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Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The first key to building up the positively reinforcing power of the retrieve is to prevent your pup from getting bored. Retrieve sessions should be very short, only two or three throws per session. Yes, we know most puppies would happily retrieve all day-but all of them will lose interest with repeated long sessions. If your pup's attention starts to wander, or after one good retrieve it drops the dummy and goes exploring, you've done too much. Plan to do fewer throws next time.

Retrieving must be not only fun for the puppy, but also more exciting than anything else it gets to do. This means you have to prevent it from indulging in, and developing a love for, other activities such as free play with other dogs. We have known extreme cases, puppies so excited about playing that the only way to get them to retrieve was to make them spend most of the day in a crate. It works. We have seen many a "happy idiot" become a die-hard waterfowl hunting dog.

You must maintain a high success rate. Your pup needs to develop confidence that if it sees something fall, it can make the retrieve. As your pup learns "the business," you will want to gradually increase distance, throw marks in cover, and generally provide more of a challenge. If your pup has trouble with a retrieve, or if it finds the dog training dummy or bird after a long hunt, resist letting your pride make you repeat the challenge. Throw a mark you know it will find easily. Make sure your pup is always rewarded, not discouraged.

As you progress in distance and difficulty, make sure your puppy's retrieves are not too demanding physically. Swimming is harder work than running, so retrieves in water should be correspondingly shorter than on land. If your puppy charges through some brush or briars, great-but don't repeat; give it another throw in a less punishing location. DO NOT have your puppy retrieve from cold water. You will build more toughness later on by not expecting toughness now.

Although a good retriever always seems as though nothing could ever deter it from getting the bird, in reality the trainer should never take retrieving desire for granted. In later columns we will discuss planning training sessions so the immediate goal can be reached without discouraging the dog. Puppyhood, however, is the motivated trainer's golden opportunity to build a dog's desire, and its ultimate potential.

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