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Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Wed 14 Dec 2011 6:20 pm
by Jason Kite
Been a while since I posted on the forum but have been working with my FCR and at 8 months he is coming along fine with only a couple of issues. However one issue that still persists is the bringing back of the dummy.

The boy is quite happy to go out on command and pick up but on return he will often get within 5 m of me then just go to the left or right or drop it half way back or tonight little trick going out to the dummy give it a lick then look for something else. Now this issue is mostly on land as when we do water retrieves he will go and get the dummy then bring it to the bank and drop it near me so not as bad (see pics below)

One potential cause I know of is that I have gone up a size in dummies ie was using a dokken dove now have gone up to a wood duck (so have started working on forced holds).

Any advice would be appreciated.


Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Wed 14 Dec 2011 8:51 pm
by Jason Ferris
What is his recall like without a dummy? Will he reliably come straight to you and sit?

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Wed 14 Dec 2011 9:10 pm
by Jason Kite
Generally good as long as there no other distractions like other dogs ie if we are at an off leash area.

If training by ourselves I can put him in a sit/stay back away 30-40m and he generally will not break, on command of come he will fly in straight to me but he requires a sit command which he will usually do.

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Thu 15 Dec 2011 6:20 am
by Joe Law
Jason K, I think Jason F is on the money when he asks about your recall. For the last two years, mainly in response to new people seeking help, Jeff Griffiths and I have submitted articles that after editing are published in our Dogs NSW magazine. As it happens, I have just written some material to appear in the April issue 2012, and which you and some others might find pertinent. The following is the unedited and yet to be approved by Dogs NSW version of that article:

How important is Obedience?
It is sometimes said that basic obedience training is not all that important when teaching your dog about retrieving. Nothing could be further from the truth! The instinct to retrieve is a natural attribute in many gundogs and while it is desirable to foster retrieving drive in a young dog, care should be taken not to do this at the expense of basic obedience training. If obedience is neglected it will soon result in the breakdown of control, sloppy responses and the formation of bad habits all of which will jeopardise further training.

The best natural attributes that a good gundog can show you is a desire to please and a willingness to accept you as its leader. Treasure this in your dog and don’t disappoint by not holding up your side of the deal. Dogs and humans have been able to enjoy a connection from day one so your whole approach should be to enjoy the journey. Obviously, your young dog does not arrive with knowledge of what is expected of him and much of his future behaviour will need to be learnt. Your job is to teach your dog what your expectations are and to be consistent in maintaining these standards. There should be absolutely no need for a trainer to adopt a martinetish and uncompromising approach when in most cases this attitude will only result in a dog becoming fearful and untrusting. Dogs respond well to praise and reward when these methods are combined with good judgement and timing ensuring that only desirable responses are rewarded. A good trainer will be able to maintain an even and consistent approach. Kindness, patience and perseverance are the trademarks of a successful trainer while harshness and punitive measures rarely result in a good outcome. It is most important that as a trainer you get your attitude and approach in order right from the start.

For a retriever, a foremost behaviour to be learnt is to come when called and to do this directly and without hesitation. Unless a dog can be recalled promptly and reliably there is little a trainer can do to remedy problems as they occur. The “HERE” or “COME” command must first be taught and consistently enforced. Begin with your dog on lead and only give the command “Here” when you can follow through and make it happen. When you get a good response it is important to remember to reward your dog. A good response would be when the dog comes immediately without having to enforce the response with the lead. Gradually increase the length of lead or rope and use various terrain as your dog improves his response. Several other commands are going to combine with your recall in general usefulness the most obvious being “Sit” and “Stay”. In the early stages of your dog’s training it is important to maintain these basic obedience commands with your dog on a lead until each command is understood and the right response has become habitual. It is a common mistake of inexperienced trainers to want to test the dog’s response off lead when there is little chance of success and the training immediately goes backwards. Another experience that can hinder a good recall response occurs when a dog has committed an indiscretion such as chewing on a child’s toy or piece of furniture and is immediately called and then reprimanded or punished. This reaction is likely to confuse the dog and his next response may well be to not come when called. Unfortunately, this same mistake can be carried on in more advanced training situations and should be considered poor training technique.
Using praise and reward inappropriately can also be counter-productive resulting in the dog tuning out to the trainer in the belief that nothing matters and anything goes! These dogs can then appear hard-headed and defiant when really the trainer has caused the problem with his or her own inappropriate and badly timed actions. It is of paramount importance that basic obedience commands are understood and an immediate correct response is maintained. Get this right and disobedience will not stand in the way of other more advanced training.

