A reader wonders what it's about ...
Q: My three-year-old flatcoated retriever has been a joy to train, is a really keen retriever and has been a good worker out on the shoot for the past two seasons, but she has just started making the faintest of noises in the back of her throat just before I send her to retrieve. She has also started anticipating being sent and has run-in a couple of times. I thought she was nearly ready to trial but this is a real setback. Any advice?
A: Many novice trainers make the same mistake, concentrating on retrieving to such an extent that the dog becomes obsessive with alarming consequences. While practice at retrieving is essential, over-repetition of marked retrieves will inadvertently cause faults to appear. Steadiness in the obsessive retriever can be maintained, but at what cost? The anticipation of being sent, or rather the frustration at not being sent quickly enough, may be causing the noise in the back of the throat. At rest this would have been unnoticed until delivered at a pitch and volume audible to the human ear. The inaudible noise would have been constantly rewarded and the behaviour reinforced by the dog fetching yet another retrieve.
Stop sending for marked retrieves
You must break the sequence of events that lead up to her anticipating being sent to retrieve. Stop sending her for marked retrieves but turn them into memory retrieves by walking her away at heel before sending her back. Pick all birds in the open by hand and reward her for sitting and waiting. Take her out on as many shoot days as necessary without letting her retrieve and reward her for sitting quietly during the shooting. She must be taught to switch off and this will not happen if she keeps getting rewarded with birds to fetch.