advice and tips. For a little history, I've had golden retrievers in the 1970s and '80s, flat-coated retrievers in the '80s and '90s and the last four years flat-coats and a Large Munsterlander. All have been good dogs and a few very good.
My question is about a four-month old male golden retriever my daughter owns. His pedigree does not show any field background and his father and mother were not used for hunting. He has great temperament (calm and confident), took to housebreaking very easily, comes when called (as well as can be expected of a pup this age) and is affectionate and curious.
Pup fetches small distances (20 yards, give or take) readily, is on a check cord and will be for quite awhile yet. He's been introduced to tracking with pheasant wings taped to a bumper and he did very well. No problems with intro to live birds and blank pistol shots.
The difficulty is, he will not give up the bird. We let him carry the bumper around, not taking it from him immediately and praising him for good work. He brings it back and the check cord helps to assure this. He was selfish with the bumper, but eventually gave it up with lip-on-tooth pressure and a twist of the bumper.
Live birds were another story. He tracked, flushed and chased them down (wing-clipped chukars) readily, got plenty of praise and brought them back. We did not take them from him and he pranced with his head up walking with us'¦very proud of himself. But he knows when it was time to take the bird. He dropped his head it was nearly impossible to remove it from his mouth. So'¦we stopped training on live birds and I thought it best to contact you, early on, for advice.
It makes me feel good when a sportsman of your varied experience turns to me for some advice. Even if not "by the book," you really aren't doing much wrong. Since you obviously are generous with time and thought expended on your dog's training and, thanks to that, have turned out useful gun dogs on your own, you can appreciate the importance of timing and application when training tips and techniques are applied.
You are also fortunate in your choice of an individual dog that is demonstrating he is an exception to the rule that pups lacking close-up ancestors showing good field ability are not a wise choice when a pup's role in life is a gunning companion. This pup, despite an unimpressive family tree, is proving to be quite a "natural," thanks to more than a few drops of inherited "hunting blood" lurking somewhere in his background. That is going to make your yard training much easier.
Knowing golden retrievers, as you must from past experience, you should know that you are dealing with about the best breed of gun dog with which to embark on the purely mechanical procedures that go into training non-slip retrievers. Most goldens are ultra eager to please; patient and forgiving enough to put up with the repetitive drills required to get the super-obedience field trial-type performance demanded.
Run-of-the-mill goldens are people pleasers; only the passivity of the dull or very smart (who outwit or play games with their trainers) pose problems. You are now playing a smart dog's game.
Before you undertake formal corrections, consider something wholly natural about which you, I, any other trainer or your dog can do nothing about. Halt all retrieving work until your pup's second set of teeth are in. He is off to a "natural" start as a retriever; picking up and carrying without by-rote drilling and cooperatively bringing dummy and game back to you.
The "sore mouth" period (between four and six months) of toothing is often the root of mouth problems in retrievers. Laying off retrieving for that month may well avoid having to force train to correct faults or polish delivery.
To overcome your dog's possessiveness, try two things. First, get out of his mouth and get to a hind leg. Grasp the dummy or bird with one hand (which will anchor the dog and make sure you retain it when he lets go). Command him to release and simultaneously (with your free hand) grasp the flap of hide that joins the hind leg to the body and lift up.
He'll let go. The lip-on-tooth pressure and dummy twist you use is fine with a majority of dogs. The leg lift avoids tussling with the recalcitrant ones and an unpleasant association with disciplining that can complicate achieving clean deliveries.
As you progress and your pup releases on command, have him sit to deliver on your left side (reminding him if necessary should he be slow in responding by swinging your bent right leg behind your stationary left to tap your right toe on his butt), reach across his shoulders with left hand which will prompt him to move his lowered head toward where you can grasp the dummy, order its release, lavish praise and move on with your training.
Even though you probably won't have to worry about this pup's prematurely dropping birds before he delivers, let's get our ducks in a row regarding praising a pup, not snatching delivered game and permitting or encouraging him to proudly parade his prize. Holding and carrying when sitting or walking at heel are fine training technique reinforcements when pups fail to fully complete their trained retrieves by delivering to hand. They are under control. When they err, they can be corrected.
Romping around and showing off looks cute. You may get a kick out of it. But it sets bad precedents. In your instance, it ties in with the ducking of head avoidance or surrendering the bird.
Taking a bird from a dog's mouth in a calm, unhurried way, as gently as possible, is always advisable. Jerking, pulling, even perfunctory removal is a dash of cold water to a cooperative dog, a reason to be sullen for a dull dog and a sock in the chops to a sensitive dog.
