Early waterfowl work: Going long with dog training drills
Once I had my Lab, Luna, understanding her basic commands and working the land and water retrieves pretty well, dog trainer Tom Dokken told me to begin some longer retrieves. His reasoning was simple, and like the rest of the advice he offered me, spot on.
Most of us train our dogs to retrieve at distances in which we can toss a dummy. So at best we’re looking at a fairly short retrieve, over and over. Ducks, and other game birds, don’t always fall within 50 yards. Many end up sailing or swimming much farther, which means our dogs need to understand that they’ll often have to hunt dead much farther.
This involves long-distance retrieves. The foundation for 100-, 200-, or even 400-yard retrieves starts at the local soccer or baseball field. Short grass, wide-open spaces, and a dummy are all you need. Ease your dog into longer retrieves by making it simple, and progressively bump up the distance. Since I train by myself and don’t have a dummy launcher, I command Luna to sit and stay while I trot out and toss the dummy at whatever distance I want. Then I return to her side and send her.
It’s a process, but over time your dog will realize that some retrieves are much longer than others. This comes in mighty handy when a wounded mallard or rooster sails an extra 200 yards into the brush before plunking down. At that point, if your dog has been trained correctly, you’ll likely get the bird. If your dog expects sub-50-yard retrieves, getting him to travel far enough to locate the cripple will be very, very frustrating.