Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Buck was a beautiful, close to two year old German Wirehaired Pointer that was brought to me for retriever training. The pointing breeds are some of the prettiest dogs out there, and Buck was no exception. Tall, athletic, and one of the best personalities you could ask for in a dog. He was eager to please!

The biggest problem with Buck was that he had practically no retriever training. And when you have a dog that old, that can be an issue. The best thing you can do for a retriever is to make retrieving fun for him when he is a pup. Hallway retrieves or backyard tennis ball throws will help to make the dog love retrieving and build his desire for it.

When that young pup brings back that short hallway retrieve for you and you praise him so much and love all over him, it will build that drive for him to want to do it over and over again.

But when that process has been skipped, or even just shorted, it makes training the retrieving skills more difficult. Not impossible, but more difficult nonetheless.

Buck had had a little retriever work, but not enough to get him to really understand what he was supposed to do. But Buck was eager to please, and that helped him out tremendously. He was kind of goofy and awkward at first, but I treated him just like I would a young pup. When he did it right, I acted like he just did the greatest thing ever! Lots of praise, petting and “Good boy!”s. Pretty soon, he figured out what it took to get all of that praise and attention, and that made him very excited for the retrieve and the praise that was sure to follow.

That is not to say that I did not have to make corrections to Buck. He needed lining out on walking at heel, steadiness, and eventually Force Fetch, once we got to that point. But after I had to make corrections to him, I made sure and always took a step back and did something I knew he would do correctly, and gave him the praise he desired. That kept his drive high and his focus on pleasing me.

Eventually, Buck turned out to be a pretty dang good retriever! Even though he got a later start than most dogs do, he was able to get all the skills down to make himself a reliable, good hunting buddy.

Just because a dog does not start at the “ideal” time, does not mean that it is too late for them to learn. One thing about it is, as a trainer, you have to read your dog, and adjust the training to fit him. There is not one cookie cutter training model that works for all dogs. Each dog is different, and needs training adjusted to fit their natural ability, their personality, and their mentality on things.

If you can keep an open mind, and change things up when needed, you can see great gains in a dog that might otherwise not reach his or her potential.

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