Training retrievers is a balancing act


This article is a continuation of our series on the cornerstones of training; respect, maintenance, balance and communication.

To view previous articles, use the following links:



Today we will discuss balance.

Balance in training was rarely discussed or even thought about 10 years ago. Recently, though, it has received a lot more publicity and traction.

When we talk about balance, what we are referring to is the separation of work time verses play time.

You may have heard the phrase, “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” This phrase generally means that if someone only does work, he becomes bored.

For retrievers, it is a far more serious. A dog that is out of balance can become mentally and physically damaged. Retrievers thrive on retrieving. They simply love it. We, as trainers, need to harness that desire and use it to get them to work with and for us. Whether that work is out hunting, at a hunt test, or simply training.

Let me explain how I do this using a sample training day at Otter Tail Kennels.

Younger and new dogs to the kennel start their day with yard work focusing on obedience. During this training, I take several breaks from the session to throw fun marks for the dog. Doing this helps keep the dog’s attitude up and they respond better to the training.

If all I did was walk them around on lead all morning, it wouldn’t be long before they would become despondent and not enjoy morning training at all.

In the afternoon, we do field sessions with the dogs. This involves marking and retrieving. During these sessions, the dogs get to retrieve lots of birds which is a ton of fun for them. Since we know that these dog’s love retrieving, we can sandwich this fun with work. We teach tasks such as steady (sitting and waiting to be released) and honoring (watching other dogs get to do the retrieving) during these sessions.

Paying attention to balance, mixing in fun with the work, will make training more enjoyable for both of you and pay huge dividends.

Until next time happy retrieving.

Steve Smith