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BRIAN JOHNSON ON OUTDOORS: Dog training in duck season

Now that duck season is officially underway, it is real obvious if your trusty Labrador retriever is a duck fetching machine or leaves a little to be desired.

I always encourage my owners to give their dogs a few hunts to adjust to the game before getting too worried.  This is especially true for young dogs or dogs that are in their first season.  However, after a few hunts, what you see is what you get, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Below are a few common problems and the correct way to fix these faults.

1. Dog will pick up bumpers but not ducks 
This is a very common problem.  In most cases, the dog has had little to no experience with real ducks. This can be remedied by calmly walking with the dog to the dead duck.

Once at the duck, place the duck gently in the dog’s mouth and tell him to hold.  Pet him on the head.  After this take the duck and throw it for a short retrieve.  Excitedly cheer for the dog as he makes the retrieve.  If the dog succeeds then praise him, if not then repeat until he is successful.

2. Dog only hunts for the duck for a few seconds then returns or loses interest
In most cases this dog is not using his nose.  In order to help a dog use his nose there are several things you can try.

First bring home a duck from the hunt and breast it out.  Keep the meat to eat but don’t discard the duck.

After removing the breast, wrap the center of the duck in Duck Tape.  This duck is now legal to use for training.  Take the duck and throw it in heavy cover.  Allow the dog to hunt in cover to make the retrieve.

Gradually make the retrieve harder until your dog is obviously using his nose to sniff out the bird.  You can also begin to feed your dog in cover.  Simply hide his food bowl in high grass and tell him to go search.  If you do this for several meals in a row, he will quickly adapt to using his nose.

3. Dog seems to roam around during the hunt instead of staying in one place
Buy a dog stand or dog blind.  Use this in training until your dog learns that this is his place.  He will begin to feel more relaxed and it will also help keep him warm in frigid wet conditions.

Once on a hunt, set the blind up right next to where you will be hunting.  If necessary, place a stake in the ground and attach a short leash so the dog has no other choice but to stay put.  This may take a little getting used to, but it will work eventually.

4. Dog is nervous about gunfire
Hopefully you haven’t done irreversible damage on this one.

Most dogs exhibit gun-shy behaviors because they are improperly introduced to the gun.  If you dog acts nervous, quit hunting immediately and get the dog away from the sound of the gun.  Let a few days pass and then try to reintroduce the dog to guns from a long way off and gradually work closer.

If you need help with this one, please feel free to call me or any credible professional dog trainer.   These are just a few of the issues that might arise.  The sooner you identify and address the problem, the sooner you will have success with your dog.

Always remember to keep your cool and make training and hunting fun for both you and your dog.  A smart thing to remember is this … you can’t make a dog great in one day; however it only takes one day of losing your temper to ruin a dog.

Be patient and enjoy the process.  It always helps me to think of all of the patience God has with me.  When I think of this and show that same patience and kindness, I get better results and my dogs have better attitudes.

God Bless and savor the season!