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"Encouraging the Retrieve"
with Heather, Puppy Training Team Lead
Lab puppies can begin retrieving naturally at different phases in their lives. Some pups are drawn to picking up toys and wings as early as 6-7 weeks old, while others are more focused on eating everything in sight until they receive a burst of hormones that kick in their retrieval drive. Some pups may begin retrieving early and then show little interest in picking up toys or bumpers when they start losing their puppy teeth, as their gums are very sore during that time frame. Here are some tricks we use at Duckhill Kennels to bring out the prey drive in our pups:
1. Introduce soft plush toys to the pup's playpen or play area. You'll want to leave them alone with the toys so that their focus comes off of the handler and onto entertaining themselves with their toys.
2. When possible, allow the pup to have playtime with other similar sized pups or dogs. Dogs learn from each other during play, and tug of war is the best way to kick up a pup's instinct to hold toys in their mouths.
3. Being that dogs are prey-driven, they are generally captivated by quick movements. A toy on a string that you can bounce and drag along the ground generally gets a pup excited to chase, but be sure it moves slowly enough they can catch it from time to time. Puppies' eyes have not developed rapid movement for a few months, so it's hard for them to track quick movements.
4. Toys floating in water are a very exciting way to peak a pup's interest in grabbing and holding.
5. Tug toys that allow you to stuff treats inside are usually a guaranteed hit with puppies! They will start by investigating the smell and then start scratching and biting at the toy, which will allow you to play a little bit of soft tug of war and encourage them to hold the toy in their mouth.
One of the perks of working with gundogs is the ability to spend a day or two duck hunting on the clock! Heather, Elizabeth and Liz took a few days hunting with our dogs-in-training: Rip, Rye, Crystal, Tessa, Jones and Banjo! Most of our hunting was done with Robert Milner III at Beaver Dam Lake in Tunica, MS, though Liz and Heather spent a day with Nathan Howard at Murray's Hunting Club near Colt, AR, helping him with his young lab Dot in her first season.
Here are some of our favorite photos from the hunt, and you can click here for the full album!