Retriever Skills

As Retrievers were originally bred as gun dogs to retrieve waterfowls during a hunt, they were prized for specific retriever skills. These involved obedience, marking fallen birds and the safe retrieval of the hunt.

retriever skillsThe temperament of a retriever involved in these activities is extremely important as they must show a high willingness to please, learn and obey and be capable of using a soft mouth.

Most Important Retriever Skills

In order to function as a good game dog, a dog has to master a number of retriever skills. The most important are:

  • Steadiness. Hunting often takes place from small boats, so it is essential for the dog to remain calm and quiet to avoid upsetting the boat or the aim of the hunter. It also ensures that he can mark the game better.
  • Marking. These dogs are taught to follow the trajectory of falling birds when commanded to “Mark”. They learn to mark multiple placings and remember where each bird has landed.
  • Blind retrieve. It is not always possible for a dog to see where the game might land so, in this case, they are trained to follow the hunter’s voice, hand and whistle signals to locate it.
  • Retrieve to Hand. The dog is required to gently but firmly keep the prey in its mouth until the hunter is ready to have it dropped into his hand.
  • Honoring. A retriever must learn to wait his turn patiently when there are several dogs involved in the hunt.
  • Shake command. A well-trained dog will refrain from shaking the water from his coat until given the command to do so. This ensures the safety of the boat as well as of the prey in the dog’s mouth.
  • Quarter. A dog used to flush out upland birds must stay within gun range in front of the hunter.
  • Steady to wing and shot. A flushing dog is taught to sit when a shot is fired and when a bird rises.

Natural Retriever Skills

Most retrievers can be trained to hunt, but some traits are more useful for hunting and fieldwork than others and these will be targeted when breeding.

  • Biddableness. This refers to a dog’s ability and willingness to respond well to commands.
  • Birdiness. An interest in feathers, bird scent and birds in general.
  • Drive. A dog must show a marked determination to retrieve, despite obstacles.
  • Marking and memory. Whilst these skills can be enhanced with training, a good retriever is born with the innate abilities afforded by good eyesight and retention.
  • Nose. A good nose is essential for finding prey where visibility is poor.
  • Soft-mouth. A good retriever will hold prey firmly but gently without damaging it by biting, crunching or chewing on it.
  • Resilience. Retrievers are expected to work in adverse weather conditions like extreme cold and ice and rough seas. It is important that the dog is strong and willing to withstand such conditions.

The retriever used for hunting is a joy to behold when trained properly. The hunter and his dog act as an expert team using the hunter’s skills to aim and shoot and the retriever skills to mark and return the hunt.