Reset Button for Retrievers: Spring Training

Every retriever picks up bad habits during duck season – now is the time to make corrections

Photo © Corey McDonald

By Chris Jennings

Spring is a time of renewal, and for your retriever, that means reinforcing techniques which may have given way to the excitement of duck season. Multiple birds falling, the chaos of duck blinds full of people, boats, dog hides, and tough weather conditions, can all be contributing factors to retrievers losing their way. Here's a list of the most common post-duck season issues, and accompanying videos to help guide you through each lesson.

Mike Stewart, owner of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi can list thousands of different training regiments you should focus on right now, but one aspect that he stresses is conditioning. Much overlooked, and crucial to peak performance, conditioning should come with a training focus.

"Dogs are athletes and must be conditioned as such," Stewart says. "Proper exercise and nutrition should always be a priority, and it's this time of year when some dogs don't get enough attention in these areas."

Exercise in the form of running or swimming is one thing, but Stewart says that proper exercise should come with a purpose. Have a purpose for every move you are making with your retriever. There should be a goal every time you step outside with a bumper. Take everything you can from last waterfowl season and turn it into a part of your exercise and training sessions this spring.

"What needs improvement? Do you want your retriever to do something different? What were the mistakes from last season? If you use this time to re-organize your training schedules and add more attention to what needs fixed this year, you will also meet the exercise needs at the same time," Stewart says. "All dogs have deficiencies, and these can be corrected."

There are numerous bad habits retrievers can pick up throughout duck season and Stewart narrows down the four most common problems he addresses each off season.

1. Steadiness – Breaking on the shot or to live birds

This is the most common issue following duck season. Dogs learn to watch hunter's behaviors and jump-the-gun when too eager to retrieve. This behavior can create dangerous situations for the dog and hunters.

2. Self Hunts – When the dog decides to take its own direction

Dogs can begin to become accustomed to making the retrieve and not fetch the exact bird you're expecting.

Stewart refers to this as self-hunting. This bad habit can lead to lost birds, but it can be corrected.

3. Hand signals and focus – Disregarding or extending signals

The excitement of the hunt, and a sense of complacency after making many retrieves, may make a dog to lose focus on you or the mark. Getting your dog to focus means paying attention to you, and then following those commands.

4. Stops hunting – Not using nose to find downed birds

Many times, retrievers see the bird go down, but when called to make the retrieve, they run past or run circles too fast without actually hunting for the downed bird. Hunting in heavy cover makes slowing down and using their keen sense of smell even more important.

While these four common lapses in retriever obedience may not be where your dog needs attention, Stewart recommends all training be focused on whatever the issues may be.

"The idea of focused and specific drills to correct any problems your retriever may have will benefit you next waterfowl season," he says. "Reinforcing these behaviors and maintaining regular training sessions will be a huge help during duck season, and you will be meeting the conditioning needs of your retriever this off season."

Find other behavior-specific training techniques