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Training your gundog to retrieve - part one

PUBLISHED: 10:41 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 11:02 21 July 2014


Not all gundogs are natural retrievers. If yours isn’t, follow Howard’s guide to instill that all-important instinct


As a general rule most owners and trainers in the UK rely on the gundog’s natural desire to retrieve, so other than the careful management of that natural trait, no real work is needed to produce a reliable retriever. There are, however, exceptions to this and I know of several top UK gundog trainers that ensure their dogs learn to retrieve and deliver nicely to hand by using a training technique called The Trained Retrieve. Using this and next month’s article, I am going to explore two of the reward-based techniques that I find particularly useful.

Hold it!

The essential elements here are a really confident dog and a very patient trainer. If your dog is a little nervous don’t let this put you off because if we get this right it can help to build confidence too.

• First slip the dog on a lead and get him to sit up in front of you. Personally, I find that if I sit on a chair in front of the dog it helps the process – you are down on the same level as him, so less intimidating. Also, when sitting you will be more relaxed and this training technique relies heavily on you creating a calm, relaxed and really positive environment.


• Using a dummy appropriate to the size of your dog, hold the dummy by both ends and gently present the middle of it to the dog. If you’re lucky the dog will take the dummy from you.

• Ensure he stays in the sit position and keep hold of both ends of the dummy until you feel the dog settle, throughout the process quietly repeat the word ‘hold’.

• If the ‘hold’ allows you to take your hands away from the dummy then gently stroke the dog’s chest, but before the dog gives up the dummy gently but firmly take hold of both ends of the dummy again and give the release command, ‘dead’ or ‘give’.

Easy, wasn’t it? The truth is, if it was that easy you probably don’t have a retrieving issue anyway!


Slow and steady

• With some dogs you will have to gently open the dog’s mouth and place the dummy in and reward with a really gentle tone and soft hands. If the dog goes to release the dummy, gently replace it and once again reward, all the while saying ‘hold, hold’. Expect this process to take up to six weeks until the dog is taking the dummy from you and sitting whilst holding.

• Once this behaviour has been learned you should be able to stand in front of the dog whilst he holds the dummy, which will now allow us to take a few small steps backwards (pics 1-3), encouraging the dog to move towards you.

• As he comes forward gently encourage ‘hold, hold’.


• Get the dog to sit at your feet and quietly praise him before asking him to release, ‘dead’ (pic 4).

• If at any point the dummy is dropped, gently place it back in his mouth and repeat the exercise.


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