Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Pros And Cons Of Buying A Started, Intermediate Or Finished Hunting Retriever

For many serious bird hunters, the raising and training of a puppy to be able to confidently help retrieve birds can be a daunting proposition.  There are many very important steps to building a capable, eager dog to take hunting.  The pup should be introduced to birds in a super positive way as early as possible.  Pup should learn very early that retrieving things is super fun.  And that the sound of gun fire is all part of the fun.  And obedience needs to be incorporated into all the fun.  A dog who won't sit in the duck blind until sent for the bird can be a detriment to the hunt as well as a danger to herself and others in the hunting party.  And a dog that spies another party hunting pheasants and runs across a field to retrieve someone else's bird is an embarrassment, to say the least.

Often I get calls from people who obtained a puppy and several months or so into the rearing of the pup the realization comes that their dog is frightened by loud noises--or gun shy.  Or the dog does not like to swim.  Or the dog is just so out of control on obedience that the owners doubt they can even leave their home with it--let alone take it hunting.

There are house training issues that take time and consistent schedules and there are issues like chewing on things in the house that require good dog management skills.

By the time a dog is a year and a half or so old, a skilled trainer will have completely socialized the dog around other dogs, people and other animals.  The young dog will be thoroughly house trained and fairly trustworthy in the house.  The dog should be highly excited about retrieving a bird on land or water--and yet be steady to shot, waiting for a release or permission to leave the hunter's side.  There should be absolutely no hint of the dog being gun shy. 

For a "Started" hunting retriever, the dog should have all of the above mentioned attributes:  Good in the house and reliable on obedience.  Comfortable around gun fire, eager to swim or run to fetch a bird.  Steady to shot, waiting for permission to leave the handler to retrieve.  The dog should have been through force fetch training and understand that birds are to be held in their mouth gently and delivered calmly to their handler's hands.  The dog should have been through T pattern training where she leaves her handler's side on command and runs to targets to retrieve objects.  During the T pattern training the dog will learn to stop on a whistle and take directional casts to the right, left and straight back.  She will have done swim-by drills in the water where she learned to stop on a whistle and take casts in the water.  At Fast Pup Dog Training, we also finish with cheating singles training where we teach the dog to enter a pond on a straight line, rather than to "cheat" and run around the pond on the bank.  The dog will be starting to do walk-around and pattern blinds, meaning that the dog is helped by being reminded where the birds are planted.

Tango, a 1.5 year old "Started" retriever
 An "Intermediate" hunting retriever will have significant skill on multiple retrieves with hidden or "retired" gun stations in various locations across different types of terrain and cover.  The dog will also be developing skill on cold, blind retrieves, meaning a skilled handler will be able to line the dog up for a send and expect the dog to leave her side and run in the direction the dog was sent until stopped and redirected with casting to the bird.

Tango retrieves a pheasant
A "Finished" dog, is sort of a misnomer, since no dog or human is ever "finished" until they simply quit.  There is always more to learn and higher skills to be honed.  But for the purposes of description, the dog should have been schooled in and mastered tougher concepts, such as learning to punch past a short live flyer station to a long retired bird--or checking down for a short retired bird when a live flyer station is out long.  On blind work, the dog will now be understanding to drive under the arc of a prior mark, understanding  "poison" birds (a mark that is thrown that is not to be retrieved until after a blind retrieve is picked up, and understanding that just because a point or spit of land in a pond is full of scent and fresh feathers, the handler will still get cooperation from the dog in handling her off that land, back into the water and back to another location where the real bird actually is.

Most hunters will never need the skills of a "finished" retriever.  These skills are only necessary in training contests such as hunt tests or field trials.  The dog with "intermediate" skills will earn the handler wonderful bragging rights, however.  See the link here about the experience that Dennis had with his dog a couple years back.

If you are thinking of purchasing a trained dog be prepared to experience a learning curve.  A magnificently trained dog in the hands of an inexperienced handler will never get the opportunity to use their training.  Be prepared to go to the trainer to pick the dog up and spend a good amount of time with her.  Or plan to hook up with a local trainer for instruction.  You don't want to miss the thrill of learning how to work as a team with your dog.

Pretty girl, Tango

1 comment:

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