Duck Hunting: Steadiness in Your Boat or Blind

Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone? Opening morning has arrived and you are hunting with a buddy and his supposedly “awesome hunting dog.” You both notice a pair of ducks swinging through your decoys, and the moment the two of you stand up to take a shot, his dog jumps out of the boat to make the anticipated retrieve.

Now if you were lucky enough to drop both ducks the dog may have followed one of the ducks down, but I can almost guarantee he did not mark both ducks. If you happened to miss these birds, probably due to the fact the dog almost knocked the boat over, you spend the next five minutes listening to your buddy scream at his “great retriever.” If this experience has happened to you, or if it may be your dog that breaks when the first shot goes off, here are some pointers that may help you out.

Jason Dommeyer

Start Retrieving
Game Early

First, make sure that your dog enjoys retrieving both on land and in water. Start retrieving games as a puppy and make sure that you use a variety of retrieving items. Try to use bumpers, canvas dummies, dead fowl training dummies, and, if possible, real birds. Once you feel your dog thoroughly loves retrieving, it is time to introduce gunfire.

Next, try to find a friend to help. Start by having your buddy step out and throw some marked retrieves with your dog’s favorite dummy or dead bird. After the dog is consistently going out and making the retrieve, your buddy can start to fire a blank pistol behind his back when he throws. Have him slowly bring the blank gun out from behind his back and get closer to you and the dog. Get your dog to the point that when he hears the blank pistol, he starts to look for a retrieve. Continue this process with a .410, 20-gauge, and 12-gauge shotguns.

After time and repetition, your dog will make the connection between gunfire and retrieving. When you reach this point, try keeping your dog “steady” when retrieving.

Now you can begin working on your on leash obedience commands. Get yourself a 6-foot leash and choke chain and start by teaching him the basics: “heel,” “sit,” “stay,” and “kennel.” Once you feel he knows these commands, you can get more demanding especially with the “sit” and “stay” commands. Make sure he understands that he CANNOT move until you release him.

Build A ‘Kennel’ Platform
Build yourself a platform using a piece of plywood approximately 30 inches by 30 inches elevated off the ground 6 inches. On top of the platform attach a dark-colored piece of carpet. Teach him to “kennel up” onto the platform and “sit” using the leash and choke chain. Make sure he understands that he has to “stay” up there until you release him. When he remains on top, even with some distractions, it is time to incorporate some retrieving with this drill work.

Start by throwing dummies while he is sitting on the platform and letting him go with a “release” word, (i.e. “fetch”, “back” or his name). After you see him catching on to the drill, try testing him by using other words or shooting the blank pistol to try to get him to break. If he does, use the leash and choke chain to correct him back on the platform. It is important to remember the amount of correction to use is dependent on the dog’s personality and desire. Do not over correct him to the point where he does not want to go anymore.

Now you can remove the carpet off the platform and use it as your “kennel” position. Continue using it during your drill work until your dog understands that he has to stay on it until he hears his name. Then take it with you when you work on water retrieves. You can attach the carpet in your boat or blind, which will help your dog understand that he has to remain steady until released.

Remember that keeping your dog steady in the blind will not only make your hunt more enjoyable, it will also improve your dog’s marking ability. Keep in mind that this takes time and repetition, but will pay off when your dog’s retrieving improves and your buddies are impressed with the work you have done.

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One Response to “Duck Hunting: Steadiness in Your Boat or Blind”

  1. Rick Janzen

    Great tips Jason. One of the methods I learned for steadying was from another magazine writer whom I have now forgotten. His tip was to use a six foot check cord. Simply tie one end of the cord to your belt, run the loose end through the dog’s collar and hold the other end. Use this only while training. Then when the guns go off and the birds or dummies fall you have a quick and easy way to restrain your dog until you give the command. To make this most effective don’t let him go on every fall of a dummy or gunshot. Occasionally send your thrower to pick up the dummy, or have no dummy thrown when a gunshot goes off. Intermittent reinforcement is the most effective as we learned from Pavlov. By doing it like this you simulate real hunting conditions. This method is so effective because you don’t have to move to release the dog, or to restrain him. That way there is no ‘tell’ the dog can figure out to know early that he is going to be released. Simply use your release command thenlet go of your end, and the mysterious force field that has held him back is gone. It doesn’t take long for the dog to figure out that it only happens when he hears his release. I have used this method on three dogs and they have been steady as rocks. I might add that you only go without the cord in training or into the field when your dog is 100% steady on the cord. He or she never pulls on it in any circumstance you can create until you give the release.