Overlooked Training Opportunities for Retrievers

Overlooked Training Opportunities for Retrievers
Photo Credit: Tony Peterson

Several little drills each day keep the bad habits away.

It’s a rare day when I run across a dog that is overtrained. As you can probably imagine, it’s the undertrained retriever that I encounter far more than anything. This is mostly due to the reality that most of us have a lot going on in life, so training a dog for hours each day isn’t even a remote possibility.

Being short on free time shouldn’t be an excuse to not train, however. Each of us has countless small, daily opportunities to teach our dogs a lesson. This is the good news. The bad news is that you’ve got to identify these times and then stick to a plan to take advantage of the two-minute windows in which you can slowly craft an obedient pup.

And it should start with pups. The best dogs I see each year are those that had to follow a set of rules from the moment they were plucked from their litter and brought home. This doesn’t mean that older dogs can’t be molded into better behaving home and hunting companions, because they can—it just takes a little more work.

Either way, remember that your dog, no matter its age, is watching you constantly to see what commands are important and which ones aren’t. This is because they are looking for any chance to slack off and most of us will provide that chance unless we pay close attention to our training opportunities, which brings me full circle to the multiple moments each day where all of us can work on molding a great dog without the commitment of copious amounts of time.

Bite-Sized Drills

Most of us think of training a sporting dog as an afternoon spent at the water’s edge or in a field working on hunting scenarios. While that’s never a bad idea, the reality is that most of what makes a good hunting dog is instinct backed up by an awful lot of obedience.

girl holding golden retriever puppy

If you’re going to work on a puppy through small, around-the-house drills, make sure everyone who might handle the dog is on the same page command- and training-wise.

Photo Credit: Tony Peterson

I’ve written it countless times and I’ll write it countless more, but obedience is the foundation upon which everything else is built. This means that when you’re examining your everyday life and looking for spots to train, think of it from the perspective of obedience and not hunting, even though many of these little teachable moments will translate to hunting scenarios.

For example, when my wife Tina and I are watching television in the evening, our dogs know where they should be and what they should be doing. Each pup has a spot where they are told to lie down and stay, and while that might not seem like a big deal, it is.

First off, this means they have better manners when we have guests over. Second, they learn their place and that they have to be patient no matter what. Not only does this make them much more tolerable in the house each day, it translates directly to the field whether we’re hunting ducks or doves. And the best part is that we can work on this nearly every single day if we choose.

There are other commands and behaviors we work on as well. Kenneling on command (the first time you ask), is a big one that can happen at home any time. Working on who enters a door first (you), is another one. Making your dog wait to come into a house (or go outside) on your command is a simple drill that you can work on multiple times a day without committing anything more than about half of a minute at a time to it.

Another easy, at-home drill I like to do is to have my dogs wait to eat. Since I’m typically running Labs, dinner time is usually a high priority for them. They get excited when it’s feeding time, and this is most often when they’ll break or misbehave. Each day when my dogs are fed, they are told to sit and stay while their bowls are filled. After that, I make them wait for a little bit until they are released. We can all do this, and it teaches the dog that you are in control, not them.

The key to remember is that dogs thrive under structure and they usually take quickly to any lesson, provided there is some reward (like praise) for a job well done. From taking an evening walk to a stroll out to the mailbox, there are opportunities to train on a daily basis that require almost no extra time whatsoever.

But there is a catch.

All In The Family

Most of the time when a new puppy comes home, one person will become the main trainer. This is very common, and it’s okay. But it’s crucial for anyone who handles the pup at any time to stick to the program. This means that if you’ve got an eight-year-old who loves to feed your sporting dog, then that youngster needs to be able to tell the dog to sit and release the dog when it’s appropriate.

Again, working dogs thrive when given tasks, but they aren’t stupid. If they see an opportunity to shortcut a lesson, they will. That means that no matter who is handling your dog at any given time, that person needs to understand what daily lessons have to happen, and how they need to happen. There isn’t any way around this if you want your dog to continually improve.

The best time to train is whenever you’ve got the time. Naturally, you should plan to work serious drills with your dog no matter its age, but you should also be aware of all of the small, daily chances to piece together an amazing dog. Even the most time-strapped dog owner has a few of these each day in which to work, and doing just that will help mold a dog into something that is an asset at home and, of course, in the field.

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