A good trainer also knows how to make good things that a dog desires contingent on a proper response. Many have taught their dogs to sit and wait before allowing them eat their dinner making the dinner the reward for sitting and waiting. These dogs learn quickly and none starve to death. If we assume that a dog desires to retrieve then in the same way the retrieve becomes the reward for being steady and waiting to be sent. This is good training but only when any unsteadiness results in the dog not being allowed to retrieve. Before a dog is allowed to retrieve a dog showing any inclination to retrieve without being sent should be kept on a short lead and led away without any opportunity to retrieve. This whole exercise can then be repeated until Bozo shows the required steadiness. Dogs can learn quickly from these situations yet we continue to see chronic breakers being entered in trials.

Points are awarded for specific obedience requirements in both Retrieving Trials and Retrieving Ability Tests for gundogs. Furthermore, when dogs run into trouble completing a retrieve in trials the root cause of the problem is often a failure to meet a basic obedience command. A dog that runs out of control when hunting is threat to its own safety and the safety of others. We should never underestimate the importance of basic obedience when training a gundog.

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Thu 15 Dec 2011 9:17 am
by Roz Buckley
Excellent article Joe

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec 2011 4:13 pm
by Jason Kite

Thank you for that and I agree it was a good artice. However I still have the same issue despite 3 weeks of working on "come here" and am not seeing much improvement in the land based retrieving - thus questioning whether at 8 months I terminate views of using him for retrieving and simply having him as a pet.

On leash is not a problem, off lease is. I have eliminated the dummy issue, he is now quite happy to hold in his mouth. For the past three weeks I have taken him to an off leash area, put him into a sit say (I vary between drop and sit just to mix it up a bit) and back out 30-50m and then on come get him coming to me. Ok that works. Now do the same thing BUT this time turn my back but still showing a stay hand command and repeating stay as I walk out. I can get out about 25m then past that point is 50/50 whether he will stay (I go no more than 50m). I take him back to the same spot and repeat the drill if he breaks, priase him lavishly if does it correctly.

After three weeks of no retrieve work this I took him down to the river to see how he would retrieve. As noted above he seems more compliant in water then out of it. He definately is good in the water as I was able to throw the dummy out and send him out on command - easily doing 50m retrieves..still some work on the final bit ie bring back to me, sit and present the dummy but better than it was as he now comes to within about 2m of me and drops the dummy.

However on land there has been no improvement. Steadiness is ok if i touch the collar when I throw the dummy - other wise he will break occassionally though to be fair this is repeated when we did water work. He will go out on the command of fetch and pick it up but he still wants to get about 5m from me then he wants to turn it into a game... I have tried walking away etc but he doesn't seem to bother about that unless I started getting far way, treats are variable in results etc I have included drills like, putting into a stay position, backing up with a dummy, dropping it at ~25m, walk 25-30m to the side then walk to him then send him out to fetch and he will do this BUT gets to 5m and the disobedience starts.

Any views?

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Mon 26 Dec 2011 6:54 pm
by Diane McCann
Hi Jason, to me it really sounds like a training issue, not one of dog ability or affinity, I cannot say whether or not your dog has the drive and ability to be successful in retrieving trials, but the issues that you have described are certainly not the deciding factor.

I would recommend the following.

