Skip to main content

Tips for Developing a Postseason Retriever Training Plan

postseason_fMost duck dogs are never further away from serious training than the day the waterfowl season ends. Hunting from early teal to late-season goose means most of our dogs have not engaged in an abundance of training drills for months.

This is fine as long as you're shooting birds and pup is fetching them up. But remember, instead of leaving the dummies and training gear in the garage next to the decoys after the wingshooting is over for the year, consider developing an immediate post-season training plan.

I can't emphasize enough the value of following up a season with a look back at how your dog performed. Be honest with yourself, and recall both good times and bad. While the best retrieves are more enjoyable to remember, the negatives are those that carry the most value. Did your dog break early from the blind? Lose a bird? Disobey?

Of all of the things you're likely to recall, basic obedience problems are the most likely.


Staying Put


Bird dogs are tasked with learning and following a litany of commands. That's because good owners want to have control of their pups at all times, not just when the dog feels like listening. The No. 1 problem most hunters run into with their dogs during the season is the stay command.

postseason_1Getting your dog to heed this directive while training in the backyard is easy, but everything changes when you're sitting in the duck blind or boat and that first mallard hits the water. Any dog worth his salt will want to retrieve it immediately, but letting him break early is a bad idea. This behavior will snowball to the point where it's necessary to go back to basic obedience training.

If my dogs have started to ignore the "stay" command for any reason, I'll retrace my steps back to leash training and then eventually to e-collar work. This may seem counterproductive for a dog that has gone through it all before, but hunting season has a way of eroding some of the work you've put in leading up to the fall.

As my dog starts to heed the "stay" command during every drill, I'll begin to add in distractions with other dogs, dummies, training birds, etc. All of these drills are designed to get my dog to understand sitting and staying are expected at all times, whether we are hunting or not. Eventually, he'll re-learn there are no other options but to sit and wait until he is released.


This is simple but important stuff, and leads to another situation many of us should address, which is our dog honoring another dog's retrieve. If you've been in this situation, you know exactly how difficult a proposition this is. I train for this scenario so I don't have to deal with it in the blind, and if you ever think your dog will run into this situation, you should train for it as well. To do this, simply call up a retriever-owning buddy and run some drills together. This will teach the dog that you're in command at all times, even when the competition is chasing his ducks or dummies.

One thing I've noticed over the last decade, is since I started training my dogs to find shed antlers, I rarely have to worry about post-season obedience. Because as soon as duck season closes, we hunt antlers for four months and I'm in control of my dog every day. If you have an inkling to shed hunt, or engage in any other kind of hunting during the off-season months — do it. There is nothing better than extending your season and working with your dog as much as possible.

Going Long


Another problem you may make note of while reviewing the past season is your dog falling short on a few retrieves. I push long-distance retrieve drills a lot for a very good reason: It's one of the best ways to ensure you never lose a wounded duck. If your dog was a rock star on short retrieves but a dud once a bird sailed beyond his comfort zone, start working on longer retrieves.

At first, this may be open-field work that consists of 50- or 60-yard retrieves, but eventually you'll stretch them out to push 350 or 400 yards. My general rule is to train my dogs to retrieve at least twice as far as I expect them to afield. This ensures they'll be fully prepared to go the distance I need them to when a wounded bird makes a break for it.

Missing Marks

One last thing to recall is multiple retrieves. How did your dog do when two or three ducks hit the water at the same time? If the answer is "not good," then you need to start running double-retrieve drills. I do this by tossing a dummy to my right and then tossing one to the left so they sit at 180 degrees from one another. Initially, they'll both be within 30 or 40 yards, but over time I'll increase the distance.

postseason_6This stage, like all beginning stages of training, should be easy enough for the dog to excel right out of the gate. The goal is to give him confidence with each step, and then increase difficulty only enough to challenge him slightly. Over time, you can add in a third dummy that gets tossed straight in front of you. The advantage of this training is that it teaches your dog to always expect there to be another bird to retrieve. This is the mindset you want him to have in the duck blind because quite often there is another bird to retrieve.

