All true waterfowlers and their retrievers await the next season with bated breath, but what do they do in the meantime? Some may continue to hone their skills, but many of them rest on their laurels, or their couches, until the season begins.

Stan Warren, veteran outdoor writer and professional waterfowling guide for Goose Master of Peace River, Alberta, shares these pre-season tips to help ensure reliable retriever performance.

  1. Start early to get your dog in shape. Begin slowly, especially on hot days, and try to practice early in the morning or in the evening. Dogs can have heart attacks or heat stroke as easily as people. Have plenty of water available, and don't drill for extended periods of time with an out-of-shape dog.
  2. Reinforce all basic commands such as sit, stay, here, over. They all remember "back" since that's where the fun starts, but basic obedience is a must.
  3. Don't force older or experienced hunting dogs to fetch bumpers if they show no interest after the first toss or two. It's not the real thing and they know it.
  4. When practicing retrieves, work extra hard on blinds rather than "watch me throw it and go get it."
  5. Move from single retrieves to multiples during the tune-up process.
  6. Change your dog's diet gradually from low-protein to high-protein food if the dog is going to be working hard. Let his system adjust properly.
  7. Spend as much time with Pooch as possible. Let him ride with you to the post office, bank, wherever. The more he feels that he is "one of the guys," the easier he will handle in the boat/truck later. Do not leave him alone in a vehicle in the summer. Dogs can die in hot or even warm vehicles, even if the windows are down.
  8. If your dog is going to be a multi-purpose one, get some pen-raised quail or pheasants, or some pigeons and an Innotek bird launcher and work him upwind into the birds.
  9. Enlist your dog as a partner in conservation. Help ensure he has plenty of wetlands to hunt in for years to come by signing him up for DU's new Canine Club.
  10. Always give lots of praise for a job well done.

Following these professional tips can help you and your dog have the best season ever.