Avoid the 3 Biggest Mistakes with Retriever Puppy Training

Jun 10, 2020

Training a young puppy into an incredible hunting retriever is something that many aspire to and achieve, but along the way, simple mistakes can slow the progress. 

Before we dive in, if you haven't had a chance to check out the other posts that are available in this series, then you can check them out here.

Top Three Retrieving Mistakes (Avoid them at all cost)

  • Too Much Too Soon
  • Long Distance Isn't Always Best
  • Missing The Small Details: Don't Do It

All three of these mistakes are extremely common and usually end up in frustration later on in training. Read carefully, and be sure to follow the recommended advice below so that you can end up with the best success.

Too Much Too Soon

What's one of the first things we all do when we get our new retriever puppies? Retrieve, of course!

Some puppies come ready to retrieve, and others are late bloomers. Nonetheless, as soon as a pup shows promise with retrieving, the temptation to start retrieving as much as possible arrives. While you certainly can do that, it is not the most beneficial thing to be working on. It usually ends up with unintended consequences.

What Can Go Wrong

Over retrieving usually ends up one of two results: either it instills a lack of interest, or it has the opposite effect and ignites the retrieving drive so much that your dog is hard to control. 

When it comes to a lack of interest, you probably will not notice it until you get serious about gundog training around the six-month-old age. What you may not be aware of is right around that age, your pup will become increasingly curious. What this means is that your puppy will want to branch out and explore a bit, which will ultimately result in a pup that doesn't listen as well as it should. What does that have to do with retrieving?

At this point, if a pup has had an overabundance of retrieving, then it will likely care less or only be mildly interested in formal retrieving. Sure, you will have good days, but some days you will experience extreme frustration.

On the other side of things, if a pup at this age has had the right amount of retrieving, it will be way more interested in retrieving and stay much more focused than if it had all the retrieves that it ever wanted.

This is important because training your pup the right way will enable you to have a pup that is more focused at this stage, which means you can make greater strides in your training and have a more enjoyable training experience! 

What is the right amount of retrieving?

One of the keys on how to train a duck dog puppy or how to train a puppy to retrieve any waterfowl is retrieving the right amount early on in training. With all that has been said, you are probably wondering how much is too much and what the right amount of training is.

A good rule of thumb is to stop retrieving with enough margin that your pup still wants more. If you retrieve until your pup quits, you are teaching your pup that it can quit when it wants too, and you are over retrieving. This will not help you achieve your long term goals.

On the contrary, if you always leave your pup wanting more retrieves, then you are slowly igniting the retrieving drive within it. You are also teaching your pup that it shouldn't stop unless you tell it to stop. With that rule in mind, you can expect to do around 2-4 retrieves every couple of days or so.

Long-Distance Isn't Always Best

Once you give your pup the first few retrieves, what's the next natural thing to do? See how far it will retrieve!

This usually feels like the natural thing to do, but it's not the most beneficial thing to be doing with a young pup. Long-distance retrieving with a young pup can result in bad habits.

Would you want to do anything that could hinder your progress later on? If you are like me, then the answer is obviously no! I want the best for my dog, and I want the training to go as smoothly as it can.

When it comes to how to train a labrador retriever puppy or any other retrieving breed, why can long-distance retrieving cause problems later on?

If you think about it, the further the retrieve is, the more opportunities your pup will have to make a mistake with retrieving. Whether it's dropping the bumper, getting distracted by something mid retrieve, or even a sloppy hold on the bumper, if you practice that enough, you will have a tough time resolving this issue later.

Your better bet is to start training by practicing short retrieves so that there is less room for error. The habits that you create now with your pup are the behaviors that your pup exhibits in the future. If you create good habits in your training sessions, you will have solid performance in the future.

If you don't, then you will have to take extra time to work through the issues that are accidentally created. This is an arduous process that is best avoided.

How far is too far?

Short and simple is the best recipe for success. The ultimate goal for early retrieving is to ignite drive and develop good habits. The habits that you want to ingrain are a beautiful straight out and back and a good hold. 

It doesn't take a lot of distance to develop those habits. You can do that within 10 yards or less. Within the first few weeks, you can choose an inside hallway to establish the beginning foundations of retrieving. 

I would avoid doing anything much over 15 yards until you move more into formal retriever dog training. If you focus on developing good habits, when the time comes, you can increase the distance very quickly and maintain the fundamentals in the process. This will ultimately propel you forward in the training when it counts the most!

How to train a duck dog puppy

Missing The Small Details: Don't Do It

It's the little things in life that stand out and grab our attention. Have you ever tried to watch a movie without sound? It doesn't have quite the same effect, does it?

Training your retriever is no exception. You can have a somewhat functional dog, or you can have a dog that reaches its full potential. Which one you have all depends on your attention to the details.

The habits that you practice now are the behaviors that your pup will exhibit in the future. Take a moment, and instead of thinking of the bigger picture, focus on the small things.

  • How does your pup hold on to the bumper?
  • Does your pup drop the bumper sporadically?
  • When it comes to delivery, does your pup drop at your feet or bring it straight to hand? 
  • Does your pup get distracted easily and wander off instead of finishing the retrieve?

All of these questions and more are going to boil down to the details.

This is very important. You might not think that it is a big deal right now especially if your pup is only eleven or twelve weeks old; however, if your pup is doing something that you wouldn't want it doing when it's older, you should change it now.

Otherwise, you will have to change it later. Believe me; it is significantly easier to alter your pup's behavior now. This issue is why you don't want to do too much too soon. You want to mitigate issues by keeping everything at shorter distances and avoiding over retrieving.

With that in mind, you also will want to pay close attention to as many details as you can. For example: If your puppy goes out, retrieves, but when it comes back, it decides to run past you, then you've got to think outside the box. A great question to ask yourself is, "How can I prevent this from happening?"

A simple solution is to change the direction in which you are retrieving. Set up a barrier behind you so that your pup literally can't run past you. This example is just one of many!

Additionally, consider that details break down to more than things you should be avoiding. If you only focus on things that you don't want your pup doing, you will keep it from reaching its full potential.

Identify behaviors that you want your pup to exhibit in the future, and as you see it doing them, reward your pup. Loving the reward, your pup will continue to exhibit these behaviors.

If your pup is doing things that you don't want it doing in the future, then rethink that scenario until you come up with a solution that will cause your dog to be successful and do what you want. 

If you will take this advice and apply it to training your puppy, you are going to be set up for great success in the future!


Joshua Parvin 

P.S. Many people want to train their own retriever but quickly become frustrated and confused. 52 plus online videos eliminate all of the guesswork by taking you on a simple step-by-step path of success so that you know where to start, what to do next and how to handle problems when they arise. Join 52 Plus today!


You can see all of the posts in this series plus additional puppy posts here