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.
Slow return retrieves
I have a 6-year-old yellow Lab. Rusty has been forced fetched, and although he is very aggressive on his way to retrieve the bird, he is very, very slow to return the bird.
As soon as he has the bird in his mouth, I could almost eat my lunch waiting for him to return, even on a very short retrieve.
Because I primarily duck hunt, it is mostly in standing water where he has this problem. He does not seem to have this problem while training in the back yard. I have tried praising him endlessly hoping he would be quicker back to me with the bird, but it seems to have little affect.
New Berlin, WI
Your problem may stem from one of several causes.
First, in basic training, Rusty could have been corrected heavily before delivery to hand problems (you said he had been force fetched) which could slow down his desire to return and habits were formed.
Secondly, Rusty could be reluctant to give up HIS bird. He has the desire to "get 'em" but he may think they are his returning without enthusiasm only because he has been trained to do so. He has no problem with bumpers in yard training, which further justifies this reasoning.
I recommend two things.
More birds (cold game) in training and use them in transitional exercises which attempt to duplicate hunting situations in training.
Another tip, as Rusty returns with a bird on a hunt, show him another… even twirl a bird about while recalling (an attraction to return).
Run lots of doubles with birds. As soon as Rusty returns with one bird, send him for another memory. Create the perception that to return quickly gets rewarded with another retrieve. On a hunt use previously collected birds to throw out another bird retrieve as Rusty returns with a single bird. Anticipation may increase a more desirable return.
Best of luck!