Most of my training has come from listening and watching my mum with her dogs and her trainees and attending training days and sessions with dog clubs.
Mum’s trainees learn the basics; recall, heelwork, steadiness, stop, presentation of the retrieve, etc.
Her classes always start with steadiness – sitting the dogs off the lead and handlers walking out and returning to their dogs. Then comes the throwing of dummies all around the dogs and the dogs must sit steady. If the dog moves, the handler returns to it with a stern ‘no’ and gently moves the dog back to the original position. Then, the handlers are sent to collect the dummies, this is always good training as it teaches the handlers to mark down the dummies. Once two or three have been collected by the handlers, the dog is sent out for the single dummy left down as a reward.
Next, mum tends to go to the lined-up ‘go back’ retrieve as this is a controlled way to start retriever training and its great when you have dogs who lack concentration but may be at a more advanced level and just need to settle into a training session first. Not many of us like to go back to basics but mum always says there’s no harm in it as it just builds and reinforces the foundations.
So, heel the dog about ten paces, lob out the dummy in a straight line and not far in front of the dog. Count to three to allow your dog to mark it down and then heel your dog back to where you started from, turn and line up your dog to where the dummy is (we want the dog to succeed, so make it obvious and easy at the beginning). Place your right foot pointing toward the dummy, and then, with your right hand beside your dog’s head at eye level pointing towards the dummy, say ‘go back’. Pushing with the tone of your voice – not by extending your hand, which would inevitably travel skywards and take the dog’s eyes off the retrieve, which you don’t want.
Sometimes the dogs don’t understand this straight away so patiently walk out with the dog and say the command until the penny drops. Work with your dog and build up its confidence before going back to the task again if it struggles to understand you.
Now, one thing to remember is that you must know the limitations of your dog. I have a lab who is pretty quick to learn but mum works with lots of different breeds and it is noticeable that some dogs can become bored or disheartened so you may need to keep training to a minimum to keep your dog engaged. Know your dog, go to a trainer once a week or at least three times a month to ensure you are not getting into bad habits and becoming complacent (I know that can happen and that’s why I attend mum’s classes quite often to ensure I do not slip into bad habits).
Mum also attends classes with other trainers, or gets me to video her so she can analyse her own training methods. She says we can never stop improving and learning and she is the first to admit she does become complacent and needs to take a step back sometimes. However hard it might be to listen to others comment on how you train your dog, constructive criticism must be taken on board.
Next month, I will write about direction and keeping your signals clear.