19 Sep

5 Key Points for Training Your Retriever

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 19, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1. Obedience First

The most common deficiency in the average hunter’s gundog training program is a lack of emphasis on obedience and steadiness.

If I could persuade the average gundog owner to do one thing better as a trainer, it would be to spotlight obedience and emphasize the non-retrieve. The non-retrieve is when the pup sees a bird or dummy fall but doesn’t get to retrieve it. The trainer or another dog retrieves it while the pup watches.

We took a wrong turn somewhere in the evolution of training and now go about the retrieving and steadying processes in a totally illogical manner. We take a young dog and give him hundreds of retrieves with no restraint. For the first thousand retrieves, we encourage the dog to take off at will after the falling dummy. Then, after we have him well trained to break, we change the rules and decide to make him steady—which requires a certain amount of punishment to counteract the breaking behavior we have just trained.

The sequence should be reversed. Train the pup on obedience first, and train him to be steady by teaching him to expect to be steady. This is done with non-retrieves.

As soon as the pup is proficient at basic obedience, the “stay” drill should include some falling dummies. While he’s sitting, toss out a dummy or two. Then go and pick up the dummies while he watches. If you are picking up 75 percent of what the pup sees fall, then he doesn’t expect to retrieve everything that drops from the sky.

He becomes steady, with little effort and no punishment. Additionally, he develops into a calm, pleasant hunting companion. The same principle applies to the older dog in hunting situations. If you send the dog immediately every time a bird falls, then you are training him to break. Make his life easier by making him wait.


When duck hunting, wait until you have several ducks on the water before you send your pup to retrieve. Unless wind or current is carrying off the ducks, it won’t hurt them to float for a half hour. If you are shooting doves, pick up the short, easy ones yourself. Let your pup sit for 10-15 minutes before he is sent for the difficult retrieves. The exception, of course, is the crippled bird, for which you must send the pup quickly to reduce the odds of escape.

The practice of delayed retrieving also pays dividends by making it easier for your pup to learn hand signals and blind retrieves. If you have four or five dead ducks on the water that have been there a while, your pup is not going to remember exactly where they are. He knows they are there and will eagerly cast off in their general direction, but his certainty will waver and he will be prone to seeking help from you.

Conversely, when you engage in the practice of immediately sending your pup on every fall, you are training him in self-reliance. When he’s launched on the splash, he knows exactly where that bird is and will quickly pick it up. After he’s found several hundred birds all by himself, it is going to become difficult to convince him that he needs help from you in the form of hand signals.

2. Coming on Command

One of the most common obedience problems is failure to come on command.

This is as prevalent in young, green dogs as breaking is in older hunting dogs. Both problems stem from a lack of obedience. If a dog is well trained to heel, sit, stay and come, he’ll do nearly anything you want. The problem lies in the definition of “well trained.”
A dog is well trained in obedience when he is obedient in the face of any level of distraction. That means he will respond properly when the neighbor’s cat walks by, when another dog is playing next to him and even when shotguns are going off and ducks are falling.

3. To Much Dog

The average hunter appears to be “overdogged,” or to have a dog that is too hot for him to handle.

I place the blame for this on our field-trial system. Our retriever field trials were brought over from England in the early 1900s, along with the golden and Labrador retrievers. The trials were small and very representative of a day’s shooting, and the skills judged were those that had value to the hunting dog and hunter. The trials emphasized game-finding ability, softness of mouth and calmness of demeanor.

The typical Labrador retriever of 30 or 40 years ago was a gentle, calm dog. Today, an unfortunately large number of Labradors are hyperactive and difficult to train. The basic reason for this shift in breeding selection appears to be our field-trial system.

Unfortunately, our field trials—mainly because of increasing entries—have evolved over the years into elimination contests that evaluate skills that are of little importance in a hunting dog. These behaviors include lining, angle entries into water, pinpoint marking and precise handling at long distances. Gone by the wayside are line manners and obedience, as well as game-finding initiative.

Moreover, training precision lining and long-distance handling require a great deal of repetition and some degree of punishment. The dog that excels at these skills tends to be hyperactive, with a high pain threshold, which is exactly the type of dog we are breeding today.

