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Real world dog training for duck and upland bird hunting

Posted on August 27, 2013

Tony PetersonFor the second time this week I hiked through a swamp in 90-degree weather to run some training drills with my 4.5-month-old Lab pup, Luna. Our destination was a split in a small creek where I had stashed a pallet in the cattails earlier this summer. Having hunted the creek in year’s past with my previous dog, I know that the wood ducks and occasional mallards will fly over the point of the island.

As I wiped sweat from my eyes I tossed a dummy from the pallet and fired off a .22 blank. Luna waited for my release command and then plowed through the water to pick up the dummy. She brought it to hand like it was scripted. This is not how it went the first time, although it still went better than I expected.

When I introduced my previous dog to duck hunting, I simply took her duck hunting and it didn’t go very well. She had retrieved plenty of dummies in the water but that was about it. With Luna, I plan to have her as comfortable as possible in the hunting situation she is going to encounter this fall. Granted, I can’t go out and blast a bunch of pre-season ducks to complete the lesson, but I can get close enough to build her confidence to the point where she’ll know what to do when opener arrives.

This is something that a trainer-friend of mine has stressed over and over, which is simply to build a dog’s confidence and offer them as few surprises as possible. This is also why I’m keeping a close eye on the creek to make sure that when I do set up with shotgun in hand, I’ll have a likely chance of knocking a wood duck or two from the sky. I’m not looking for a limit, I’m looking for immediate success because I know it won’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes before Luna will lose interest and start chasing frogs. If you’re gearing up for the duck opener, it might not be a bad idea to take your dog out for a few real-world training sessions. Even seasoned duck dogs can benefit from a refresher course, while it’s imperative with younger pups.