Originally published to Purina Pro Club 2014, Issue 83.
By Paul Sletten
Many of us have, or will buy, a new retriever pup with high hopes for a top-caliber retrieving companion. Now that the pup has arrived, the work begins. For many, the excitement of a new member of the family is quickly replaced with impatience and frustration. Having a well- trained and socialized dog that adds enjoyment to our lives does not come easy.
Thankfully, retrievers have a knack for adjusting easily and tolerating our lifestyles. Properly socializing puppies in all environments will create a bond of trust and respect, as well as a stress-free life. This makes the journey to adulthood extremely rewarding. The following ideas are to help you along the way.
Your retriever pup will go through a few mental changes as he matures during the first year. Submissive pups may get rambunctious. A pup that loved the kids last month is now nervous when he sees new people. Expect these changes. The more introductions you can make your puppy to new environments, the better. Repeat these introductions on a regular basis.
Leash training should happen from day one. Let your puppy drag the leash around the house. It’s OK if he wants to chew it and play tug of war. As he grows up taking walks, he will soon ignore the leash.
Basic obedience cannot be started too soon. Grab a handful of kibble for treats and introduce your puppy to “sit,” “heel” and “here.” He will hear those words a lot in the future so you want to teach him now to respond well to them. A few repetitions each day will go a long way.
Buy a tennis ball or small paint roller for him to retrieve around the house or yard. Toss it a few times each day to build desire, and use the leash to reel him back in. Make sure to stop before he is bored. Four to six tosses per session is usually enough. Save that special toy for “retrieve time.”
Regular rides in the vehicle are important. Take your pup with you whenever possible, making sure he rides safely in a crate or kennel. You want to take him along often enough that he grows comfortable and is able to relax and sleep on the ride.
If you’re a waterfowl hunter, don’t wait too long to introduce your pup to the boat. Regular boat rides are just as important as the vehicle. Have someone hold the pup to keep him calm and still on the first few outings until he gets his sea legs.
Unfortunately, a pup cannot always be the center of our attention. I like my pups to be comfortable any place I put them. They get lots of house time and time in their crates. Sometimes I like to leave them in an outside kennel on a nice day. While I’m working with other dogs, they grow accustomed to being on a stakeout chain nearby. The point is that we can take or put our retriever pup anywhere, and he is comfortable.
Introduction to gunfire is very important. Many a dog has been made gun shy. I truly believe dogs are made, not born, gun shy. Find a local gun range or a buddy doing some target practice and take your dog for a walk a long way from the gunfire. Slowly work closer to the shooting over the course of several outings. Don’t be in a hurry to be too close too soon. Watch for any signs of alarm. Find a good distraction, like retrieving a bumper or doing some obedience commands with treats. We want to make the booms part of the background noise. There is no reason to shoot close to the dog until he has had dozens of encounters with gunfire and is comfortable retrieving when he hears the sounds.
Properly introducing your pup to water also is extremely important. The only way a retriever becomes comfortable making multiple retrieves in a cold November marsh is by having a solid swimming foundation. Some pups take to the water on their own. Often we are not that lucky. Many times I see people tossing objects in the water trying to get their pup to swim. Don’t do it. We want the pup to be comfortable swimming before we ask him to swim while retrieving.
At this time we also are trying to build the pup’s desire to retrieve. The last thing we want is to challenge his retrieving desire with such a large obstacle. I would suggest putting on your swimming trunks or waders and going in the water yourself. Perhaps your pup will follow another dog into the pond. Find a nice spot without a steep grade, so he can go in an inch at a time. You should offer treats and make it fun. Only when the pup begins to swim comfortably and is raring to retrieve will we begin to throw bumpers in the pond. This may take one day or a couple of months.
Many of these introductions seem like common sense, but pups grow quickly into dogs. These first few months are up to us to shape our pup into a well-rounded dog. If you put a dog in the right situations repeatedly, he will teach himself.
Category : Puppy Training