As retriever owners, we’ve all probably committed at least one of these and broke the 10 commandments for raising a retriever. Maybe it was with a dog from your past or the one at your feet. This article intends to arm you with more knowledge so you don’t make the same mistake twice! If you are lucky enough to be a new or future gun dog owner and looking for good tips and tricks, congrats! This article will be helpful!
First Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steady Too Soon- We’ve all done it, we’ve all bragged about it… let’s stop the madness. So many new owners LOVE watching their 12 week old puppy wait patiently for their name and then run off after the bumper like a big dog chasing down a goose in cut corn. It’s awesome to see. Unfortunately, steadying the pup too soon can have adverse effects. Many dogs will lose that intense desire and drive for the retrieve because they’ve been held back and steadied too soon. A good gun dog needs all the drive, determination, and love for their job so when facing tough obstacles, they keep pushing forward! Please don’t steady too soon! Depending on the dog, sometime between 6 and 8 months is sufficient to start steady training.
Second Commandment: Thy Puppy Shalt Not Covet Thy Bumper – Bumpers are not chew toys! Bumpers are for training your dog. Once you’re done working with them, put them away, out of sight, in a training bag, and only bring them back out for your next session. This will ensure two things: One, your dog will learn that bumpers are special! They are to be desired above all else, and the dog will work harder for the reward of chasing them down and retrieving them. Two, there is nothing worse than watching a young dog go out for a retrieve and half way back decide it would rather lay down and gnaw on the end.
Third Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Create War – Tug of War that is. Imagine being in the blind and your beloved retriever brings back a nice, pretty drake green head. All of your buddies are watching and are impressed with a great retrieve. Then, as the dog reaches the blind, you get in a tug of war match with Fido and the plumed out drake is the rope. Not Good. Don’t start a bad habit!
Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Give Chase – The best way to avoid chasing your pup down and engaging in a game of keep-away is to never start. With your young pup, start retrieving in a hallway with no distractions and call them to you. Next, take them outside attached to a check cord or leash . This way, you can grab the leash as they approach. The best way to get a pup to come back to you is by using a high pitched excited voice, clapping, kneeling down, and backing away from them.
Fifth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Shoot Over Thy Pups Head – If you were thinking of taking the dog to the gun range, trap league, or shoot over his head, please STOP reading this now and watch our video. Always introduce your dog to gunfire slowly. Seriously… watch the video and follow this procedure the right way. You won’t have a gun dog if they’re afraid of guns!
Sixth Commandment: Thou Shall Walk in Water – Introducing a pup to water is relatively easy, but many people still mess it up. It’s important to introduce swimming slowly. Never throw the puppy in, carry the puppy in and drop them in the water, allow them to accidentally fall in or anything else that may cause panic and fear. It’s also important to do this when the water is warm and the dogs are still relatively young. My advice is to walk in the water with a bumper and entice the pup to follow you. Their love for you and the bumper should be enough to overcome the fear of swimming. Here is another video to follow along!
Seventh Commandment: Thou Shall Throw Birds – It’s important to unlock the natural prey drive our pups have at a young age. Get them on birds young and have a decent mix between birds and bumpers throughout your training. I know it can be hard to find pigeons and ducks, but by using them in training, you’ll ensure your pup will love them and will do anything for them!
Eighth Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Hunt Too Young – I’ve seen it too many times. A hunter bragging about their four month old lab going hunting on opening day. Woah buddy, take it easy! There is no rush! You have 10 or more years to enjoy your dog in the blind, why rush it and risk hurting your dog’s potential. Think of all the chaos and confusion that goes on in a blind: guns going off, duck calls, loaded guns laying around, slow periods, and other distractions are too much for a young puppy. Leave them home, keep training, and build good habits for next year!
Ninth Commandment: Thou Shall Research Pedigree – Most of you reading this already have a gun dog, but if you’re in the market for one, this is important. Getting a bargain on your gun dog is lame. We all spend money on good guns, good camo, good shotgun shells, good decoys, and a good boat, yet we’ll settle for a cheap puppy? Absolutely the worst. Please, do your research before picking a puppy from the newspaper ad that says, “pure bred lab” or “parents hunt.” Parents that hunt might not mean too much, and if you look around, not all Labs, Chessies, Goldens, etc are created equal. A good pedigree is essential and increases the odds you’ll get a dog that loves to retrieve, wants to please, likes to learn, and will be healthy for the long haul!
Tenth Commandment: Thou Shall Remain Patient – This has two parts. The first is a reminder to be patient with your puppy. Losing your patience and taking your frustrations out on the pup is a major mistake. Take a step back, cool down, and try again. The second part is to be patient with your puppy’s progress. Don’t rush training. Advancing too quickly can lead to bigger problems in the future. Every dog is different and will develop on an individual basis. By moving too quickly, you’ll be sure to create gaps in their training that may cause issues in the future.
With all of these 10 commandments in mind, remember to enjoy the journey. Enjoy the memories training your dog, the progress you make together, and every hunt you share together.
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