Some dogs have it, and some dogs don't. When it comes to gun dog training, Labrador and golden retrievers definitely have it. These dogs were created to retrieve fallen fowl. Retrieving breeds have webbed paws and water resistant coats, making them some of the best swimmers of the dog world. Retrievers are also intelligent dogs and have a natural eagerness to please their human masters. They are easily trained, for any owner who is willing to put time and effort into his hunting companion's education.
Don't train your dog as a gun dog until it has completed basic obedience. In the field, your dog needs to know how to stay by your side off its leash. It should return to you without hesitation when you call or after retrieving a bird. For safety reasons, you also need to know that your dog will sit, lie down and stay at your command. Enroll your dog in basic, intermediate and then advanced obedience classes to help it get a good foundation in obedience. Practice these skills daily at home, both in formal training sessions and by incorporating the commands into your dog's daily routine. Start this training when your gun dog is still a puppy.
Retrieving is a Labrador or golden retriever's favorite thing to do. Start this training as soon as you get your gun dog home. Purchase retrieving dummies. Hold your puppy back with one hand on its chest, and show it the dummy. Toss the dummy no more than a few feet away, and release your puppy as you give a verbal command such as "fetch," "retrieve" or "get it." Start this training in a hallway so that your puppy has no choice but to return to you. Praise it each time it does. Ask your puppy to drop it. Again, reward your puppy with praise and a treat if it gives the dummy back to you without a fight. Gradually increase the length of your throws, and start practicing in outdoor environments as your puppy gets better and better at retrieving.
You can't train your gun dog at home, take it hunting one day and expect it to perform. Even though they were bred for this task, retrievers need a chance to get used to the sights, sounds and smells they will experience in the field. Take your puppy out as often as you can as it grows up. Keep it on a leash at first, especially if it is still working on basic obedience. Expose your puppy to the sounds of gunfire, the marshes it will be working in, other dogs that will be hunting with you and the sight and smell of real birds. Take treats along on each outing, and reward your gun dog when it remains calm despite the exciting (or frightening) surroundings. Start practicing your dog's retrieve in the field a little at a time.
Train in the Offseason
Retrievers will forget commands and skills if they aren't practiced. Even after hunting season ends, practice with your dog in your yard and take it to the field whenever you can. Keep practice sessions short. They should last only five to 10 minutes for an adult retriever. If they are any longer, your retriever could get bored and distracted. In addition to retrieving, keep your dog up-to-date on its basic obedience skills. Include commands such as "sit" and "stay" in its daily routine. Take it on walks to secluded areas where you can let it off the leash. If it gets used to being confined, it might wander off when hunting season finally does come around. Off-leash, retrieving and basic obedience skills should all be practiced year-round.