(read red "foot note" below}

The Seamless “Here!” Puppy

Most can find a myriad of material about what to do with a pup the first few months. However, the most fascinating event seems to be those first retrieves (or lack there of). Since there should be no time table for this, it helps to accept the fact there are many other things to do which are equally as important. Bonding and establishing general social rules set the tone for a rewarding and meaningful lifetime. When retrieves do start happening, the inevitable issue with “getting it back” will surface. What can be done about this probable conflict?   

A viable solution is to make sure “here” means something positive....early....and before retrieving.  The procedure to do this has to be passive, fair and pressure inconspicuous. Short attention spans and immaturity are the norm. Therefore, efforts must be designed requiring very little intervention.

As a rule, puppies come with few things to “fix” because they don’t come broke. However, the balance between “here” and “retrieving” is usually the first to go out of whack. If the early focus is on puppy bonding (which is what it should be), by imprinting the “joy of here”, a solid sequence can be established which requires no “fixing”. Therefore, “here” must become immediately significant to a pup.......not an after thought or nuisance.    

How does this happen? The key is regularly taking a pup for “free walks and romps” in large, isolated, safe places. (note: without a leash or rope) This cannot be done as effectively later because it is one of those irreplaceable puppy “windows of opportunity”. It is important to remember the walks are for the puppy, and the owner is not the center of attention. So quite bluntly....keep quiet,  watch and take photos. I learned “The Walk” idea from a wonderfully gifted pro trainer/author Julie Knutson and it works!

The "window of opportunity" is 7-9 weeks old. Once passed.......it is gone forever. During the early
portions of the "window".......retrieving represents a very, very small portion of the total awakening.

What I have taken advantage of is that most pups will eventually venture out and then decide to check back in (usually in full flight). On these unique occasions, the “here” word is introduced, and the pup learns by your excited actions just how great he is (for returning). Don’t wear the “here event" out....just get in two or three “good ones” every day. NEVER chase him down and time the end of the sessions with either carrying him to the truck or finishing on a very loose leash (if you have to because of safety issues). A big, safe area is a prerequisite and the pup needs to be on these “free runs” every day.

That first outdoor retrieve should be special. Thrown in a familiar place like a backyard is not the
best choice. The area should be one where the pup is not as secure. The focus should be on you.
An outdoor natural "hallway" is perfect. For example in the following photo, the pup has ventured
ahead on the trail and it is up hill. If this were the time, tossing a bumper in between would have
him running downhill toward me with high grass barriers on both sides. With the "joy of here'
already implanted coming to you with the bumper is something he wants to do. Once (maybe
twice with plenty of time in between) in a full "Walk" session keeps it very special.
 The Natural Hallway

Using a check cord to later teach “here” is the usual sequence, but read this interesting perspective on check cords. The check cord is a useful tool, but it can be “slapped on” for the wrong reasons. In addition, a check cord requires the pup be wearing a collar, use to being restrained by it and conditioned to the use of a leash. The idea is to progress without fixing things. "Here" should be learned separately from the retrieve (not at the same time). I realize this may not be the present universal choice, but “here” means more if it is imprinted properly without being totally initiated by the handler. The concept is to imprint passively and engrain later. In addition, do not throw bumpers into any cover.....eyes first and easy!

                                           Coming When Called & Delivery to Hand (Link)
There is no universal rule as to what sequence every pup should progress through. For example, Gunny, my singleton pup out of Taffey was by fact of birth not going to be dependent on sibling interactions. By birth, he was more independent than most pups. With extra nurturing via human intervention, he was quite comfortable. However, when it came for coming on "here" early and depending on a need for human interactions instead of missing siblings, his "keep away"
penchant sprouted wings much earlier.

Young pups can be greatly influenced by passive introductions to the various actions which
eventually will be formally taught and enforced......when they are more mature. Early, passive
control should be a game and fun with minimal constraints. Do what the pup needs.

Once a pup has reached the age for formal OB, my pups are very familiar with a 26' Flexi-lead. It is
a tool that another pro taught me about and is extremely effective. The Flexi-lead is a check cord and leash all-in-one. Leading up to formal OB, a pup can be gradually “reeled down” to a close enough approximation to being in the real heeling position without even realizing it. The Flexi-lead eliminates the problem of taking up slack on a check cord as the pup dashes in. Done in the right sequence, (with balance) returning and heeling while retrieving can become an almost seamless skill.

On a side note, the use of a Flexi-lead is not well accepted by most retriever trainers. I'm not sure why, but the reasons could be from the fact top trainers and authors of popular training programs
just don't use them. The check cord has been around forever.

In addition, the Flexi-lead market tends to cater to pet dog owners which could be an instant turn-off for retriever trainers (kind of a negative stigma). I should repeat that my use of a Flexi-lead stemmed from watching a pro trainer work his young dogs in "here" OB sessions, short pile work and de-bolting where a check cord is often the required tool. I do all my introductory three-handed casting
with a pup wearing a Flexi-lead.

The imprinted "here" approach fits in well with future expectations. When to begin formal OB is determined by the maturity of the pup.........not a preconceived timeline. As a general rule, my pups have their permanent teeth in before this begins. Teaching is best done in a sequence which means a pup needs to have certain skills in place before proceeding to the next.

After structured OB on here, heel and sit…..this is the perfect time to start working on remote sits.
However, before doing any long remote sits, start with a front sit on a leash and get the proper motion to heel and sit beside you "straightened out". Create an expectation. If you start too far away on remote sits, the pup won't know how to slow down, wheel and sit properly. A common read when training is when the pup isn't doing what you expect.....it usually means something has to be fixed. Therefore, if a pup blows by you on a retrieve........a training step was left out.

To repeat, establishing "here" as a positive word right from the “get go” is the first step.  Later, a “here” imprinted pup will love the remote sit "game" because "here" means something good.  In a way, coming to the handler is rewarding and pleasant from the very beginning. The check cord and/or Flexi-lead are easily accepted as tools for enforcing already imprinted actions which are easily converted to commands....that is huge for a young dog. There is no negative mind-set to fix because the focus from the beginning was to be seamless and fun.

Without a pup knowing it, the first stages of a dog becoming a team player are established in the fields where puppy bonding was taking place. Allow the pup to be free and discover how much fun
it is to be with you.
By starting with the passive, unrestricted method of establishing “here” (separate
from retrieving and before) and subsequently presenting seamless retrieving sessions, a dog learns
his days are all fun.......forever.

Take a walk.

                           "It is better to have a puppy passionately want to be near
                                        you......before expecting it. Very early is easier."

                      updated 02/27/14