Lastly, if your dog obeys hand signals while blind retrieving, try to remember whether he was casting well or not by the end of the season. Often, you'll notice a gradual decline in sharpness of cast as the season winds down. This requires you to work blind retrieves and hand signals as soon as the season closes to bring back the skills your dog possessed at the beginning of the season.

It's easy to remember the good times, which is fine. However if you want next season to be much better than the last, take a little time to recall the negatives. If you develop a good training plan to deal with those shortfalls as soon as you've put the boat in storage and have nothing to do until the snows migrate, you'll be much better off throughout the upcoming duck season.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Browning A5 Shotgun -

Browning A5 Shotgun - 'Gun Stories'

Gun Stories host Joe Mantegna talks about the origin and history of the Browning A5 shotgun.

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

Cowboy Fernandez Commemorative Yentzen Classic Duck Call

As Groves, Texas duck call maker Sure-Shot Game Calls celebrates their 60th anniversary during 2019, company CEO Charlie Holder shows off the limited edition Yentzen Classic aimed at commemorating the life and times of company founder Jim 'Cowboy' Fernandez. With a special autographed box and a laser engraved call body, the Cowboy Classic is a perfect way to honor the legacy of the 1959 world duck calling champ and inventor of the double-reed duck call.

Swedish Duck Hunt

Swedish Duck Hunt

Kevin Steele takes part in a family driven duck hunt in Sweden.

Women

Women's Waterfowl Lineup

SITKA Gear waterfowl product manager Jim Saubier shows off the company's full line-up of women's waterfowl hunting gear for 2019. From warm and moisture-wicking base layers to water and windproof outer layers, this is a complete system for women who love to chase fall and wintertime ducks and geese across the four flyways!

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter fromBuilding a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget How-To

Building a Duck Boat Blind on a Budget

Mike Marsh - May 10, 2016

Jim Orth needed'a simple blind for hunting Lake St. Clair. A staffing recruiter and outfitter...

Waterfowl hunters must find creative ways to practice the demanding types of shooting challenges we face.7 Ways to Improve Your Shooting Skills How-To

7 Ways to Improve Your Shooting Skills

Mark Romanack

Waterfowl hunters must find creative ways to practice the demanding types of shooting...

A teacher made a $100 row boat into a bluebill's worst nightmare, and a dog's best friend.  Convert a Row Boat into a Bluebill Blind Boats

Convert a Row Boat into a Bluebill Blind

Mike Marsh

A teacher made a $100 row boat into a bluebill's worst nightmare, and a dog's best friend.  

Are you asking enough of your retriever? Maybe your good gun dog could be great. Reach Your Duck Dog's Full Potential Retriever

Reach Your Duck Dog's Full Potential

Tom Dokken

Are you asking enough of your retriever? Maybe your good gun dog could be great.

See More Trending Articles

More Retriever

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems.Keep Your Gun Dog Fit to Prevent Joint Pain Retriever

Keep Your Gun Dog Fit to Prevent Joint Pain

Tony J. Peterson

Follow these tips to help your hunting dog maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint problems.

Make sure to pay attention to the business end of your duck dog.Oral Health is Critical for Your Retriever Retriever

Oral Health is Critical for Your Retriever

Tony J. Peterson

Make sure to pay attention to the business end of your duck dog.

How to get your retriever comfortable with the idea of being in, and working out of, a boat.Duck Dog Manners and Boat Safety Retriever

Duck Dog Manners and Boat Safety

Tom Dokken

How to get your retriever comfortable with the idea of being in, and working out of, a boat.

Don't let personal bias get in the way of making improvements during the season and beyond. Keep Your Duck Dog Sharp Throughout the Year Retriever

Keep Your Duck Dog Sharp Throughout the Year

Tom Dokken

Don't let personal bias get in the way of making improvements during the season and beyond.

See More Retriever

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Wildfowl subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now