This will create some serious delivery problems in later life.
Note my emphasis on the word continually. In my case the play was not just on an occasional basis but was probably something the dog indulged in on a daily basis to keep himself amused.
The fact that the dog was mentally bright and a keen retriever only made matters worse.
To overcome the problem I embarked on what (afterwards) seemed a fairly obvious, simple remedy that focussed on the dog’s willingness to retrieve.
When walking him on a two-metre long training lead, I would put the dummy in his mouth. I immediately praised him, but then removed the retrieve from his mouth, at the same time holding his head up with the lead.
The lesson progressed to me dropping the dummy to the ground alongside the dog and telling him to retrieve. As soon as he had the dummy in his mouth I then pulled his head up with the lead, praised him and took the retrieve before he had time to drop it.
I practiced this several times a day for around three or four weeks, gradually extending the distance between him and the dropped dummy – always telling him to retrieve it as soon as it hit the ground. The other important thing was to keep a constant upward tension on the lead so that he was forced to hold his head up whilst coming back into me to deliver the dummy.
During these short lessons I also started to teach him to walk to heel on the lead and it was then that I noticed he had another minor problem – sniffing the ground when he should have been concentrating on me.
Some people may not be too concerned about this and say it’s not that important, but I’ve found with dogs that continually do this they soon learn to hang back sniffing when you are not concentrating on what they’re doing. This then gives them the opportunity to come running up from behind, and instead of stopping at your heel they run straight past – turning the whole business of walking to heel into a complete shambles.
Use the lead to keep the dog’s head up and his concentration on you.
As such, I always like labradors to walk to heel with their head up and concentrating on me. To rectify this was quite simple. Using a small nut stick, I just tapped him under the chin when his head went down. As a deterrent this works well.
When his head was up and he was walking nicely to heel on my left hand side I could then gently touch him on the top of his head with my left hand, encouraging him and rewarding him at the same time for good behaviour.
These lessons in walking to heel with his head up also helped with the delivery problem. Because he was now happy to walk to heel carrying the retrieve he didn’t want to throw it onto the ground and drop his head to play with it.
After several weeks of practice he then became a very enthusiastic deliverer of the retrieve. Incidentally, this did cause another problem – coming back at high speed with his head up and hitting me in the unmentionables with the dummy.
In his mind this was now the correct way to deliver a retrieve!
I cured this by simply walking backwards as the dog approached, commanding him to sit as he came in.
This way I didn’t suppress any of this dog’s enthusiasm for his retrieving, and it’s interesting to note that the dog remained happy and willing to please throughout the training process.
What’s more, I didn’t suffer a bruised groin again either!