Q&A with a professional dog trainer


Editor's note: Mike Stewart has nearly 30 years of experience breeding and training sporting dogs and is currently training Drake, the official Labrador retriever of Ducks Unlimited. To learn more about Wildrose Kennels and the training methodology used by Mike, visit www.uklabs.com. If you have a training question, email Mike and he may answer your question in an upcoming column.

Cold game, feathered-bumpers and puppies

I have 5-month-old black Lab that's been working on obedience. That's going well and we're also fun retrieving. I have been using a bumper with wings taped on it and he has no problems that and does not have a hard mouth. But when I give him a fresh pigeon he chews it and runs off with it where I could not call him back. And when he would come, I could hardly pry the thing out of his mouth. I used frozen birds and I have the same problem what should I do next?

Thank you

Your pup is simply too young for excessive exposure to cold game. The
occasional feather-laced bumper is okay for a 5-month old pup. Overuse though may lead to the pups' dislike of regular bumpers because of the lack of the interesting smell and taste afforded by feathers.

Tossing out an occasional pigeon or quail may be okay but it's really quite unnecessary. Pups learn little from this experience and bad habits can occur (i.e. hard mouth, running away with bird, eating bird, blink on the smell and feel of a fresh bird).

I recommend waiting until you have your pup well started, that is, through thorough obedience — including solid on recall, retrieving dummies and feathered bumpers well to hand and have completed the Wildrose "Condition to Hold" program which includes particularly frozen birds.

For now, stop all retrieves with birds and even feathered bumpers. Concentrate on the basics. Another problem you are surely experiencing is occurring because your pup is likely cutting his adult teeth. All retrievers should cease retrieving when this occurs, usually at or around 4.5 months. You should probably be doing no retrieves of any type at this point. Save bird work for later.


I have a female lab mix that is just plain hyper. I cannot keep her attention to work with her. She is about 10 months old, and 75 pounds.

When I put her on leash to work with her, she almost jerks my arm out of the socket. She will sit, and lay, but for very short periods (usually 30 seconds or less.) If I use food she will listen, but if there is no food, she ignores me.

Please help if you can, I would really like to get her so that I can take her places and enjoy the time I have with her.

Thank you,

Hyperactivity is primarily a genetic problem. Like produces like. The
traits of hyperactivity or nervousness are passed on from parents. A pup with such traits will be difficult to develop into a calm companion hunter. An overly excitable dog is a high-energy creature that has been handled, socialized, or trained improperly. You have a chance amending these behaviors as they are really habits, not genetic disorders.

I take it that you are looking for a companion, not a hunter. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Tying out use a 10 foot tie out cable and put the pup in time out for extended periods under observation in your yard. Here we are focused on patience.

  • If necessary, briefly use a spike-type gripper collar to get better results with the quick snap of the lead while at heel work. You are seeking dominance and demanding quiet behavior.

  • Get into a good obedience class quickly, one that you will attend with the dog and one which has other dogs about.

  • No one must spin this pup up. She must experience only quiet behaviors about her. She will "feed" on energy from other people and dogs. No rough housing, chasing, tug-of-war, meaningless, repetitive retrieves or frolicking with other dogs.

  • Confine or remove her from the family "pack" if behaviors cannot be controlled. Return her to her crate or outside kennel for a period of time out.

    Hopefully, you can reform the dysfunctional annoying behaviors that have previously been learned by your dog. To do so will require you to always assume a dominate role in dealing with her and to exhibit patient, quiet behaviors in all interactions with her.

    Obedience, pinch collars, dominance

    Hello Mike,
    I own a relatively young dog yet, 14 month-old Rottweiler, we did the puppy class thing … it was okay. I need to do more with him. I wanted more out of the class and they were not able to give the extra training I was looking for only the basics. He pulls me all over the place when he sees another dog or a person. He is the friendliest dog too but he's in such a rush to greet everyone that he makes a bee line for them, and when he does this he totally tunes me out does not even know I'm at the end of the leash.

    Do not even bother to tell me to use a pinch collar, I quit a group because it was mandatory to use one. He knows all the basic commands, yep sometimes he even obeys them! No only kidding, at home he's the best. He is just so excited when he's out and I do like to take him with me as often as I can.

    Can you recommend books, classes or both? I was watching ESPN this morning with my husband and we both turned to each other at the same time and said it's worth a try to contact you so here we are. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you soon.

    Jan & Brian & "Angus"

    Jan, Brian and Angus,

    Angus' problem is totally focused on lack of obedience in the presence of distractions. You must gain control of your dog by gaining and maintaining a position of dominance in your relationship with your dog and by setting obedience standards despite the location or distractions.

    If your dog is excessively strong and does not respond to a choker chain, then, initially a pinch collar is in order. It will get your dog's attention quickly and put you in a dominant position. There are no short cuts in dog training. You will not maintain control of your dog unless your dog sees you as the leader.

    Your obedience training cycle is not complete. We do get the basics down with the dog in locations that do not involve distractions. But the dog does not graduate an obedience course until he can complete all obedience commands in a variety of locations in the presence of distractions including kids, other animals, vehicles, etc.

    I direct your attention to the AKC website to see the standards for the AKC Good Citizenship course. Wildrose has two certified instructors with this program. AKC will happily provide a list of these standards and refer you to an instructor. This is the course of action I would immediately take so that you can complete the training cycle for Angus.

    Additional resources we recommend are listed in the book section of our Wildrose website. These
    books are concurrent with the Wildrose training methodology.

    Best of luck,
    Mike Stewart