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The Most Important Command: Retrievers

The Most Important Command: Retrievers

Tom Dokken

"All commands are important," Tom said. "Otherwise we wouldn't spend so much time teaching them. However, the command you'll use most often throughout your retriever's life is Come. If you could have absolute reliability in only one command, you'd choose wisely if you chose Come."

Tom said that in duck hunting, the Come command, whether given by voice or whistle, allows you to control your dog when he breaks and it helps him find where you are again after he chases down a lively cripple for a long ways through thick tules.

In the uplands, you can use it to keep him within gun range, to keep him from running onto roads, to stop him when he starts chasing wild flushes and missed birds, and to call him off of fur and non-game birds.

Around home, especially for urban dwellers, the Come command has countless daily uses. It facilitates getting the dog back into the house after each outdoor "bladder and bowel break." It also allows you to exercise your dog by letting him run free where that is allowed and bring him back to you whenever you want.

Tom recommends that you start Come training almost as soon as you bring the puppy home from the breeder. For such a young puppy, food is a great motivator, so as soon as he will eat dog food or treats from your hand, you should start using food to motivate obedience to Come.

"Kneel down," Tom said, "extend the treat with your open hand, and call your puppy, using whatever command you will use later on. When he comes, give him the food treat and follow it immediately with plenty of praise and petting. Very important. Remember to keep these sessions short and do them only when your puppy is hungry."

Tom said that by the time your puppy is about 12 weeks old, you should use the treat plus a light lead, so you can reinforce the command when necessary. Then, as you bond more and more strongly with your puppy, you should gradually wean him off of the treats, making your praise his only reward.

The Most Important Command

Don't miss tips for your pointer, here, and your spaniel, here.


When your youngster is about seven months old, Tom recommends that you use a long check-cord and a choke-chain collar to reinforce the Come command at greater distances.

Tom pointed out that many inexperienced trainers, after sailing easily through the introductory phase, fail to make the transition to the check-cord properly. Mostly, they forget that, during this transition, they shouldn't give the Come command when the dog is not on the check-cord. Without the check-cord they can't correct disobedience properly, so the dog learns to obey on the check-cord and ignore the command when running free.

"After he's reliable on the check-cord," Tom added, "you can, if you wish, introduce the e-collar, which will facilitate corrections at any distance without the check-cord. But please remember that the e-collar is not a short-cut to success. Your dog should be solid on Come with the check-cord before you introduce the e-collar."

"After completing the transition to the e-collar," Tom said, "you need to go through a lot of distraction training to convince your dog that he must obey Come no matter what is going on around him. Use other dogs, people, kids, whatever distractions are available."

Tom's final thought was: "If someone were to give me a dog that obeyed only one command, and I had to live with that dog for the rest of my life, I feel I could do more with that pooch if his one command were Come than I could if his one and only command were anything else. Think about it and you'll see what I mean."

This tip is from Tom Dokken of Oakridge Kennels, 4186 west 85th Street, Northfield, MN 55057; (507) 744-2616; website; e-mail Tom has been professionally training all sporting breeds for hunting for 35 years. He breeds Labradors.

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