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Introducing Retrievers to Their Hunting Environment

Gun Dog Magazine - August/September 1998

Debra Folsom

Too many hunters forget to introduce their retrievers to "life in the real world" of waterfowling, The dog, although perhaps welltrained in retrieving, hasn't learned how to work from the blind, and has never had the BIG gun shot so close by. Even the number of decoys can be a problem. In training, the owner puts out a few decoys... occasionally... but on opening day, he puts out a huge spread.


Not surprisingly, no matter how well the dog works in training, he won't distinguish himself on his initial trip afield. He is confused and perhaps even a little frightened. If the owner has bragged a little {more likely a lot} to his buddies about the dog, he becomes embarrassed at the animal's poor performance. Then the situation can get pretty grim, especially from the dog's perspective.


The owner should take his dog to the blind before opening day. He should introduce him to his "place," let him accustom himself to it, learn how to get in and out. The owner should put out his normal decoy spread and work the dog through the spread with bumpers.

Even before going to the blind, the owner should teach his dog to deliver in front rather than after coming to heel. The dog that delivers in front can be easily taught to deliver and shake off before entering the blind. This, of course, makes life more least drier...for everyone in the blind.


Some blinds are difficult for the dog to negotiate...for example, the platform blind with a ladder. If you use one, you should accustom your dog to climbing the ladder before opening day. Have him retrieve and deliver a bumper several times during the

get-acquainted session. If you have a blind from which your dog cannot see the falls, practice with a big plastic dummy. He will learn to listen for the splash and "mark" the fall from it.


If you hunt from a boat, teach him to work from one in the backyard. Put out a little boat, let him get used to getting into and out of it, then let him retrieve bumpers from it. When he is comfortable working from the boat on land, launch it into water and work him there. To help him into the boat after a retrieve, first take the bumper from him, then lift him up by the scruff of his neck until his front feet are inside, and then push down on his head and shoulders to give him leverage for scrambling in.


One very important point: Don't leave the shotgun as a surprise on opening day! You have surely shot around the dog in training, at least at normal retrieving distances. Before taking him hunting, you should accustom him to the big boom up close. (If you hunt from a boat, the echoes can amplify the sound substantially.) Do all this introductory work gradually, starting with a blank pistol, then a 20-gauge, and so on. 


For the first season, you should secure your dog in place at the blind with a short chain and swivel matter how steady he may be in training. After a full season of this, he will be steady enough to handle more freedom.



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