Your First Retriever

Your First Retriever

“I got ’em, I got ’em!”

So, you’ve been duck hunting for a few years now and the thought of having a dog go and get your ducks rather than you having to do all the work sounds pretty cool. Well, you will find it to be pretty cool, and the good news is – your dog will too! Retrievers such as a Labrador or the Golden just love bringing things back to us, especially, dead birds!

I’ve had several retrievers in my day and I plan to get another one, hopefully, this summer. But, we’ll see. I will not get a dog unless I’m ready for one. Meaning, the kennel is properly built, and I have the time to train it properly. There is nothing that’s more of a pain in the ass than having a dog that’s not ready to be in the duck blind. And, what’s worse? Going hunting with some jerk who thinks that his dog is ready when clearly, it’s not. I wrote a story about this… It’s called, “Pretty Good But Not Totally Trained.” If you read this, you’ll understand exactly why a dog must be ready… there’s none of this “almost ready” bullshit.

Here’s the link

I have no intentions of trying to teach you anything regarding “how to” train a retriever with this short piece. There are countless books, DVDs and on-line article that will be extremely helpful when training your dog. And, if you know someone who is a veteran dog handler, that’s even better. See if there is a retrieve club in your area. If so, join. All I want to do here is give you, the inexperienced dog owner some insight as to what it is that makes a dog ready. Then, you must make a decision on whether or not to take the plunge and get your dog. It’s a huge responsibility and it will take up a lot of your time. Really, it’s no different from raising kids. Well, other than the fact that your dog will not ask to borrow your car someday…

So, now I’ll just give you some key points on what you need to know before taking a 7 week old pup home with you. I’m not going to get into breeds, breeders, kennels, et cetera. That’s a huge topic of its own. But, if you are going to get a dog and bring him hunting, there are some terms that you need to know about and fully understand. You’ll lose fewer hunting buddies this way… and you’ll spend less money on Tylenol too.

Obedience is the key!

I’ll get right to it. When you give the command, “here” it doesn’t mean now. It means right now! A dog that is obedient will come to you immediately when it hears this often-used command. Never, ever speak to your dog in sentences like it’s a human being. Many people try to tell me that their dog is “so smart” that it understands full sentences. Instead of confusing the shit out of your dog by saying, “Now, Rocky, you sit your little bum down right now and you stay on that carpet.” Not only will your dog not have a clue what you’re talking about, he‘ll also think you’re a retard. How about this? Look at your dog and say one word, “Sit!” And, say it with authority. You are the boss, not your dog.
Another way to tell your dog to sit is by way of the whistle. One loud, sharp whistle blast means sit. End of story. This will be very important a little later on when teaching your dog to “handle” at longer distances.

Another command for “here” is several (up to 7 or 8) short, fast whistle blasts. Again, you’ll learn later on why the whistle is important, rather than just using your voice.

Never allow your dog to jump up, or stand up against someone with its paws up on the person’s chest. Sure, you may think it’s “cute,” but you are training a dog for hunting… hunting is done with loaded guns. Guns can easily kill someone. You never, EVER want your dog to jump up on someone who has a loaded shotgun in their hands.

When you shoot a duck or goose, your dog should not move an inch until you send it for the retrieve. There are a pile of reasons for this (which you will learn when you get into the “how to and why” part, but for now, when you shoot, the dog remains still. This is known as a “steady dog.” So, because of this very important element, never throw things for your dog and allow him to just run out there and go for it…

Your First Retriever

“Come on, let’s go!”

You want your dog to have what’s known as a “soft mouth.” The duck he’s carrying back will be all torn to shit if he clamps down on it. Don’t ever throw sticks, or play tug of war with your dog using an old carpet or a piece of rope. This teaches your dog to bite down hard when it has something in its mouth. You also don’t want your dog to clamp down on someone’s arm one day, not realizing that it hurts.

It’s very important to think, really think, about why you’re getting a dog in the first place. Will it be strictly a working dog or will it be a family pet too. For me, I’m more on the working dog side. My dogs stay in the kennel at night and when they do come in the house, they are not allowed in the kitchen, bathroom or bedrooms. When I’m eating, the dog is trained to go lay down in the corner of the living room. My dogs are NEVER up on a bed, a couch or a chair either. Do you really want dog hair, fleas and ticks on your couch and bed? Or mud?

So, you need to sit down with your family and really talk about this before you bring home a “Oh my God, he’s so cute” 7 week old pup, because your family, especially your kids, will spoil the living shit out of it. This will completely ruin your dog. It will slowly morph from hunting dog to strictly a pet. Why bother spending a thousand bucks (or much more) on a pet? If that’s all you want, go to the pound a get a rescue dog for free. Mutts make great family pets.

When my girls were young, they were made very aware of certain things that they were simply not allowed to do with our female black lab, Sam. No throwing sticks… no throwing anything for that matter. Do not allow her to jump up on them and do not encourage her to jump up either, which is worse. No tug of war… this is one of the most common, most stupid things I see people doing with their dogs.

My girls were taught that Sam was a working dog, therefore, they could go out with her (I had to train my girls on how to “play” with Sam) and throw the retriever dummy, but they made sure she waited for the command to fetch. So, sure, the girls were allowed to play with the dog, but within certain guidelines. Be very careful if your kids have friends over… they will just not know, or be able to understand any of this. They’re kids for Christ sake. Explain it this way – just tell them that your retriever is a working dog, no different from a seeing eye dog that blind people use. They’ll get it then.

Think about all of this… and if you decide to go for it, try to get a puppy at 7 weeks. Experts say that this is best time to get a puppy. Just don’t spoil the living shit out of it. And, make sure it knows that YOU are the boss – a dog will try to be the boss and it will be the boss – if you allow it to. Then, go out and buy a few books, DVDs or get on the Google.

And, do it right.

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