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The British Training Philosophy

The British not only breed different types of Labradors than Americans, they also train their dogs differently.

The British, for example, generally do not introduce their Labradors to serious field work until the animal is at least 10 months old, and oftentimes not until 1 year of age. Americans, by comparison, often begin throwing retrieving dummies and even pigeons when puppies are only a few months old.

The British take their time for a number of reasons. Foremost is that during the first year, the emphasis in England in retriever training is on obedience. Sit. Stay. Come. Heel. These commands are taught and taught again, all in upbeat fashion, to lay down a solid training foundation.

Additionally, because the British absolutely must train retrievers that are steady and quiet under considerable pressure--say while 200 or more pheasants are felled in a driven shoot--they believe that starting a dog too soon on field work tends to create a dog whose retrieving expectations will rise to intolerable levels, and with them the amount of maintenance required to keep a Labrador steady, quiet and otherwise well-trained.

Again, the best of the British Labrador breeders produce animals of kind and quiet temperaments because the British are highly discriminating breeders. And again, steadiness and quietness are qualities of temperament, and temperament can't be trained, it must be bred for.

The British have long known, however, that certain training techniques and philosophies accentuate these desirable genetic qualities. Put another way, a dog that inherently is capable of being steady and quiet in the field can be assured of fully developing those traits if certain training techniques are followed.

Conversely, the same animal can be developed into a much more excitable, less quiet and less steady dog if training techniques are used that--intentionally or not--tend to hype up, or excite, a dog.

Case in point, an American retriever owner typically buys a puppy, brings it home and calls to his family and/or neighbors to show them his new dog. In this session, he is likely to throw a tennis ball or similar object. When the puppy chases after the ball, and in some form or another returns it, everyone--particularly the owner--is pleased. And the tennis ball is thrown again and again.

The British, on the other hand, realizing they have purchased a well-bred retriever that will, therefore, retrieve, do not emphasize retrieving qualities of a new puppy. Instead, they stress obedience when the puppy is young. Then, say at 10 months or older, when they seriously begin to throw dummies for a puppy, they begin with an animal that already knows how to sit, stay, lie down, come and heel.

Thus, a retrieving exercise might begin with a dog coming to heel and being told to stay. Then, say in the event that the handler will throw a total of 10 dummies, the handler throws a dummy. The expectation is that the dog will stay when the dummy is thrown. To reinforce this, if necessary, the handler might keep a lead around the dog's neck.

After the dummy is thrown, the handler again tells the dog to stay. Then the handler proceeds to pick up the dummy and return to the dog. This will be repeated, say, four times. Then, on the fifth dummy, provided the dog is sitting quietly, the dog will be sent for the retrieve. And so on, with the handler retrieving dummies 6, 7 and 8, before the dogs gets the ninth dummy, with the handler retrieving the final one thrown.

This exercise trains the dog from the outset that, just because something falls from the sky (or is thrown, as a dummy is), doesn't mean the dog is to leave the handler's side. Not until he is told, that is. Later, the handler might add a blank pistol, duck call and other aids to replicate an actual hunt, and to further tempt the dog.

Many other, similar exercises are used, each with the same goal: To aid in the development of a properly bred animal into a steady, quiet gundog that is both a joy to hunt over and highly efficient in the field.

 
Training the British Way

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