Question: I am trying to train my black lab to sit to the whistle. She sits when she is close to me with it, but won't sit part way out for a retrieve. I have been working more on blind retrieves in hopes it will help build confidence. Is there any other tips/tricks i can use? She's my first dog so i have learned a lot of do's and don'ts so far. Thank you so very much!
Answer: Thanks for the message. There is a lot here and I'll have to make a few assumptions but will do my best to help. First off, I think sequence in training is very important. You can't do some things with retrievers if you're missing tools. I have a general idea of the direction I am going with my dogs and understand that need for certain tools (skills) in order to accomplish them. Sit to the whistle is something that I think is somewhat foundational. It's an extension of sit, and serves as a good tool of control. Once is is established, it can be use in sequence with things like handling of the dog at a distance. That being said, blind retrieves are something I don't do until my dog is handling well. Handling (left, right and back) is something that takes place in the yard under very controlled setups. The stop/sit to the whistle has to be there before I can do any of those drills. So, what I'm saying is that I think your sequencing is likely off as far as having a the dog ready for a lot of what your trying to accomplish which is likely the reason for your struggles.
So, backing up and talking specifically on sit to the whistle...I make sure that I can stop the dog coming to me reliably at short distances to start and then adding on gradually in difficulty both distance and with "distractions". Before I ever try stopping a dog going away, coming to me has to be 100%. So, recall and sit to the whistle long before sending on a retrieve and asking to sit to the whistle is one thing I make sure of. I eventually will reward the sit to whistle coming at me with a dummy thrown overhead and then a back command. That means the dog has to understand "back" which is something I make sure to have built in beforehand. Once the dog is doing that and I make the switch to trying to stop the dog going away from me, I make sure to do it on a very small scale. I might send the dog and stop them just a few feet away. As long as they do it well, I quickly send them back for the retrieve as the reward.
As a recap...in order to do these drills the dog needs to understand how to stop to the whistle in close (on heel to start) then at a distance. It needs to understand "back". It needs to be very steady. It needs perfect recall. It needs perfect off lead heel. It needs perfect delivery. There is a lot of building blocks that need to be there in order to be where you are trying to get. Is that all there?
I hope this helps, keep me posted and let me know if I can help along the way. I'm going to share a link to a few series that we do on the process of teaching a dog to handle. There are others as well in our training library that would be worth digging into. Jeremy