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Retrieving drills that begin and end in the boat establish a base. Eventually, the boat goes into the water for more drills.

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According to Dokken, the number-one problem with waterfowl dogs is steadiness to shot. You do not want a dog that will jump out of the boat when someone touches off a shot, especially if there is a crippled bird on the water. Training for steadiness is an everyday affair, and can be as simple as making a dog wait until you release him to eat, or to go through a door.

Dokken was too humble to say this in the interview, so I will: Picture a small dummy that can be attached to a stout fishing rod and worked like a shallow diving crankbait. You use it to teach a duck dog that some ducks will dive and swim away. When the dummy disappears, the dog will immediately swim as high in the water column as possible and start looking.

Formal Hand Training and Steadiness With Your Gundog - Hunting Dog Training

Snap the rod tip and the dummy floats free to be retrieved. By submitting above, you agree to Outdoor Life's privacy policy.

Three Essential Drills for Training a Duck Dog

I had spent a few days letting my pound Lab retrieve a full-sized goose DeadFowl Trainer before taking her honker hunting, and she still looked at the first real goose like I was asking her to swim back with a mid-sized SUV in her teeth. This starts with big dummies and confidence building retrieves.

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1. Obedience First

Make Him Gun Shy Be patient when introducing your dog to gunfire. With a little training, a retriever will weave through decoys without issue. Start training from a boat on dry land so the dog gets comfortable.

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Steadiness is a key attribute for any duck dog. The Dokken Diver teaches a dog to keep after a crippled duck.

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A retriever should have experience with gunfire while he's in the water. If that dog has never been in a duck blind before, it's understandable to me, but hunters are always asking themselves, "Why isn't my brand-new, well-bred, super-expensive retriever sitting there like he's supposed to, and retrieving like he's supposed to? Heck, he does it perfectly in the backyard! Often, the reason the dog is not performing up to an owner's standards on the first hunt is that the owner never exposed the dog to actual hunting conditions before he took the dog into the field.

Too often we don't think ahead and expose our dogs to these normal hunting conditions. And it costs us. You don't want to be training during a hunt. You want your dog at peak performance at all times during the hunt. The easiest way to prepare a dog to ignore a floating decoy is to condition the dog before the hunt to leave decoys alone.

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  • For starters, take the dog out after you have set out a small spread of decoys—let's say five to seven—on the lawn and walk the dog through them. Let the dog know you don't want him to pick up these decoys. After we make the dog comfortable around the decoys to the point that he's not picking them up, we can start throwing the training dummy into the decoys and have him retrieve the dummy out of the decoys until he's very comfortable with the concept.

    You must also be careful that you don't make the dog afraid of the decoys for example, by applying collar stimulation when you shouldn't. You want to make sure the dog is comfortable moving around amid the decoys and not trying to retrieve them for you.


    If you know you're hunting out of a particular boat, be sure to load the dog in and out of the boat a few times so he's comfortable with it. If you can work it out, take the boat to a lake or pond and let the dog make some short retrieves so he knows where he's supposed to sit and his entry and exit points. After you have done some of that initial work, it's time to take the dog out to a pond. Spread out six or seven floating decoys and make sure the dog will retrieve through the decoys. Always make sure when you put your decoys out that you keep the anchor strings as short as possible or the dog will get tangled in your decoy spread and start dragging them around.

    A young dog can become afraid of a floating decoy if he has become tangled in the anchor string and the decoys bumps him a few times. We don't want that. Many dogs don't hear a duck or goose call until the first time they hunt. When they do, they can't identify the noise and it causes excitement and confusion.

    5 Key Points for Training Your Retriever

    You need to condition your dogs to the call. Use the call while you're training them. Many dogs have never been shot over prior to their first hunt.