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Teach Your Labrador to Retrieve

Retrieving is an important part of any gundog’s training. With an understanding of the basic signals and how to teach them, you can be much more confident about your Labrador’s ability to retrieve shot game. Here we discuss how to teach a Labrador to retrieve a dummy which is behind the dog, away from the trainer.

Before you start training this lesson make sure that the dog enjoys playing with a dummy in a controlled space such as a garden or yard – in other words she will run after the dummy and retrieve it when she sees it thrown; that she comes to a recall; and she is obedient to a sit.

Teaching this is the first stage in handling your dog to a blind retrieve, and teaching it correctly will result in a dog willing to run out several hundred yards until you tell it to start hunting for the retrieve.

Retrieving by Sending Your Labrador ‘Out!’

We are going to teach your dog that when you say there is a retrieve behind them, they can believe you. We can teach this quite quickly by explaining it to the dog in her terms, and always helping her succeed. By careful training, the confidence that your dog has in you is increased, and this in turn builds her confidence in herself.

Explaining the ‘Out!’ Command to Your Labrador

Once your dog is retrieving freely in the yard; will both heel and sit reliably; and come when called you are ready to start teaching this lesson. The ideal location to teach this is a path or lane where there is not much to distract the dog.

With the dog at heel (on a lead if necessary to stop her running after the dummy), throw the dummy a few paces behind her and make sure she sees it. Walk on a few paces, and give her the sit command. Quietly and calmly, when she is paying you attention, remove the lead, give the sit command again if you think she will break for the dummy, and back away from her.

At this point the dummy, the dog and you will be in a line. If you have this working, she will be watching you, and you will be watching her, and the dummy will be behind her.

The Arm Signal for ‘Out!’ 

Raise your right arm vertically, palm facing the dog, and bring it down towards the dummy, at the same time saying ‘Out!’ clearly and quietly. Emphasise the arm movement – this is like speaking to a child and being as clear as possible. If she understands the intention she will start to go towards the dummy – praise her up to let her know she is doing the right thing.

If she is confused, run past her, clapping your hands or whatever you do to get her going, and encourage her to fetch the dummy. Encourage her straight back to you once she has the dummy in her mouth. If you had to run past her to get her to fetch it, walk away from her backwards, encouraging her to come to you. Don’t trip if you do this.

Don’t Overdo Teaching the Retrieve or Your Labrador will become Bored

Make this lesson the first and last of each training session for a few days, until she is confident on the intention of the command.

Once you can do this quietly and happily, gradually extend the distance, and as she gets near the dummy say ‘There!’ or ‘Lost!’ depending on your preference – just keep to one or the other. This teaches the dog that she is in the rough vicinity of the retrieve and hands control for the subsequent search over to her.

What is the Next Step in Teaching My Labrador to Retrieve?

The next step will be twofold; extend the distance you can send the dog and teach them to go for blind retrieves.

And of course, keep it fun for you and the dog!

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