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Retrieving for duck dogs

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26 May 2020

Most puppies that are destined to be duck shooting dogs are ‘gundogs’ and as such are natural retrievers. It is important to get started with retrieving training early as possible as it will make training later on much easier. 

We recommend getting a special toy that you ‘reserve’ specifically for your retrieving training. This toy is not for playing tug with and should not be left lying around. You should get it out only for your retrieve training sessions. Good choices are gundog ‘bumpers/dummies’ (usually canvas as they hold game scent well – for advanced training later on). Bumpers usually come weighted (so they are easier to throw) or full of foam (to ensure they float for water training later on). Other good choices are the fluffy duck toys easily purchased from pet stores and vet clinics.

When you start training the retrieve, it is a good idea to start in a confined space (so your puppy can’t go too far). An excellent place for initial retrieve training is in a hallway as it is long and narrow without too many distractions. 

  • Excite your puppy for his toy (dance it around a bit in front of them and make silly noises to get their interest).
  • Once you have their attention throw the toy a short distance away. We recommend saying something in an excited voice like “get it” or use “fetch”.
  • Your puppy should usually race out and launch on the toy. Entice your puppy back with your hands out stretched using an excited voice. If your puppy doesn’t race back quickly run backwards (still calling with your hands outstretched).
  • Praise your puppy with lots of pats and a genuine happy voice when they come back.

To teach the “hold” and “drop” commands it is easier to teach separately, then put it together once your puppy is fetching confidently and holding steadily. The ‘hold’ command is important if you want your dog to retrieve game to hand. For this exercise it is important to choose an object that will not teach your puppy to be hard mouthed or ‘mouth the game’. A good choice is often an unused paint roller (as it is nice for the pup to hold or the cardboard insert from a glad roll (cut down to size).

Once your puppy is opening their mouth to take hold of the roll move onto placing the roll just in front of their mouth, and then gradually lower it down as they get confident with this. The next step is to place the roll on something such as a large chunk of wood (so it is raised) and ask them to ‘hold’. If they are unsure (because you are no longer holding onto the roll) try placing your hand on the roll and asking them to ‘hold’. Eventually you should be able to place the roll on the ground and ask them to ‘hold’.

Remember don’t move onto the next step until your puppy is confidently doing the previous step and don’t put the ‘hold’ and ‘fetch’ exercises together until your puppy is performing both exercises successfully 99% of the time. 
Once your puppy is confidently retrieving the dummy it is a good idea to get them used to the smell of live game, it is often handy to keep a few duck wings in the freezer for training purposes. We recommend putting the wing into a sock and then putting the sock over your puppy’s dummy. You can also put the duck wing in a rolled up bit of carpet or simply tie it onto your puppy’s toy. 

Don’t forget to expose your puppy to water and practice water retrieves if possible (however be sensible and don’t send your puppy into freezing cold water the first time they are learning to swim).

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