What Are We Trying To Achieve?
The obvious aim of retrieving is to get the shot game to hand; however the love of retrieving is the tool that we use to teach a dog to follow signals to an unseen quarry that may have been wounded but able to fly on, maybe across water, before landing. Once down the bird may have died, for example if it was lung shot; just as likely is that the bird was winged and able to run on. In the first case, it will be sufficient to handle the dog to roughly where the bird died. In the worst case, it will be necessary to handle the dog to the blood trail, then let him figure out the best thing to do.
The First Lessons
The first task is to get the puppy to scamper after a retrieve. A suitable object to retrieve is small, soft and quiet. The worst object is too large to be held easily in the puppy’s mouth, is hard and squeaks when it is chewed. So what we are looking for is something like a clean hanky tied in a knot, or a new sock. For crying out loud, don’t get them to retrieve a used sock unless you are going to be forever happy with a dog that likes chewing washing. If you want to spend the money, a puppy dummy can be purchased, but for my mind these are a little too hard, and may encourage chewing. Others may disagree.
Remember what has been said in earlier lessons, do not overdo this. Success once a day which allows you to praise the puppy up is enough.
The ideal lesson is to stand between the puppy and somewhere it will run with a toy; this is normally his bed. Have the puppy with you, paying you attention which you are returning. Show the dummy to the puppy, and just throw it a yard or so along the ground. The pup will naturally run after it, and then try to get back past you. Stop her and make a fuss of her, then gently take the dummy. Do not pull the dummy; the last thing you want is to enter a tug of war. Plenty of praise!
On the subject of not entering into tugs of war; NEVER, EVER, EVER!!! allow your kids, friends, wife, husband, parents, neighbours or anyone else enter into a game of tug of war over anything with your pup. You may as well take a hammer to every bird, rabbit or other game that your dog will retrieve in future. So I suggest that you avoid the rubber rings that you can buy as puppy toys, along with the squeaky toys.
Right, having just had a first retrieve and praised the puppy, she will want to play more. Keep this up for a few days, and once she is happy coming to you with the dummy, it is time to change the routine slightly. Extend the distance, and encourage her to come to you with the attraction of her bed behind you.
The Next Step
We now use the pup’s interest in the retrieving game to start handling her to seen retrieves.
Get the puppy to sit in front of you and facing you at about a yard. Show the dummy and throw it behind you, at the same time giving her the SIT! command. Her initial reaction is to chase the dummy, so it is important to emphasise the sit command with the verbal and raised hand commands. If the dog breaks the sit, catch her and put her back. Repeat the throw, again striving for the puppy to stay. Once she has sat for a few seconds (remember as with any timing, keep varying the actual time spent as discussed in previous lessons), encourage her to retrieve with the command ‘Dead!’. If she is confused she may not want to go, so encourage her.
Spend time on this over a few days, gradually extending the distance, and fetching two out of three of the retrieves yourself. This is most important for later steadiness. Not every falling bird should be picked by the dog, and the less she does the more she will want to fetch – it becomes a gift rather than a chore or a right!
The last thing I am going to discuss in this lesson, is to sit the dog in front of you as before, and throw the retrieve over her head. Now if your Sit! hand signal is done with the right hand, use the left hand to give the ‘Out!’ signal which is a raised arm brought sharply down and forward accompanied by the command Out!.
If she does not go, immediately give her the ‘Dead!’ command.
That is enough for now. Remember, keep it fun for you and the dog. Speak more later!