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Envisioning the Ideal Retriever

To achieve the goal of owning a fully trained retriever, a handler should begin by forming a vision.

The vision should encompass the dog’s physical characteristics, its intelligence and temperament.

The vision also should encompass the many ways the dog will be used and the level of training the handler hopes to achieve with his dog.


Retriever owners who hunt only once or twice a year may be content to have some form of “meat’’ dog, or animal that occasionally succeeds at retrieving a downed duck or pheasant.

Other hunters, no matter how frequently they go afield, demand more.

They want their dogs to sit quietly and under control in a duck or dove blind until a bird or birds are downed.

When a bird is shot, these owners want their retrievers to enter water (or cross land) on command, swim or run past decoys and continue toward the point where a bird has fallen.

A dog’s ability to track wounded game also is important, whether in water or on land.

A dog also should be trained to take hand and whistle signals so it can be directed, if necessary, to the spot where a bird has fallen.

The question we all must ask, then, as we embark on our retriever-training journey is:

What kind of dog do we want to own?

Meat dog?

Fully trained retriever?

Something in between?

This question can be difficult to answer if a dog owner lacks experience and perspective.

Someone who has never hunted over a fully trained dog, for example, will not have perspective enough to “envision’’ such an animal.

But such a vision is absolutely required if the goal of owning a fully trained retriever is to be realized.

Developing a vision

Let’s envision our fully trained retriever this way:

• An animal that is healthy, meaning, generally, one with good hips, good eyes and good elbows.

• A physically attractive dog. One with a pleasing head. A dog that is coupled proportionately hip to shoulder. A dog that is of a reasonable height at the shoulder, neither too tall nor too short. An animal that carries its tail down, not curled over its back.

• An athletic dog capable of moving powerfully forward, which is necessary for hunting ducks in water, while also being lithe enough to aggressively quarter the uplands, as a springer spaniel does.

• A dog of civil temperament. While it is true, generally, that any dog can be trained, dogs that bark excessively, bite (or are otherwise aggressive), are stubborn or hard-mouthed can only be improved upon by degrees. They cannot be made into “good’’ dogs. And they certainly can’t be made into civil dogs.

• A dog with a kind eye (and other intangibles that, collectively, are indicative of temperament and intelligence).

• A dog that can be readily trained to sit quietly in a duck or dove blind; a dog that retrieves on command and one that takes hand and whistle signals.

Not everyone has the opportunity to own such a retriever.

But it’s entirely possible.

The best chance to do so begins with formulating a vision of a fully trained retriever — then finding a puppy that is inherently healthy enough, civil enough, athletic enough and trainable enough to become that dog.

Next up: Part 6: Picking a Breeder

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