4. Electric Collars

The electric collar, which can create as many problems as it solves, is becoming far too predominant a training tool.

The electric collar is a great training tool in the hands of a good trainer. However, there is an astronomically greater number of electric collars than there are good trainers. The truth is, in order to train a dog with the electric collar, you must be able to train him without it.

The collar does not magically impart the knowledge and skills of dog training to the guy holding the transmitter. Most folks buy an electric collar to solve a basic obedience problem, and they generally end up abusing the dog and not solving the problem, or trading one problem for an even bigger one. Proper training can solve nearly all problems in basic obedience, and you don’t need an electric collar to do so.

5. Selective Breeding

We have forgotten the basic goals of breeding selection and have embarked on a course of producing better dogs by training rather than breeding.
The Labrador is the breed I most commonly work with, and I am alarmed at the trends I see. It has become the general custom to force-fetch train every dog. This corrects any tendency to drop birds, mouth birds or run off to the bushes with birds. It also masks the genetic tendencies toward those behaviors.

We are now masking with training the major trait that we spent a hundred years developing through selective breeding—namely, delivery to hand with a soft mouth. If we take a hard-mouthed dog and put him through the force-fetch program so that he delivers gently to hand, then he will behave like a great dog. We may even make him a field champion through superior training. However, his puppies will still have that genetic tendency toward hard mouth, and we will be going backwards in the selective-breeding process.
Two other examples of behaviors that have a very significant genetic component that we mask with training are:
We train the hyperactive dog to be under control and be a gentleman. The electric collar is quite popular for this. Put a hyperactive dog in the hands of a good trainer with an electric collar and that dog will make an excellent gun dog or field-trial dog, but his puppies probably will inherit the same hyperactivity. His puppies will be just as difficult to train as the sire was.
Cooperative Nature
We generally characterize these dogs as “soft” and tend to give them away as pets when they flunk the electric-collar program. Thus we are tending to remove from the breeding pool dogs that exhibit this valuable trait. This trait of “cooperative nature” is of extreme importance to the average hunter, because the average hunter is usually quite unfamiliar with dog training.
The gist of all this is that the average hunter is low in dog-training skills, which is as it should be. The community of dog experts should be promoting the selective breeding of a dog that the average hunter can train and enjoy. We should not be breeding a dog with a bundle of genetically transmitted behavioral tendencies that make him difficult to train into a good working dog. The average hunter should not have to get a Ph.D. in dog training in order to come up with a dog that is pleasant to hunt with and pleasant to live with.
We probably need to look back to England for solutions. They still have the same field trials they had 80 years ago, still selectively breed for major traits and still get rid of dogs that lack a cooperative nature and predisposition toward trainability.
I, for one, get my personal dogs from England. They are calm, cooperative and pleasant to live with, and they find all the birds I shoot. I’ve gotten lazy and prefer a dog that has gotten most of the required talents through selective breeding.

18 Sep

Good Manners

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , , , , , , , , ,

Helpful tips on how to raise a well-behaved retriever


With all due respect to hard-charging, never-miss-a-mark retrievers, performance in the field isn’t the only measure of a quality duck dog. Deportment counts, too. How your retriever minds you, reacts to other people, and behaves around other dogs is a good measure of his socialization.

Most of your retriever’s days are spent not in a duck blind or goose pit but at home. Even if your dog hunts every day of waterfowl season, he still spends far more time around the house than in the marsh. And let’s face it, nobody wants to live with an out-of-control canine.

Having hunted waterfowl from coast to coast in just about every imaginable setting, I have been introduced to any number of retrievers. The vast majority were well-behaved and a pleasure to be around. Some of my personal favorites were the snugglers, who could not seem to get close enough to me while dodging rain, snow, or bow spray (during early-morning boat rides). The ear lickers were a little bit too much. But all these dogs seemed to have one thing in common: they were comfortable sharing a familiar place with a stranger. Their owners had undoubtedly done something right.

