Retriever Training Tips For Beginner Duck Hunters

You could know all the best duck hunting tips, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to train your dog.  Unless you are in the business of training hunting dogs you might not know where to start. If you know what you’re doing owner trained dogs make some of the best retrievers. Naturally the owner can build on the trust already established with the dog. Just like fine tuning your duck calls or cleaning your hunting equipment learning how to properly train your dog is crucial to the success of your hunt.  With a few tips you won’t have to stress out your dog and become extremely frustrated.  The biggest step is catching common problems early in your training before they’ve become a problem. Continue reading below for a few retriever training tips that might help you avoid some common pitfalls.

Retriever Training Tips to Make Your Dog Stand Out

Must Have Retriever Training Gear

You won’t be successful unless you have the right training gear. People have been training hunting dogs for centuries without much gear. Luckily things haven’t changed much so you won’t need to spend a lot of money on gear. Yes you can spend a fortune on the newest training gear, but all you really need is a few basic tools.

  • Dummy Launcher– A dummy launcher is one of the best investments a trainer can buy. This launcher will shoot dummies close to 100 yards. The launcher listed to the right includes everything you need to start launching like a pro.
  • Extra Retrieving Dummies– A few extra retrieving dummies is essential for training your dog. They come in all shapes and sizes from the basic bumpers to dummies shaped like different waterfowl. I must have close to 50 dummies in various shapes and sizes.
  • Blank Pistol and Ammo- Most people use a pistol that will shoot 22 crimps. I bought a used Rossi Single Shot Rifle for 50$ that works really well.
  • Whistles and Lanyards- Doesn’t really matter what whistle you buy. Any basic pea whistle or dog whistle will do. I normally carry two with me in case one sticks in the cold.
  • Lead and Check Cord– You’ll learn the best lengths for your dog through experience. I like to use a 6 or 8 foot lead and a 25-30 foot check cord.
  • Training Drone– You would have to be all in to buy one of these training drones. Unless you have a lot of money to spend you don’t really need a drone. It’s just to cool not to include in my list.

Assuming you already have a 22lr revolver everything you need to get started is going to cost a few hundred dollars. Firing blanks in a good revolver can cause corrosion issues if you don’t clean it afterwards. So I tend to stick to cheap starter pistols or a cheap break open 22 rifle.

Avoid Over Working Your Retriever

Over working your dog is the single biggest hurdle I see with beginning trainers. To get the best hunting dog you should start training them when they’re young. The downfall with this thinking is that puppies don’t have a long attention span. A puppy under 6 months old isn’t going to want to learn for longer than a few minutes. Sessions that exceed 5 minutes will both frustrate you and the dog. Only try a few repetitions of each command give a reward and leave the dog to play. Longer training sessions will make your pup lose focus and will ultimately frustrate you.

When hunting season is months away you don’t have to train everyday. Retrieving game is something dogs have been doing all through history. Retrieving should come natural to them since it’s in their blood. All the trainer is trying to do is reinforce their control over the dog. Not having control over your dog will eventually put him in a dangerous situation. If your dog is young training for a few minutes a couple times a day is all he needs. If you overwork a puppy he will simply start to ignore you. If you notice your training sessions are getting less productive take a break for a few days. Two or three days later you should see a surprising improvement. It also doesn’t hurt to come back with a few extra treats to keep him interested.

Make Sure Retriever Training is Fun For Both of You

I know training a young puppy is going to get frustrating. You can’t let the frustration boil up because it will ruin your training. All yelling at the dog does is make you feel better. He doesn’t know what you want him to do, if he did he would be doing it in the first place. It’s crucial that retrievers between 6 and 12 months of age keep a positive attitude toward your training. Teaching a young dog that doesn’t want to be there is nearly impossible. By the end of the day you’ll feel like slamming your head into a wall.

All dogs are different, but the majority of dogs that age benefit most from training sessions that are less than 20 minutes. You can actually get a lot accomplished in short 20 minute training sessions. If you see your dog start to stray or show signs of boredom you need to call it a day. It’s important to end your training session on a positive note. If everything is going well there’s no need to continue pushing your dog. If you reward them and stop on a positive note he’ll be excited to train the next day. The best duck dogs are trained on ten minutes a day a few times a week throughout their life.

Don’t Set Your Dog Up To Fail

All new trainers fall into the trap of setting their dog up to fail. If you’re like me you think your dog is the best retriever in the world. He’s the smartest dog you’ve ever trained and hunting just comes naturally to him. Everybody falls into this pitfall and you really should feel this way about your dog. As a retriever trainer this type of thinking will set your dog up for failure.

Even the smartest dog in the world won’t learn anything from failure. Young dogs need to succeed every single time they train. It will not only give the dog confidence in his skills it will give him confidence in your commands. You wouldn’t expect a 2 year old to get the mail, so don’t expect a young dog to work above his capabilities. He needs to have proper training before he can succeed. If the dog can’t find the bird go help him find it. You need to guide a young dog where you want him to go. That could mean shortening the distances you work with or going back over basic skills. Nothing will help your dog more than letting him be successful.

