A reader is having problems with retrieve refusal with a gundog puppy. What does professional gundog trainer Graham Watkins say?
“I recently got my first gundog puppy and I started training her straight away. To start with she would go and pick up a tennis ball, but now she just sits or lays down with it and refuses to bring it back to me. Is there anything I can do about this annoying habit when a gundog won’t retrieve?” MR C Cooling, Hertfordshire
Why a gundog won’t retrieve
This is not an uncommon problem with novice owners/trainers, but it is a situation that needs to be rectified before the behaviour of either not retrieving or running away with the retrieve becomes an ingrained habit. Here at Gamegoer Gundogs we do spend a lot of our time rectifying training issues that have been caused by the “enthusiasm” of the owner; it is always easier to never create a problem than to try and correct it.
Over the years selective breeding has produced various breeds of gundogs that should have a natural ability to retrieve, however in some breeds such as HPRs and spaniels the desire to hunt can overcome their retrieving desire. Therefore, different breeds may need a different approach to their early training.
By far the most common problem with young dogs is that owners do too much too soon, and as a result the pup soon becomes bored and disinterested. They need time to mature, both mentally and physically, to enable them to deal with the training.
Disinclined to bring back a retrieve during training
There can be another factor if the pup lives indoors with the family, especially if it is keen on picking-up various items such as shoes or slippers and it’s constantly being told off. This can create a reluctance to not only pick anything up, but more likely the pup may be disinclined to bring back a retrieve during training because it thinks it will be told off.
Bear the weather in mind when you are training your pup during the summer months. If it is too warm the little dog will get tired very quickly, early morning and late evening are best and if it is particularly warm then leave the training for another day.
As a young pup develops it has a natural desire to explore its environment and quite often that can be far more stimulating than a tennis ball. Pick your training area carefully so that the most exciting thing for the pup is the retrieve.
Successful gundog training
First of all it should be understood that any form of proper training shouldn’t really be undertaken until the pup is both mentally and physically able to absorb the lessons – this would normally be around six months depending on the personality of the dog.
That’s not to say we can’t start to condition a young pup as soon as it comes home and this can be simple things such as coming to its name, sitting and, of course, some very basic retrieving, but all of this should be done in moderation and in very small doses.