The Secret to Knowing Your Retriever's Ready for Waterfowl Season This Year

Oct 09, 2020

Will my dog be ready for this hunting season? 

Waterfowlers that have a new or young retriever often consider this one fundamental question as hunting season approaches.

Your retriever's first hunt is incredibly important. Making sure that your dog is ready to hunt is even more critical. If you get it right, your dog will be well on its way to becoming the best duck hunting dog and best goose hunting dog that it can be.

How do you know when to take your duck hunting dog or goose hunting dog on its first hunt?

It all boils down to ensuring that your dog has developed the right skill sets to be successful on a hunt and make sure that your dog is mature enough to go on a hunt. Fortunately, most dogs that have developed the proper skill sets are mature enough because enough time has elapsed in developing those skills. (It doesn't happen overnight, but with hard work and dedication, it will).

The Skill Sets Your Dog Needs To Be Successful On A Hunt

- Basic Obedience

- Intermediate Obedience

- Advanced Obedience

- Basic Gundog Skills

If you want your dog's first hunt to go well, you should work to have it proficient at all four of the skill sets mentioned above. 

There are various individual skills and lessons within all four of these skill sets, but for now, I want to focus on a couple of critical skills.

If you want to know how to teach your dog all of the skill sets mentioned above and want it laid out for you in a step-by-step system, check out our online courses here.

The Key Skills 

Assuming you've covered everything up until this point, there are three skills that you can focus on to finish up preparing for your dog's first hunt. (Side note: If your dog isn't proficient at the core skill sets mentioned above, do not skip ahead to the three things mentioned below. Make sure to master the core skill sets first, and then you can work up to these.)

- Proficient With Gunfire & Duck/Goose Calling

- Proficient At Working In Decoys 

- Comfortable Sitting For Long Periods of Time Without Action

Once your dog is proficient with foundation work, and you've thoroughly covered these three essential skills, your dog should be ready for its first hunt. 

Proficient With Gunfire & Duck/Goose Calling

Preparing your dog for the hunt is just as important, maybe more important, than actually taking it out and getting it hunting experience. If you fail to train your dog for the sounds that it will hear on a hunt, you run the risk of having a dog that, instead of enjoying the hunt, becomes scared of the same sounds that should excite it. 

The keyword here is proficient. Don't expect to go out and have great success after a day or two of gunfire intro and duck/goose call intro. Your dog should be fully proficient and comfortable with these exciting sounds before taking it on a real hunt. 

If you ensure that your dog is proficient with these sounds, the sounds will engage your dog's focus on the hunt instead of the sounds shocking or distracting your dog.

Proficient At Working In Decoys

Once you've covered the sounds of the hunt, you will want to cover the sights of the hunt as well.

Your dog should be able to distinguish between a real bird and a decoy. A common mistake that many waterfowl hunters make is not training the dog around decoys a lot. Many times, hunters go out and train in decoys once or twice before a hunt. The fact is, that's not enough. 

Your dog should know beyond the shadow of a doubt that its job is to pick up actual birds and swim through the decoys to get to the bird. It sounds simple. However, all too often, inexperienced duck dogs get out on a hunt, sit steady, see the birds fall, and pick up a decoy instead of a bird. Don't let this happen to you.

Spend the time it takes to make sure that your dog is completely comfortable working in and around decoys before taking it on its first hunt.

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Comfortable With Sitting Long Periods of Time Without Action

One of the most valuable things you can train your dog to do is sit still and do nothing. This one skill is probably one of the most overlooked but most valuable skills that your retriever can do.

Most of the time, people show up, train, and go home. One of the unintended consequences of training this way is that it teaches your dog to think that the action starts as soon as you arrive. However, when you are waterfowl hunting, it rarely happens that way. 

A dog that hasn't been prepared to sit and wait patiently will be a handful while you are waiting for the birds to come in. This can disrupt your hunt and your hunting partners. It can take away from your dog's first hunting experience when your dog is really eager to please.

With that in mind, make sure to take time and have your dog sit and do nothing. As crazy as that sounds, trust me on that. If you incorporate this into your training, you will thank yourself later. I cannot understate the importance of having a calm and relaxed dog on a hunt. 

What About Age?

As mentioned above, if you do the job right and make sure to train your dog to a solid level of proficiency, age/maturity shouldn't be an issue. It takes time to develop a solid level of proficiency, and by the time you've done that on all the skill sets and skills mentioned above, age/maturity shouldn't be an issue. 

If you will take this advice and apply it to your dog, you should understand when your dog is ready to hunt. Remember, the secret to knowing for sure is making sure you've covered all the basics mentioned here before taking your dog on its first hunt. 


Joshua Parvin

P.S. If you want to train your own retriever, but aren't sure where to start, what to do next, and how to solve problems, then our 52 Plus course is a perfect fit for you. You can buy today and start training your retriever with total confidence because every step of the way is laid out for you. All you have to do is follow our three-step easy process. 

1. Purchase 52 Plus

2. Watch The Videos

3. Train Your Dog


If you aren't ready to make a purchase, but you would like a more in-depth look at how to train your retriever, then you can register for our Free Training Workshop. This workshop will give you an in-depth look at the overall training process and cover everything you need to know before getting started. Plus, we will share our Top 10 Secrets To Successfully Training A Retriever. Learn more here.