Transitioning Your Dog For Success

Retriever training isn’t a sprint it’s a marathon. Slowly teach your dog every skill that he needs and don’t expect him to realize how everything comes together. Once he knows all the basic skills start to link them together. If he doesn’t respond the way you expect adjust your training to suit his needs. All dogs learn by associating tasks over a long period of time. By establishing cause and effect relationships he will slowly associate his training with his surroundings. This really is the hardest part of learning beginner retriever training. If you don’t properly think through your game plan you’re setting the dog up to fail. All you need to do is try and think of the easiest way to set your dog up for success. Over time these small success stories will lead to a well trained hunting dog.

Don’t Rush Into The Hunt

You wouldn’t go out hunting without knowing how to shoot so don’t force a dog into the field before he’s properly trained. Forcing your dog out into the field before they’re ready is a recipe for failure. They not only won’t know what you want them to do it can be dangerous. A young dog can quickly get themselves into a situation they can’t get out of. I can’t even describe all the things a young dog can get into on a hunt. Everything from running away to getting into a fight with an aggressive dog is bad for his development. I’ve never met a dog that was truly ready to hunt before he was a year old. There really is nothing to be achieved by bringing out a young dog. And the downside potential is huge. Young dogs are still at risk for getting gun, bird and water shy. Or even worse you risk physical injury.

You will know when your dog is mature enough to go on his first hunt. It will be a very fun and proud day for the both of you. If you let him mature to the point where he knows his retrieving skills you will have a fun and successful hunt. If you’ve done your homework hunting should come naturally to both of you.

Steady Your Dog Early in Training

One of the biggest mistakes young trainers make is waiting too long to start steadying their dog. They worry it will lower the dogs enthusiasm towards training. Well it’s true that after a while he’ll lose interest steadying him for a short period will actually amp up excitement. Training your dog to stay steady from the shot to fall is one of the hardest lessons to teach a dog. So it’s important to start teaching him from the very beginning.

Most dogs will know how to retrieve something with very little training. Even the dumbest dogs are able to play fetch. The real difficulty is teaching the dog to follow your commands and wait to retrieve. Denying a puppy the retrieve early is crucial to training a well adjusted dog. If you pick up a good percentage of the downed birds on your first couple hunts the dog will eventually learn patience.

Introduce Whistle Commands and Hand Signals Early

It’s much easier to introduce whistle commands and hands signals early in the training cycle. Try and introduce the whistle by associating it with rewards and fun experiences. Whistles are one of the easiest ways to call young dogs to you. They’ll readily respond to a whistle as young as 8 weeks old. You’ll obviously be unable to hold there attention but it’s good to introduce it early. If you reward a dog he will respond to the whistle. Just wait to introduce more complex commands and strange duck calls until he’s older.  Nothing perks up a dog like an overzealous comeback call in the morning.

Hand signals are another thing you shouldn’t wait to introduce to you pup. Since dogs have no language they communicate through nonverbal cues. Hand signals are one of the easiest ways to teach a dog new commands. Introducing whistles and hand signals at a young age will teach the dog to rely on your commands. This will create a hunting partner that will rely on you as much as you rely on him.

Vary How You Throw Marks

Throwing the same marks over and over again isn’t worth wasting your time. After a few of the same marks the dog is no longer benefiting from training. Try varying the overall length and height of your marks to keep the dog guessing. Make sure some fall in tall grass, behind a log, over a hill or even in water. The only way to make the dog better is to stimulate his mind. He’ll learn how to properly watch the sky for downed birds.

Suggested Retriever Training Regimen

At the end of the day it’s your dog and you can train him as you please. The time required to move from one step to the next will vary from dog to dog. With a proper training schedule your dog will be hunting in no time.

  1. Practice Basic Skills- The first step you need to take is teaching your dog basic retriever skills. You should try and train your dog basic skills without over complicating it. Remember that young dogs don’t have the attention span or maturity to learn more than the basics. With a puppy practice basics skills in very short training sessions.
  2. Field Training- You’re going to want to take your dog to a location similar to where you plan to hunt. With proper field training you want to start teaching the dog to combine the basic skills he learned at home to complete complex tasks. Slowly introduce new variables without expecting to much. Vary the activities that he does everyday slowly introducing new environments.
  3. Pre Hunt Training- During your prehunt training phase you will want to get the dog used to different factors he’s going to experience on a hunt. Make sure you vary the terrain and environment. Get him used to various atvs, boats, birds, gunfire and anything else that could distract him. If you think the dog could experience something on a hunt introduce him to it now. The goal of this phase is to reduce the risk of unexpected variables.
  4. Training on The Hunt- Your first hunt needs to be dedicated entirely to training the dog. Don’t worry about taking game during your first hunts. Try and control all variables on the hunt to help train the dog. Don’t try and rush your dog into his first hunt before he’s ready.

If you stay on a reliable schedule you will have a well controlled hunting partner in a matter of no time.

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