Steadiness Starts Early: How to Stop a Retriever from Breaking

May 07, 2020

You’re wanting a steady retriever who waits with anticipation for you to release it for the retrieve. You’re taking the time to train your dog, and you want it to reach its full potential. 

Oftentimes, hunters end up with a retriever that breaks because they didn't spend enough time working on steadiness. Steadiness is a skill set that takes constant work, even when your dog is older.

In fact, you may be noticing steadiness isn’t natural for your puppy. You may be afraid your dog will end up breaking. You should never have to settle for a dog that ends up breaking. 

At CGA, we understand the desire to have a steady dog can be overwhelming. Especially if you aren't sure how to train for steadiness or just aren't sure what to do when it comes to retriever training. We know how to train a steady retriever, and we have a simple plan so you can know what to do. 

  • Practice steadiness in everyday areas of your dog’s life. 
  • Minimize fun bumpers at a young age.
  • Require steadiness throughout retriever training. 
  • Revisit the basics as needed.

Practicing Steadiness in Everyday Areas

Steadiness is a lifestyle for your dog. You have the opportunity to instill steadiness in every activity with your dog. Whether it's feeding your dog, going outside for a walk, or retrieving, every moment is a golden opportunity to teach your dog to be calm and steady. 

How do you do that? Essentially, require your puppy to wait on you to do the things it wants to do.

Are you feeding your puppy? Hold the food bowl over the puppy’s head until it sits. Pull the food bowl back up if it lunges at the bowl before you give it the command to eat.

Have your dog sit at the door while you walk through it. Allow your dog to come out after you have gone through the door. 

Have your dog sit calmly before you allow a new person to pet your dog. 

Crate train your pup correctly

Really focus on obedience training before you build on that foundation with retriever training. This obedience foundation will directly affect the rest of your dog’s training. 

Practice extended place, proper heel, send to place, and other obedience constantly. You want to continue to practice these behaviors throughout your dog’s life. 

These things may sound unrelated to preventing breaking, but these building blocks lay the foundation for steadiness. The building blocks give your pup what it needs to be a great gun dog including rock-solid steadiness. 

Teach your dog being calm leads to a reward

How to Stop a Retriever from Breaking

Minimize Fun Bumpers

"Fun bumpers" as we all call them are essentially retrieves without steadiness. As you can imagine, the more "Fun Bumpers" you do, the more excited your dog will get. As I always mention, habits that are created now, are behaviors that will be carried over to the future. 

If you do too many fun bumpers, your dog will get in the habit of breaking. Once that starts, you've got some extra work on your hands. A couple of hand-thrown bumpers here and there probably won't hurt your pup's steadiness much. However, it also won't help it.

Setting your dog up for success is one of the golden rules of training. Always put your dog in a winning position. One thing that will help your dog's steadiness is the opposite of fun bumpers, and that is denial retrieves as well as delayed marked retrieves.

Requiring Steadiness Throughout Retriever Training

Denial retrieves are when you toss the bumper and pick it up without giving your dog the retrieve. At first your dog may struggle a bit, but once your dog understands what you want from it, it will start to get the hang of it. If your dog breaks or has happy feet, you may want to consider a denial retrieve.

A delayed marked retrieve is different than a denial retrieve. Instead of picking the bumper yourself you will require your dog to wait patiently for an extended period of time before you give it the command to go. I recommend varying the times. Sometimes you can release at five seconds, and other times you may want it to wait fifteen or more seconds. 

This type of training will etch steadiness into your dog's life. 

Calmness leads your dog to receive the retrieve. Your dog wants the retrieve. It's naturally within the dog to go out and retrieve. When you give your dog the retrieve as the reward for calmness, you are rewarding for steadiness and preparing your dog to be steady on the hunt. 

As you start getting your dog into the groove of steadiness, be sure that you don't get complacent. It is all too easy to go out and practice the same routine every day. Eventually, your dog will catch on and start anticipating the same mundane routine. Be sure to focus on every detail and don't be afraid to change things up for your pup so that it stays engaged and focused. 

Revisiting the Basics

You and your dog will have a blast each time your dog crushes a new skill. This excitement often causes us to forget the basics and focus solely on the new skill. When you notice you’ve forgotten to incorporate the basics, bring them back into your training. 

If your dog is breaking now or starts to break in the future, then go back to the basics. The fundamentals are your best friend with retriever training. 

If you follow these four steps, your dog will make amazing retrieves in the field all while being steady. If you put in the work, these steps will instill calmness in any situation that you find yourself.

Whether you have a new puppy or an old dog, work these principles into your training today, and #BuildFromHere.

Joshua Parvin

P.S. Does training a steady retriever still sound a bit overwhelming? Do you want your training sessions planned for you with the right about of steadiness training? We created 52 Plus for you.