Undesirable behavior can assume many forms. There are the growlers, barkers, whiners, diggers, and chewers, to name just a few of the most common types of canine offenders. Some dogs may be guilty of all these transgressions; others perhaps of just one. Dogs misbehave for a variety of reasons that are not always readily apparent to their owners. The gene pool is at least partially filled with murky water these days. Check out a pup’s sire and dam in person whenever possible. Keep in mind, however, that sound parentage does not necessarily guarantee ideal offspring.

The truth of the matter is that you have to consider each dog as an individual. Even pups from the same litter will have different personalities, regardless of the breed you select. To develop a well-adjusted retriever, your goal should be to promote confidence, inquisitiveness, enthusiasm, and obedience. Approach this project correctly from the start and you will avoid many troublesome issues later on.

While it is highly unlikely that any single set of exercises will ensure a well-mannered retriever, there are a number of important steps you can take with a puppy that will encourage good behavior. Bonding with the dog through play is a positive start. Be sure to give your pup plenty of attention. Assume a leadership role from day one and keep the games fun for all involved.


A short dog training video teaching sit come stay for hunting dogs and all others.
I hope this video helps you in your dog training.

Expert shows how to start with puppy training from simple command Sit. For more details on puppy training please check our “Family Dog” DVD which shows you how to easily and quickly have a well behaved member of your family. Using a proven reward system with food treats, taking only 15 minutes a day, you can have a family dog who comes immediately when called, walk by your side when you walk or run, sit and stay whenever you command and go to the bathroom outside every time. And, you can complete this dog training in a few short weeks.

Much of a dog’s personality evolves from what he has learned. Be patient. Offer encouragement whenever an opportunity presents itself. Pups yearn for human approval. Positive reinforcement gives the dog a sense of accomplishment and builds confidence. Dogs embrace stability and consistency, not drama.

Pups that become habitual barkers, diggers, and chewers are probably not getting enough exercise. In short, they are acting out due to boredom. Give your dog an outlet to burn off energy. This will require much more than a two-minute walk to the corner and back. Let the dog run or swim. Expose him to the sights, sounds, and smells of woods, open fields, and water. There’s no better learning environment for a young retriever than the outdoors.

Biters and growlers are likely insecure, or afraid of something unfamiliar. This may include strangers and other dogs. Allow your pup to interact with people as often as possible. While on your walks with the dog, let your neighbors pet him if they choose to do so. Visit a local park and allow the pup to interact with friendly dogs and people. Socialization serves to alleviate distrust of strangers. Fear brings out the worst in most animals. A pup that becomes comfortable in the company of new faces-human or canine-will not be ill at ease when placed in unfamiliar social situations.

18 Sep

Preventing Hard Mouth

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , ,

Advance preparation is the best way to keep your retriever from mangling birds

Most waterfowl hunters do not mind if their retriever brings to hand birds that are a bit rumpled or missing a few feathers. But no one likes being presented with a duck that has been mauled by his dog. If the bird is not fit for use as table fare, the retriever is not doing its job properly. This habitual proclivity to mangle waterfowl or upland birds is commonly called hard mouth.

Many professional trainers believe that hard mouth can be a hereditary affliction. When selecting a puppy, by all means check out the parents first. Still, there is really no surefire way to tell if a dog is going to be predisposed to damaging birds once it grows up. That part likely falls in the luck-of-the-draw department. There are, however, precautions you can take while training your retriever puppy that may help prevent the dog from developing hard mouth. Common sense applies in most cases.

Last summer, while walking in a local park, I watched as a youngster played towel tug of war with a gorgeous golden retriever pup. After back-and-forth yanking and jerking, the boy elevated the game by quickly spinning in circles, thus lifting the dog off the ground and sending it airborne. The puppy, hanging on for dear life, had its jaws locked in a death grip on its end of the towel. The point here is that you should resist the temptation to play tug of war with bones, chew toys, leashes, bumpers, or towels. Games of tug of war only teach your dog to bite down hard on whatever is in its mouth, which is not a good thing for a dog that makes its living picking up birds.

