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Courtesy of Ray Voigt

Meet veteran retriever trainer Ray Voigt, Senior Specialist Sporting Group Nestle Purina. Former associate trainer at Handjem Retrievers.

Location: Thomasville, Georgia

How long have you been a trainer? Twenty-three years

Early Stages:

For new puppy buyers, what should be the training priorities in that dog’s first year?

I believe there are a lot of extremely important things done in the pup's first year. You’re teaching that puppy how to learn and how to respond properly which can shape that dog's behavior for the rest of its life. It starts with crate training, socialization and becoming a good citizen. Building retrieving desire and teaching them basic obedience is also very important. Introduction to water, birds and gunshots. Developing marking, learning how to hunt, I could go on and on.

How significant is choosing a name?


Pros and cons to different names?

I don't think it is that significant, but there are a few things I consider when choosing a name. I try to keep it to one or two syllables so it’s easy to say and I try to avoid names that sound similar to commands. “S” names tend to sound like sit. Teal and heel. If you’re going to have a handling dog Mack and Back. Other than that pick a name that suits you and the pup.

Specific Behaviors:

What’s the most difficult introduction (water, gunfire, multiple retrieves, dog blinds, etc.) trainers deal with?

All are important to a good duck dog and all can be pretty easy when done properly. Or all can be difficult if forced on the dog. I think gunfire could be the most important because if that goes wrong and your puppy becomes gun shy it can be extremely difficult to fix.

What is the simplest way to correct breaking and improve steadiness?

Practice. I can’t be good at what I don’t do and the same for them. If you don’t train regularly and maintain a proper standard for steadiness you can’t expect them to be good at it. Patience and repetition are your friend here as well. Once the dog has been through the basics, I do a drill where if the dog moves or breaks it is denied the retrieve. It’s then rethrown and when they sit still, they are rewarded by getting the retrieve. You’re trying to teach them sitting and being still gets them what they want, not struggling and moving around.

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Courtesy of Ray Voigt

How do you approach correcting whining in a young dog?

Try not to let it get started. If I notice that tendency early, I’d try and stop it right away. So often they are rewarded for being noisy inadvertently. They bark to get in and out, they bark for food, they make noise when you start building retrieving desire and most of the time, we reward that behavior by giving them what they want. If your dog whines and makes noise when they are hungry or want a treat and then you give them that, it just reinforces noise gets them what they want. Same with retrieving. If the dog makes noise and is allowed to retrieve anyway it tells the dog that’s just part of the process to get the bird. Try and establish from the get-go that barking or whining isn’t rewarded.

What are your rules or guidelines when dealing with training in the summer heat?

Caution and common sense. If you’re in the south with high temps and humidity training in the early mornings or late evenings. Keep your sessions short and to the point. Maintaining an ideal weight and not letting your dog become overweight during those hot months will help their stamina. I also like to do conditioning work with the dog as well. If you’re swimming your dog, keep in mind hot water can make them overheat as well. Again keep it short, avoid hot pavement, avoid the middle of the day. Make sure they are completely cooled down before feeding after evening activity. If they get a morning ration give it two hours before exercise.

Hunting Focus:

What are the main training indicators that your dog, regardless of age, is ready for the fall hunting season?

I would say that they are steady, quiet, and compliant. I wouldn’t want them tearing the blind down or barking the whole time. They need to listen good enough that it’s safe for them to be there.

What are some of the most common bad habits dogs tend pick up during the hunting season, and how are they addressed?

Number one bad habit picked up is breaking. If something comes up I think you need to address it right away. Put your gun down and work your dog a little. Stopping a bad behavior before it becomes a habit makes the rest of the season and future seasons much more enjoyable. I see too often people let their dogs start these behaviors and think they can just deal with it later so they can keep shooting. You’re just making it harder for you and the dog.

What are your ideal expectations for your retriever throughout the waterfowl season?

I feel like I’m repeating myself here, but being steady and quiet are at the top of the list. If it’s an older dog that handles, I’d like to see them stopping and casting throughout. If you’re seeing a breakdown, I’d try and do a little training in between hunts to sharpen up those behaviors. Of course, I’d have expectations of finding all the birds, but if they are doing all of the above the bird finding shouldn’t be a problem. At the end of the day if you and your dog are having fun that’s what counts.