If you have a gundog that is reluctant to retrieve, don’t worry – you’re not alone! Training a dog to retrieve can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Reluctant gundog retrieving is a problem many people face.

In this podcast and blog post, LWDG Group Expert Claire Denyer chats with LWDG Founder Jo Perrott as they discuss some tips for improving reluctant gundog training. The podcast covers everything from choosing the right training method to keeping your dog motivated. So whether your dog is new to retrieving or has been struggling with the task, these tips will help!

Podcast Edition:

Motivating your dog and improving reluctant gundog retrieving

Written by Claire Denyer

This is one of the most common problems we see. We spend a lot of our working days working with dogs who have various retrieving problems. It is something we have become very passionate about. We often describe dogs with retrieving problems as ‘reluctant retrievers’

Although gundogs have been bred to retrieve, certain elements appear to be more exciting and come more naturally in some dogs than others. Many gundogs enjoy carrying things around in their mouth (and this shouldn’t be discouraged) and most gundogs enjoy the chase (this is where the prey drive kicks in) but the piece where things often seem to go wrong is on the return to you. Without a doubt, this is the part is where we find most issues occur.

Causes for Reluctant Gundog Retrieving Problems

There are several causes for retrieving problems, ranging from:

  • too much retrieving too young
  • formalising the retrieve too early
  • telling dogs off for picking things up around the house
  • and harsh handling.

Sometimes it’s down to something the handler has done or is doing, sometimes not. Either way, it’s often a skill that needs developing with time and patience.

Reluctant Gundog Retrieving Symptoms

Some of the symptoms, or behaviours you may see in reluctant gundog retrieving:

  • Dog’s not picking up the retrieve
  • Losing interest or seeming distracted once they have located the retrieve
  • Spitting out the dummy
  • Playing keep away

The good news is that, with a little patience and training, most dogs with reluctant retriever symptoms can overcome their problem and learn to enjoy retrieving.

Tips for Improving Your Dog Retrieving

Here are some of our tips if you are working with a reluctant retriever:

  • Make sure you have a good recall before you start retrieving. If your dog has a poor recall they are more likely to have a poor return with the retrieve.
  • When your young gundog picks things up around the house encourage them to bring them to you and praise them for doing so rather than telling them off. Take care not to tell your dog off for picking things up or you chase the dog to get it back, this can easily contribute to retrieve problems such as reluctance to pick up or running off and playing keep away.
  • Whenever your dog picks something up say “hold” and praise the dog.
  • Don’t put steadiness in too early, let young gundog have fun and develop a passion for retrieving. With dogs under 7 months old, we let them have lots of retrieving fun with informal retrieves.
  • If your dog is lacking motivation and drive when you send them for a retrieve, take the brakes off and make retrieving fun. Spend some time reigniting their prey drive. Puppy or informal retrieves and play help with this.
  • Work out what motivates your dog and what play they enjoy for this to work.

reluctant gundog retrieving

Common Mistakes When Working On Reluctant Gundog Retrieving.

One common mistake that people make is trying to force a dog to hold. This usually results in the dog becoming scared or frustrated, and it can make them unwilling to retrieve in the future. Instead of forcing a dog to hold, it’s better to let them approach it at their own pace.

If your dog is spitting the dummy or refusing to pick it up engage in games. Playing catch (a tennis ball or a favourite toy is good for this) will encourage most dogs to hold an item. Start by teasing the dog and then when he wants it to throw the ball to him when he catches the ball say hold and make a big fuss of him so he knows you are happy. Don’t force a hold. This really won’t motivate the dog.

Motivating Your Dog

Most dogs won’t be motivated by the ball or dummy being waved around in front of their face, so, keep the item low and encourage play that simulates chase, dogs like to chase it ignites their prey drive.

If you feel you may have “overtrained” the retrieve give your dog a week off retrieving. In serious cases of dogs that have lost their desire to retrieve, we may recommend taking away retrieves for a few weeks! During that time we will encourage playing catch, and find it, and even carrying an article on a walk for short periods of time.

We don’t expect a “formal” and “steady” retrieve with perfect deliveries of dogs under 7 months of age, we allow puppy retrieves and fun games to build and retain enthusiasm.

With specific problems training aids like a retrieving roll or prey, a dummy can help a reluctant retriever. these can be especially good training aids to improve delivery to hand with a food-obsessed dog.

When reintroducing the retrieve start with something the dog really wants (a tennis ball or a favourite toy) and start to add other interesting items, don’t just work with a dummy.

Ideas for maintaining drive and desire to improve reluctant gundog retrieving:

  • Don’t over-retrieve (a few sessions a week is more than enough for most dogs, especially those who were previously reluctant retrievers)
  • Don’t do too many retrieves in 1 session (leave your dog wanting more)
  • Let your dog watch an enthusiastic retriever at work without giving him a retrieve.
  • Finally, remember that fetch is meant to be fun! Show your dog lots of love and praise when they bring the dummy back to you. With a little patience and some positive reinforcement, your reluctant retriever will be bringing you the ball in no time.

Do you have any tips of your own for training reluctant retrievers, we would love to hear them in the comments below! And if you need more help, our Gundog Training experts are always on hand to offer advice within our LWDG Society membership.

Happy training!

Further Learning:

Course: Reluctant Retriever

Course: Building Confidence On Blind Retrieves

Developing And Maintaining Your Dogs Desire To Retrieve


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