Good day! I'm completely new to retriever training, and need some help getting my lab puppy to love retrieving a dummy.
She is a chocolate labrador, American/field-type, whelped in early Dec 2013. So, she's about 9.5 weeks old at the time of this posting. We've had her since 49 days old. I want to get her to LOVE playing fetch while she's young, before it's too late. If possible, I'd prefer never to use punishment/e-collar methods if avoidable, and ideally want to "get it right the first time."
Goal: To get the pup to love playing fetch (with a canvas dummy) so much that she'll play nonstop for 60+ minutes.
I have been reading Richard Wolters' book "Game Dog" which tells me to get the pup excited by twirling the dummy, throwing it, not holding the dummy long between throws, and basically get the pup to love fetch more than any other activity (e.g. more than tug-of-war, keep-away, catch & shake, etc.). Then, once she loves fetch, we can build on that foundation with retrieving dead birds, retrieving clipped birds, etc.
Problem is: She's already been introduced to a number of squeaky toys, which have taken her interest more than when I try to play fetch with her.
The first week we had her, she was fetching for a bit (10X in a row at a distance of ~3 yards), and bringing to hand, but lately she's shown less and less interest. I have been giving her 1 tiny kibble as a treat (plus lots of praise) after each retrieve. Sometimes, after a retrieve, she'll want to tug with the canvas dummy instead of give it (or take it another direction away from me). Other times, she just watches the dummy fall and doesn't go after it.
Pup is still very young, so I feel like we are still in that "magic window" of youth where the pup can still learn to love retrieving/fetching more than other activities in life. But the window is closing and I welcome any advice you can offer. I feel like if I can just get her on track to loving the game of fetch, the rest of Wolters' training will follow naturally and be easier for us. Also, I just bought Wildrose's book on Amazon and am waiting for it to arrive.
Working in our favor:
- responsive to her name
- eager to please, and has energy to play
- responds pretty well to "sit" and "come" commands
- (sort of) enjoys playing fetch with a canvas dummy (sometimes, and only for short periods)
- comes from good hunting/field lines
- still young, under 10 weeks old
Working against us:
- prefers to bite/shake squeaky toys more than playing fetch
- likes to bite/tug shoelaces, pants, blankets, plants, etc. (she's teething currently)
- can lose interest in fetching a dummy after anywhere from 2-8 retrieves
- when playing fetch, easily distracted by strangers or trying to eat mulch
- I'm a rookie at retriever training (and puppy training overall); I'm fairly clueless
- not a lot of time for training, ~20 min in AM & PM each; I work a 9-5 job with no lunch hour
- no backyard, and only a small front yard area (with plenty of distractions); a few parks nearby
- cold weather (northern VA) seems to limit her interest in her outdoor play, especially at dusk
- hired dogwalker (2X on weekdays) won't necessarily reinforce good behavior/ stop bad behavior
- canvas dummy (3" standard size) is a bit big for her mouth to get around right now
Some questions (but please give unsolicited advice, too, since I may not know what I'm missing):
- Better to train her in the morning? After work? Both times of day?
- Better to train before giving the dog a full meal, or after, or no difference?
- Do you train using treats/kibble? Praise-only with no treats? Third option?
- Should I box up all the squeaky toys and get rid of them?
- Do you allow the dog to tug/pull the dummy a bit after a retrieve to hand? Or, do we need to stop that behavior from day 1?
- Do you prefer Wolters, Wildrose, or another training method?
- Basically, how do I get her to love playing fetch?
- Anything else I'm missing?
I'll be checking back in on this thread for a couple weeks, but feel free to reply directly to my Google mail address "palmtreegolfer"