What to do When You Hit A "Wall" with Your Retriever Training

May 22, 2020

When you're going through your journey of training your hunting dog, at some point you're probably going to run into a wall or basically what feels like a wall. You may not feel like you're moving your dog forward or may even feel that you're taking some steps back.

Often, you may be off to a fantastic start and feel like everything is going well. Then all of a sudden, things take a turn for the worst, and it doesn't feel like you're doing very well. Then, you get frustrated. That frustration just compounds and the frustration starts to actually slow your progress down, and that makes you not do as well with your dog. Maybe even make some bad calls as a handler.

That frustration can be your enemy because your pup will pick up on your negative emotions and respond.

I understand this frustration when it looks like your dog isn’t learning. I have great news for you though. It's not always a wall that you're hitting when it feels like you are stagnant.

I have two simple steps to keep you on the right path.

  1. Understand progress.
  2. Understand advancement.


Progress is often intangible. You can't actually see progress all of the time. However, progress means you're moving forward. On average your pup needs to repeat a behavior correctly 75 times to be fluent and 250 times with multiple locations to be generalized. (New to CGA? You can read about the phases of learning including fluency and generalization here.)

If you're out there putting in the solid reps and you're getting after it, that is going to produce progress which will ultimately help you move forward in the training.

You may say that your pup is regressing. To continue making progress, I encourage you to do what you can to get successful reps. Shorten the distance of whatever you’re doing. Use a check cord. Do more successful reps in a familiar location before trying a new location again. Bring back the clicker and treat.

If your dog performs a skill in a manner is less than what you expect, have your pup repeat until it is successful. For example, if your dog has an improper hold on a retrieve, heel your dog back to either the place it picked up the bumper (if it picked it up improperly) or to the place where the hold got sloppy. Have your pup hold properly. Walk back to where you want to receive the retrieve. Recall your dog.

In times like this, you may not see your dog excelling with new skills. This season is a part of training, and it is a season where you are making progress.


Now, advancement is different. Advancement is when your pup is making tangible progress. You're visually going to be able to see advancement. You're doing longer retrieves. Your dog is learning new skills.

This is certainly a time to celebrate and build on the momentum you’ve been working toward. This is a season you will come in and out of throughout retriever training.

Advancement is something that you'll visibly be able to see. Progress on the other hand can feel like you are hitting a wall, when in reality it's a part of the training process. Understand that every rep you put in, every bit of investment that you put in, every bit of time that you invest in your dog is progress. It's going to help you move forward in the training.

Rest assured that on the tough days, your pup is making progress.

Celebrate when you can see the advancement.

Recognizing if the day you’re in is a progress day or an advancement day (or if one set of skills in progress mode and another set of skills is advancing on the same day) will cut down on your frustration. This will help you enjoy you’re training sessions even when they are not going as planned.


Joshua Parvin


P.S. Want more details on training your dog? Check out our other posts here.