So there is a couple things I like to do when teaching a new young puppy to retrieve. One of the first things I like to do is find an area where the grass is cut short and free of distractions. Keep in mind that your new little puppy can be distracted by simple things such as other people, other dogs, and objects laying close to where you are tossing your bumper. I have seen as little as a candy wrapper in the grass distracted a puppy away from a bumper that was just tossed for them. If time allows spend a couple minutes walking the area to make sure it is free of distractions to ensure you have your puppies full undivided attention in this important process.
The next thing to consider is your choice of bumper. I strongly suggest that you select a bumper that is visible and small enough for your puppy to carry it with ease. There are several different options to choose from out there that will work perfect. I personally recommend Air Flow, Tangle Free and Avery bumpers due to their octagon design which seems to be easier for the puppies to carry. Absolutely make sure your bumpers are white in color for this drill. White is visiable to the puppy making is easier for the him to see the bumper when thrown. At this stage please stay away from orange or dark shaded bumpers which can be harder for the pup to pick out on the ground creating confusion and bad habits that will make this process more difficult than it needs to be. Depending on where you get your training bumper it may include a throw rope. If this is the case just simply remove the rope for the first several weeks to make sure your puppy properly picks up the bumper by the way it was designed. Some puppies will naturally grab the bumper properly with the rope attached however most of the puppies I have trained seems to grab the bumper by the rope when retrieving. I have found that it is easier to conduct this training without a rope until your puppy is a little older and retrieving well.
Now starts the training. Get down level with your puppy. I like to get down of my knees hold the puppy with one hand keeping him between my legs and tossing the bumper with the other hand. By holding your puppy steady it lines your puppy up in the direction you are tossing the bumper allowing him to see that the bumper from the time you toss it until it hits the ground. If your puppy is running around freely they may not be facing the direction you are tossing the bumper and will completely miss the toss. When tossing the bumper start short, 10 feet or so is ideal. As days go by and your puppy progresses you can lengthen the distance. At this stage it is very important that you set your puppy up for success. If your puppy stops short of the bumper and begins to search, that is an indicator that you may be tossing it a little to far. What you are looking for is for your pup to run straight for the bumper without any detours.
Ok great your puppy has picked up the bumper so now what? Cheer like a cheerleader. Now doing cartwheels and the splits may be a little extreme but clapping and praising is exactly what your puppy needs. At the moment that he picks up the bumper begin clapping your hands and praising your puppy with a “ Good Boy”, Good Girl” or whatever positive phrase you would like to use. Keep praising your puppy until he returns to within arm reach. Try to avoid the chase game with your puppy. The first few times may be difficult to get your puppy right back in your lap, but continue to praise and coach your puppy back to you. Chasing after your puppy can create a bad habit and be frustrating to fix. Cheer Cheer and Cheer some more.
Although consistency is key, keep the amount of retrieves from 5 to 10 max per day. Doing to much will make your puppy bored with the game and look for ways to quit. Keeping the retrieves minimal will keep him excited and wanting more. Good luck and remember to watch our videos for real examples of our day to day training program.