Amateur trainers (myself included) often worry most about the holy trinity of gun dog problems–water shyness, gun shyness, and bird shyness. Oodles of manpower have gone into making sure pups never show any of these dirty traits. But often overlooked is a problem that’s more common than all three…a lack of a desire to retrieve. And like most problems encountered in the gun dog game it’s often the result of poor training practices. (For a point of focus we’ll zero in on dogs that are roughly 6 to 8 months.)
According to Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels (and breeder and trainer of Duck’s Unlimited Deke and Drake), unless you have the wrong brand of dog for the job, say a Golden that has been show-bred for three generations, you need to “look unto yourself” for the root of the problem. You may have administered a few bad corrections during a retrieve and the dog now thinks its safer not to fool with a dummy. Or, more likely, you bored the dog to tears running countless marks in the same cover–over and over and over again. Here are a few ways Stewart would correct the problem:
1. Sometimes simply switching up your bumpers will help spur pup’s drive. Stewart suggests anything from fire hose type bumpers to tennis balls. When Pritchard started to slack off and lose interest a few months ago I moved from an orange dummy to a Dokken’s DeadFowl Trainer and the difference was outstanding. I also began to limit the number of retrieves per session, keeping her wanting more.
2. If your dog still resists try sitting him at the top of a hill and bouncing a tennis ball down the hill. Keep him steady until he’s ready to burst and then send him off.
3. If the above tactics don’t work, it’s time to give your pup some alone time. Stewart will put a dog in the run for two weeks. He visits the pup just to feed and water it. Chances are, when you take the dog out of the run he’ll be happy to do anything you ask. But make sure you start your retrieves in a new area (not where the original problem occurred) and with a new type of dummy. And don’t overdo it.
In most cases, these tricks will reignite pup’s enthusiasm for the retrieve and hopefully he’ll never lose it.
If you’ve encountered this problem or have different solutions feel free to share. When it comes to dog training, the more ideas the better.