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.

Release commands

I enjoy your columns. I have one more question that I haven't been able to find the answer to:

I have trained my dog to release to retrieve a mark using his name — "Sonny." When do most trainers use the command "back"?

I seem to be getting confused on the difference between the two. I want to use the
standard commands.

Thanks for your help,
Gerald Van Campen


Use of the command "back" got started primarily in the field trial community. It really has no purpose for the hunter.

You correctly trained your dog to be released by his name. Imagine trying to hunt with two or three dogs in a duck blind trained to retrieve on "back." A bird goes down and you send your dog with the command "back." You are likely to have three dogs down range.

We train all our dogs at Wildrose to be released on their name. Some people say, "Sonny, get back," or "Sonny, go back." I find that by lining up the dog and simply saying, "Sonny," on a mark or blind and he gets the message and goes on the retrieve. I think you're absolutely correct in using your dog's name.

People should begin to prepare their pups to retrieve using their names as the cue in early obedience classes. You do this by preceding each command to the dog with the dog's name. "Sonny, heel." "Sonny, sit." The dog learns to cue on his name and not move until he hears his name. Apply these principles in group work as well.

Keep up the good work!

Getting your goose

At the end of last hunting season, I shot a Canadian goose that sailed towards another hunter. He brought the goose to me, and with my 18-month-old Lab heeling next to me, he tossed it on the ground at her. She immediately coward backwards.

The next goose I shot she would swim to, and return without retrieving. That was the last day of the year. This summer I worked her with a Dokken goose dummy, and attached a goose wing to it, she retrieved it without hesitation. The first day out this year, she made several nice retrieves on ducks, then I shot a goose, which she would not retrieve.

How do I work thru this? She was not force fetched.

I froze another goose we shot that morning. I thought the time over the summer she would forget the incident. As a note she did retrieve geese before.



This is a difficult one. It looks as though you have done everything I would suggest. I like the idea of using the Dokken goose dummy and the goose wings. I like the idea of giving her a rest from the first season and letting her mature. Eighteen months is still a bit young, but she should have been able to get over any fears that she had initially.

First, we have to go back through her development to see if anything might have frightened her initially in the training that may related to the goose … the smell of the wing, the size of the bird.

The second thing that could put her off may be the size of the bird.

Other than that I can't speculate as to what might have happened. It's similar to calling a doctor and saying my knee hurts, what do I do? You're going to have to go back through the dog's history and look for anything that may have made her frightened of this type of bird.

I would continue to do what you are doing. Use Dokkens and attach goose wings. I would also freeze a few geese in various sizes as you have done, de-breast them making them a bit smaller, tape over the opened area and use those in training. Start on the land then progress to the water. Be patient and give her some more time to see if she works through the problem. Seeing that she is a good duck dog and likes the water, we know it's not related just to feathers, so it has to be the goose.

Good luck!

Hardmouth, pawing at people

My name is Mark Rains and I am from Florida. I have had Labs for a long time and dove hunting is my hobby. I have had several good dogs over the years and I have a good one right now, (my current dog's) only problem is hard mouthing or wanting to chew on the bird. Any suggestions?

Another problem I have with my puppies is "jumping up" on people and putting their front paws on people … any suggestions?


There are two main causes of hard mouth:

1. Genetics — Like begets like. Sires and dams in the bloodline with hard mouths can produce a pup with hard mouth. To correct this use hold conditioning to smooth up the dog's mouth so he doesn't crush and destroy birds, force fetch and then never breed him. You don't want to keep the flaw in the gene pool. He may be a great hunter but he's not good brood stock.

2. Training — You could have a dog that has been improperly trained or preconditioned before training. Habits that were formed by such things as playing tug-of-war, playing chase, putting on birds too early or using hard, plastic bumpers … all can produce hard mouths. You can correct the dog's problems by using strategies found in my articles, "Hold Conditioning, Part I and II," and you can go straight onto force fetch if needed to correct the problem. A dog that has developed hard mouth into a habit will most likely require force fetching.

Jumping on people is simply a dominance issue or a pesky habit that was not corrected in training. You are going to have to use some additional training methods to make the dog sit when greeting new people. This is called a counter skill. The doorbell rings or new people walk up, the dog is trained to sit and cannot jump up when in the sitting position.

Another trick we use is when the dog jumps on someone, they lightly step on the dog's back paw, causing the dog to drop to the ground. This method is for older dogs, not pups. They don't like this maneuver and if everyone is consistent, they will soon learn. What you have is a training issue. You didn't get your basic obedience thoroughly entrenched.

There is a good program out called the AKC Good Citizenship Program. All of our hunting dogs go through this program now and are certified as good citizens. You can learn more about it on the AKC website. You may be able to find trainers in your area that provide this service. Part of the program is teaching the dog to meet and greet people in the proper way. This program will help you with this problem.

Best of luck!
Mike Stewart