How to train a dual purpose retriever

One of the great things about retrievers is their versatility. (GUN DOG photo)

One of the biggest reasons why those who live in both upland and waterfowl hunting rely more heavily on retrievers for outdoor pursuits is their versatility. Of course, versatility in imaging is a far cry from a real dog that knows how to perform in both settings. Getting to this point takes a lot of practice and an understanding of how different the survey is for both types of hunting.

They are essentially opposite to each other. A mountain-dwelling retriever will cut loose to go through the right cover in search of a hot scent and hopefully find a few close fry. The duck must ignore its instincts to run and swim until that blind dog is given the opportunity to retrieve the shot bird.

To give a retriever a fair chance at mastering both styles, we as handlers must tailor our training to specific tasks that promote stability, which is the lynchpin that holds the whole dual-purpose thing together.

Slow and Steady

For every retriever I’ve ever met, it’s pretty rare at this point, the process of going from the duck hide to the highlands is much easier than going the other way. It’s like elementary school kids going to recess from math class, which is a lot different than when they come home from the playground and have to sit quietly at their desks.

Knowing this, it’s extremely important to acknowledge what will be the dual purpose dog’s biggest challenge: Stability. Duck hunting is often described as an action-packed style of hunting where you almost need an umbrella to avoid falling ducks. In fact, it’s mostly an exercise in patience, marred by occasional panic attacks.

a dog trainer fires a shotgun next to a black labrador dog training in a pond
A dual-purpose dog tasked with upland and waterfowl duties in the same week will tend to break duck cover, but that’s something you can work on during training and when actually hunting. (GUN DOG image)

Between these moments, and in fact during this time, a good dog should be able to suppress the urge to break. I encourage this by first asking my dogs to wait for their search. The time will depend on the dog’s age and maturity level, but the goal is to make the dog wait long enough for them to learn when they are out of control because the dummy is thrown (or the duck hits the water). go You.

For young dogs, this may be a few extra seconds at first, but for experienced dogs, it may be five minutes or more. To drive this point home even further, I also sometimes won’t send my retriever out during training. Sometimes I make him wait and then go out to get the bumper myself. This reinforces the lesson that he is not in control of quests until he is specifically told to leave.

pheasant hunter in field with two black labrador retrievers
Tasks can be taught in stages and reinforced appropriately with experience. (GUN DOG image)

Hunting Lessons

Backyard training exercises are important, but the real test comes when you take your mountain dog to the duck blind. If he hunts CRP at all, he probably wants to break. Scratch that, it’s likely to break. This is the reality for many dual purpose retriever owners come October.

Knowing this, I often test my dogs when I am blind. When I’m sure we’re in a dead zone, I’ll signal to my hunting partners that I’m about to stand up and shoot. My goal is to see if my dog ​​will break as soon as I surprise him with this action. While there are clearly no ducks falling from the sky, most dogs will lose it. They’ll break as soon as you stand up and fire, meaning you have to be ready to correct immediately. The lesson doesn’t matter if you miss your window.

If you time the correction correctly, this exercise should usually happen several times before you start taking pictures of the dog. If you’re worried about timing your fix and you have a friend with you, you can make him the shooter. That way, you can track your dog and correct it the moment it starts to break.

I shouldn’t say this now, but I will say it anyway – this is an exercise for experienced dogs. A first-year pup just learning the ropes of duck hunting and the whole stability thing isn’t going to pass this test, and you know it. It’s also important that you don’t try this test when someone actually ducks, as this can lead to the unfortunate situation where you’re not sure whether to call the dog outside of the actual search (which you shouldn’t).

While this is a good exercise to test your dog’s stamina as he transitions from upland to wetlands, it’s also a good exercise in the pre-season or in the days between hunts. As long as you have a training ground to shoot at, you can take the dog out and sit on a bucket or blind chair and run with this scenario.

a duck hunter sitting in a duck corral with a black labrador
Much of waterfowl hunting is an exercise in patience. (Photo: Mike Clingan)

Sit To Flush?

Some people think that the answer to this stability problem in dual purpose dogs is to train them to sit in water. In theory, this sounds like a pretty good idea. In fact, most dogs are extremely difficult to train unless you have a sufficient supply of live birds. Most hobbyists don’t do this, so attempts to really drive home this behavior often fall short. This may be a little obvious in training sessions, but it will definitely be evident in the field when the adrenaline and excitement kicks in and the wild birds start to rise.

A better option is to teach your dog that his role is different when you sit next to (or on) the water at first light, and let your dog be a mountain waterer. There he must learn that the urge to run, to chase, and to find something to buy must be suppressed. That seems like a lot to ask of a dog, but it really isn’t.

A well-trained retriever that has been given proper stability training and ample opportunity to learn about their roles will know the difference in time. There can be a bit of a drift going into the season and different hunts happen in the same week or even the same day, but that’s to be expected. The best thing you can do is to keep working on that stability mindset and keep practicing when you can, both at home and in the blind.


Leave a Comment