Here are a few helpful tips to help you do it right and get your retriever pup off to a good start:
Find a small pond with a shore that drops gradually from shallow to deep water. The weather should be mild, and the water temperature 60 degrees or warmer. Wading into the water with the pup will help alleviate any fear she may have. Bumpers and water retrieves can come later.
The worst thing you can do is to take a puppy to an open field and fire a 12-gauge over her head. That’s almost guaranteed to cause gun-shyness. Instead, recruit a friend or family member to help with this part of your pup’s training. While you handle the dog, have your training partner move a good distance away. Each time you toss a bumper, your partner should fire a shot with a starter pistol or cap gun. Be careful not to overdo it. A few shots each outing will suffice. Each day, decrease the distance between the dog and the gunfire and repeat the same drill. Keep in mind that introducing a dog to gunfire is a gradual process that shouldn’t be rushed.
Don’t wait until hunting season to familiarize your dog with decoys. Incorporate them into their training exercises. Place a dozen or more decoys around a field when you’re tossing bumpers. This will help teach the dog that decoys are just part of the setup and not her main focus. Once he/she learns that, they can move on to retrieving bumpers around a decoy spread set in shallow water. This will help them learn how to swim through the decoys without getting tangled in the lines. If you hunt with motion decoys, incorporate them into your training spread as well.
BOATS The best way to acclimate a pup to watercraft is on dry land, where the boat won’t rock or tip over. Place your retriever in the boat and let her explore this unfamiliar setting. Do this several times over a period of a few days, and when the dog is comfortable in her new surroundings, launch the boat and take your pup on a cruise around the lake. Be sure to go slow and avoid rough waters. Keep the outing as pleasant as possible, with the dog sitting calmly beside you. Allowing them to run around while the boat is under way can be extremely dangerous.
Whether you hunt out of a permanent blind or a layout blind, your retriever should have a place of her own. Set up a dog stand or platform during your training sessions. Begin by teaching the dog to sit still on the stand. The younger the dog, the less patience they will have. But after several training sessions, they should learn to be patient and sit on the stand for extended periods of time.
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