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Training your Puppy: Water

           Training water dogs actually begins on land. It is far easier to control your dog when he is not swimming. By instilling the desire to please and teaching the commands while on land, the transfer to water is simple and immediate.

When we discuss water dogs, we are speaking primarily on retrieval. Most retrieving dogs are used in dove fields, and duck marshes. It may be true that some are used in combination with upland hunting, this conversation will focus on retrieving game that is not pointed or flushed rather wing shot. In our neck of the woods, that is doves, ducks and geese primarily.

As stated in the opening, beginning the retrieval training on land makes for a lot happier dog and handler. It starts shortly after the puppy is obeying the ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ commands. Once these are beginning to be instilled, you can introduce retrieval. What dog does not enjoy a game of ‘fetch’? Most all breeds will readily retrieve a tossed ball, or dummy. When the puppy is beginning the retrieve willingly. It is time to show them that the ‘game’ can be more competitive and more difficult.

Again it starts in the yard or field. By getting your puppy to sit beside you and stay while you toss the dummy is critical to field obedience. Then using a command of your choosing release the dog to go find and return the dummy or bird. Many handlers use the dog’s name as the release, others will use ‘Back’ and still others use the tried and true ‘fetch’. Regardless what you use, be consistent.

When your dog is consistently retrieving the dummy on land, begin to hide it, throw it further and further. Begin using hand signals as he gets further and further out. Some of the advanced techniques are for older dogs and for advanced training. Many handlers use a whistle since the sound carries further. A series of blasts mean different things to different dogs. If you choose to use a whistle, remember again that consistency is key.

The transition to water is simple at this point. Move to a pond or some still water. Toss the dummy into the water and give the retrieve command. Start slow and close, as the dog gets used to looking in the water for the animal or dummy, you can throw it further and further. When the dog is used to retrieving a dummy, you need to introduce him to feathers. Some will tie wings to the dummy to introduce, others will have real birds they saved from hunting season to use as a retrieval dummy. However you do it, do not wait until you get into the field before your dog’s puts a real bird in his mouth.

In many regards, teaching retrieval is one of the easier things to train a dog to do. However advanced training can be difficult. But for wing shooters and especially waterfowl hunters the use of a dog is essential for a great day afield. Having a dog to retrieve your quarry is a game changer for many.