I’m about to start training mine to pick-up.
I am not sure when to start or what dummies I should be using.
Is the shape and weight of the dummy important?
Does it have to be linked to the quarry he will be picking-up?
Will I risk causing problems if I use fur and feather dummies too early?
Will I create a hard-mouthed dog by using the new rubber bird dummies?
JEREMY HUNT SAYS: There isn’t a set-time to start retriever training.
As you progress and the pup develops, you will find steadiness and ‘not’ retrieving everything thrown becomes a priority.
You still have to encourage the retrieving instinct in a pup.
Some simple playtime retrieving with something soft and small when it’s anything over 10 weeks old is fine.
You will progress to one of the lightweight half-pound dummies as training becomes more structured, but don’t overdo things.
The transition from the puppy dummy to the traditional 1lb size dummy comes quite quickly for most pups.
At this stage you need to start focussing on getting the pup back to you as quickly as possible.
Make sure it delivers straight in front of you and that there is no mouthing, dropping the dummy or lowering of the head when it is presented.
If you feel you’ve progressed too quickly in terms of size and that the pup is struggling, go back to the smaller dummy.
I don’t think there’s any connection between the type of dummies you use and the type of game that the pup will eventually be retrieving.
It is useful to give the dog a range of textures to carry to prepare it for all eventualities in the shooting field.
The rubber-bird dummies are excellent, albeit not cheap.
I have used them for several years and find them a valuable training aid in terms of encouraging my dogs to pick-up correctly.
In my experience they don’t hold scent as well as the canvas dummies and can be harder for dogs to find.
They float, but don’t throw them into a fast flowing stream unless your dog is a very quick retriever.
I don’t think that there’s any risk of a dog becoming hard-mouthed by training with the rubber dummies.
Dummies wrapped in a rabbit skin and those with the feather-band that you can buy to tie around them can be introduced as soon as you feel your pup is confident at retrieving and won’t be put off by a different feel in its mouth.
It’s very rare for a dog to refuse to pick-up fur or feather at this level of training and I would advise you then to do a test run with a freshly shot rabbit or (if out of season) a pheasant from the freezer that has been defrosted enough to take away the hardness and coldness.