Jeremy Hunt has trained hundreds of Labradors. Here is his advice on picking the right puppy training class for your youngster.
How to find the best class for training a Labrador puppy
What should you be looking for?
Look for a trainer who appreciates that each puppy is different. Avoid puppy classes where the trainer treats the dogs as though they are more or less all the same. All too often in a class of youngsters going to spring and summer weekly training group sessions there will be dogs that don’t progress as well as others.
Maybe the training method is too rigid for them. Maybe the dog is a little bit more sensitive. Maybe the puppy doesn’t lack ability but needs a careful approach to its education.
It could be that the trainer lacks experience.
So if you’re on the hunt for group training classes for you and your young Labrador how do you make sure that at the end of them you end up with a dog that does what you want it to do?
You need to know your puppy well
- You need to know how your Labrador puppy ticks first. Is it bold? Timid? Before you embark on a class spend plenty of time with your dog so that you understand its strengths and weaknesses of character and attitude. Then you will be able to assess how you and your own dog would respond when you start to look at your group options for training a Labrador puppy.
- 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.
Words on training from a working Labrador owner
Lesley Collins from Dorset bought her first working Labrador over five years ago. She now has four dogs and admits to being “totally hooked”.
“Finding a group that I felt suited me and my first dog took time,” she said, when asked about training a Labrador puppy. “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 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.
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