Q&A with a professional dog trainer

Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

Playing with others


Labs love to swim and retrieve, but I am not the only one that plays the game with her and others don't play like I do.

I have certain commands and tolerances; when I play, I am training as well.

How can you do both?

The big thing is that when I am playing she retrieves to my side, when others
play with her they chase her and it is chaos!

Need help!
Christopher J. Guzylak

You are well on your way in the creation of a fun-loving pet; not a hunting dog.

Hunting dogs are under control and focused at all times. They love their work but it is not "play" in the context to which you refer.

The first role of animal training is consistency, the second is constant repetition to the point of habit formation. What habits are you forming in your young dog? You will not develop a steady, well-mannered shooting dog playing games and frolicking about with your pup. Playing is not training in dogs older than puppyhood. You are actually conditioning in dysfunctional behaviors.

First, stop playing with the dog in the field and concentrate on a thorough obedience indoctrination. Let no one else handle the dog if they do not adhere to your instructions. When you do return to retrieves, this is not a game& it is a controlled response. You must maintain control over your dog and focus on the job at hand.

To answer your questions, you cannot do both simultaneously. Training should be enjoyable for both you and your dog. Play should not be confused with training after puppyhood.

Release commands


I have a 21-month old German short-haired pointer. He retrieves and returns
to the hand but will not acknowledge the give command. He seems to hold
pheasant wings tighter than balls. What techniques can I use to get him to
open his mouth on command to release the bird or ball?

Neil E. Lee

Teach the verbal release command as part of hold conditioning (See Part I and II). This process involves 2 verbal commands, "Hold" and "Dead." You can substitute "Give" or "Drop" for the release command. Establish the release command while using the wood training dowel, not a bumper. If the dog does not release the dowel and later the bumper or bird, do not begin tugging and pulling. Give only one release command. If no response occurs, enforce it.

Place your hand on the retrieved object being held by your pointer. Hold the object as you reach across the dog's back with the left arm and grab with your hand firmly and quickly directly into the dog's flank. The flank is the soft tissue area directly in front of the dog's hindquarter, behind the rib cage. As you grab, give the verbal release command and take the bumper. The dog will release due to the surprise and discomfort of your hand. With consistency, you will amend the difficult delivery problem.

Beginning retrieves

Dear Mike,

I am a marine in Okinawa, Japan, and my Chesapeake Bay retriever, who is still a pup, is
with my parents. My dad has a Lowellan setter who is not a retriever. I was
wondering what my dad can do to get her (my chessie) to start
retrieving. She is a year and six months. Currently, she is with my dad's
trainer who trained his Lowellan to point, what should I tell him?

Thank you,
PFC Russell R. Hall

Hopefully, you have acquired a pup that descends from a strong line of hunter-retriever chessies, one with strong, natural retrieving desire. Initially, a pup's retrieving instincts are awakened by throwing a few short retrieves, much as a game.

If your pup seems disinterested, get the pup excited before the toss by teasing the pup a bit with the object, then give it a short toss. Be enthusiastic and give lots of praise if a retrieve is achieved. It's a game and at this point, no force, no steadiness.

It may prove helpful to change the object of the retrieve if the pup shows little interest in your bumper. Try a knotted sock, a wing-covered bumper, or a tennis ball. We may need an object that will awaken your pup's natural prey instincts& the desire to catch game.

Be patient. Chessies often start a bit later than labs as do many Golden retrievers. Get your pup excited about pursuing the object and hopefully instinct will prevail.

Good training!
Mike Stewart