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Training Your Retriever Puppy

8 to 16 Weeks

If you have a young retriever, you will appreciate these tips from authors Cherylon Loveland and James B. Spencer.
            Before you start play-retrieving, your new puppy needs to be through the bonding process. He needs to feel that you are his special human, his buddy, and his boss. The so-called retrieving instinct does not incline the dog to bring things to a person, as is commonly thought. Instead, it is an instinct to pick things up and tote them back to his lair. Initially this training takes the form of tricking the dog into delivering when his intention was to run to his “lair” (crate, bed, place where he retreats to rest).         
You can start your puppy retrieving at 7 or 8 weeks. At first use a knotted sock thrown 3 or 4 feet in front of the pup. If she is hesitant about picking it up, be patient. Praise her as soon as her mouth touches the object and then throw it again, but not more than two or three times in a row.

            Soon the pup will progress from mouthing to picking up. If the pup runs away instead of bringing it to you, use a hallway or tie a cord to her collar to keep her from going too far while you coax her to you. To create excitement, tie a white rag on a cord and let the pup chase it as you drag it around. Let her have a good chase before she catches it. Praise lavishly and then take the rag out of her mouth.
            A tennis ball on a string can focus attention and emphasize the return. Skewer 2 holes in the ball and run a cord through with a large darning needle. Use this as a game, not a retrieve. Roll the ball in a circle, then bring it in to you, letting the pup catch it. Or run backward, letting the pup catch the ball and bring it to you.
            Familiarize the puppy with a puppy dummy of appropriate size. Let him smell and mouth it, but control the pup with the collar and do not let him run off with it. After the pup shows no fear of the dummy, go to his lair and tease the puppy by tapping the dummy on the ground, waving it above his head and so on. When he is frantic to get it, toss the dummy four or five feet. If all goes well he will pounce on it and head for his lair. Since you are in the way, he must go past you. As he does, grab his collar and stop him. Pet and praise, letting him keep the dummy. After a time he will let you take the dummy and repeat the process.
Introduce the pup to feathers at this age. Toss him a pigeon or duck wing. Some pups do better retrieving a whole pigeon than a wing, which they may treat as a delightful chew toy. 
            Pups mature at different ages so be patient. Concentrate on making retrieving fun and exciting. Don’t expect the pup to sit before you throw or on the return. Expecting too much now will only mess up your training later.
Puppies should begin playing in the water if weather and temperature permit. Don’t try to progress too quickly and don’t force a puppy that is frightened. Keep it casual and fun, wading in with your pup. When he is comfortable in the water, he should also learn to swim.
Continue socializing your puppy in other ways: new places, new terrain, car rides, different people of different ages, meeting other dogs and animals, and so on. Walk around streams and fields. Take your time and make sure that your puppy learns to trust and respect you at every stage.


Photos of puppies submitted for the forthcoming revision of The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. Used with permission of owners Sue Kish, Alison Strang, and Laurie Geyer.