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Preparation for Hunting: Boats, Decoys, and Calls

by John and Amy Dahl

Some areas of work for the hunting retriever require simple familiarity with the conditions. This type of training is designed to prepare your dog in advance for things that are awkward, confusing, or difficult upon the first exposure. Blinds, boats and decoys all fall into this category. If you hunt your dog in a variety of situations it is a good idea to practice all of them so that your initial hunts will be easier for her.

Teach your dog to sit and stay, briefly, outside of the blind after she has delivered her bird, then give the release command, "Hie-on" or whatever, and she will shake off the excess mud and water outside rather than all over you and your equipment.

In the case of hunting from a boat, you will have to put up with some water shaken off in the boat, but you can minimize it by having your dog sit and stay in the far end of the boat while you return to the other end, then give the "Shake" command. Soon your dog will learn to stand up and shake while away from you. Remember, "Sit," or "Sit; Stay" must mean don’t shake, don’t move, until you give a release command. Most dogs, if hunted enough, will get into the habit of doing this dependably without further training.

Getting in and out of the boat is usually learned in one or two lessons. To be sent from the boat simply requires doing it a few times until your dog realizes that it is no different than a water entry from any other place. The exception to this is hunting in big, wavy, cold, open water such as hunting sea ducks (scoters) in midwinter. There is something very forbidding about an endless vista of rough, cold water with no land and in sight. No matter what kind of powerhouse water dog you think you have, be prepared for a "no-go" when you send her over the side after that 75-yard duck through a hundred decoys. If you plan to do this type of hunting, take the boat out in the summer on a rough day and get your dog used to it.

Getting in the boat from deep water requires a little practice but is easily taught. You simply get hold of your dog’s collar and give her enough of a lift to get her forepaws over the gunwale of the boat. When your dog has a grip on the boat with her paws, bear down on the top of her head with one hand and the added forward weight will propel her smoothly into the boat. Then say, "Sit; Stay," return to your end of the boat, tell your dog to "Shake," and it’s done. We like to receive the bird while the dog is still swimming as it avoids the possibility of her biting down with undue pressure while being hoisted into the boat.

Decoys can be very confusing to your dog if she does not have some form of advance preparation. Some dogs, of course, focus on the destination and seem impervious to distraction from blocks, anchor lines, wind socks, etc. Many more dogs handle them with aplomb only after becoming familiar with them in a controlled situation. Fortunately, educating a dog about decoys is usually straightforward.
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