By: Kristy Fike
We all have had problems arise when waterfowl hunting out on the water or in a field with our retrievers.
After the season is over is the perfect time to fix those problems.
Two problems that I have experienced myself are hunting manners and confusion by the retriever as to what they need to do.
These problems are mostly caused by the handler themselves, because we have not properly taught the dog, or we are not being consistent when training or directing the dog.
Truck and Boat Manners
Everyone that waterfowl hunts will want and need their retriever to behave and act like they have manners.
Truck manners are very important. Nobody wants a dog that is clawing at the windows or being rambunctious when trying to drive.
You can polish up your dog’s truck manners by taking him or her for more truck rides.
Go for boat rides too. The last thing you want is to hear “splash” and see that your dog has launched in after a decoy that you have just thrown out.
I have been taking my girl for boat rides since she was a pup. She has always had a good time and she has good boat manners.
This is also important for field waterfowl hunting.
You do not need a dog that whines when shots are fired and then breaks on a bird or breaks on a missed bird.
This is one of the things I will be working on with my girl. She needs to be polished up on her steadiness out on the water blind.
There are simple steadiness drills you can do at home or at the duck blind.
An example is pulling out the shotgun during some training sessions or having them sit and watch you shoot some clays.
Making them understand that everything that goes down is not always for them is important and good training work.
I learned this from Steve Purks, a very close family friend. Have your dog sit and you throw some bumpers out, then go get them yourself.
Another drill that will help steady your dog is to have the dog sit then walk straight out away from your retriever.
Next, turn around and throw bumpers back toward the dog. Let them land all around your dog.
Now it is also important to let him get a few retrieves if the dog is behaving during this training drill.
By allowing your dog to retrieve a few of the thrown bumpers you are teaching it that if he is steady, he will get to retrieve, and this will also keep the dog engaged in the training drill.
These little things will add up, when tuning up your dog’s steadiness.
New hunting locations and hunting situations can confuse your retriever.
If you always hunt out of a duck blind on open water with a huge spread of decoys and your friend invites you to hunt in a swamp with lots of cattails, logs, and trees then your retriever might get confused when recovering a bird, because it is new to him or her.
So, there are some ways to avoid this and get your dog ready for next season.
It is common sense really.
Don’t train consistently in the same location or area.
Give the dog as many new situations as possible.
Throw the dog multiple marks, instead of one mark.
Work your retriever in fields with more hills, instead of always working him or her in a flat field.
Let the bumpers bounce and roll down the hill, this will force the dog to work harder when finding the bumper.
By giving your retriever different challenges it will help boost their self-confidence.
Here are a variety of drills and things you can do this spring to condition your retrievers for next season.
Work your dog out of their pit blind. I do this with my dog and it really helps.
I even do steadiness drills out of her pit blind.
Incorporating a duck call and shotgun is another great tool.
This may not be as important for seasoned dogs, but it is good for young retrievers.
Occasionally, I will do some obedience sessions to polish that up. These sessions are good to do at home or at a store.
There are many stores that allow dogs such as Bass Pro Shops, Lowes, Home Depot, Pet Smart, Petco, Cabela’s, Green Top, and Tractor Supply.
You or a helper can throw bumpers out on the opposite bank of a pond.
Hunt tests through the spring and early summer are also a good way for your dog to get some work and socialization and it’s a great place to work on obedience with all the distractions for your dog.
Post-season is a great time to work out any problems you saw with your retriever this past waterfowl season.
Having a dog that you are constantly having to yell at is miserable for you and other hunters in the blind with you, and you will most likely not have your dog invited back to retrieve on hunts.
Just remember when fixing these problems to make it fun for you and the dog.
Do something special that is like a reward to your dog.
For me, that is throwing “fun” bumpers and giving my dog the ultimate belly rub.
Also, remember to hydrate your retriever very well at the end of training sessions.