Trying to eliminate pops can be an elusive and frustrating experience for trainer and dog. The advent of the electronic dog collar, however, raised the level of success in treating this malady. With improvements in reliability and adjustability of shock strength, e-collars have become an increasingly effective tool.
Establish forcing on a back cast as a drill before using it in the field.
Treating popping in the field without backing up for remedial work is a temptation, but usually isn't conducive to progress. If your dog is already well trained and for some reason begins to pop on blinds, or marks, perhaps corrections in the field will do the trick. Even with seasoned veterans, however, resorting to a carefully conceived drill may produce better and more lasting results.
We dislike using shock collars on dogs who are running. There's too much chance of the dog's misinterpreting the correction. Instead we get the dog under control in a sitting position facing the handler. We then give a short sit blast on the whistle, momentary shock, then repeat "Sit." The dog is now under control. Let him sit for a while, then raise a hand, command, "Back," momentary shock, and repeat "Back!" while the dog is in motion. When it can be seen that this maneuver is working, the dog has demonstrated an understanding of enforcement for "Sit" and "Back." This is crucial to the elimination of pops. Of course the seasoned performer who has already had this training will usually respond as if all he needed was a refresher. Those who have never had the "stop and go" basics solidly applied need to learn these fundamentals. Suspending work on marks may help your retriever to focus on this lesson.
Similarly, for the dog that has been trained to go when sent, a simple, drill-like setup will help make the requirements clear. A channel of water 20' wide or so, and 75 to 100 yards in length is a good training site. After establishing a straight line up the channel, introduce "pressure en route" in the form of a repeat of the "Back!" command and a nick with the collar. Strive for results without wearing it into the ground. An eager dog can handle this without getting down.
Pops on marks, and pops on blinds, land or water, frequently call for different treatments. The reason is clear. Pops on marks usually have to do with fear of mistakes, such as switching or returning to old marks, both of which they have been rigorously taught not to do. Marks that are excessively tight, either with birds falling close to one another, particularly at longer distances, or a narrow angle between the lines to the marks, may confuse the dog as to which retrieve he can make without correction. Lighten up the test and continue to remind your dog that the pop is not acceptable.
Fear of overrunning marks may cause popping. If the mark is close, and retired, a distant flier down last may erase the short bird from your dog's memory. Hammering him with whistle stops and shock, then handling to the short, forgotten bird is almost sure to create pops. Here the popping needs less attention than the necessity to reduce the marking combinations to an understandable level. If your dog is popping on the long retired mark, then your problem is similar to the case in which he will not carry sufficiently on a long blind. The treatment is like the previously described "Sit, Back!" drill.
Train to promote clarity and confidence.
Dogs will often pop on water blinds in which they are sent on lines, or commanded to take a cast, resembling a situation that they have been taught to avoid. Such things as getting out of the water early on a long swim or crossing a point when the safe thing appears to be swimming around, can provoke popping. This response is similar to an inexperienced dog's confusion when cast where it doesn't want to go. His choice of route results in an immediate whistle; the dog has been shown what won't work, but doesn't know what will. To lessen your dog's anxiety, train for success on the cast followed by success on the blind, keeping correction minimal. An excellent performer will go wherever sent and cast into obstacles without hesitation or popping. Stop the dog, use a shock collar set on a light momentary setting and repeat "Back" with the appropriate cast, and the pops should soon be replaced with compliance.
Bear in mind that popping is not malicious, nor does it prove your dog is no good. Usually, it indicates a failure in basic training followed by tests that are beyond his comprehension. Taking care that the bases are thoroughly covered in early training will help to ensure that popping, when it occurs, can be treated effectively before it becomes a chronic problem.