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Train-As-You-Go to Keep Things Fun and Productive

Incorporate key training activities into exercise romps and hikes to simulate hunting situations and make obedience and performance natural, everyday outcomes.

a black lab retrieving during waterfowl training.
Waterfowl retrieve.Eukanuba

Whether you’re getting a flushing or pointing bird dog ready for upland seasons, or working with a retriever to prepare for waterfowl adventures, formal training can become a real drag. For both of you.

Think of it this way. Who really likes to go to work? And if they do, that must mean it’s fun. And who really likes being the boss at work? It’s work too, and non-compliance or poor performance from workers (read: your dog) can become a real management issue.

On the other hand, hunting is fun. For both you and your dog. So is going out on adventures that produce exercise benefits to get or keep a dog in shape. Why not incorporate training interludes and opportunities into outings, runs, hikes, adventures and romps that simulate hunting conditions?

A dog’s attention span is short. Training sessions get long really fast. Exercise soothes a dog’s soul and smooths-off pent-up energy … the perfect situation for interspersing actions you want to encourage in the context of a field situation.

You could call it a walking practice session or a working exercise excursion. Here are techniques and tips for carrying out a simple train-as-you-go approach.

Upland Dogs

  • Keep your dog’s distance consistently within the range you are comfortable with while hunting. Letting him roam out too far will encourage him to do so all the time, then you’ll have to just reign him in when actual hunting happens.
  • On the other hand, if you have a “Velcro-dog” that won’t leave your side, frequent outings get them comfortable that they’re not going to lose you.
  • Stop for occasional dummy-throws and retrieves, one throw at a time here or there. That simulates real hunting situations. Labs, goldens and other retrievers that do some or all their duty in the uplands don’t need quite as much work here. But most of the pointing breeds – which aren’t as natural at retrieving – thrive on occasional retrieves.
  • Call your dog back in regularly, whether it’s a “hup” from your voice, a triplet of whistle-toots or whatever you two have worked out. Take timeouts to bring her back to heel.
  • Request and enforce basic obedience commands at random intervals when the dog returns. Ask for “sit” or “stay.” Heel your dog for brief intervals. “Whoa” a pointing dog randomly.
  • Consider other commands important to you and your hunting style, and creatively intersperse them in your shared walks.

Waterfowl Dogs: Retrievers

  • Plan for your most productive train-as-you go excursions to happen along or near a water source. Have the dog hit that water often for retrieves, which adds to the outing’s exercise factor too. Make some of the retrieves blind.
  • Make stops along the water and have the dog sit, and just watch the skies for a minute or two with you. Reinforce the idea that when we’re on the water, it’s business buddy.
  • Heel the dog up for a minute to simulate a jump-shoot. Then throw a dummy and get the retrieve.
  • Pre-place some decoys along your route and have the dog make a couple retrieves through the blocks.
  • Launch a canoe or your duck boat and go for ride. Shore-up at intervals and sit. Throw dummies for retrieves.
  • Deliver simple obedience command practice at stops a half-dozen times during a field jaunt.

TRY TRAINING-AS-YOU-GO any time of year. Allow plenty of time – most of the time, in fact -- for play, exercise, exploring and fun. But make mini-training interludes and opportunities part-and-parcel of just how you do things all year long. Then, when those first real-time hunting adventures of a new season roll around, your dog will think everything is old-hat and just get the job done like usual.