On a hunt several years ago, one of my companions had a young Labrador retriever just beginning its first season afield. This was an extremely well-mannered dog and it was obvious that the guy had dedicated many hours to training his treasured Lab. Shooting commenced early. A wing-tipped mallard drake fell just outside the decoys and the pup was sent to retrieve the duck, which put up an incredible fuss. Every time the dog picked up the duck, it would wiggle free and the pup had to start over, not sure how to handle this wing-flapping, foot-kicking, neck-stretching greenhead. What the dog learned that day was that it had to clamp down extremely hard to keep the duck in its mouth. This was not a positive lesson. The pup simply was not yet ready for that type of confrontation.

Introducing your retriever to real birds prior to actual hunting is an important training component. Think about it: if all you use during training sessions are bumpers, what’s a young dog going to do when he finally gets hold of an actual duck, goose, or pheasant? The smells and the feathers are going to be all new to the dog. He’s probably going to get extremely excited, perhaps overzealous. And a hard-mouth habit can be the result. Even bird wings taped to a bumper are better than nothing. But real birds are best because they help condition your dog to the texture, smell, and taste common to wild game.

What do you do when you are convinced your dog has hard mouth? Some trainers are of the opinion that all retrieving should be stopped until the problem is addressed. One camp suggests using an electronic collar to correct the problem. Another insists that a structured force-fetch program be introduced. Either can work. But be careful on both counts, because if not done properly these methods can lead to other issues. There are no snap-of-the-finger fixes. When in doubt, contact a professional trainer, discuss the problem at hand, and proceed accordingly. In many cases, hard mouth can be cured, but only if you go about it the right way.

18 Sep

Hunt Tests and Field Trials

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , , ,

It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you work out with a partner. The same is true when it comes to training your retriever. A little friendly competition can go a long way in keeping you and your dog excited about field work during the off-season. And what better way to test your retriever’s hunting skills than by competing in field trials and hunt tests?

Field trials are highly competitive. Even at the amateur level, the matches can be challenging as dogs display remarkable talents in marking, handling, casting, and honoring. Not all field trials are the same, but the paces that some of them put retrievers through to determine the winners can be excessive by most hunting standards.

Hunt tests are less highly specialized and are designed to more closely follow actual waterfowl hunting scenarios. Instead of competing against each other as they do in field trials, the dogs are measured against a written standard. The better your dog does in a hunt test, the higher the ranking he receives. Check with your local retriever club for hunt tests and field trial competitions in your area.

18 Sep

Search and Rescue

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | ,

Labradors and golden retrievers are among several breeds that make excellent search-and-rescue (SAR) dogs because of their scenting ability, drive, physical endurance, intelligence, and trainability. SAR dog candidates typically have to exhibit a lot of drive and the ability to stay focused amid any number of distractions. Needless to say, not too many dogs can make the cut.

The best candidates for this type of training are often puppies, which can be properly socialized to work with different people, under difficult conditions. The training is intense and demanding, but if your dog has the potential for this kind of work, the result is a retriever that handles like a dream. A hard-charging yet focused duck dog is the gold standard in the world of waterfowling.

Volunteer search-and-rescue units throughout the country work in tandem with local law enforcement and emergency agencies to assist in the location of missing persons. The American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA) provides trained dogs to locate missing persons in wilderness, disaster, and water search-and-rescue missions. Each search-and-rescue unit is required to adhere to ARDA’s rigid standards and undergo a rigorous two-day field evaluation every three years to ensure that the standards are maintained.

18 Sep

Swimming and Water Sports

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , ,

Water dogs love water, and swimming and running through this medium is a great way for your retriever to stay in shape during the summer months. Keeping your dog cool and hydrated is of the utmost importance during warm-weather workouts.

You can accomplish both these goals and others by having your dog fetch bumpers on a lake or river. Swimming is low-impact exercise that’s easy on a retriever’s joints. In addition, the water’s resistance makes the dog work harder than he would by simply running and walking on land. Incorporate water sports into your retriever’s training regimen and chances are he’ll soon be in the best shape of his life.

