Break­ing bad habits

Bob Cof­fey has a 16-month-old choco­late labrador bitch called Luna, a much-loved mem­ber of his fam­ily who started re­triev­ing well on land and wa­ter from six months old, but a few months ago the train­ing stopped when she ‘lost the plot’. Bob, who is 66 and

Field and Game - - GUN DOGS - With Mark Davis

G’day Bob, yes, there is hope: the first step is to ban the grand­kids from play­ing fetch games with Luna.

Here are some tips on solv­ing this prob­lem.

Lots of folk buy a gun­dog and as­sume that it will train it­self; un­for­tu­nately, by the time they re­alise that’s not the case, there are all sorts of bad habits be­com­ing es­tab­lished.

In your case, it sounds like Luna was re­triev­ing OK be­fore the grand­kids taught her a new game. Un­for­tu­nately, you are go­ing to have to spend time cor­rect­ing the prob­lems that have been cre­ated.

There is no doubt that if you buy a gun­dog of any breed from a knowl­edge­able breeder, then yes, the pup will have re­triev­ing de­sire or nat­u­ral point­ing in­stincts, or both. I tell folk who pick their pup up at eight weeks that they do not need to worry too much about the re­trieve, that de­sire is in the pup al­ready. They only need to do a cou­ple of re­trieves a week down the pas­sage to be­gin es­tab­lish­ing the cor­rect be­hav­iour.

The most im­por­tant thing is obe­di­ence train­ing, and that should start as soon as the pup has set­tled in. And the most im­por­tant obe­di­ence com­mand of all is the re­call: the re­call com­mand, prop­erly and thor­oughly taught, would go a long way to solv­ing part of your prob­lem, but you need to be at a stan­dard where you can call Luna, even with high lev­els of dis­trac­tion hap­pen­ing around her.

You also need her to sit and stay (which, by the way, is one com­mand: ‘sit’), again with high lev­els of dis­trac­tion. A great way to steady dogs on re­trieves is to pick up a lot of dum­mies your­self when train­ing — this way your dog is not pre-empt­ing.

Bob, when you think Luna is at this level of train­ing, test it out — have your grand­sons come over and pro­vide the dis­trac­tion, but make sure you in­struct them on how much of a dis­trac­tion you want them to be. This will also in­volve them in Luna’s train­ing and give them an in­sight into what you are try­ing to achieve.

The next stage for me would be to bring Luna in­side and sit her in front of you while re­lax­ing in front of the TV, ask her to hold a dummy, only for a few sec­onds ini­tially, and give her a treat when you take it back with the ‘give’ com­mand. Build on this to the stage where she will hap­pily hold the dummy for 10 min­utes. This train­ing will help set­tle her whilst im­prov­ing her at­ti­tude to the dummy and, at the same time, she is learn­ing that giv­ing you the dummy is a pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

The next step is to take her to a spot with few dis­trac­tions: she needs to be to­tally fo­cused on you — have a dummy in a bag over your shoul­der. By this stage, Luna should be re­li­ably com­ing when called with high-dis­trac­tion lev­els.

Al­low Luna to fa­mil­iarise her­self with the area, then place her at sit, walk off 50 m, wait 30 sec­onds and call her to the sit po­si­tion in front. Do this three or four times. When she is do­ing this per­fectly, clip a 20 m check cord to her col­lar (the check cord is only an in­sur­ance pol­icy, hope­fully your pre­vi­ous train­ing will en­sure it’s not needed), walk out 20 m and place the dummy on the ground, re­turn to Luna and send her to re­trieve the dummy. As soon as she picks it up, hit the re­call whis­tle.

I’m con­fi­dent if you have been thor­ough with your train­ing she will turn and come straight back to you, but if she gives any in­di­ca­tion of head­ing else­where give her a tug in your di­rec­tion and re­ward her on de­liv­ery.

Keep this train­ing go­ing for a cou­ple of nights a week and limit the re­trieves to three or four only. When she is re­li­able, move on to hand throw­ing the dummy: again, place her at sit and walk off 20 m or 30 m, throw the dummy whilst mak­ing sure Luna re­mains sit­ting, and re­turn to her be­fore send­ing for the re­trieve, then re­peat with cold game.

Bob, through­out all this train­ing, keep ev­ery­thing calm — you want Luna to be set­tled and not over-ex­cited.

Hope this ad­vice gets you back on track and sees you both in the swamp next open­ing.

Mark Davis has been a Field & Game mem­ber since 1983 and is happy to an­swer any ques­tions about dog breeds and train­ing meth­ods. Send any ques­tions for our gun dog team to e di­tor@fiel­ and in­clude a photo of you and your dogs if you are...

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