|As your puppy gets older and bigger, you will want to work outside and try to extend its range, introduce it to different types of cover, etc. It may require more effort to get a puppy back to you outdoors, but there are a number of strategies which work in various combinations. Young pups, up to about three months and sometimes more, usually have a particular place they want to go to, and if you get between them and it, you can catch them (especially if they are dragging a check cord). They tend to head for familiar territory. Out in the field, typically they want to go under the car or truck, so always throw out away from the vehicle. In such an unfamiliar place, longer falls tend to produce a greater inclination to come back. |
At home, if you are so fortunate as to have part of your yard fenced near the house, stand by the open gate and throw out away from it. Almost all pups in this situation will head back for the gate, although as your pup gets older and smarter you may need to stand far enough to one side for it to think it can dart past you. If you don’t have a gate, you can try the "head ‘em off at the pass" technique. While any move toward the pup may trigger a game of keep-away, running on an intercept course doesn’t seem to — and often you can get away with this ruse for weeks before your pup figures it out. Avoid chasing your pup; if it gets out of reach, use a combination of pretending to ignore it and stealth. Dogs love to play "keep away" and you don’t want your pup to think it can play it with you.
As your pup gets older, faster, and smarter, and you are working on longer retrieves, sooner or later you will need a new tactic. If it is warm enough for water work (so that the water is 60 degrees or more and the air is warm), practice retrieves straight out into the water. Almost all retrievers swim straight back to shore before trying to head in another direction. If you meet your puppy at the water’s edge, before it has a chance to duck away, you may get your feet wet but you will also be able to get the dummy from its mouth before it can shake, preventing the bad habit of dropping dog training dummies. Retrieving from cover has almost the same effect as retrieving from water, except the puppy won’t need to shake. Puppies tend to head straight back out of the cover towards you. The throw may need to be shortened so the pup can find the dummy or bird easily, and need to be straight into the area of cover, not angled. If you live in an area where foxtails or other grass awns are a problem, you need to be aware that getting one of these up its nose can be fatal to a dog, so do not send your puppy into an area where it will have to hunt among them.
"In the water he thinks about the shortest route back to shore."
For land retrieves in medium-short cover, you may need to use a long check cord. We have a 100-foot check cord we use with committed "runners." We keep throws within this distance, and take up the slack as the puppy returns. Usually this requires backing up to keep the puppy’s feet from fouling the cord — a very awkward procedure at first but one most people can learn with practice. We use braided polypropylene for these cords. If coiled properly, it resists tangling; it floats and does not fray or rot.
While you can certainly introduce the "here" command with a young pup and practice it in a controlled situation, we recommend that you wait until after the pup is six months old to insist on total reliability. Never command "here" on a retrieve before your pup is reliable, because if it does not come you are in a no-win situation: you must either allow the pup to disregard the "here" command, or you must enforce the command in a way which will punish your puppy for retrieving. Either way you undo a lot of careful work.
We have presented a variety of tactics for getting a puppy to return on a retrieve, all of which we use regularly. In combination they should work with almost any retriever pup well enough to enable you to continue its retrieving work, and building up its all-important retrieve desire until it is old enough to be taught to come reliably when called. Next issue, we will continue with puppy training, and discuss introduction to birds, water, gunfire, and other aspects of adult retriever work.