Introduction to the Blind
Is Your Retriever Ready?
Waterfowl Magazine - October/November 1991
People spend years preparing for their first day on the job! Why not give your retriever the same advantage, by spending a few hours preparing him for his first day in the duck blind? It can make the difference of the first shoot day being a fun, pleasant experience for you and your dog. There are several types of blinds and hunting situations a dog must learn to work. If you have had your dog professionally trained or buy a fully trained dog, they will usually have had plenty of bird work, but little or no duck blind experience.
Plan to take your dog out to the blind a week or so before the season. Probably the blind itself will need a little preparation and your decoys will need to be set, so you can make it a multi purpose trip. It is best to transport the dog in a kennel crate when traveling in your vehicle. This is the safest place for the dog and will help protect your vehicle and gear, when your wet, muddy, canine companion enthusiastically "kennels up" after a days shoot.
A pit blind, sunk in the ground, commonly used in grain fields, is the simplest blind for a retriever to work from. Most hunters want the dog to work from a "down" position beside the blind. The dog is less visible and out of the line of fire when he is down. You can practice having him retrieve from this position on leash, at home in your back yard. Down the dog and stand on the leash so that he cannot get up. Throw a dummy and let him up to retrieve by stepping off the leash, when you give the verbal command to release him. Practice this until he goes down readily on command, and does not try to jump up to retrieve, until being sent.
We recommend that during a dog's first year in the blind that you secure the dog down by snapping his collar to a snap swivel, and short length of chain, attached to the blind. You can attach a ring permanently to a wooden, or metal blind, to snap the dog down to. Commercially made, dog tie downs that screw into the ground also work well. Even the best trained dogs will break for the bird in the excitement of a good shoot. Tie the dog down until he becomes fully accustomed to the rules.
Take along a training bumper and shot gun on your practice run. Your retriever may be used to a training pistol or gunfire at a distance, but sometimes a 12 gauge, right next to the dog can spook him, until he becomes accustomed to it. Get into the blind and snap the dog down beside you. Fire the gun and throw the training bumper out into the decoys. Give the verbal command to retrieve as you unsnap the dog. Although he's accustomed to working over decoys, several hundred can be confusing. A few practice runs will help him learn to hunt among the decoys searching for the bird or training bumper. When the dog makes the retrieve, have him deliver and shake off in front of you so that he doesn't get you wet. Then have the dog come into position beside you using the heel command, and down him ready for the next retrieve.
(L) Grasp the dog by the scruff of the neck and lift him up, so that he can hook his front paws over the side of the boat.
(R) Push down on the dogs head, throwing his balance forward, into the boat.
Most retrievers can easily be taught to work from a boat. Begin this lesson from a small boat,on the shore where it will be more stable. The "kennel up" command is used to get the dog to jump into the boat. Stand in the boat with the dog sitting beside you and toss the training bumper out. Send the dog to retrieve, having him jump out of the boat and back in to deliver. He will probably think this is a great game. Next row the boat out into swimming water and anchor, or have an assistant hold it steady with the oars. Throw the training bumper and release the dog with the verbal command to retrieve. He will probably jump out with great enthusiasm but getting back in, will take some practice. Encourage the dog to return to the back of the boat or side he is to come in. Grasp the dog by the scruff of the neck and lift him up, so that he can hook his front paws over the side of the boat. Then push down on his head throwing his balance forward, into the boat. He will then be able to hook his back feet over the side and climb in. Take the bird and have him shake off. With practice he will soon learn to return to the place you designate and hook his front feet over the side, waiting to be helped in.
The dog learns to swim back to the dog ladder of a "stand up" blind and climbs up into the blind to complete the retrieve.
In a "stand up" or "platform" type blind, a retriever often must learn to navigate a dog door and ladder to make the retrieve. In this type of blind it is imperative that your retriever become familiar with their use before shoot day. If the dog will be inside the blind and the falls will not be visible to him, we like to practice using the large size plastic training bumpers. They make a bigger splash when they hit the water and the dog can hear the fall. With practice the dog will listen for the fall and you will be able to send him out the blind door. He will learn to go down the ladder and swim in the direction, from which he heard the splash, to retrieve the bird. Marking birds by sound rather than sight, will take plenty of practice. It is a good idea to have a can of rocks close at hand in the blind. You can throw a rock in the direction of the fall to make a splash, to attract the dog's attention, if he is having difficulty. This is especially helpful if your dog is not trained to take hand signals to the bird.
Taking the time to accustom the dog to your blind can save some embarrassing and confusing moments on shoot day. A bad experience in the field can frighten a dog and set his training back considerably. Proper introduction to working from a blind will ensure that your retriever performs his job to the best of his ability on opening day.
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