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.

Kennel mates

Dear Mike,
My five-year-old yellow Labrador retriever will be having pups in the next
two weeks, and we are going to be keeping one of the puppies. My question
to you is: Can the two dogs live in the same pen, or do we need to have
them separated?

I know that if we keep a male, that we will have him

Will keeping the two dogs together, make them inseparable? Won't
keeping them in separate pens, divided only by a wire fence be just the

Any information would be great. Thanks for all the training
information on ESPNOutdoors.com.

Steve Schroeder
Concordia, Kansas

Its been my experience that pups kept separately after three months old are less likely to establish dysfunctional pack associations/hierarchy than if they are kept with siblings. It's easier to establish yourself as the pack leader. Keeping pups together until about three months of age seems to work out okay as long as you have daily interaction with each pup individually.

Their training at this age should be short, focused sessions, 2-3 minutes in duration to hold the pup's attention. After this early period, separate pups or their attention will be directed excessively on each other.

Rough housing and playing with other dogs must cease or negative habits will be entrenched. Imagine the problems later as you try to work or train your dog around other dogs. Eliminate this potential problem early on.

A very good question…. Thanks.

Off-lead work, retriever drive

My name is Nick Pérez, I live in St. Louis, Missouri. I
have a ten-month-old Chocolate Lab, that is extremely hyper
off her leash, but immediately becomes a well-mannered dog
with it on.

Also, she only will retrieve when she feels like
it, and that is not too often.

My question to you is, What can I do to help calm her down so that she is able to be
controlled off of her leash, and able to retrieve from the

Thank you very much for your time and I hope to hear from you.

Nick Pérez
St.Louis, Missouri

Your question is two part, one deals will obedience/control issues. The second relates to retrieving.

It's really impossible to diagnose with certainty a dog's behavior/reaction to training through a Q&A Forum. The behaviors are multi-dimensional and the cause-effect relationship is unknown to the advisor.

It's similar to calling a doctor that you don't know and one that does not know your medical history and asking by e-mail, "what do I do about the pain in my back?" He won't prescribe anything without examination. Your questions present similar problems.

However, we must carefully examine the cause/effect relationships that could be the root causes of the undesirable behaviors then review remedy options.

Possible causes concerning off-lead obedience:

1. Too little emphasis on basic obedience training
2. Immaturity
3. Distracted
4. Genetic hyperactivity
5. Dysfunctional family interactions
6. Lack of training focus
7. Handler's inconsistencies
8. Poor training methods

Possible causes for disinterest in retrieving:

1. Genetics — poor bloodlines
2. Boredom, too many meaningless retrieves
3. Immaturity
4. Distracted
5. Dislikes bumper type

Lots of questions that required examination before credible advice can be applied.

At best, I need to ask more questions, but I'll give you some tips that should be universal.


Work pup away from her play area; she is young for solid off-lead work; work around no distractions, use fence or wall to assist correct heeling, heel slowly and hold pup's focus; use a training tab as a short, easily-accessible lead that does not drag; keep sessions short and focused.

It is probably early to expect perfect off-lead heel from a 10-month old pup. Use the steady tab for support and for quick re-adjustments.


Switch terrain; differ bumpers types, even tennis balls; add feathers to bumpers; reduce frequencies of retrieves; reduce distractions; excite the pup with some retrieves; apply a time-out — stop retrieving for a while, revisit in about 2 weeks.

I hope some of these ideas are helpful.

Best of luck!
Mike Stewart