Imagine crouching in a duck blind early in the morning. The early morning light is glistening over the lake and there's a cool breeze blowing off of the water. You wait patiently, your buddy, a faithful Labrador retriever, settled next to you. The two of you have been waiting for this moment together since he was a puppy. A flock of ducks is about to descend onto the lake. You whisper a command to your young dog. He trembles in excitement beside you, obediently holding the seated position. You point your gun and get a clean shot. The bird tumbles into the water, and you give your dog the cue, sending him rushing forward. He practically dives into the water, swimming vigorously toward his prize. After retrieving the bird, he proudly walks up to you and presents you with his prize. You smile at him broadly, and think of all the hunts you will go on together in the future, now that you have your very own duck hunting partner.
Duck hunting involves many different advanced skills and abilities for your dog. These range from swimming, natural retrieving instincts, obedience skills, marking abilities, confidence around birds and loud noises, and quietness. Because hunting involves many different skills, expect it to take between five and twenty-four months to train your dog as a hunting dog. Many experienced hunters spend most of their dogs' lives improving their skills. For many hunters, their love of duck hunting extends to their love of dog training also.
Be patient with your dog while training him. It's important to prevent fear during training, and equally as important to work on your dog's current skills before moving on to harder tasks. Expect your pup's training to be ongoing as well. Depending on your goals for him, you can teach him just the basics that he needs to be a safe retrieving partner on hunts, or you can move on to even harder skills that involve directional commands, upland retrievals, better control, and honoring another dog's retrieve.
To get started, you will need a fifty-foot drag leash, an open area such as a field, an assistant, bumpers, a shotgun, blank bullets for the gun, water for swimming introduction, a variety of locations to practice retrievals in, and fresh or previously frozen dead ducks. If you are using the 'instinct' method, then you will also need a bird wing. With all of the methods, you will need patience, time, commitment, good timing, and a love for the training process as well as your pup's accomplishments.