Obedience in the hunting blind starts with obedience in the home
Many hunting dogs are combination family dog and hunting dog rolled into one. While there is no problem with this, it does create some unique challenges. These retrievers need to be obedient both in the home and in the field. And they must listen and obey more than one person, often multiple people. So, how do you make your hunting retriever more obedient?
Why retrievers need obedience training
I don’t think anyone enjoys being around a disobedient dog. At least, I have never met such a person. Dogs are wonderful addition to our family, but life can quickly become frustrating and hectic when they don’t listen to you. Retriever disobedience is usually a sign of one of two things – lack of training or lack of respect. Let’s start with training.
When to start teaching obedience to my retriever
Ideally, you should start training your retriever puppy the day you pick him or her up from the breeder. It is easier to teach a puppy than it is an older dog. They are smaller and easier to control, and if you teach them correctly as a puppy your work as they get older will be much easier. If your dog is already older, start now!
Socialization important for retriever puppy obedience
While socialization is important for all dogs, it is essential for retriever puppies destined to hunt. Socialization is the act of putting your puppy in new situations and then allowing the puppy to figure it out. This process helps dogs more easily adjust to changing circumstances, locations, and people. Hunting dog puppies also need to be socialized to people of all ages. While doing socialization, it is important to maintain high expectations. Do not change or accept different standards when your puppy is in new situations or you will create a dog that obeys only in comfortable situations.
Want to learn more? Check out What age to start training my retriever.
While ideally socialization is done with retrievers while they are puppies, older dogs can still be socialized. It is just a bit more challenging. Take special care to put your retriever in new situations and allow your dog to learn how to adjust. You need to do this often, as it will take an older dog longer to adjust to changes.
Most useful commands for hunting breeds
Obedience is something that you can never work on enough. You should practice obedience with your retriever daily, but at a minimum weekly. The more you practice and enforce obedience, they better behaved your dog will be.
Here are the basic commands you should start with:
- HERE or COME – Use to teach your retriever to come to you
- SIT – Use to teach your retriever to SIT and STAY in a position that you instruct
- DOWN – Use this is you want to teach your retriever to lay down in a position you instruct
- HEEL – Use this command to teach your retriever to walk at your side or come into and SIT at your side.
At Otter Tail Kennels, we do not use the STAY command. We feel it is redundant to say a command such as SIT and immediately follow it up with a STAY command. When we command SIT, the dog is supposed to stay sitting until another command is given. If you prefer to use the STAY command, feel free to do so, just make sure you are consistent.
Teaching the obedience commands
Obedience is taught through a great deal of repetition and control. The best command to start with is SIT. Say the command, enforce the command, then say the command again. It should look like this: “SIT” – push down on dog’s bottom – “SIT”. It is best to teach only one command at a time and make sure your dog fully understands the command before moving on.
How long will it take?
It is not uncommon for dog owners to want firm and concrete time estimates for training. But dogs don’t work like that. Some dogs will be quick learners and hardly ever test the owner. Others will fight obedience work so hard that you will begin to think its impossible. Obedience is an ongoing activity. It should be practiced daily and in new places, new situations and with new people. As a dog ages, obedience usually gets easier if you are consistent and maintain strong standards, but there will still be times of testing. After all, they are dogs, not robots.
Besides working on getting the dog to SIT when you say SIT. You can, and should, challenge your dog to do more complex and longer obedience work. For instance, you can increase the length of time you want them to SIT. Or, add distractions that tempt them to move. Distractions such as throwing a bumper or a toy or just crouching or lying down on the ground can often be enough to pull them out of a sit, giving you a chance to make a correction and teach a lesson.
Anytime your dog gets up from a SIT prior to you giving another command or a release command, put the dog back in the exact spot they got up from and repeat the command SIT. Dogs are very in tune to locations, therefore putting them back in the exact spot will speed up the learning process.
When you are done with your obedience session, you can release the dog from the structure using an OKAY command. We use this command to let the dog know they can get up and move freely about. It doesn’t take long for them to bounce around and be extra happy when hearing that command.
