The Seamless “Here!” Puppy
Most can find a myriad of material about what to do with a pup the first few
months. However, the most fascinating event seems to be those first
retrieves (or lack there of). Since there should be no time table for this,
it helps to accept the fact there are many other things to do which are
equally as important. Bonding and establishing general social rules set the
tone for a rewarding and meaningful lifetime. When retrieves do start
happening, the inevitable issue with “getting it back” will surface. What
can be done about this probable conflict?
A viable solution
is to make sure “here” means something positive....early....and before
retrieving. The procedure to
do this has to be passive, fair and pressure inconspicuous. Short attention
spans and immaturity are the norm. Therefore, efforts must be designed
requiring very little intervention.
As a rule, puppies come with few things to “fix” because they don’t come
broke. However, the balance between “here” and “retrieving” is usually the
first to go out of whack. If the early focus is on puppy bonding (which is
what it should be), by imprinting the “joy of here”, a solid sequence can be
established which requires no “fixing”. Therefore, “here” must become
significant to a pup.......not an after thought or nuisance.
How does this happen? The key is regularly taking a pup for “free walks and
romps” in large, isolated, safe places. (note: without a leash or rope) This cannot be done as effectively
later because it is one of those irreplaceable puppy “windows of
opportunity”. It is important to remember the walks are for the puppy, and
the owner is not the center of attention. So quite bluntly....keep quiet,
watch and take photos. I learned “The Walk” idea from a wonderfully gifted pro
trainer/author Julie Knutson and it works!
The "window of
opportunity" is 7-9 weeks old. Once passed.......it is gone forever. During
portions of the "window".......retrieving represents a very,
small portion of the total awakening.
What I have taken advantage of is that most pups will eventually venture out
and then decide to check back in (usually in full flight). On these unique
occasions, the “here” word is introduced, and the pup learns by your excited
actions just how great he is (for returning). Don’t wear the “here event"
out....just get in two or three “good ones” every day. NEVER chase him down
and time the end of the sessions with either carrying him to the truck or
finishing on a very loose leash (if you have to because of safety issues). A big, safe area is a prerequisite and the pup needs
to be on these “free runs” every day.
That first outdoor retrieve should be special. Thrown in a familiar place
like a backyard is not the
best choice. The area should be one where the pup is not as secure. The
focus should be on you.
An outdoor natural "hallway" is perfect. For example in the following photo,
the pup has ventured
ahead on the trail and it is up hill. If this were the time, tossing a
bumper in between would have
him running downhill toward me with high grass barriers on both sides. With the
"joy of here'
implanted coming to you with the bumper is something he wants to do. Once
twice with plenty of time in between) in a full "Walk" session keeps it very
The Natural Hallway
Using a check cord to later teach “here” is the usual sequence, but read
this interesting perspective on check cords. The check cord is a useful
tool, but it can be “slapped on” for the wrong reasons. In addition, a check
cord requires the pup be using to a collar, restrained by it and conditioned
to the use of a leash. The idea is to
progress without fixing things. "Here" should be learned separately from the
retrieve (not at the same time). I realize this may not be the present
universal choice, but “here” means more if it is imprinted properly without
being totally initiated by the handler. The concept is to imprint passively and engrain
later. Do not throw it into cover.....eyes first!
Coming When Called
& Delivery to Hand (Link)
There is no universal rule as to what sequence every pup should progress
through. For example, Gunny, my singleton pup out of Taffey was by fact of
birth not going to be dependent on sibling interactions. By birth, he was
more independent than most pups. With extra nurturing via human
intervention, he was quite comfortable. However, when it came for coming on
"here" early and depending on a need for human interactions instead of
missing siblings, his "keep away"
penchant sprouted wings much earlier.
Young pups can be greatly influenced by passive introductions to the
various actions which eventually will be formally taught and
enforced......when they are more mature. Early, passive
control should be a game and fun with minimal constraints. Do what the pup
Once a pup has reached the age for formal
OB, my pups are
very familiar with a 26' Flexi-lead. It is
a tool that another pro taught me
about and is extremely effective. The Flexi-lead is a check cord and leash
all-in-one. Leading up to formal OB, a pup can be gradually “reeled down” to
a close enough approximation to being in the real heeling position
without even realizing it. The Flexi-lead eliminates the problem of taking up slack on a check cord as
the pup dashes in. Done in the right sequence, (with balance) returning and
heeling while retrieving can become an almost seamless skill.
On a side note, the use of a Flexi-lead is not well accepted by most
retriever trainers. I'm not sure why, but the reasons could be from the fact
top trainers and authors of popular training programs
don't use them. The check cord has been around forever.
In addition, the Flexi-lead market tends to cater to pet dog owners which
could be an instant turn-off for retriever trainers (kind of a negative
stigma). I should add that my use of a Flexi-lead stemmed from watching a
pro trainer work his young dogs in "here" OB sessions, short pile work and
de-bolting where a check cord is often the required tool. I do all my
introductory three-handed casting
pup wearing a Flexi-lead.
The imprinted "here" approach fits in well with future
expectations. When to begin formal OB is determined by the maturity of the
pup.........not a preconceived timeline. As a general rule, my pups have
their permanent teeth in before this begins. Teaching is best done in a
sequence which means a pup needs to have certain skills in place before proceeding to
structured OB on here, heel and sit…..this is the perfect time to start
working on remote sits.
However, before doing any long remote sits, start with a
front sit on a leash and get the proper motion to heel and sit beside you
straightened out. If you start too far away on remote sits, the pup won't
know how to slow down, wheel and sit properly. A common read when training
is when the pup isn't doing what you expect.....this usually means something
has to be fixed. Therefore, if a pup blows by you on a retrieve........a
training step was left out.
To repeat, establishing "here" as a positive word right from the “get go” is
the first step. Later, a “here” imprinted pup will love the remote sit
"game" because "here" means something good. In a way, coming to the handler
is rewarding and pleasant from the very beginning. The check cord and/or
Flexi-lead are easily accepted as tools for enforcing already imprinted
actions which are easily converted to commands....that’s huge for a young
dog. There is no negative mind-set to fix because the focus from the
beginning was to be seamless and fun.
Without a pup knowing it, the first stages of
a dog becoming a team player are established in the fields where puppy
bonding was taking place......allow the pup to be free and discover how much
fun it is to be with you.
By starting with
the passive, unrestricted method of establishing “here”
(separate from retrieving and before) and subsequently presenting seamless
training sessions, a
dog learns this is all fun.......forever.
Take a walk.
"It is better to have a puppy passionately want to
you......before expecting it. Very early is easier."