Sometimes, when training your dog, you can inadvertently be teaching them unwanted lessons. This will be the first in a series of posts on different types of these “skills” that every trainer has been guilty of teaching.

The first example of this is dropping the bumper immediately after coming back to heel. When I say immediately, I mean the dog runs back to you, holding the bumper, comes to heel in a perfect seated position, and as soon as his rear end hits the ground, he drops the bumper, not caring if you are ready for it or not. Why does this happen, especially when he used to deliver to hand perfectly?!

I have found that when training your dog, and I am just as guilty as anyone, that we are so excited when they bring it back just how we want, that we instantly give the “drop” command and grab the bumper. Then we begin to rub him behind the ears and praise him with lots of “good boy!” after “good boy!” And, I am not saying we don’t need to praise, I am highly in favor of lots of positive reinforcement with our hunting buddies!

But when we promptly take the bumper away right when they get back and congratulate them with praise, we are telling them that the drill is over. That all we want them to do is go get it, bring it back, and drop it as soon as they get back.  They do not realize that they are doing anything wrong.

So how do we correct this? When the dog drops it at your feet after coming back to heel, quickly pick the bumper up and put it back in his mouth, and give the “hold” command. Now, make him hold it a bit; 10 – 15 seconds is usually good.  Now, it is important to get more reps doing this. Throw another mark, and if he drops it again, pick it up again and go through the same routine. Do not let him get away with dropping it on his own. 

Before long, he will maintain his hold once he comes back to heel.  Now is the time when we can start reinforcing the extended hold. Do not quickly take it away from him, instead, give a couple of “hold” commands to him and make him hold it somewhere between 10 – 20 seconds. It is also important to change up the amount of time you make him hold it. If you make him hold it 10 seconds every single time, before too long, he will learn to count to 10 and then decide on his own that it is time to drop it. 

To prevent this from occurring, change up the hold time each time he brings it back to deliver to hand. Sometimes, make him hold 12 seconds on the first retrieve, then the next time, make him hold 20 seconds.  You can keep repeating “hold” to help him remember what he needs to do. The main thing is to vary the amount of time you make him hold it with each retrieve, and when he does right and holds until you give the “drop” command, then you need to praise him and make him feel good about himself!

Dogs typically want to please us, that is their main goal. But, when there is confusion over just exactly how we want them to do the task, that is how mistakes can occur. Sometimes we have to put ourselves in the dog’s perspective to see how we have been miscommunicating to him. Then things usually seem clearer and we can adjust how we are trying to teach the skill.