by Chris Jennings
Deke, the newest Ducks Unlimited family member, is six months into his lifelong training regiment. At heel, he patiently waited for his trainer and Wildrose Kennel owner, Mike Stewart to send him on the most-significant retrieve of his or any waterfowl dog’s life – his first real duck.
The wind that had ripped across Wildrose property seemed to calm, and, surrounded by the DU video productions crews and a photographer, Deke showed no sign of being camera shy. Staying on command, Deke looked intensely at Stewart, then the bird that lay limp in the grass. The greenwing teal lay no more than 30 feet from dog and handler, but the pressure of what this dog is to become shrouded the scene in tension.
"Deke!" Stewart bellowed to the eager pup, which is the signal for Deke to make the retrieve. Everyone held their breath as Deke dug his claws into the Mississippi clay, aiming his nose for the downed teal and took that first step. With cameras rolling and digital cameras clicking in the background, Deke made no hesitation to mouth his first duck and return quickly, delivering the duck to Stewart’s hand. Like a well-seasoned veteran, on March 5, 2009 Deke made this short retrieve look quite easy.
"Good boy. Good boy, Deke," Stewart rewarded the pup for his first waterfowl retrieve.
Deke had successfully made his first waterfowl retrieve. The new DU dog is well on his way to becoming the star of DU-TV and countless events nationwide. The life of a famous retriever is no cake walk though and quickly one of the camera operators mentioned to Stewart that one more retrieve was needed for extra footage. To the enjoyment of Deke, he was put to work once again, to make his first waterfowl retrieve.
"We don't introduce the dogs to real birds for several reasons," Stewart explained. "Too many birds too early will make the dog want the birds and not the bumpers. They can get too excited and making sure their hold conditioning is refined before allowing them to mouth a bird will avoid any issues with chewing the bird."
Stewart was as excited as Deke following the retrieves as it is also a milestone in his training.
"There are a lot of things you do as a dog trainer that aren't very exciting. The repetitive parts of the training can become very boring and if you’re not bored doing those repetitive sessions, you're not doing them right," he said. "Getting his first duck, his first water introduction and other milestones are the exciting part and it should be just as exciting for you as it is the dog."
While Deke continues his training, Drake the DU dog, who is more than 8 years old, still carries the torch. Drake hits the road again this weekend for a feather-filled Missouri light goose hunt with the DU-TV crew.
Dog training tip from Mike Stewart
Never perform your dog’s first waterfowl retrieve in water. Get everything done right on land before starting any water retrieves. If there is an issue of holding or not picking up the bird and the dog is in the water – there is no way to correct the problem.