Once you have your retriever puppy, you are probably wondering what type of toys you should give to it. If you are planning on only having a family companion, you can pretty much give it whatever toys you would like.
If you are planning on turning your pup into a duck hunting dog, then there are a few things to consider.
Should I give my pup toys or not?
You may or may not be aware yet, but a young pup is like a piranha. They like to bite nearly everything that they can- including you. Your first instinct will likely be to divert your pups attention away from biting people and furniture.
The easiest way to divert your pups attention is to give it something that it is interested in. Toys will undoubtedly do the trick here, but...
If you have plans to train your hunting dog to be an excellent retriever, you will want to avoid giving your pup toys to play with at free will. Toys aren't necessarily a bad thing, but if you have toys and you don't handle them right, you are running the risk of creating bad habits for your pup that could show up in the future.
Things you should avoid:
- Leaving your pup unattended with toys
- Playing Tug or tug of war
- Squeaky Toys
- Letting your pup chew/throw toys around
If you avoid the things mentioned above, then you are setting your dog up for success and avoiding potential bad habits. Doing any of this is not in your best interest or your pup's best interest, but there are some things that you can be doing that are in your best interest.
Things you should be doing:
- Practice simple retrieves with easy to hold objects
- Reward your dog anytime they bring something back to you
- Channel excess energy into fun exercises
Let's dive deeper...
Practice simple retrieves with easy to hold objects
In life, we all take baby steps sometimes. It's no different for our little pups. We can't expect a young pup to perform the task of a mature hunting dog.
Instead, we can give our pup a simpler form of the advanced task and help them get success. That builds your pup's drive, and it starts conditioning good habits early.
A great example of this is giving your young pup a large bumper with a long tassel. There's a good chance; it won't be able to fit its mouth around the bumper, which will force it to grab the bumper by the tassel or by the ends of it. Your pup will probably bring it back, and that would be great. However, it's not helpful because that would be practicing poor delivery and poor fetching techniques.
Instead, if you give your pup a smaller bumper or maybe even a rolled-up pair of socks, it will easily be able to get a solid hold on them, which will ultimately result in a better delivery to hand. This is an excellent option because it practices good fundamentals.
There is one rule that you need to understand.
That rule is: Habits that are created now will be behaviors that are exhibited in the future.
What that ultimately means is if you practice poor fundamentals now, your dog will carry those same fundamentals on in training. The only kicker is once a habit is created, you will have more work for yourself because you are no longer teaching your dog something. Instead, you are correcting a bad habit and then re-teaching the right behavior.
That is why you want to retrieve with easy to hold objects. It sets your dog up for the best chance of success. You can use many objects for your pup to retrieve. Socks are a great choice; a small puppy bumper or even a small tennis ball will work.
It is recommended that you avoid using squeaky toys to retrieve with because they can potentially cause a hard mouthing issue later on.
Reward your dog when they bring an object back to you
If you have a retriever, then it is going to naturally retrieve many things, including things that you might not want it to. So what do you do in these situations?
Take advantage of the opportunity to reward your pup for bringing something back to you (even if your pup is picking up something that you don't want it to).
Your pup will likely pick up shoes, the remote, or anything that it can pick up. A big mistake that can be made is to get upset and punish your pup for picking up something that you don't want it to.
The reason getting upset in this circumstance is a mistake is because your pup will sense your frustration and either does one of two things. First, it might be discouraged and less likely to pick up something that you would want it to in the future. Second, it might see it as a game and start playing keep away instead, and that is frustrating!
Your best bet is to see this as an opportunity to reward your dog for doing what it was born to do- retrieve. If there is something that you don't want it picking, be smart, and remove it from the room before you let your pup out. That will help keep your frustration down.
How should you reward your pup?
You can reward your pup by any means that you have available. You can pet your pup after it delivers an object to hand. You can keep some kibble in your pockets and give your pup a treat when it brings something to hand, or you can give a simple "good dog!" in an excited tone.
Just know, different rewards have different values. Most pups are extremely food motivated. Food will be the highest reward, which means that food more strongly reinforces a behavior. If you don't have food available at that immediate moment, praise will suffice.
Channel excess energy into fun exercises
Now it's no secret that young pups are full of energy! It's quite amusing. Young pups tend to be fascinated by some of the things we think about the least.
At a point, that amusing energy can almost become annoying, and your pup can seem to be a bit of a handful. So what are you to do in this situation?
As mentioned in the things that you should be avoiding section, don't make the mistake of just throwing out toys to keep your pup occupied. That won't create good habits for you in the future.
Take advantage of your pup's energy and channel it into mental and physical exercises that are beneficial for your pup. One of the simplest exercises is an easy hand-thrown retrieve with an object that it can hold comfortably without dropping.
Retrieving will narrow your pup's focus down to only the retrieve and will help keep it from being too unruly. With that in mind, you do not want to over retrieve with your pup. That wouldn't be beneficial either. What is the right amount of retrieving? See our post here.
Another exercise that is both mental and physical for your pup is a hunt exercise. In this exercise, you can go out into your yard, grab a few pieces of dog food, and systematically place them in a circle that is about four to five feet in diameter. Don't literally outline a circle, but place the treats sporadically within the boundaries of a circle and then take your hands that have a treat scent on them and rub your hands around the treats to put scent down.
After that, go out, help your pup start to catch the scent, and then as it keeps it's nose to the ground, tell it to "hunt it up" or any other command that you would like to use in the future for a hunt command. If you are using a clicker in your training, then as the pup finds a piece of food that it has been hunting for, click as soon as it starts to eat it.
This is a great drill that helps develop your pup's natural hunting ability. Plus, it will keep your pup occupied and help channel its excess energy into something beneficial.
While all of the things mentioned in this post are beneficial, there's one final thing you should consider.
Too much of any one thing can hinder your pup's progress instead of advance it forward. It's best to keep everything you do with your puppy fun and short.
Its attention span won't last long. If you spend too long on any one specific activity, then at a point, it no longer becomes beneficial. Keep it fun; keep it short. Let your puppy be a puppy!
P.S. Do you want more tips for ensuring your gundog puppy reaches its full potential? See our most important puppy training tips here.