Maintain your trained dog with these tips
If you have invested in professional training for your retriever, you should be enjoying a more obedient, responsive dog. But that does not mean that your dog’s training is compete or that he/she will maintain that training for the rest of their life. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Once your retriever finishes his/her professional training, it is up to you (the owner) to maintain your dog’s training.
How long will it take to maintain my dog’s professional training?
The amount of time required to maintain your retrievers training varies depending on your dog’s personality and your ability to be consistent in your expectations. Rest assured, however, that maintaining a trained retriever requires much less time than training a retriever from scratch.
We recommend to our clients that they spend 5-10 minutes a day working on obedience with their dog. And if they cannot do that every day, that’s okay. Even three days a week would make a lasting difference in maintaining your dogs training.
Obedience is key, but if your dog is destined to be a hunting or competition dog, there is training to maintain beyond obedience.
Advancement or maintenance
Every time you train your dog you should be working toward advancement or maintenance. This means that you are either training your retriever something new, or you are reviewing what he/she already knows and working to keep that knowledge rock solid. The most neglected of these areas is maintenance.
Your dog is a living, breathing animal. He/she will test you and it is possible to lose all he/she has been taught if the training is not maintained.
How can I maintain my dog’s obedience training?
Here are some tips on how to best maintain your dog’s training.
- Be consistent with commands. Use the commands your retriever learned during training and say them in a firm, consistent tone of voice. Your command should not sound like a question.
- If your retriever does not obey a command, take action to make your retriever obey. Do not give a command that you are not willing or able to back up with correction should you dog decide not to comply.
- Practice obedience, preferably with your retriever on lead. Obedience is the cornerstone of what your dog has learned during his/her stay with us. If you let this breakdown, the rest of the training can and most often does crumble.
Obedience can be practiced by:
- Taking your dog for a walk and making him/her HEEL beside you during the walk. When you stop, make the dog SIT.
- If your retriever has been force fetched, you can add this element during your walks. Have your dog hold a bumper in his mouth during part or entire walk. If he/she drops the bumper, enforce the FETCH and HOLD commands in the manner shown to you by your trainer. Occasionally stop and take the bumper from your dog using the GIVE command or whatever command your dog has been taught to release the bumper or bird. Be careful to not make him/her hold it too long at first. Increase the time as you work on this drill.
- Practice heeling drills demonstrated in this post.
How can I maintain my dog’s hunting training?
The best way to advance and maintain your dog’s hunting training is with hunting. Start with short easy hunts that guarantee your dog quick success and then slowly increase the time and difficulty of the hunt to increase your dog’s endurance and skill.
Learn more about how to grow your dog into a hunting machine.
In addition to the hunting, you should take time to practice marking drills with your dog. Please remember quality not quantity! Too many marks can cause sloppiness and even boredom in high enthusiasm dogs.
Limit your retriever to three to six retrieves per session. And never allow bumpers to be used as toys or chewed on, they are a training tool and should only be used for retrieving.
Marking drills to work on with your retriever
Here are some marking drills to help maintain your dog’s training.
Structured retrieve drill
Structured retrieves are when you work on the mechanics of the retrieve. You make your dog sit at HEEL next to you, you throw the bumper, then you send the dog for the retrieve. You want the dog to be steady, sit at your side until you send him/her for the retrieve. When your dog delivers the bumper, you wan the dog to come back into HEEL and hold the bumper until you take it from his/her mouth.
If at any time, one of the mechanics breaks down, stop and work on that breakdown. For instance, if your dog is breaking (running after the bumper before being sent) then you need to take time to work through steady. Attach a lead to your dog and manually enforce steady. Don’t just keep doing retrieves and letting the dog break, since you are then reinforcing a bad behavior and soon it will be even harder to fix.
Assistant throws require an assistant. The assistant helps you train by throwing plugs or birds while you handle your retriever. This enables you to give your retriever longer, more complex marks and allows you to give your complete attention to the dog and focus on line-manners.
You can also add launchers, mechanical throwing devices, to help you work on more marks, but two people is still recommended so that you can focus on handling the dog and learning to read your dog.
Bird Boy marks
This drill also involves having an assistant to throw for you. For this drill, your thrower/gunner will be out in a field (distance depends on your dog’s ability). The assistant will throw a mark. You, the dog handler, will send the dog for the mark. After the dog picks up the mark, your assistant will move to where the previous bird or bumper landed. After the dog delivers the bumper to you, you will have the assistant throw the next mark.
Bird boy marks are usually done in series of four to six marks in a row. See diagram below. The thrower starts at position 1 and moves through positions 2-6. Thrower throws to X.
A word on praise
It is important to understand your dog and how he/she responds to praise. But in general, we would like to caution you regarding the amount and type of praise you give your dog. Each dog reacts differently to praise/attention. Some retrievers need praise, but many use it as an excuse to no longer be obedient. You need to be aware of this so that you do not let this happen.
Here are some guidelines to remember.
- It is okay to praise your retriever for doing something that is correct. For instance, if you call your retriever saying, “HERE FIDO”. And Fido comes running right to you. Praise at this time would be appropriate. Fido did what you said with no hesitation, and you did not have to repeat the command. Praise in the form of a “GOOD DOG” or a pat or scratch on his head would be fine.
- Do not praise your retriever for almost doing something right. For instance, you call Fido with a HERE command but instead of coming to you, Fido looks at you, takes a few steps towards you and then stops. So, you must call Fido again. In this case, praise would not be appropriate. Praise in this situation is encouraging your dog to ignore the HERE command.
- Give praise as a correct behavior is happening or immediately after a correct behavior has been done.
I would also encourage you to set some rules for your retriever while praise is being given. Praise should never be an excuse to act badly.
- Do not allow your retriever to jump up or on you are you praise or pet him/her.
- If your retriever lifts his/her feet off the ground while you are petting him/her, immediately stop the praise/petting and say, “NO”. You can resume petting when all four feet are again on the ground.
Final thoughts on how to maintain my dog’s professional training program
Protect your investment in your dog’s training. With a little maintenance your dog can remain just as sharp years later as he/she is today. A few minutes a day will make for amazing results.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call. I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time, happy retrieving.