|Usually it only takes one session for the pup to learn the pattern of watching the throw from your helper, retrieving, and returning to you. Then you can start increasing your pup’s range by having the thrower stand farther away. Vary the distance within your pup’s comfortable range so it doesn’t get in the habit of stopping at the same distance all of the time. |
It is important that your thrower be visible. Your puppy must see the fall in order to mark and must know where to look to see the fall. White clothing contrasts with most backgrounds. Don’t worry that wild ducks are not thrown by white-shirted throwers! You are trying to set your puppy up to succeed, and to learn marking and confidence. Don’t add unnecessary difficulties such as hard-to-see throwers. Watching for wild birds in "real hunting situations" is something dogs learn readily, especially if they are trained so as to have confidence in their abilities.
Similarly, the throw must be visible. White dog training dummies are ideal for puppy work in most situations, and are visible on the ground in short cover – great for building confidence. Continue to do only two or three retrieves per session. Your puppy is doing more work by doing longer retrieves, so don’t increase the number as well.
Thrower and dummy must be visible against the background, and the throw should be underhand with plenty of arc.
Photo by: Author
As soon as your puppy is retrieving out to fifty yards or so, you can begin using a blank pistol on marks. At first, have the thrower fire the pistol, shout "Hey-hey!" and throw a dummy. The report of a firearm is a brief impulse of sound which is hard to locate by hearing, and your puppy is apt to look around in some confusion on hearing the shot, so the shout is needed to help turn its attention back to your thrower. After a few sessions, your pup will start to be able to look in the direction of a shot, and you can omit the "Hey-hey!" It is nice, though, if the thrower watches your pup and is prepared to shout before throwing any time it looks in the wrong direction.
Although dogs can develop an ability to look reliably in the direction of a shot, it is never foolproof. Dogs are readily confused when the gun is fired after the mark is on the ground. Typically they look around wildly, and even after seeing the fall, may prove unable to come up with the mark. Always fire the pistol prior to throwing. If it fails to fire, the thrower can try again, or shout instead. The throw should commence immediately after the shot, as the dog may not be confident of the direction and may look away if no throw is evident.
This pattern of work, with a helper who shoots and throws, is excellent preparation for typical dove and pheasant hunts, and some duck hunts, in which a dog recovers birds for gunners in more than one location. The puppy learns to look in the direction of a shot to mark a falling bird.
If you plan to use an electronic dog training collar in later training, start putting the collar on your puppy whenever you go out together, as soon as its neck is big enough, usually around four months. Leave the transmitter in the case. This way the puppy will simply associate the collar with its work, and is less likely to become "collar-wise." Do not leave the collar on all of the time as it will irritate your puppy’s neck. We usually do not introduce electric shock until after beginning formal training around six months.
At four months, pups are big enough to wear an e-collar.
Photo by: Author
At about four months of age, puppies begin teething. Some pups sail through this period with no noticeable effect, except sometimes they’ll bring back the dummy covered with blood. Others act very sensitive, drop the dummy, and progress to not wanting to pick it up, then not wanting to retrieve at all. If retrieving hurts, don’t do it! Try throwing a bird if your puppy handles it well, or take a break from retrieving altogether. This is a good time to take walks with your puppy and to do some gentle obedience work.