A good retriever greatly reduces loss of crippled birds,
not to mention how wonderful it is to watch them
work in the ﬁeld and marsh.
Wyatt’s Ability test (7 months old) by Marta Farkas
Zoya’s Summer Training by Marta Farkas
A retriever with a great desire to retrieve, hasn’t happened by accident. Believe it or not, even though your retriever has the retrieving instinct deep within, behaviors must be brought to the surface to make him a good and reliable hunting partner. Without extensive training, the dog’s working career is over before it started. Retrieving is instinctive; bringing the bird back and handing it over is learned.
First thing on the agenda, in my opinion, is crate training. Your new puppy must be able to stay in his kennel at times when you aren’t able to be there. The pup must learn that this is their own home and a safe haven. Early on, I would give Jet the “kennel” command and coax him in with a treat, with frequent potty breaks to start. Young dogs will typically not urinate or defecate near their sleeping quarters – so if they do, chances are you left them in too long. Simply say “no” and take him outside.
Your hunting partner must also have good manners at home and wherever you bring your duck dog companion. This all starts early in a puppy’s life, where lifetime habits – both good and bad – are developed. The ﬁrst year of Jet’s life has involved intense training. Training out bad behaviors as they get older is a difficult task, not to mention it can drive one nutty. Establishing yourself as a pack leader, your retriever must comply at all times, namely for safety. If you have a rambunctious retriever, pairing him with an afternoon that involves ﬁrearms is not such a good idea.
It’s also important to make sure you socialize your dog with lots of people and other dogs in different places. Give them the experience of being a family member, as dogs that are not socialized this way end up with quirks, the most negative of which being aggressive behavior. Your duck dog does not need to be a liability.
As Jet has gotten a bit older, he became a bit crazy and overly enthusiastic during meal time. I’ve taught him patience by having him sit and then using a gesture of my hand, followed by the word “okay”, signaling it’s now time to eat. This all goes back to you being in control. Also remember that puppies love to chew, so if you don’t want him to chew on things, put them up and out of his reach. Puppy-proof your home just as one would baby-proof.
If and when your puppy grabs something that they shouldn’t have in their mouth, say “no” and replace the item with his chew bone (I like Nylabones as they are very durable). No need to yell and scold your puppy, just remember that they are learning the rules of the pack.
Now, to get more bird training-specific, it’s important to introduce your young dog to birds and bird wings. Toss them and coax them back to you; do not let them eat or chew the birds/wings. Toss small canvas retrieving bumpers for them. Get them excited about retrieving and try to always keep it fun. I suggest keeping them on a long rope or check cord. You can start using the command “here” and slowly bring the dog towards you at this young age. Don’t worry so much about the dog sitting and being “steady” when you toss something for them to retrieve. Allow the animal to build the desire to a high. Too much steadying will lead to reduced desire, which for a duck dog, is not what you want.
Swimming is key, so let them play around the water’s edge. If need be, you can coax them in by tossing a bumper at an early age; but never force them in. You want your duck dog to love water, not be afraid of it. When they are ready, they will swim! Also make sure not to introduce your young pup to water that is too cold.
Eventually get into training groups and work on obedience and other drills to develop your young retriever’s marking skills. Marking is your dog’s ability to watch a bumper or bird fall and get to that area and make the retrieve. Tossing bumpers or birds from your side will only go so far. Think about this: Fowl that are shot are crossing over your decoys or coming towards you. If you do not have electronic bird or dummy launchers, use your friend to go out and throw bumpers or dead birds for you. This will teach your dog to mark the fall. A good hunting dog will get close to the fall area and either ﬁnd the duck right away or be able to initiate a good “hunt” close to this area.
I also recommend viewing and reading some of the great training videos and books out there, such as Duck Dog Basics I and II by well-known retriever trainer Chris Aiken. Also worthwhile is Tom Dokken’s book and video series entitled Retriever Training: The Complete Guide to Developing Your Hunting Dog. Nancy Baer and Steve Duno’s book,Leader of the Pack: How to Take Control of Your Relationship with Your Dog, is also a must read.
Happy training and happy hunting!
Article written by Jeff Pelayo
- The Duck’s Alive. The Dog’s Embarrassed. The Photo’s a Classic (life.time.com)
- Sandusky Bay Hunter Retriever Club – Started Hunt Test (the3blackdogs.wordpress.com)