Training a duck dog correctly calls for anticipating all potential hunting situations and then recreating them in a controlled environment. You start this, of course, after basic obedience has already been covered (sit, stay, come, heel). Once a foundation of proper obedience has been built, then it’s time to think about avoiding the most common pitfalls. No one understands these better than DeadFowl Trainer creator and retriever-training guru, Tom Dokken. Here are eight common mistakes duck-dog trainers make and how you can avoid them, according to Dokken.
Make Him Gun Shy
“All hunting-related training starts with proper gunfire introduction and there is no way to more quickly ruin a dog than rushing this step,” Dokken says. “Ninety-nine-percent of the time gunshyness is not curable, so you’ve got to plan for positive reinforcement and gradual exposure to gunshots. It takes me two weeks of multiple drills a day to get a dog comfortable with gunfire. Plan to start with a .22 and shoot from a good distance away from the puppy before working closer. Eventually you can repeat the process with a shotgun, when the dog proves he is ready. This is not a weekend project.”
Force Him to Swim
According to Dokken, the second best way to mess up a promising pup is to force him into the water. “I’ve seen people push dogs off of docks or send them into cold, deep water before they were ready. This is a bad idea. Even Labs, which take to water like otters, need a controlled introduction, especially youngsters. Find a lake or pond with a hard bottom and very shallow, warm water. Coax the dog in so that it doesn’t have to swim at first. Build his confidence before ever expecting him to go more than belly-deep. This step, done right, doesn’t take long with good dogs, but it is absolutely necessary.”