The KENNEL and PLACE commands for control
There are two other commands that we find are extremely helpful for maintaining control both inside the home and in the hunting blind.
KENNEL is a command that can be used to direct your dog to get into their crate. It is one of our prime commands because it is never fun wrestling a dog into a dog crate. With the KENNEL command you can teach your dog to go peacefully and willingly into his crate when asked.
Teaching this command is relatively easy if you start when the dog is a pup. Simply say the word KENNEL each time you place the puppy in the crate. Then praise them with a small treat or by petting them before closing the door. Through repetition this command will become solid.
A PLACE command is a little harder to teach but especially important for duck and goose hunters that want or need their dog to sit in a specific spot in the duck boat or blind. I have also seen it used inside the home if you have problems when strangers come to the door. This process will take some time, so plan to work on it a few minutes every day until the dog understands.
How to teach KENNEL and PLACE commands
- Put a towel or blanket on the floor and have the dog sit on it.
- While they are sitting on the towel, pet them and repeat the PLACE command several times.
- Next, on leash, walk them away from the towel and then make your way back to the towel. As you walk toward the towel, repeat the command several times as you again have them sit on the towel. Praise them.
- Repeat this sequence several times.
- With the leash still on, extend the distance away from the towel. Don’t get so far away from the towel that the dog cannot see it.
- As you progress on this command, you will get to the point where you no longer need to hold the leash. Do not remove it just yet. Instead, let the dog drag it as you walk toward the towel saying the command.
- You will know that the command is solid when you can remove the leash and from anywhere in the house say PLACE and your dog will go to the towel and sit down.
If you experience any breakdowns in the training, simply back up a step to where they can perform the task and progress from there.
Consistency and maintaining standards
With any retriever training, it is vital that you set standards and are consistent in backing up that standard. Never make excuses for your dog. That will only confuse them and make your job even harder. You must draw a line in the sand. For instance, I will only repeat the SIT command once. After that I will enforce the command with a correction. Then stick with that. And make sure that everyone in the family is using the same commands and has the exact same standards.
Using an E-collar for obedience
Obedience can be enforced manually, by pushing down on your retriever’s behind or tugging sharply with a lead and chain or pinch collar. And that is the way we recommend starting. But as you progress in your obedience training, in the home and especially in the field, it can be helpful to incorporate the electronic collar. Electronic collars are often used incorrectly and can cause great damage, so be sure and learn how to correctly use an electronic collar.
Lack of respect
If your dog has been taught obedience and has had some success in the past, but you are now experiencing problems, it is likely a respect issue. Retrievers, like most dogs, have a pack mentality. In a pack, there is only one head or lead dog, the rest are arranged in a hierarchy based on their ability to dominate the other dogs. When we bring retrievers into our homes, they automatically consider the family their pack. And they want to determine their position in the pack. If your dog is not obeying you and not listening to you, the reason is likely that he or she considers you below him or her in the pack. Want to learn more? Read 4 reasons why your retriever won’t listen.
Do you need professional help?
If your dog is out of control and you are struggling to make progress, you might need professional help. Obedience training for retrievers is a long game. Dogs that graduate from our hunting or hunt test programs are very responsive and obedient, but that is mostly because they have had 10-12 weeks of daily consistent obedience work in addition to the hunting or hunt test training we provide. In addition, we are very firm and consistent in our training.
Lastly, we take time to transition each dog back to their owners. We work with the dog first so owners can see how their dog obeys us and then we work with the owners to teach them how to get the same results. It is not an easy thing to do but when owners take the time to work with their dog on a regular basis the results do stick.
Final thoughts on how to make my hunting retriever more obedient
Getting your Labrador Retriever, or any retriever, to be obedient requires firm consistent obedience work on a regular basis. it also requires you to earn the respect of your retriever. If you do both of these things, you will see a defined change in behavior from your retriever and the reward will be a dog that listens to you and obeys your commands.
If you are still struggling, I’m here to help! You can email me (email@example.com) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.