So let’s assume that you got a new puppy for duck hunting. You want to make sure that he is ready to go by the time the season arrives. Once he is in the 4-6 month old range, you can begin his formal training.
Hopefully you have watched a few videos, or read some books on training. If you have, then you probably are aware of how important it is that your pup be properly socialized. A properly socialized pup is a confident pup. This pup should have already been properly introduced to loud noises, high grass, birds, water, and other dogs. While he may be inquisitive, he should not be shy or nervous around these things. Once you have taken care of the socializing, you can move towards the next step.
First and foremost is obedience. Obedience is the most important part of dog training and is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Don’t try to breeze through this process, instead be very thorough. Insist that your dog heel, sit, stay, and respond to the here command when being told once in a calm quiet voice. The calm voice part is important because you don’t want to have to yell in the duck blind. A few trips of yelling at your dog and you will have a hard time finding duck hunting buddies. Obedience must be performed on leash at first but then as the dog advances, off leash is expected to be solid as well. After the obedience drills are done, I like to throw the pup a few bumpers to increase retrieving desire.
Now that pup is solid on his obedience and loving to retrieve, I can move to the next step. This is where I work on the hand delivery, and fetch command. There are several methods that can be used for this part of training. Remember that the result is more important that the training method. The goal is that your pup will hold a bumper or duck in his mouth without dropping it. You should be able to point to a bumper on the ground and tell the dog to fetch it. Once told the dog should fetch and hold the bumper until being told to drop or release it. This is the part of training that is referred to as “force fetching” a dog or it is often called the “conditioned retrieve”. Feel free to check out videos online or contact us at DuckDogTrainer.com for more details on this method. Once you are complete with this step, your dog should give you a hand delivery on every retrieve.
Now that your pup has great obedience and a great delivery, you can start working on the fun stuff. This is where we begin to improve your dogs marking. This is also where you will begin to need an assistant to help throw birds or bumpers. Everything will start and short distances and gradually increase. They will also start in short grass and slowly move to heavier cover.with pup sitting at heel, facing your assistant, have your assistant stand 40 yards away and pitch the bumper toward the pup. Once the bumper hits the ground, relaxes the dog by calling his name and allow him to fetch the bumper. Make him return to heel and then take the bumper from his mouth. Praise him verbally and repeat. Once pup seems proficient, gradually increase the distance until he is doing this in short grass with distances over 100 yards.
Once you are done with this step, it will need to be duplicated in heavier cover as well as in and around water. Remember to always start short and simple so your dog will have success. You can gradually increase the distance over time until the dog will cover the distance that you feel will be necessary for your type of duck hunting. Many rice field hunters will ask their dogs to retrieve birds at 200-300 yards so train accordingly.
Now that your single marked retrieves are looking great, it is time to add a few other elements to the mix. Begin to introduce your dog to duck and goose decoys. Walk pup around these in the yard at first, then eventually ask him to run through them to retrieve a bumper. Next, he will need to do the same with decoys in the water. Once decoy work is complete, introduce your dog to hunting blinds and boats. You will need to do trial runs from each station until he is proficient. By this point, you should be setting up mock hunting situations and having your helper throw bumpers from a hidden location. The dog should see the bumpers in the air but not be able to see the thrower.
Now that your pup is fully confident with his retrieving, it is time for a little gun work. Set up a training scenario where the thrower is over 100 yards away. When he throws the bumper have him shoot a “starter pistol” with a 209 primer. This should get pups attention but not scare pup. Gradually decrease the distance between the pup and the thrower repeating the shooting process. Do this until the shooter is next to the pup. If at any point pup gets nervous about the gun then increase the distance until he settles down. This process should take several days and different training g sessions to complete. Once complete either the 209 primers, repeat with a shotgun.
After completing all of these steps, you will have a started hunting dog. There is obviously more work to be done if you want a true finished gun dog, but your dog should now pick up single ducks that it sees fall.
Stay tuned for future articles as we move toward more advanced training techniques. If you or someone you know needs professional help with their dog, give us a call at DuckDogTrainer.com and we will gladly help.
Brian Johnson (Duckdogtrainer.com)