From the June 2002 American Kennel web page
Ken handling Checkers in
Training a Retriever
Marking is the most important skill in retriever competition. Retrievers have
natural marking abilities; however training enhances and refines skills. The
dogs are taught to: remember multiple marks; not go back to where they picked up
a prior mark; to only go when sent (the term non-slip retriever in the rules
refers to this); to carry what they retrieve gently without damaging it, to hold
it until the handler takes it rather than drop it; to do short, long, or medium
length marks regardless of the order they fall; and other things that make
marking on both water and land effective and efficient with disturbing a minimum
One of the key factors that make the preparation of retriever unique is the task
of training them to take arm and voice signals at a distance from the handler.
This skill, called "handling" is necessary to enable the handler to get the dog
to an unknown destination. The reason for it is to guide a dog to a bird that
the dog did not see fall. This ability preserves game and contributes to
wildlife conservation. There are specialized sequences of training that prepare
the dog for "handling".
Whether a retriever is being trained for hunting, hunt tests or field trials;
the process for training marking as well as "handling" to unknown destinations
is basically the same in the beginning. It is only when the dog gets to an
advanced levels that dogs are trained to meet the relative demands of each.
The first challenge for the new owner is to figure out what pup to buy. Looking
at the AKC statistics that appear in the Gazette each month, the sporting group
has thousands of litters registered monthly. Deciding what pup to get out of ads
in magazines, newspapers, word-of-mouth referrals, web sites and other sources
is a mind boggling experience for even the experienced person.
Dennis Voigt with two 50
day old littermates: Banchee's Keltic Spirit (black) and Quik Traveling
Advice to the new person
would be to spend some time studying their breed of choice first. Go to AKC
competitions, study the pedigrees of dogs that look good, talk to participants,
ask about trainability, and get involved with retriever clubs and the work of
putting on field events.
Decisions have to be made as to the goals for the new pup. The goals will make
the difference for what pup to choose. Pups that are hopefully heading for a
field trial career will likely have a pedigree filled with dogs that have field
trial titles. Photo right: Banchee's Keltic Spirit (black) and Quik Traveling
Windstorm (chocolate) will be in two different homes. Dennis is editor of the
respected training magazine, Retrievers on Line, the Magazine of Field Trial and
Age to Start Training
The first training, usually called socialization, starts in the litter
atmosphere. A good breeder will expose the pup to various experiences of sound
and texture and objects, holds each pup daily to accustom the pup to the human
touch, teaches it to run out to potty on papers or outside areas to keep it's
sleeping area clean (a fairly natural response) and teaches the pup to come to "
here puppy puppy" when food is brought during weaning. Pups learn early that
humans are special companions.
Ten week old Travel
making himself at home on the sofa
The training continues as
the pup arrives at its new home somewhere between the 49th and 58th day. Leaving
a pup with its littermates longer than that promotes bonding to the other pups
rather than humans. Taking a pup earlier removes it from important learning
about being a dog, bite inhibition, and other significant personality
From the day the pup arrives a variety of socialization activities are
important. What happens in that first ½ year sets the stage for the pup
"learning how to learn" and how to be a "good citizen". The foundation set will
impact the future success of the dog. Bonding and becoming a part of a family
are important parts of growing up
Pups enthusiastically retrieve from an early age. Good habits are started early
with well placed praise and enthusiasm strengthening the responses. Years of
selective breeding have made retrieving a highly rewarding natural response for
Sixteen week old
Sommit's Teak Windstorm swims back with a bumper
Windstorm at ten weeks retrieves a big dog bumper
Basic and Transition
Mike Lardy gives a
positive pat to a retriever doing yard work.
At around five to seven
months more formal training is begun. A flow chart shows the typical skills
taught in a yard situation while marking is being developed in the field on the
right hand side of the chart. The flow chart was taken from Mike Lardy's
totalretriever.com site. It has two stages that lead to Advanced training ---
Basics and Transition.
Basics teach the dog the foundation skills such as heeling, sitting to a
whistle, responding to casting (arm movements) on land and in water. Bumpers are
used in a flat featureless area with minimal distractions to teach these skills.
Transition is literally translating the skills learned in Basics to the
field. Going to an unknown destination guided by the handler's whistles and
casts, staying in the water to take a direct route rather than going on shore
where they might get lost or disoriented, and going where the handler guides
them rather than making up their own mind what to do are all taught.
Ken Dollevoet sending Checkers
on a blind. Checkers was Open Wisconsin DU Winner in 2001 and is Ken's
first field competition dog.
The angle of the
handlers arm determines the direction the dog takes. The end of the blind
is up at the tree near the corner of the farmyard.
Ken directs Checkers
to his left side as she returns with the bumper from a successful blind. He
has done all of the training on Checkers and owns Lorken Retrievers and Game
Farm with his wife Lori.
The dog learns to leave at
a designated time in a sequence of handler actions and to differ between angle
casts. They learn to take a direct route rather than jump on the shore and run
around. Taking a shore or land route disturbs more cover plus often disorients
them as to where the mark has fallen and they might difficulty finding it. When
the dog returns to the handler, an arm out to the side shows the dog where to
sit. Many field dogs heel off both sides.
Advanced training comes at the end of the flow chart following Transition. They
have learned that at times, as in marking, they will be following their own
instincts, memory, and desire. In other situations, they will abandon their
natural instincts and move only as a partner with the handler to find a hidden
destination. The dog must know how to comfortably change between the two
different ways of responding to their handler.
It is at this point that the dog will take one of, or maybe several directions
---being a great hunting dog, competing in hunt tests, or training for field
trials. Up to Advanced the skills learned are the foundation for any of those
Challenges in advanced Field Trial training and competition
What does a dog have to be trained to do for success in field trials? Each test
design varies and the handler never knows until they get to the competition what
will be involved in each series.
Length and speed are not the primary criteria, contrary to popular myth. Lengths
vary from as close as 30 yards to up to 350-400 yards - and long and short might
be in any test. The relationship of the marks to each other, the terrain used
the design of shores and water entries, wind, and other features are the key
factors in making a test difficult. Overall style and enthusiasm are much more
important than speed. National competition requires a dog that has learned many
complex skills by both the dog and the handler.
Dogs might be trained by a Professional trainer; or sometimes Amateurs do all
the training themselves; and sometimes there is a combination between using
Professional and Amateur training. All three ways of training can be equally
More on Training
Field training takes quite a bit of equipment. The longer individuals stay in
the sport, the more they accumulate.
Field Trial Judges are chosen from amateurs who have shown success in the sport.
Amateurs have training groups that meet multiple times during a week to teach
retrievers new skills and strengthen old.