Considering the heat wave we have had this summer here in the Midwest — and really through most of the United States — for many it seems difficult to anticipate the upcoming waterfowl season. However, being it’s mid-July 2012 as I write this, that means we are halfway done with summer and only have a couple of months before we can begin shooting ducks! If you are an avid waterfowler like me, this is the time to get your gundog prepared for the upcoming fall.
In the past few articles I’ve written, I have explained a series of drills describing the techniques needed to get your dog to the ultimate retrieving level. Those drills included the T-Pattern, the Wagon Wheel and Memory Blinds. These were all drills to get your dog understanding the concept of both multiple retrieves and blind retrieves. They all started out easy and gradually got more difficult as your dog progressed through them. All of these drills were taught in a land setting and now its time to transfer these skills to water.
I like to begin by finding a smaller pond, circular in shape, and no bigger than 40 yards by 30 yards. Many housing developments have run-off ponds that work well. Start the same way you did with your land T-Pattern work by establishing a home plate, first, second, and third base around the pond. Of course, the middle of the pond will be your “pitcher’s mound.” Again, flags next to your piles of dummies will help identify where these piles are and will make for an easier transition for your dog if you have already used them during your land work.
Have your dog sit on home plate while you place dummies on the bases. I usually start by just placing a pile at second base and lining a dog for a day or two to this pile. After the dog gets comfortable going, you can stop it in the middle, which now is your pitcher’s mound, and back cast to the second base pile. Make sure you get the dog to turn completely and look right at you when you whistle stop it, you will need this to occur when you start to cast both left and right.
Once you feel the dog is comfortable lining directly across the pond, start casting it to both first and third base. Slow your movements down during this to teach the dog to turn and look at you for a couple seconds and not just keep on swimming. Get it to remain stationary on the pitcher’s mound by almost treading water. Again, this will help your dog concentrate on your movements and not just take off swimming in any direction.
Many times during the casting to both the first and third base piles, your dog will want to continue on its way to second base. Meaning, it will refuse the cast to left or right and keep on swimming on a straight line away from you. Make sure to keep your whistle in your mouth and hand on the transmitter to give a quick whistle blast. Try re-casting the dog either right or left again. If the dog refuses, give a remote collar correction and a whistle sit again. Try walking to the left or right along with casting your dog to help them realize the direction you want them to go. No matter what, do not let them “win” and go the direction they want. Do whatever it takes get them to the pile you are casting to. I often throw a rock to create a splash at the pile they are having difficulty on. This will often get them to that base since it looks like a dummy was just thrown there.
If the dog is consistently going out, stopping on the pitcher’s mound, taking casts both left, right and back, you can then try to cast at a 45-degree angle. This means you will stop the dog prior to it getting to the middle, bringing one hand up at a 45-degree angle, and casting them diagonally over to either first or third. In reality you have created another intersection or pitcher’s mound where your dog is now taking casts. You will find that this cast will many times eliminate one whistle sit and cast. Meaning instead of stopping a dog and casting them “left,” then re-stopping them to cast them “back,” one 45-degree cast can do the same thing!
The last thing I like to do is stop the dog and bring it back to a dummy. Now this is difficult since you are asking a dog to swim by something, then stop, and bring it back to this dummy. So, what I do is line the dog to second base and when I think it is far enough away, throw a dummy so it lands between the dog and myself. Now I can stop the dog, give repeated whistle blasts while holding my hand down, and demand that it comes back toward me. If the dummy lands to the left, make sure to bring your left hand down when re-calling your dog, or, of course, the right hand if the dummy is to the right. This cast is used if the dog swims by a duck, maybe on the upwind side and you have to bring the dog back toward you. Or realistically, if a bluebill dives while the dog is on its way to retrieve it and comes up in between you and your dog.
This water T-Pattern drill will normally take up to month, and possibly longer, before the dog gets a handle on it. Again, it is simply a transfer of the land work you have worked on prior to the water training. It will put the finishing touches on your gundog, and make him or her that ultimate waterfowl retriever.
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Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels. In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. For more information on training your dog with Cannon River Kennels, call 507-663-6143 or visit (http://www.cannonriverkennels.com/) He provides dog training tips twice a month.