You need to teach the dog force hold, when this has been successfully done you should be able to pat the dog all over the head muzzle, place you hand on his face and retract it repeatedly, grab hold of the dummy and give it a tug - all without the dog releasing the dummy. The dog should only release the dummy when you give the verbal release command. Once the dog is consistantly reliable holding the dummy while sitting in front or beside you and only ever releasing it on command then you can commence heeling with the dog beside you 'holding' and then doing short recalls with the dog 'holding'. If at any time the process breaks down and the dog releases the dummy without command then you must back up and repeat, not moving forward again until the dog is 100% compliant. You should do each step with various different articles that the dog must hold. Only when the dog has thoroughly learnt what the 'hold' command means under all circumstances should you return to retrieving - as the dog now knows what is requried and knows what the hold command means you can correct if he puts the dummy down before you give him the release command (which will only be given when he is sitting in the presentation position in front of you with head held high).

Of course the finished presentation can only occur if the dog is reliable on the return of the retrieve. When teaching my dogs to retrieve I commence in an area where they have no other option but to return to me so that the correct behaviour becomes a habit. When I progress to the next stage I attach a rope to the dog so that they cannot deviate far before being made to return promptly. This is combined with praise for the correct behaviour (I use food) and discipline for the incorrect behaviour - strong tug on the rope, grabbing and pulling in. It sounds to me that you may have moved forward before you have sufficient control and before the basics have become habit in your pup.

There are many good books & DVD's around that provide step by step instructions for retreiving training young dogs, I am sure that there are many on this web site who could give you some suggestions as to the better ones, however which program to follow is often just a personal preference.

I have not trained dogs to the highest level of success in retrieving, let alone many dogs to that level, so I am sure that the more accomplished trainers can help you more than I (some of them may be cringing already reading my ideas :shock: ).

Don't give up on your dog, get some more help and don't be afraid to go back to square one, it will be worth it.

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Tue 27 Dec 2011 8:53 am
by Joe Law
Hi Jason,

I was wondering how you were faring since your last post. In the larger picture three weeks is only a short time so don’t be disheartened if progress seems slow. Perseverance, persistence and patience should bring you the success you are searching. You say “On leash is not a problem, off leash is. I have eliminated the dummy issue, he is now quite happy to hold in his mouth”. Well done! That is real progress although you must be prepared to revise and reinforce this behaviour as you move forward. Diane has already responded to your call and given you excellent advice. Follow her suggestions and I feel sure you will remain on the right track to achieving what you wish for. Could I suggest you read and re-read the paragraph where Diane writes:

“Of course the finished presentation can only occur if the dog is reliable on the return of the retrieve. When teaching my dogs to retrieve I commence in an area where they have no other option but to return to me so that the correct behaviour becomes a habit. When I progress to the next stage I attach a rope to the dog so that they cannot deviate far before being made to return promptly. This is combined with praise for the correct behaviour (I use food) and discipline for the incorrect behaviour - strong tug on the rope, grabbing and pulling in. It sounds to me that you may have moved forward before you have sufficient control and before the basics have become habit in your pup.”

As for the good books and DVDs available, and to which Diane makes mention, could I suggest you check out Robert Milner’s stuff on Here is his stated philosophy and approach:

Five Basic Principles of Positive Gundog Training
by Robert Milner's Duckhill Kennels on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 3:21pm

My philosophy is that my gundog is my best friend and should be treated and trained accordingly. Thus I have spent the last 10 of my 40 dog-training years developing protocols for the positive training of gundogs. These practices and protocols represent a huge break from the traditional training culture in which I operated for some 30 years. They also make dog training much more fun.

Positive Duckdog Training

1. Early development of learning process - Pup should learn early that he can "buy" rewards (treats) by offering behavior. He should sit to get every meal. You should teach other behaviors with treat reward. Some examples might be: stay, crawl, jump up on platform, roll over, etc. The more behaviors a young puppy learns, the more skillful he will be at learning and the easier will be his later training.

2. Get steady early - every unrestrained retrieve trains pup to break. As soon as pup is retrieving eagerly, you should begin restraining him for a gradually increasing time period before releasing for the retrieve. My milepost is a 30 ft retrieve, with pup restrained 30 seconds and confident enough to hunt after release for 30 seconds for the dummy. I typically have 16 week-old puppies steady without restraint.

3. More dummies; less birds - Establish the behaviors of retrieving and delivery to hand using dummies. After the behaviors are well established and habits are strong, use some birds. Used too early in pup's training, birds tend to create problems, such as running off to the bushes with the bird, mouth problems, and unsteadiness. Birds are a giant leap in distraction level.

4. More Blinds; Less marks - The primary value of a marked (seen) retrieve should be as a reward for sitting quietly during and after the fall. Beyond that, marked (seen) retrieves have a negative value with respect to teaching pup to stop on the whistle and take a cast. Every marked retrieve that pup completes trains him a little more to find the prey without help from the handler. The goal of hand signals is to train pup to take directional casts from the handler toward the prey.

5. Whistle stopping and hand signals. Get it established close. Then get it established close with high distraction. Establishing the whistle stopping and casting behaviors close to you allows you to deliver reward effectively. Exposing to high distraction levels while still close to you prepares the dog for the distraction level offered by distance.

Robert Milner

Finally Jason, remember your pup is only young and there could be several years of enjoyment ahead for both you and your dog. Enjoy the journey!


Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Thu 29 Dec 2011 9:58 pm
by Gareth Tawton
Hi Jason,

Joe and Di have given some great advice. It seems to me most of the amercan based training "systems" such as Robert Milners that Joe refers to are basically the same. I dont think it matters much which you follow they all head in the same direction jsut slightly different paths that you need to adapt to your dog. Try Mike Lardy's web site for a good basic program. DL Walters has some good books. Evan Graham is a good at marketing but in my opionion is just copies of lots of other peoples stuff. However he does have a good logical sequence to training. I would pay particular attention to force fetch as this key component addresses many of the minor issues you may come across in one foul swoop.

If you are just looking for a rough shooting dog there are also several Pommie books that would serve you well. Can't think of the name of them at the moment.


Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Fri 30 Dec 2011 9:56 am
by Joe Law
Once again I feel obliged to differ in opinion with Gareth. Unfortunately, all the material that Gareth has just recommended is primarily based on avoidance training techniques with the electric collar (EC) being the tool used to provide the stimulus to be avoided. Robert Milner is an American trainer who has moved away from these techniques questioning the efficacy of these methods and the long term effects they are having on retriever breeds in America (especially Labradors). He has used his knowledge and experience to put a much greater emphasis on positive training techniques and does not recommend the use of electric collars.
Personally, I do not have a problem with American professional trainers using ECs in America (providing cruelty and abuse are not issues). I presume they are operating within American laws and also in accordance with the rules and regulations of their controlling bodies. It is clear their trials are also conducive to and support this type of training.
I do have a problem with amateur Australian trainers advocating the use of these methods knowing they are contrary to some State and Federal laws and clearly contrary to the rules and regulations of the Australian National Kennel Control (ANKC). As an executive member of the Working Gundog Club Inc.(WGC) that administers this website I am in no doubt of our club’s obligations in this regard.
The moderators of this website need the support and respect of our members in seeing that our obligations are fulfilled.
In my opinion a straight -forward policy statement covering these issues and produced by our National Retrieving and Field Trial Committee(NRAFT) could be of assistance in clearing up some grey areas so we all know where we stand.
Returning to Jason, who has unwittingly become a voice of people new to the sport, my advice would be to simply stick to the basics and I am sure you will find good people willing to assist you.

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Fri 30 Dec 2011 6:04 pm
by Steve Grainger
Well said Joe.

I try not to get involved in these type of debates as I believe I lack the knowledge and experience in retrieving trialling to do so but on this I feel I have to put my two bobs worth in.
When I first started in retrieving I too was told FF will fix everything but with my experience in training dogs I knew this was a load of rubbish. I know a lot of people checking this web site have none or very little dog training experience and I would hate for them to think that we all advocate these training methods.
I can tell you it is not only Robert Milner but quite a few other professional trainers in America (check out their web sites) that are now questioning their training methods saying they have dug themselves into a big hole which is going to take a lot of doing and change of attitudes to pull back out of. I wouldn’t like to see us come to that in Australia.


Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Fri 30 Dec 2011 10:41 pm
by Gareth Tawton
HI steve,

It's a shame someone would say to you FF will fix everything. I dont think there is such a thing as a fix everything drill or step for training dogs. However a logical step by step teaching program is undoubtably the most effective and humane way of teaching a dog. I also think you will find the majority, but not all, of the successful handlers in Australia include this as a PART of their training program.
Unfortunatley Joe seems to have missed the point in my post that you need an effective step by step program with each step preparing the dog for the next. As I said Robert Milner and others are all advocating a logical step by step process. This has nothing to do with your choice of check chain, e collar, food reward or whatever to help the dog thru the learning phase of each step. Infact many pro trainers (as mentioned on Mike Lardys website) don't recommend the use of an ecollar by anyone just trying to train a rough shooting or basic hunt test dog. They do say you will probably need one, in the hand of and appropriatley trained operator, to become competative in US Pro trials doing 400m blinds. Those same pro trainers also say the most effective training tool is a well timed GOOD DOG.

Why these discussions always come back to the E collar is beyond me. I can only say when reading any training info or watching any DVD look beyond the collar, check chain or whatever and try to understand the underlying principles. Then apply those principles to your particular dog bearing in mind how they will fit into the Australian trialling set up. I am sure that is what most of our top handlers are doing.


PS I think if you had the oportunity to spend some time with some of these pro trainers you would find they are more into versions of positive and negative reinforcement not avoidance training. That's a bit öld school" now.

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Sat 31 Dec 2011 6:33 am
by Steve Grainger
Hi Gareth.
As I said I try to keep out of these types of discussions as most people believe in the training method that they use, that’s why they use it. The reason I got involved is I don’t want people new to training think that everyone trains with negative reinforcement it’s up to each individual to choose how they train their dog. When statements are made “. I would pay particular attention to force fetch as this key component addresses many of the minor issues you may come across in one foul swoop” It does give the impression you are implying that it is a fix all.
I may be wrong but isn’t FF avoidance training holding the dummy to stop the pressure, discomfort, pain call it what you want.
Yes no matter what training method you use or what you are training for it has to be a step by step progression and I think in my humble opinion that is what all Jason is doing wrong, he is rushing things a little.


Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Sat 31 Dec 2011 12:34 pm
by Prue Winkfield
Hi Jason - as a trialer with GSPs I decided that if I was to play their game (ie retrieving trials) must train the way they train. As I have had some success this has paid off. As has been said earlier, this does not mean one has to use ECs but one does have to follow a programme step by step. When Bill Eckett was here he was asked what you would do with a dog that had some training. His response was that whenever a new dog comes into him for training he goes back to base regardless of what the owner thinks the dog can do. Thus he ensures the dog knows each step in his programme. Of course an older partly trained dog will go through the steps quite quickly.
So suggest, along with others, that you find a good programme - get the book as well as the DVD and follow the steps as if you had done nothing with your dog. You will probably need to do more work on the rope and run a bit more than with an EC but the drills and concepts should be the same. Good luck! Prue

Re: Retrieving issues

PostPosted: Sat 31 Dec 2011 9:39 pm
by Jason Kite
Thanks to all that have contributed, some useful advice.

One issue which is my fault is that I am between dog sports at this moment with a foot in both camps. For the past 10+ years I have been involved in sled dog sports in Australia (alaskan malamute) but have decided to get more involved in the shooting world with a dog. But sometimes a foot on both sides of the fence just gives you a bad case of splitters :shock: Also what do I want the dog for is a very valid question Gareth has asked? Rough shooting dog on ducks and maybe some pheasant, absolutely but training for trialling might be a good strategy to get their ie outside view of whats going on always useful?

in anycase, happy new year to all!