How to Begin Retriever Training with Your Puppy
Let’s look at some simple, yet effective training tips to use while teaching your dog to retrieve!
Training your puppy to retrieve can be a fun and rewarding experience! If your puppy has natural retrieving instincts, then watching those natural abilities come out is especially exciting. You can begin teaching your dog this skill when he is a few weeks old. But there’s no doubt about it: retriever training takes time, consistency, and patience. It’s important to use effective methods for retriever training to help your dog learn quickly!
Basic Obedience Foundation
Before diving into retriever-specific training, your puppy should already be trained in two other aspects: puppy socialization and obedience. Puppy socialization is important because your puppy should already be adjusted to his new environment. If your dog is still getting used to his new surroundings, he won’t be confident enough to start learning new skills. Your dog should also already know basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, and recall.
Knowing these commands is one of the main building blocks of training; if your dog doesn’t know how to obey you, then any other training will be extremely difficult. Once your puppy has those two areas down, you can begin working on retrieval training!
Bring Out Your Dog’s Natural Instincts
The first step in retrieval training is to emphasize your dog's natural instincts. And this is an area that you will want to focus on during the entire training! If your puppy is a Labrador Retriever or Golden Retriever, then he's already known for his natural retrieving instincts, making this type of training much easier for him. You can begin working on retrieving when your puppy is around eight weeks old. At this age, his mouth is still not very big, so you're going to have to find an object that he can easily pursue and pick up.
There are several different objects that you can use to get started; a knotted-up white sock works great for a young puppy. The critical thing is to get your dog interested in pursuing the object. The best way to do this is to get him excited by just waving it around and playing keep-away!
Make sure not to push the object into your dog's face; simply keep waving it around until he starts chasing it, and then let him grab it. Once your puppy grabs it, praise him! Don't take it right away out of his mouth; let him hold it for a while. This sends a message to him that it's what you want him to do, and once he's confidently taking it out of your hand, then you can start throwing it!
Throwing the Retrieve
It's extremely important with puppies that they don't establish any bad behaviors. You want to stop any bad behaviors or bad habits from developing immediately. So when you begin practicing retrievals, go ahead and put your leash and strap collar on your puppy to ensure that he isn't able to run away or establish any bad habits during his retrievals. The leash is a great way to make sure that you can bring him back.
You can also begin throwing retrievals inside your house. The prime place to practice this is in a hallway. You can position yourself at the open end of the hallway and throw the object down the hallway towards the closed end. This way, when your puppy picks up the object, he has no other option but to come back to you! Welcome him with open arms, scoop him up, and praise him. This lets him know that he's done well, and then you can take the object from him.
How Many Retrieves Should You Throw?
Again, this training takes practice and consistency. But how do you know how long you should practice throwing the retrieves before giving your dog a break and moving on to something else? Well, the absolute worst thing that you can do when retriever training is to bore your puppy—you're trying to get him excited about the game of retrieving! And that goes for all types of training; you want to keep your dog interested, engaged, and excited. That’s why it’s really important to make sure that your dog is still excited when he finishes this exercise.
The best thing to do is quit early. Quitting while he is still enthusiastic about it will help ensure that he'll be excited about it when you start your next training session! If your dog gives you one in the beginning, accept that, praise him, and then put the object away. Only when you're absolutely positive that he's going to go for two or more should you add more retrieves! Otherwise, quit while you're ahead.
How Long Does Retrieval Training Take?
Retrieval training is something that takes time, mostly because you can't practice it for hours each day. You have to give your puppy time and space before starting the next session to ensure his enthusiasm and interest. An average time frame for your dog to learn retrieval skills is around a couple of months. If you feel like it may be taking your dog longer than you thought to learn retrieval skills, don't worry. Dogs are individuals, and each one is different! Their learning rates can vary. Your dog may grasp retrieval skills quickly, or he may require more time and patience. Take into account that even within a specific breed every dog is different. Your dog's personality, temperament, age, and previous training also play a part in how fast he will be trained.
The important thing to remember is that consistency in training sessions is crucial. Again, keep your training sessions short—around 10–15 minutes. Short and frequent training sessions are often more effective than long, infrequent ones! It's also helpful to use positive reinforcement methods! Positive reinforcement methods such as treats and praise can speed up the learning process and make it more enjoyable for your dog.
Each part of puppy training continually builds on the next. So it's important to get retrieval training down as much as you can before moving on to the next training exercise.