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Releasing the retrieve

Hi. My name is Tom and I am in the process of training my first GSP. I don't have an extensive amount of experience in training, and am hoping to get some advice in one area in particular. My pup (Ben) is 4 months old now, and we have been play fetching in the house now since seven weeks. He is great in the house, retrieves to hand, gives up the dummy on command, etc. Last week I took him out for his first outdoor fetch session, and he did fairly well, but................I used a frozen goose wing, and his excitement level went through the roof. I made him sit/stay, threw the wing (which sunk down into the snow about 8"), and then released him to "Fetch". He marked the wing perfectly, found it by digging, picked it up looked at me very proudly, then proceeded to quarter toward me, head held high. I did not use his checkcord for this lesson, I don't know why--in fact realized only now writing this. However, I was able to get in Ben's way on his way to go to the door. I did not immediately try to make him give up the wing. Instead, I praised him lavishly, and just kinda held him there for about ten to fifteen seconds, telling him what a good boy Daddy thought he was. Then I told him to release. He did not like this, he tried to get away from me and run. I had a hold of his collar and held him right there with me, then commanded release again, while pinching the loose skin at his flank. He did spit it out, and as I was bringing the wing from his mouth back to the throwing position, he jumped and grabbed it away and started running away. He was to quick for me to catch in the act, so I wasn't able to correct. He did come right back to me when called, but again didn't want to give up the wing. When I did get it back from him, he tried to jump again. I caught him this time, and pushed him back to ground and made him sit. I don't push the sitting part (make him hold too long) because he is so excited and I don't want to go backwards in my training. He made another nice mark, retrieve, this time directly to me, but again doesn't want to give it up. My concern is that both of his parents are great hunters, (I had the opportunity to hunt over both of them prior to buying one of their pups), both I witnessed both of his parents do the same thing with retrieved birds. Do you have any ideas how I can avert this happening to me/Ben before it gets out of control? Do you think it's just the pup being so excited about feathers and don't worry about it? I did not think that this would be hereditary what do you think? Any advice you could give me would be very much appreciated.
Thanks So Much.
Waterford, PA

Dear Tom:

Sounds like you have a fine pup and a good prospect as a hunting partner. However I have a few words of caution. You need to slow down. At four months old your pup should be taking happy walks in the field with you, happily learning the sights and smells of the things that bring you joy. No pressure just fun. Let your pup discover birds. If you have room let him bump and chase birds off lead or if you prefer keep him on a check cord so he can't chase. Praise him each time he has a bird contact. Your main focus at four months should be to let him know how much you like it when he finds birds. Don't worry about it if he doesn't point. The point will come later. The only command he needs now is "No" just so you can keep him out of trouble in the house and field. You can work on the come command in the yard but keep it fun. Try giving the command then running away from him until he catches you. You can start holding him in place and gently repeating whoa then praise him like crazy when he stands still. I would absolutely stop teaching him to sit until he is completely whoa broke. The problem arises when at 8 to 14 months you have to use pressure to enforce the whoa command. As you start toward your pup he will be confused and he will sit. This can easily lead to a sitting on point problem.

It sounds like your pup has a lot of natural retrieve so you should continue to play fetch on a hallway or any area where your pup has to come back by you. avoid putting him in any position where you have to run him down. If he refuses to bring back the ball or sock [don't use a dummy until he is old enough and you are doing serious training] just quit the play session. He will soon learn that if he wants to keep playing he has to return to you. If delivery problems arise after the pup is over one year old these can be easily addressed with a conditioned retrieve program.

Serious training should only start when the individual dog can handle the pressures of training and still be happy and trying to learn. Generally 8 to 14 months. Try to pick up the video Training Pointing Dogs with George Hickox It's available at most bird dog supply houses. It shows the correct sequence from start to solid bird dog.

Relax and enjoy your puppy while he is a puppy, he will grow up all to fast.

Good luck and happy training.
Joe Riches

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