Qualifications for river dogs
- A reasonable size – a large dog will prove to be cumbersome in the confines of a boat, canoe or duck blind.
- Biddable temperament – willingness to please, calm nature, no aggression and low prey drive (won't chase wildlife), a dog that is easily trained and intelligent.
- An obedient, patient dog – nothing disrupts an outdoor adventure quicker than bad weather, a toothache, or an unruly, annoying dog.
- The love of water – river dogs have a passion for water sports.
- Athletic ability – You'll need a strong swimmer to handle the power of currents and the strength to negotiate steep banks, river rocks and fallen timber.
The river waterfowl retriever will require specialized training beyond basic duck dog work. A dog unfamiliar with the effect of current can easily lose a bird due to lack of experience. For instance, a dog trained to mark a bird down on land or still water will likely drive out fast to pick up a bird which fell in moving water only to be surprised that our duck has drifted well away. The bird will not be where the dog marked it down, as is normally the case. Without training to understand the concept of moving water , how to continue a search downstream and the ability to take hand signals from their handler for direction, our bird may well be lost to the amazement of our hunting dog.
Next, our hunter must understand the effect of the current on their direction of travel once they jump into the current. Being swept downstream is always a surprise for a dog's first attempt at capturing a bird on moving water.
In training, toss bumpers upstream… the dog runs to the fall area, and then they must learn to recognize the direction of the drift working their way back downstream for the pick. Toss a training dummy downstream. Allow the dog to watch the bumper fall and begin its drift. After steadying the dog briefly, make the release and the race is on.
Similarly, a bird falling across the river to the far bank offers a special challenge. Our hunting dog sees the bird drop on the far bank, enthusiastically takes a straight line toward the fall, and then enters the water only to be swept completely off his line of travel. An exit downstream in an entirely different area than the dog intended may prove confusing. With practice and experience our hunting dog will learn to swim into the current to compensate for the effect and become a much better marker of birds across swift water.