By Tom Dokken
People ask me all of the time how long it takes to train a duck dog. My answer, which they usually don’t want to hear, is training is never over. It’s just not. When you pick up a puppy you’re committing yourself to a lifetime of training, even if the amount and intensity will vary quite a bit by the dog’s age and capabilities.
The good news about this is it doesn’t take four hours a day to mold a retriever into a duck-hunting rock star. You do, if at all possible (and it usually is), need to work with your dog every day, however.
Now, I know what many of you are thinking. That you simply don’t have the time to train a dog every day, and that very well may be true. Or seem true. But training a dog comes in many forms and doesn’t always involve loading up the dummy launcher and driving 20 miles to the nearest lake. It can, and often should be, simple.
You’ve just got to figure out what your dog needs to work on and how you can squeeze some lessons into the life you’re already living.
Simple Rules to Live By
So much of a waterfowl retriever’s life revolves around steadiness and his willingness to come when called. That’s it. If you’ve got a dog that will stay when the action is on fire in the blind, and come back when you ask him, you’ve got a dog that will excel in the field. Most dogs need a little help on both of these commands, and that help should come in the form of small, daily reinforcements.
When it comes to steadiness, two things I do every day to show my dogs who is in charge and that no matter how hard they want to go, they have to wait until I let them, happen right in my house. The first is every single time I take them outside, I open the door and make them wait to go through until I release them. When we come back inside, they repeat this same drill to get into the house as well. It’s simple, but important.
When I feed them, they have to sit and wait for my release command. This is about control, not mimicking a real-life hunting situation like so many training drills. It’s easy stuff to do every single day that will signal to your dog that he isn’t calling the shots, and that is the foundation for a steady dog. And the best part is, you don’t need to carve an extra minute out of your busy daily life to do this.
Coming when called is a bit more tricky, but can be worked on each day without any extra time commitment. It’s important to note that this is something that should be worked on with puppies, because at some point each dog is going to test its owner to see if it really needs to come when called. If it doesn’t really have to, then it learns it can ignore your calls. Don’t let that happen.
Keep a check-cord by the door so you can reel in your puppy every time you want to. This leaves no gray area when he is called. Do this when you’re letting the puppy out for a potty break or taking him for a walk, or whatever. The check-cord method will work to the point where he’s becoming a teenager and then you’ll want to replace it with an e-collar, where the same rules apply.
Keep your training tools, whether a check-cord or e-collar, handy. I stash mine right by the door where I’ll most likely be taking my dogs outside. Then it’s a matter of taking a few seconds to grab them and carry on with some mini-drills.
Change of Scenery
Now, it’s a good idea to work on these easy stay or come drills in the home or out in the backyard, but you’ll need to do more than that. You’ll want to scout out good locations to work your dog in a variety of environments. Oftentimes we believe that there just aren’t any good places to work with a dog near our homes, but usually we are wrong.
Local parks with a little green space, soccer fields, the public access on the lake just down the road, all of them can serve as suitable training areas. The thing is, they have to be easy to get to and to work at. I’ve got a friend who lives in the suburbs of the Twin Cities who has a whole bunch of these locations around his house, and he often takes his dog with him while grocery shopping, picking up his kids from school, or just engaging in life’s daily activities. Because he has spots picked out, he can stop for 10 minutes at a convenient location and work his dog.
Dog training, like working out or eating right, isn’t about a once-per-week expenditure of serious time. It’s a process that requires discipline and a commitment to making things as easy as possible every single day. Ten or 15 minutes each day spent working with your dog on some of the more important aspects of quality retriever behavior is way more beneficial than a marathon, four-hour session on a Saturday afternoon. Work the small drills into your daily life and you will soon realize that your dog is shaping up to be even better next season than he was during the last, and it will come at very little cost to you time-wise.
That’s a win-win in my book.