The dos and don’t of an important stage in any dog’s training.
You’ve probably heard this story before: “He won’t retrieve on land, but he does it all the time if it’s in the water.”
Hunting dog owners who think that’s the way a good water dog should act might be in for a rude awakening. It’s a waste of time, the only thing you’re doing is reinforcing the bad habit of selective retrieving, where the dog will retrieve only when and what it wants to retrieve. The only benefit is that the dog is getting some exercise.
Before attempting any advanced water training, the dog should be steady on stay, know what come means, and will make a nice retrieve on land.
Before trying to get a dog to make a water retrieve, trainers should do some basic decoy yard work. I suggest spreading out about a dozen decoys in the back yard and throwing a dummy so the dog has to run through them. This will teach the dog to leave the decoys alone.
If a dog is to be used in a boat, let the dog go in and out of the boat in the back yard. Only after that, should a trainer follow up with a boat work in the water with decoy spread.
Before attempting any water work, a trainer should be sure that a young dog enjoys water.
The first priority with any young dog is to take it to an area of shallow water, with a gradually sloped shore. A trainer should go out into the water with the dog, using either hip boots or swimming trunks. I suggest pitching dummies to an older dog, so the younger can build from its elder’s enthusiasm. You have to encourage the young dog that water isn’t a barrier.
After the dog’s confidence in water has been built, it’s time to move on to different types of diversions associated with water.
The most difficult water diversion is a long retrieve in wide-open water. It intimidates a lot of dogs. I urge a short open-water retrieve first. Then, the trainer can start going to retrieves with other diversions, such as land to water to land, water to land to water, cattails, slough grass, etc. The end objective is having the dog gain confidence in retrieving under all circumstances.
A twist should be added by having a buddy throw the dummies and shoot a starting pistol. The idea is create a diversion between the dog and dummy.
Simulated duck hunt
If the dog is to be used for duck hunting, the process can be taken a step further—a simulated duck hunt.
I suggest buying at least three dead ducks, usually obtainable from a game farm. They can be frozen and used again. The “real” birds will give the dog confidence in retrieving actual game.
I also suggest using ducks on land first. Once the dog has shown confidence and enthusiasm on land, the trainer can start throwing birds into the water. Multiple retrieves obviously are incorporated on land before water.
This may sound like a lot of work to some, but allowing only three retrieves keeps a training session at just a few minutes.
After the dog is comfortable with dead ducks, the next step is live birds. I bind my training ducks with a 3-inch-wide masking tape wrapped three times around the body and 1-inch tape wrapped three times around the legs. Live ducks should be thrown only in the water.
It’s important to go to the live ducks because most dogs will be steady and alert on land with dummies or dead ducks, but throw a live duck in there, and the dog will have a tendency to break. It’s then that the trainer must establish that the dog has to stay until released.
The end objective is to develop manners in the blind, duck boat and getting the dog confidence to retrieve through all types of water diversions.
Yes, they should even retrieve Walleyes!