by Gary Koehler
While no training can be a substitute for actual lessons learned in the field, smart dog handlers recognize that off-season workout sessions are a necessity for those who want to keep their retrievers sharp and in top condition. Summer allows that opportunity.
Whether you have a pup or an experienced duck dog, the months leading up to the opening day of waterfowl season provide time to hone your retriever's skills. Time spent training not only reinforces the bond between the handler and dog but can also make all the difference in the world in determining how the retriever performs in the marsh.
A longtime handler said it best: "Everybody likes to have a well-behaved, trained dog in the duck blind. But nobody likes to be around a dog that's out of control and doesn't know what it's doing. Dogs like that can ruin a hunt."
Dog owners must be willing to put in the necessary time to develop their retriever's skills. We are not talking hours a day. Short training sessions are fine. Just be consistent, be patient, and make sure the dog understands what you are asking him to do.
Obedience should be job one. But, in addition, there are a number of exercises that can be used to develop retrieving skills your dog will use during hunting season. Some of the drills shown here are geared toward experienced dogs. Others are more basic. You will have to decide which best fits your retriever. Make sure your dog does not get overheated on hot summer days, but by all means have some fun with your retriever during the off-season. The payoff for your efforts will come during the waterfowl season.