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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Steadying the Retriever

Steadiness is fundamental to the success of training
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Group Dynamics

Once your pup understands the concept of steadiness, begin to steady him in groups of other dogs. Pups will pick up on the mannerisms and actions of other dogs in the group. It is quite easy to steady 3 to 4 pups together since one often mimics the actions of the others. This exercise also begins the concept of honoring.


Walkup exercises become possible after the pup can promptly respond to sit and heel. A "walkup" is heeling the dog across fields while bumpers are tossed out in front, similar to a bird being flushed. The pup is required to sit on command as the bumper is thrown. This begins the concept of sit to flush. Whether or not the dog will ever be on an upland hunt, this drill will pay dividends. A handler is actually training the pup to sit when the bird/mark is thrown and a shot is fired. The counteraction (sit) is conditioned to minimize the likelihood of the undesirable reaction (run in). Use bumpers, cold game, remote launchers and planted live birds to condition pups to sit on fliers.


Substitute memories for marks. Excessive marking destabilizes steadiness and promotes independent action on the part of the dog. Memories involve placing bumpers or birds in varied locations and sending dogs back for the retrieve at a later time from a different location. Site, trailing and circle memories enhance steadiness, as will sending dogs away from thrown marks back to previously placed memories. The key is that the dog is not sent straight away for the retrieve.


Another important part of steadiness is the ability of the dog to handle distractions in the field, especially on the retrieve. Involve planted birds, thrown bumpers as diversions, flushing birds, gunfire and other dogs working on land or in water as your dog remains focused on making his retrieves. Steadiness also involves sitting quietly without noise or movement in the blind for long periods as other dogs work, calls are blown, guns are fired, and birds are working in the sky - even sitting motionless as birds land directly on the water in front of the dog. Read more about developing a dog with poise, quiet discipline and good posture in Puttin' on the Polish.


Steadiness conditioning must be drilled before each hunting season, even in older dogs. The excitement of the hunt may well destabilize the most experienced dog.Get the dog some birds and shooting exposure prior to opening day. Private game farms and sporting clay shoots offer great preseason training opportunities. Live pigeons, pen-raised quail or domestic ducks can provide a bit of live game exposure to reinforce steadiness. As a final point, don't leave anything to chance in the field with your first-season pup: Tie up young pups on their first hunts to ensure no breaks or creeping.

One of the most important goals to have for a new retriever prospect's first year in the field is to develop steadiness to shot and fall. This skill is considered by most wingshooters the cornerstone of a fine gundog.

Shortchanging the training program for steadiness in early training limits the potential of your hunting companion long term.

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Related:  retrievers

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