Owning a retriever is not something that suits all hunters. Well trained retrievers are expensive. However, it is possible to train your own retriever. If you have a job and a family, it’s tough to train you own retriever. Having a retriever that won’t embarrass you in the field takes a lot of time. Time is something you may be short of if you have a job and family. But if you are short on cash and want to have a retriever to find all those birds downed in tough spots, training your own retriever may be your only option.
There are several ways to get a well trained retriever. You could buy one, but they can be expensive, especially the good ones. You can buy a puppy and have it professionally trained. This is expensive, but may not be as expensive as buying a retriever that has already been trained. However, there is the disadvantage of not knowing how good the dog will be, the puppy may not train well. The third choice is buying a puppy and training it yourself. This is the most affordable option, but you have the uncertainty of not only getting a dog that may not train well, but also an inexperienced trainer. Uncertainties or not, this is the only option for a duck hunter like me who wishes to have their own retriever, but lacks excessive funds.
If you plan on buying a puppy and training it yourself, you need to do your homework first. Buy a good book on retriever training and read it before you buy the puppy. I used the book Water Dog: Revolutionary Rapid Training Method by Richard Wolters. This book is a very good tool and I highly recommend it. Once you have read the book you need to write out a training plan. This is to organize the information in your mind, so you will know the steps you need to take to train the puppy.
I have trained two retrievers. The biggest mistake I made with the first was thinking I could figure it out myself. I didn’t figure everything out myself and there are lots of gaps in Cindy’s training because of that. I knew I made mistakes with Cindy, so when I planned on training another retriever I bought a copy of Water Dog. The mistake I made with training Duchess was not reading the book ahead of time and formulating a training plan. So, if you plan on training your own retriever, don’t make the mistakes I made. Buy the book, read it, and make a training plan out before you buy a puppy.
You bought the book, you read it, and you made a plan. Now, how do you choose your puppy? First you need to choose a breed. There are lots of retrieving breeds out there, the three most common are probably the Labrador, the Golden, and the Chesapeake Bay. Some lesser known breeds would be the Flat Coat and the Boykin Spaniel. The Standard Poodle is also a retriever, even though they are seldom thought of in that capacity. I own Labradors because I was introduced to them first, but each breed has its advantages and its disadvantages, so do your homework. There may be a breed out there that will work better for your needs.
Once you have picked the breed that suits your needs best, what it next? You need to choose a breeder. Talk to people who have dogs. Ask where they got the dog. Ask if they are happy with the dog. Find out what breeders are producing the dogs with the most hunt. It may cost you a little more to get a puppy from a good breeder, but you will be more satisfied in the long run.
After you have found the right breeder you need to be in contact with them. Find out if they have puppies ready. You may have to wait for a litter to be weaned, or maybe even be put on a waiting list. When the puppies are ready you have to pick your puppy. Is the sex of the puppy important to you? Does it matter? Both males and females have advantages and disadvantages. If you only want a male, only look at the male puppies. If you only want a female, only look at the female puppies. If it doesn’t matter to you look at all the puppies.
What criteria do you use to choose the right puppy? I know some people who want to get the friendliest puppy. I know one man who always the “most serious” puppy. I like the puppy that I see using its nose the most. I really don’t think it matters. At seven weeks old it’s hard to determine which puppy will be the best. Some breeders/trainers work with the puppy that is left after all the other puppies have been picked. Whatever criteria you use you should have the same chance at the best puppy as anyone else who chooses.
You now have a new puppy at home. It’s time to put your training plan into action. Training began as soon as you brought the puppy home. One thing that I like to do is keep a training journal. Before I take the puppy out on a training session I write down what I want to work on. After the session is over I jot down how successful the puppy was at each task. Then, while the puppy’s progress is still fresh in my mind, I write down the plan for the next session. Always remember, a puppies attention span is short, so the lessons should be short as well. If the puppy is tiring of training, give it a simple task that you know it will complete successfully. Always end each session on a positive note with lots of praise and attention.
I am not going to go into training in detail. Once you choose the book to use as a reference that will be your guide. However, I am going to interject some of my opinions here. Teach the obedience fundamentals well. Review them often, even with older trained dogs. If the dog’s obedience fundamentals are sound, the dog will be a joy to hunt.
If you have never worked your own dog before on a hunt, don’t be surprised if they don’t do everything you want on their first hunt. Dogs have to be trained how to hunt as well. It really can be a true pain to teach a young dog while you are trying to hunt. But stick with it. The best dogs are the ones that are worked the most. In time you will know the joys of working a dog that you trained on a bird that you shot down. I would rather watch the dog work than shoot the birds down. That’s the Briary River Way.