Book Review: British Training for American Retrievers

Posted on October 30th, 2012 by FetchMasters in Book Reviews

British Training for American Retrievers is a good read, peppered with British Humor and filled with expert advice from highly credentialed British gun dog trainer, Vic Barlow.

From the perspective of a positive gun dog trainer, of whom there are relatively few, Mr. Barlow takes a refreshingly anti-shock collar stance on training gun dogs. He also shuns the use of “forced fetching.” Instead, he advocates slow, methodical, quality training and incremental increases in criteria to develop a rock-solid hunting dog. He also insists on building a respect-based relationship between the dog and trainer/owner/handler — a relationship in which success is rewarded and infractions are addressed.

Mr. Barlow offers valuable advice for raising young gun dogs, covering all the basics: selection and health issues; socialization; exposure to guns, water and birds; and early training. He also provides excellent, well-formulated techniques for teaching dogs to remain steady, honor other dogs’ retrieves, and take handling (casting) from the hunter.

The author also makes creative and effective use of rocks as training tools. He suggests they may soon be offered by gun dog supply retailers after his book becomes popular. I won’t divulge his rock secrets in this review; you’ll have to read the book to learn more.

Mr. Barlow advocates scruff-shaking for dogs who willfully disobey a known command. While this method certainly works, it is this trainer’s opinion that doing so has the same end result as shock-collar usage: developing a dog who obeys because she is afraid not to and knows when you are too far away to administer a punishment. As justification for scruff-shaking, Mr. Barlow explains how mother dogs grab pups by the scruff. However, scientifically speaking, mother dogs grab pups by the scruff to provide transportation, not discipline.

I have found there are plenty of other ways to discipline a gun dog using negative punishment (taking away what the dog wants when it displays an unwanted behavior). I have found ending the training session by quickly kenneling the dog or taking it out of the hunt to be highly effective.

The author does concede the use of a shock collar as the only way he has found to reliably break a gun dog from chasing rabbits and squirrels. I emailed him with some suggestions for adapting the Premack Principle for this purpose.

Amazingly he quickly responded to my email and indicated he has used similar techniques to dissuade young dogs, but that with older dogs, it sometimes isn’t that easy. I’ve found this to be true as well.

All in all, I thought the book was very good, very well thought out, and very insightful. Whether you are a do-it-yourself-er or a professional trainer, British Training for American Retrievers is full of useful, practical (and often humorous) information.