Understanding your puppy’s temperament and personality can make a huge difference when you start to train. Different types of puppies need to be handled differently, and tailoring your training to fit your pup’s unique personality can make training easier and success come more quickly. Read Retriever Puppy Training, The Right Start for Hunting by Cherylon Loveland and Clarice Rutherford and you’ll discover that most retriever puppies fit into one of three groups.
There are the puppies that are pliable, enthusiastic, happy, energetic, forgiving and, easy to train. The kind of puppy everybody wants but few actually get.
In the second group are the pups who are just as lively and loveable but after four months start exhibiting quite distinctive personality traits.They start to fret, worry or become hesitant. They’re still enthusiastic, but it’s on their own terms. They’ll get a little uptight during training and lose their ability to concentrate. This kind of puppy has great potential to be a good working retriever as long as training techniques deal with these traits, including using more repetition to learn each command, offering lots of encouragement and providing a strict, non-varying routine.
Then come the dominant pups who will continually challenge you for the pack leader position and resist doing whatever you ask of them. These puppies need firmness, consistency and, according to the authors, “an owner with an equally strong personality.”
The following is a list of specific common puppy traits. Recognizing any of these traits in your own retriever puppy will help you tailor your training program to fit your puppy’s needs and ensure his success as a retriever.
Willingness. The degree of willingness, or the desire to please, determines how easy your puppy’s training will be. A low level of willingness means more repetition and more structure in daily routine. A pup with a higher level comes when you call, bounces around you and waits to see what you want to do next.
Curiosity. A positive trait, indicating lack of fear. It’s an sign that the pup has the ability to concentrate on what he’s doing at the moment.
Distractibility. A negative trait, the distractible pup is always so busy moving from one detail to another, you can’t get his attention.
Energy. A good way to evaluate the desirability of energy levels in a puppy (people really have their own notions of exactly how much energy is good in a dog) is to look at it as a trainer. How much energy do you have to spend controlling your dog’s energy? Ideally, you want a dog with plenty of energy and desire for retrieving but calm enough when working to concentrate on you.
Sensitivity. Training becomes more difficult within the extremes of sensitivity. A pup with a high tolerance for pain won’t feel any pressure on his collar during leash training while the pup with a low pain tolerance cringes, rolls over, or runs away with even the slightest pressure. The middle range pup responds to voice training, reasonable collar pressure and is tough enough to go through thick cover and cold water.
Willfulness. A willful pup is very independent, he’s tuned into his own ‘wave-length’. He’ll be the one who’s more destructive in the house but given time and consistent training, can be convinced to work with you on your frequency.
Shyness. A shy puppy is liable to cringe and stay away if you raise your voice. Feeling sorry for this pup when he acts shy or frightened by sympathizing or petting him, you’re simply rewarding the behavior and encouraging him to act that way in the future. Instead, speak to him in a pleasant voice and only pet him or tell him he’s a good dog when his behavior is closer to what you want it to be, even if it’s just for a split second. Use your voice and body movements to encourage enthusiasm and keep his mind on you and off himself. The shy puppy is born with a short supply of confidence and requires a lot of patience.
Training, according to authors Cherylon Loveland and Clarice Rutherford, “means you accept your pup as he is, and then teach him to be a good worker.”
One more vital tip from the authors – “Watch out for labeling. If you have a pup that is willful and you train willfully, you’ll constantly butt heads. You’re insuring you’ll end up with a willful dog. Take the positive qualities that are evident and build on those at the same time you show your pup that your will is longer lasting than his. All pups have a combination of personality traits, any of which can be either encouraged or discouraged.”
For complete, step-by-step instructions to successfully train your retriever puppy, check out Retriever Puppy Training, The Right Start for Hunting.