What should you expect from a puppy training class? Jeremy Hunt offers some pointers for owners of young Labradors
Training a Labrador puppy in a class certainly has its appeal. But as in all things it pays to do your research before you commit yourself and your dog to what will undoubtedly be the most formative period in your future working partnership.
What to look for in a class
There are certainly some excellent training classes where genuinely experienced gundog trainers with many years of experience generously give their time to pass on their knowledge and understanding of retriever training. Learning how to train a Labrador puppy is not like flicking through the pages of a car manual where every engine is put together in the same way. Gundogs are not machines; in a communal training situation there is often a risk that some trainers will treat young dogs as though they are just that and try to train them as though each dog in the class is more or less the same.
But all too often in a class of youngsters going through spring and summer weekly training group sessions there will be dogs that don’t progress as well as others. It may be that the training method is too rigid or too harsh or that a dog is more sensitive rather than lacking ability and needs a more careful approach to its education. Equally it may be that the trainer is lacking in experience.
So for the person with a young retriever about to embark upon group training classes at a local club, how do you set about your task in the hope that at the end of several months you will end up with a dog that does the job you want it to do?
Know your dog
- Firstly it’s essential to make sure you “know your dog”. And by that I mean you really do need to know how your youngster ticks. You should have spent enough time with your dog before attending any training classes so that you totally understand its strengths and its weaknesses of character and attitude. And it’s based on that acute awareness of your young retriever that you should assess how you and your own dog would respond when you start to look at your group training options.
- If you are joining a puppy class make sure the trainer is experienced. Do not underestimate how easy it is to do damage to a raw and impressionable youngster exposed to an adverse training experience. So many times have I seen a puppy class at a gundog club taken by an inexperienced trainer while the “open” class automatically seems to warrant a “top notch” mentor.
- If you know of classes that you think may suit you it’s important to start by finding others who have attended and can give you their opinion. Then, go along as a spectator and make an evaluation for yourself. These sessions are usually divided into classes dependent on ability, so look at the numbers of dogs in the class you are interested in, assess the expertise of the trainer and of the exercises being undertaken.
- Look at how a trainer reacts when a dog and handler fails an exercise or how much patience and advice is given relevant to that particular dog. As earlier stated, dogs are not machines and a good trainer is the one who can help and encourage those who need it.
- Working tests are a popular and valuable part of gundog training and are enjoyed by many. While lots of clubs hold an end-of-season working test to assess the progress made by dogs during the summer, I have seen some training work at club level that has seemed very formulaic and heavily biased towards producing “test” dogs rather than real all-round working retrievers. That may suit you if working tests are your ultimate aim but spending the summer perfecting straight line retrieves and overly-long sits and stays more akin to collies in an obedience ring, may not be what you want if you need a picking-up dog that certainly has to be responsive but whose main job is to get the birds in the bag.
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Words from a working Labrador owner
Lesley Collins from Dorset bought her first working Labrador almost five years ago. She now has four dogs and admits to being “totally hooked”.
“Finding a training group that I felt suited me and my first dog took time,” she said. “I found I was agreeing with some of the way things were done and not others. It’s very important to find a group where the training suits your dog because every dog is different and some groups don’t make enough allowance for that.”
Though Lesley eventually started to attend URC-organised group training and found it to be of a high standard, she is now also involved in a private group with some friends.
“There were a few of us who were like-minded in the way we wanted to train our dogs so we found a trainer who would take us as a group. It’s been a success and is something more should consider,” she said.