Photo by Bill Buckley

The last phase in Cabela’s pro staffer Jennifer Broome’s three-month retriever-training plan is called the Diving Duck–in which you’ll be working with a live bird. “Some people may not like the idea of live-bird training,” says Broome. “But this one pen-raised duck may ensure hundreds of successful and ethical retrieves.” If you don’t have a local gamebird breeder, a nearby dog trainer should be able to point you in the right direction.

1. Dive in Right
Take your pup to a small pond–20 to 40 feet across. Carefully secure the duck’s wings at the base with zip ties to prevent flight and slow it down once it hits the water. “Toss the duck in the pond, and send your pup after him,” Broome says. “It’s the coolest thing–you can see the dog figure out he has to dive to retrieve the bird.” Most gun dogs figure out the retrieve quickly and bring the duck back whole–and alive.

2. A Faster Clip
For stage two of the Diving Duck, remove the zip ties and clip the duck’s wings across the primary feathers. (You can ask the bird breeder to do this for you.) Now the real chase begins. “This becomes a game of skill, quickness, persistence, patience, and problem solving,” Broome says. “Every time the dog approaches the duck, it will dive and come up in another area. The duck will also snake through the water with its head low, making it tough to see.”

3. Stop Right There
In the middle of a chase, call the dog off with a stop command like “no bird” or “leave it.” This drill can save your dog’s life on the big water or over ice. “A well-bred dog is extremely driven and persistent, but you have to control that,” Broome says. “You have to be able to turn him off on command.” It’s rarely necessary to do the Diving Duck more than once, Broome notes. “But if I do repeat it, I usually stretch it to a larger pond, offering more challenges.”