Given a proper introduction as a puppy, a retriever will take to water like a bird to air. And as most waterfowlers know, few spectacles are as exciting as watching a duck dog get a running start, leap into the air, and then splash down when entering the water for a duck or training dummy. Such “big air” bounding was perhaps the original inspiration for the sport of dock jumping. Sanctioned by the American Kennel Club and United Kennel Club, dock jumping is one of the fastest-growing canine sports in the country. Several organizations host hundreds of dock diving competitions across the nation and offer training programs for young dogs and other canines new to the sport.

18 Sep

Shed Antler Hunting

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , ,

By spring, most retrievers are chomping at the bone to get back outdoors. Shed antler hunting is a perfect activity for filling some of the downtime between duck season and your summer training regimen. Deer typically shed their antlers from late winter to early spring. In many parts of the country, shed hunters begin scouring the woods shortly after the snow has melted. Time is of the essence; wait too long and porcupines, mice, and other critters will gnaw on discarded antlers, rendering them less than desirable trophies.

Although many dog breeds can be taught to hunt dropped deer antlers, retrievers are naturals at this game, given their keen noses and strong retrieving instincts. “Shed hunting requires some of the same skills your dog uses in hunting waterfowl and upland birds, including steadiness, retrieving, quartering, and hunting cover, The excitement retrievers have for finding feathered game can be easily transferred to hunting sheds.”

This sport is becoming so popular that a number of companies now offer starter kits for first-time shed hunters. The kits often come with a real or rubberized training antler and antler scent. Smooth or soft, these antlers won’t poke your retriever in the face, which could discourage him from learning this fun game. The scent makes the antlers smell like the ones your dog will encounter once his training is over and you head to the woods to start “bone collecting” in earnest.

18 Sep

Agility Training

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , ,

If you hunt in a variety of waterfowl habitats, it’s a good bet that your retriever is confronted with a number of different obstacles during the course of the season. Trees, stumps, heavy vegetation, deep water, mud, and fence lines are but a few examples. Over time, the dog learns how to deal with each environment. But you can also help fast-track your retriever’s ability to overcome such obstacles through agility training.

Dog agility is a popular competitive sport. In fact, some of the annual agility championships are televised, and Australian shepherds usually dominate the competition. The contestants are incredible canine athletes, and the events are therefore highly entertaining as handlers direct their dogs through a challenging obstacle course featuring jumps, tunnels, and walkways. Prizes go to the dogs that can navigate the course as quickly as possible with the fewest mistakes.

A good way to get started in agility training is to set an obstacle course in your own backyard with weave poles, dog walks, tunnels, and the like. That way your dog can reap benefits such as improved coordination, increased endurance, and better overall health and fitness even if you don’t enter him in actual competition. Handling your dog through an obstacle course will also build the kind of trust and communication that can pay huge dividends in the duck marsh.

18 Sep

Upland Bird Hunting

by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips | , ,

For many waterfowlers, hunting upland birds is the perfect way to extend the wingshooting season. And so they take to the fields and woods to pursue doves, pheasants, grouse, quail, and other game birds. Fortunately, retrievers are versatile gun dogs that can catch on to hunting upland birds without too much effort. In fact, many of the same skills retrievers use in waterfowling come into play in upland hunting, including the ability to find and retrieve birds. There are some differences, however.

“For upland hunting, retrievers have to be taught to range and pattern differently, “They have to learn to work close and to quarter to locate and flush birds. Quartering can be taught through the use of skills the dog already knows, such as hunting cover, handling, and steadiness. With some modified training, most duck dogs can learn the upland hunting game.”

If you are working with a young retriever, be sure to brush up on his obedience training before going afield. The dog must learn to be under your control. The last thing you want is for your retriever to take off over a distant hill as soon as you release him from his crate. To that point, on your first couple of upland hunting trips, you might want to consider leaving your shotgun at home and letting a hunting partner do the shooting while you focus on handling the dog.

18 Sep


by Shawn Blackmore |Sep 18, 2016 |0 Comments | Training Tips

This command should be used to discourage undesirable behaviors such as chewing on furniture, jumping on people, messing in the house, and similar indiscretions. Be sure to say it loudly and emphatically. Your dog should not have any doubt about what you mean when you say no.

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