How to Train a Golden Retriever to Duck Hunt

Hard
14-20 Weeks
Work

Introduction

Charlie is a very useful Golden Retriever. True to his name he retrieves downed ducks that his owner shoots when they fall, no matter where they land--thick brush, ponds, or swamps. He then brings them gently and unmangled, so his handler and family can enjoy a delicious duck dinner.

Golden Retrievers were bred to do just that, retrieve!  Duck hunters train Retrievers to get their downed game, as ducks shot on the wing, that is in the air, can end up landing hundreds of meters away, over rough terrain or in water. A good Retriever can prove invaluable to his handler in locating and returning game, preferably in pristine shape, that means not chewed beyond recognition, so that the hunter can use the game for food. Retrievers have been bred for many generations to instinctively perform this duck hunting task well, however training your Retriever so that he obeys off leash commands and recall, waits safely for game to be downed, and marks or follows the game location, so that it can be retrieved, is necessary to have a really successful duck hunting Golden Retriever.

Defining Tasks

Although Golden Retrievers have been bred to instinctively “fetch” downed game, they need to learn several skills in order to be a good hunting companion and useful tool for their handlers. You will need to get your Retriever used to hunting situations, such as the sights and sounds of hunting, the smell of game, and the hunting environment, so he can accurately perform his tasks in the field. Your Retriever needs to learn to wait safely behind a duck blind or with his handler until game is downed and he is commanded and released to retrieve the game.Retrievers should be paying attention to where game lands and learn to mark the location and proceeded to it in a direct, straight line, not being distracted by other game or activities in the area. Another very important aspect of duck hunting with a dog is to train your Retriever to handle game gently, and not chew or damage the duck so that the meat is not edible. This combination of skills can take some time to train even a motivated, fast learning Golden Retriever, and there is really no substitute for practice in the field.

Getting Started

Many handlers work at teaching their Retrievers the commands and retrieving skills they will need to duck hunt in a backyard or other artificial environment, and when they venture out into actual wilderness hunting situations, their Golden Retriever does not respond as anticipated. This can be because the dog is so distracted and confused by the sights and sounds of an actual hunting situation that he fails to perform even well-practiced skills. Be sure to get your dog used to the outdoors and the environments he will be performing duck hunting tasks in beforehand. Using dead ducks or dummies for your Retriever to practice with is used to shape retrieving behaviors. Most Retrievers will work for the sheer pleasure of it, but praise and treats are always welcome to reinforce desired behaviors. Sometimes training aids, like breaking boxes, are used to teach Retrievers to wait before retrieving ducks. You will also want to use decoys to teach your dog to distinguish between actual ducks to be retrieved, and floating decoys used to lure ducks in to hunting locations.

The Acclimatize Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Acclimatize to location
Take your Golden Retriever to duck hunting locations such as marshes, ponds, and lakes and get him used to the sound of wildlife and negotiating difficult terrain. Teach him to swim in natural water environments by tossing sticks to fetch.
Step
2
Acclimatize to sounds
Expose your dog to duck calls and gunshots so that he is not startled or frightened by these sounds, causing him to bolt or freeze in actual hunting situations
Step
3
Acclimatize to boats
If you are using a boat to get to hunting locations, acclimate your dog to riding in boats prior to hunting so that he is not over excited on actual hunting trips. The last thing you want is a jumpy Retriever in a boat with hunting companions and rifles present.
Step
4
Differentiate between dummies and decoys
Teach your dog the difference between decoys and ducks. You may be using duck dummies to train retrieving behaviors, but in the field you do not want your Retriever, picking up decoys used to lure ducks to the hunting location. Reward your Retriever for ignoring decoys while retrieving practice dummies or duck carcasses.
Step
5
Don't reprimand confusion
Don't reprimand a dog in a new situation as this creates a negative association. Be patient when training your Golden Retriever to hunt.
Recommend training method?

The Steadying Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Contain dog
Throw out a series of duck sized, scented dummies while you have an assistant hold your Golden Retriever with a lead and choke collar. You can also use a breaking box, a box that is just big enough for the dog to sit or stand in, without spinning around, and with a check cord attached to the dog and secured to the box.
Step
2
Retrieve dummies without dog
Go pick the dummies up yourself, without giving any command, have your assistant restrain your dog, and give the “steady” command or keep her in the breaking box.
Step
3
Allow dog to fetch
When your dog is waiting steady, throw out a dummy and give the 'fetch' command. Have your assistant release the dog to go retrieve the dummy or release the check cord attached to the breaking box.
Step
4
Vary fetching and steadying
Repeat, varying the number of dummies thrown, and whether you give your dog the command to fetch or not. This teaches your Retriever not to anticipate you, but to wait for the command.
Step
5
Practice off-leash
When your Golden Retriever has learned to sit patiently, remove the leash or check cord, and ask your dog to be steady while you throw out dummies with your dog off leash. If the dog waits patiently, give the command to fetch. If she lunges forward before being commanded, return to previous steps.
Recommend training method?

The Mark and Retrieve Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Reinforce gentle handlng
Allow your Retriever to pick up duck dummies and fetch. Reinforce your Retriever for releasing the dummy to you by exchanging for treats, do not tug or pull the dummy from the dog's mouth. Practice, encouraging and rewarding your Retriever for handing the duck dummy gently. Discourage chewing or playing with the dummy. Do not reward or tug at the dummy, which creates tension and can result in a game of tug of war that inadvertently reinforces rough handling of the duck.
Step
2
Plant dummy
Put your Golden Retriever on a leash and walk with her in a straight line. Drop a duck dummy as you walk, and continue on a short distance then stop. Ask your dog to sit facing the dummy.
Step
3
Provide hand signal
Use a hand to signal your dog to fetch the dummy, indicating the direction of the dummy, and give the 'fetch' command, releasing your dog to retrieve.
Step
4
Increase distance
Practice increasing the distance of the planted dummy and continuing to allow your dog to mark where the dummy is dropped and follow your hand command, indicating direction to retrieve.
Step
5
Practice with hidden dummy
Have a dummy dropped where your dog cannot see it, or hide a dummy, and provide the hand command to direct your dog to fetch the duck. Because he has associated hand signals with running in a straight line to retrieve, your dog should proceed in a straight line, as directed, to retrieve the hidden duck dummy, reinforcing the hand signal.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd