Training a Gundog

Do you want to train a Gundog?

The following are a few tips for beginners wishing to compete in UFR Retrieving Trials. Training a gundog is never easy, some days it is 1 step forward and 5 steps back...but the rewards are worth every bit of effort you put in.

You will need:

  • A Gun Dog
  • A lead
  • Something to fetch
  • Time, Commitment and PATIENCE
  • A willingness to have some fun discovering a wonderful fulfilling outdoor lifestyle with your family, human and canine

You should be willing to:

  • Educate yourself
  • Listen to your dog
  • Educate your dog


There are lots of good books and DVD's and personal advice available. Watch, read and listen, take from them things you think you would like to try. Not all may have methods which suit you or your dog, be discerning.

Attend training days, learn from those who have already made the mistakes and may have some suggestions for you. We have a great group of people at UFR, and any of our members would be willing to give advice if asked.

Oh, and YouTube YouTube YouTube. You may find it is training related to American or English Trials, but the basic principals are still relevant.

Please be aware that the SSAA United Field and Retrieving Branch, without reservation, do not condone or support the use of electronic shock collars, in the training of dogs for Retrieving Trials.


Watch and learn what your dog needs. Does he understand you? Are you trying to get him to do something which he has no concept of? Does he trust you?


Start small, build on solid foundations, keep it fun, and reward success.

You will need to understand the concept of "WORK TIME". Your dog's "TRAINING" time should be often and short. He, and you, should know that this is "WORK TIME", not play. You should approach training with a different attitude yourself, different that is, from when you are playing with him at home or when you are cuddling on the lounge. YOU need to have your "WORK TIME" face and attitude on. That does not mean you can't be excited and positive - this is a must, but he should know that you are in charge, not him.

Begin with some heeling, perhaps have a special lead only used for training and trials. Never use your training dummies for any other play. Keep training short, 5 or 10 minutes to start with, every day. Work up to longer times but sessions of 20-30 minutes or so are best when teaching drills. Practical training with others will of course be longer.

Set your dog up to succeed and ALWAYS finish on a positive.


Early training is best. Teaching your pup good habits right from the start will save you hours of frustration and un-teaching. However, with persistence and patience, it's never too late.

Everything you do with your dog is essentially training. Be careful that you are not teaching him the wrong things by default.

Teaching your dog to heel on lead is the best place to start.

Getting you pup/dog excited about retrieving is a MUST, however, never let your dog control the situation. Some dogs definitely do not need to be more excited about the retrieve, these ones usually need more attention to discipline and appropriate control.

Using your excited voice and lost of praise, begin throwing your special training dummy for your dog a very short distance in front. Gently but firmly hold your dog for a second or two before saying FETCH, this is teaching your dog that he does not leave you to retrieve the article before you give him the command, usually FETCH although some handlers choose different words for this. Release him/her to (hopefully) launch forward and pounce on the dummy, giving him an excited YES,YES just as he reaches it, this lets him know that he is doing the correct thing and that that is the item you want him to retrieve. This will be helpful as you move forward in your training and the retrieves get more difficult. If he is accustomed to you saying YES YES when he is close to his retrieve he will learn to look around when you give him that command.

Immediately he has put his mouth on the dummy GOOD DOG, COME. - Get EXCITED, do whatever you have to do to get him to return to you immediately with the dummy, doing this as soon as he touches the dummy, get his attention to return to you immediately, don't give him even a second to be distracted and think about running in another direction or playing with the dummy. NEVER chase the dog, he must return to you. Chasing him becomes a game, and puts him in charge. Teaching your dog to COME on command before commencing retrieving training will also be very helpful when you get to this stage as he should now COME back to you when called with the dummy.

On return continue to praise him, do not take the dummy immediately, let him hold it as you praise him for a second or two before you take it. This lets them know that HE/SHE is the important one in this exercise, not the dummy. Some people use rewards like food at this point and this may be helpful at the start, however for a good retriever, the retrieve itself is usually enough reward - they love it. If you have a dog that is likely to spit the dummy immediate upon return, you may need to take the dummy from him as soon as he is close enough to you to avoid him spitting, or dropping the dummy. It is better to take it immediately and gradually extend the time he holds it, rather than trying to correct a habit of dropping the dummy later on.

Gradually increase the distance of the retrieve, the time you hold the dog before release him and the time he holds the dummy before you take it back.

Increase the distance of the retrieve by having the dummy land in the same place, however you and the dog have moved backwards 20 meters as your starting point. This is a positive way to achieve the dog going out longer distances because the dummy is landing in the same place as before - he KNOWS where the dummy is and runs straight to it. What he is learning here is to go longer distances in a positive, successful way.

Never set him up to fail. If you know he does not yet 'get' something, don't set up a training drill which will allow or encourage the dog to do the wrong thing. Think of ways you might be able to set this drill up which will achieve the desired success. For example, if your dog will not immediately return to you but runs around instead, set up the retrieve in an area, like a lane way or a confined place like a hallway, where there is no choice but to return to you, he has no where else to go.

You may choose to introduce a whistle at this early stage. This can be as simple as using a whistle for the SIT command. Once the dog knows SIT simply pip the whistle each time instead of using the word sit. Positive early introduction of things which will be necessary later on for more advanced training is helpful. However, don't overwhelm the dog with complicated drills and commands at this stage.

Introducing the dog to water retrieves can be another challenge. Some dogs love the water and will plunge in without hesitation, some do not. If you dog does not go into water willingly you may need to go for a swim with him to teach him how. It won't take long for him to learn, it is natural for them. This might be best faced in summer!

Make sure your dog is a confident swimmer before introducing the concept of retrieving from the water. Keep the distance he has to swim out short, make a big splash with the dummy and be ready to take the dummy as soon as he steps out of the water. This is because dogs usually want to drop the dummy and have a shake when the step out of the water. Again, it is important to take the dummy before he drops it, avoiding the development of that habit, and work on getting him to hold it longer and carry it further as his training develops.

Never reprimand your dog when he is holding the dummy. ALWAYS make having that dummy in his mouth a pleasant experience. If you dog is prone to playing or biting on the dummy, don't reprimand, which is our first instinct, simply take the dummy as quickly as possible and never leave training dummies around where he can get hold of one and play with or chew them. When he understands that his job is to retrieve the dummy and bring it straight back to you his desire to play with it should, and I say should, decrease.


  • Teach your dog to HEEL on lead, COME when called and PICK UP a dummy/dokken teal.
  • Your next goal would be HEEL off lead, remain steady ie NOT BREAK before being sent to fetch.
  • Keep it positive.
  • Ask for help. (Regular training is available)
  • A willingness to have some fun discovering a wonderful fulfilling outdoor lifestyle with your family, human and canine

And we will see you at the next Non Slip Retrieving Trial.