After a summer of training with a mix of handling drills and water work, your retriever should be running like a well-oiled machine and ready for hunting season. Unless, that is, your dog is “popping”—stopping to look back for direction without being given the “sit” whistle. Frustrating for the handler, this inefficient behaviour shows your dog lacks confidence. Fortunately, it can be corrected.
A dog must build confidence before he’s able to run to a downed bird without stopping. To achieve this, the dog needs to find the “bird” each time he’s sent out to retrieve during training. The best way to ensure early success is to start with short retrieves.
Avoid repeating commands to an unsure dog, as that will only encourage popping. A retriever may also pop when he anticipates being stopped. To prevent this, and to reinforce the “back!” command whenever your dog begins to slow down, try using an e-collar. To start, make him sit about 40 metres away, then tell him to come. The instant your dog’s pace slows down, give him a mild nick with the e-collar and command “Here!” Stop the stimulation once he speeds up. Do this a few times until he understands, then resume retrieving. Now any time your dog slows down on a retrieve, command “Back!” and give him another mild nick. Again, stop the stimulation the instant he speeds up. He’ll quickly learn to keep going until hearing the “sit” command.
As your dog’s confidence builds, add 10 metres to the distance he must retrieve with each daily training session. Over the course of a week, the retrieves should stretch out to beyond 100 metres. And once that happens, there’ll be no looking back.