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Teaching A New Dog Old Tricks

Transitioning from a veteran retriever to a puppy isn’t an easy task.

When I hung up the phone after confirming my deposit and therefore “pick of the litter” for a new lab puppy next spring a realization washed over me, I’d be starting over. No more taking for granted my dog could make a retrieve. No more not having to deal with an unsteady rambunctious pup. No more stoic veteran duck dog. It’s going to be back to the drawing board. Square one!

Sure, Mackinaw is only eight and, God willing, he’ll still be around when pup shows up ready to whip the youngblood into shape and just maybe absorb some of that youthful spark all puppies possess. But I on the other hand, I am the one who will have to make the biggest adjustment. Transitioning from a veteran duck dog to a rookie isn’t going to be easy but I think this is how I’ll start.


All my dogs have gone everywhere with me. I’ve exposed each of them to a wide variety of stimuli and people from an early age. My thinking? If I want a dog who is confident in any scenario they need to have experience to breed that confidence. Positive interaction and reinforcement go a long way in your pup building trust in both you and their own abilities.

Take them to ball games, cookouts, the river, the lake, in the truck or kennel, let them meet other dogs - do all these things and let them learn, safely. DO NOT throw your new puppy into confusing or scary situations that can cause irreparable damage; fireworks, concerts, large crowds, anything that can cause stress, will. Be smart but get them out and about.

Teaching Obedience

This goes hand in glove with the first step and should be going on simultaneously. After I bring puppy home and he gets used to his surroundings, give him about a week, it’s time to start with basic obedience commands; no, come, sit, stay, down, place, etc. I honestly feel that puppies absorb these commands readily if they are done positively and in small doses. Keep it light and fun, you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of work and one or two poorly placed stones will affect the rest of the process.

Birds and Play

Getting puppy around birds will be high on my list for sure. I’ll have some frozen birds kept over from the past season for him. We will also begin playing fetch in the first few weeks, a knotted sock in the hallway where he can’t get away will be perfect. This too will be positive and fun, I want him to love birds and burn for fetching.

Mistakes From The Past

When I think back on how I’ve trained my past labs it’s a wonder they did anything I asked of them. In my youthful exuberance I didn’t keep things as fun and lighthearted as I should have. I was not as patient as I needed to be. I pushed drills too long and set expectations impossibly high. If I’d had lesser dogs it all would have been a disaster. I’m not saying I won’t set the bar high, I’ll just go about getting my pup to hurdle it in a better manner. I also know I’ll make mistakes with this one and I’ll learn from them.

Hopefully, in another 10 years or so I’ll be looking at this pup as the veteran and working with another rookie. Time will tell.


In today’s day and age there is zero excuse for having a poorly trained gun dog. The online and book resources out there like Cornerstone Gundog Academy will literally walk you through the training process day by day and step by step, ending with a finished retriever.

Don’t have the time or inclination to train your own dog? Do the research and pick a reputable trainer. Send the pup away and let a pro do the rest. You owe it to yourself and the folks you hunt with to have a well trained, reliable dog.


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