Praise can smooth over a lot of rough spots in training and win over dogs that can't bear much discipline if dished out at the right time. At the wrong time, it will encourage misbehavior by a confused pup. While you were pleased with pup for flushing and catching those birds, told him what a "gooood boy" he was, you did it while he was dancing, proudly prancing and being "selfish" with the bird. He liked that game!
Both punishment and plaudits must be delivered at the right time. Always give consideration to those two elements of instilling eager, cooperative obedience. How much praise? At least equal in degree to disciplining. I lay it on. But more businesslike pros and amateurs find "thank you" or "good girl" suffices. Your choice.
Last year I got a new English springer spaniel puppy and ran across a letter you mailed me in 1981. I have kept it filed away for many years (photocopy enclosed). I was 16 at the time and very motivat
ed to train a dog of my own. But I had little guidance from any adults or acquaintances. I had only a sincere desire.
The first springer I owned had to be put down after only four years and until now I never had the desire or dedication to train one. College, marriage, work and a fanatical bowhunting phase that I went through kept my interests steered elsewhere.
But now I have joined a local ESS club hat meets regularly at a kennel well known for springers and their training and I have a renewed passion and excitement in seeing the fruits of my training efforts.
I wonder if I would have had this renewed passion for training my springer today had you not taken the time to write a personal response to my question when I was a 16-year-old, almost 30 years ago?
In addition to the impression you left by replying to my letter years ago, I have been entertained with your column in Gun Dog virtually without fail, even if the question you address is of little interest to me.
With the editor's permission, I'm running the copy of my reply to your original letter here:
Dear Chris: Let's hope the country is populated by more 16-year-olds like you. Your letter, your slant on training your springer and your consideration in sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope show more savvy and maturity than many of my adult correspondents display.
Your description of what you're doing with your pup are very much like the recommendations I make for training in my articles and the books I've written.
When you're working with your pup outside and he picks up the dummy, call him and trot away from him to get him to chase after you while he's carrying the dummy. Then take it from him as he comes at you and praise him profusely. Keep working on him in the confined area, squatting down as you call him to you and twist your body away as he approaches so he comes up kind of from your back or side. Many pups are reluctant to approach head on.
Don't move toward the pup (that can be interpreted as a threat) when he's coming to you and don't grab the dummy roughly. Pet and praise while he's still holding it and remove it gently from his mouth. Don't give him more than four or five retrieves in one session.
Yes, springers can work Huns or any other game bird you'll encounter. But they must stay within gun range and even then there are times when spooky birds will flush far out even though the dog is not at fault. Because they're "covey" birds, I prefer pointing breeds on Huns, but well trained flushers like the springer can get you birds.
Pigeons are fine training birds. Virtually all professionals use them. You seem to be getting a lot of free advice, none of what you mentioned being harmful. But base your training procedure on a good book and your own common sense and ingenuity. Most training should be done step by step rather than trying random suggestions without knowing just what you are trying to achieve. Sincerely, Dave Duffey
Thanks a million for making this another grand day to be alive. I'm grateful to the editors and publishers of all the books, magazines and newspapers that have run my stuff intermittently or for long stretches of time since the 1940s.
Other factors rate my gratitude as well.
Just before the draft caught up with me late in World War II, I got the nearest thing to a purebred dog I'd had until then. The sire was an English cocker and the dam was an American cocker. Tar was black, big for a cocker (17 inches, 38 pounds), smart, willing and devoted.
He taught me a great deal and somehow absorbed enough training to be allowed to attend high school and university classes with me. He was a memorable all around hunting dog for all of his 13 years. My mother kept him until my return from infantry duty. (My dad and both granddads had died between my being six months and eight years of age.)
Being really into dogs and with a woman's compassion, she could have spoiled Tar in the two seasons I was unable to hunt him. She didn't.
Schooled as a teacher, she had a way with kids and puppies. There were always pets in the house. She encouraged sports participation (whether solitary hunting and fishing or athletic team endeavors), eclectic reading and writing notebooks full of prose. Reading, hearing and constantly being critiqued for proper language usage must have done the trick.
Pups and kids are well-coached in much the same way. My mother, Honey Duffey, set a good example, often subtly, always constantly and persistently.
Finally, like you, I have saved some correspondence from long ago. In 1944 I wrote a letter at age 16 asking for some help from Field & Stream magazine's Kennel Editor. The opening line of John Hightower's response was:
"I enjoyed reading your interesting letter of the 8th; you sound to me as though you'd do to take along. From what you say of the cocker pup, he sounds like a good one." For me, there's a poignant similarity.
This courtesy and interest shown by a recognized expert during my youth had an effect on me.
Since I began answering as well as asking questions about gun dogs, I have made every effort to answer any inquiry received from a child or youth.
Noting the parallels through the generations, you'll understand why I thank you for confirming something else my mother taught me. Consideration and empathy have their rewards.