Retriever play training

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Bear Puppy Tennis Shoe
Bear – Labrador puppy with tennis shoe. Photo by: Riley

When starting puppies on retrieving, use something light and easy to carry like a small dummy or socks stuffed with rags. Don’t throw sticks, play tug-of-war games or train two pups at once letting them compete for the dummy, these practices all promote chewing and hard mouths — things we don’t want to see in pups or adult dogs.

Small dummies and socks are easy for pup to retrieve, you won’t be able to throw them too far and they won’t bounce like a tennis or rubber balls do. The socks have an advantage of having your scent on them and can be easier for pup to find. Before you start using your dummy, carry it around for a few days or wipe some perspiration on it to give more scent than just your hands will. Have faith, your scent is critical later on.

The reason we are working with the dog is to avoid creating bad habits. There will be no “toss and hope.” When your dog decides to run around you and see if you’ll play the chase me game, there will be no yelling, no punishment or threat of punishment. To help you be successful, position yourself between the dog and the crate. Most likely, your dog will want to run to his “apartment” and play with the new prize. Catch him as he runs by. (A check cord can be helpful here.)

THROW the dummy a few feet (always underhand and always past the pup’s eyes) say FETCH as he runs toward the dummy to pick it up. Then if needed, urge (NEVER YANK) him back toward you with the check cord. PRAISE the dog a lot as you say GIVE and take the dummy. If pup doesn’t release the dummy, you can push it farther back in the mouth. He’ll shove it out with his tongue.

If the pup isn’t interested in the dummy, tie a cord to it and toss it again. If he runs toward it and then losses interest, give the dummy a yank. More than likely, he will pounce on it and then you can lure him back to you.

Some dog’s interest can be peaked by dropping a tennis ball. It bounces, he tries to catch it, but bumps it with a clumsy puppy foot. The ball rolls farther, urging the pup to chase. Finally he grabs the ball and amazingly, you are both having fun.

For the play method to work, the sessions must remain fun. Don’t make it work by overdoing. Practice a little play obedience and play fetch for a few minutes each, then quit. Enthusiastic pups can fetch six times, pups that get bored easily should only do two or three fetches. Remember puppy attention spans are very short. It is better to play train for five minutes several times a day than one marathon session. QUIT WHILE YOU ARE AHEAD , long before pup becomes bored.

Don’t let yourself become angry while training, that will make pup dread your sessions together. No matter what happens, maintain the excited spirit of play. If you are saying sweet things through gritted teeth, your dog will know you are angry. If you don’t have patience, take acting lessons so your dog won’t suffer.

After your play session is over, take the pup back to the house or kennel. NO MORE PLAY OF ANY KIND. This play training is his play. He will look forward to play training and later to more serious training if he is never permitted aimless self-play outside the house or kennel. The dog’s enthusiasm for your “play” will be enhanced so you will always have his attention. This will save an enormous amount of training time.

Retriever play training appeared on Minneapolis Dogs Examiner and is used here with permission of the author Kathleen Riley-Daniels

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