- Rob Oliver
Retriever Training - The Mother of Invention
As I have been privileged to spend time with many retriever trainers, both amateurs and professionals over the years it has become apparent to me that invention is a key element of successful training. Watch any video or read any book on training retrievers and one will quickly learn that what is portrayed in a training methodology or set-up is sometimes difficult to replicate in the real, day-to-day experience most of us frequent. Hence, the need for invention or innovation.
I remember reading an excellent article penned by Bill Tarrant in Field & Stream Magazine in November 1978 entitled "The Sun Also Sets", about the great dog 1967 National Derby Champion, 1971-73-74 Canadian National Field Trial Champion, 1972-75 National Amateur Field Trial Champion, Field Trial Champion, Amateur Field Trial Champion River Oak's Corky. Who still is unchallenged High Point Retriever of all-time with a combined open and amateur point accumulation of 505 and 1/2 all-age points. In the article Tarrant explained that Corky was a left-over pup in the litter and was purchased by a wife for her husband's birthday gift at four months of age. His original owner, John Trezpacz, began his training by hiding pheasant wings in the basement, sometimes four feet off the floor and then encouraging the dog to find them. Tarrant writes : "John had an obsession with introducing Corky to every element of nature and quirk of weather and land and circumstance he could find. He'd slam to stop the family car so Corky could run through a mud puddle". Obviously, these unconventional methods had a positive effect on the outcome.
As varied as each individual dog is, so it seems are the innovations used by individual trainers to fit the dog's needs and their circumstances. One example that was shared recently addressed the problem of introducing winter-born pups to water early without a trip to a warmer climate. Tim and Lisa Traub who live in Wisconsin provide a wonderful home for Emerald and Hope from a litter we whelped on December 16, 2021. Obviously, finding open water, let alone water warm enough to introduce puppies to in Wisconsin in February is a challenge. However, the Traubs' found Aqua Therapups for an assisted swimming lesson for their pups. Judging from the accompanying video a great time was had by all.
While, the process of training retrievers is quite structured and sequenced, based on years of trial and error, there is plenty of room for innovation for adapting to individual circumstances and constraints. I once knew and older couple who had a very competitive all-age dog who only ever trained the dog on singles owing to their isolation from other people and the difficulty they had in setting up multiple retrieves for their dog. I was surprised when I found that out for it was not obvious by the dogs performance on multiple marks at field trials.
So don't make apologies for why not - just let your imagination lead you to accomplish all things necessary.