Broker Check

Dog Training

The retriever is a type of gun dog that retrieves game for a hunter. Generally gun dogs are divided into three major classifications: retrievers, flushing spaniels, and pointing breeds. Retrievers were bred primarily to retrieve birds or other prey and return them to the hunter without damage; retrievers are distinguished in that nonslip retrieval is their primary function. As a result, retriever breeds are bred for soft mouths and a great willingness to please, learn, and obey. A soft mouth refers to the willingness of the dog to carry game in its mouth without biting into it. "Hard mouth" is a serious fault in a hunting dog and is very difficult to correct. A hard-mouthed dog renders game unpresentable or at worst inedible.

The retriever's willingness to please and trainability have made breeds such as the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever popular as a disability assistance dog.

To carry out the duties of a gun dog, a retriever should be trained to perform these tasks:

  • Remain under control: Retrievers are typically used for waterfowl hunting. Since a majority of waterfowl hunting employs the use of small boats in winter conditions, retrievers are trained to remain under control sitting calmly and quietly until sent to retrieve. This is often referred to as "steadiness". Steadiness helps to avoid an accidental capsizing, disrupting the hunter's aim or the possible accidental discharge of a firearm which could cause serious harm or death to others in the hunting party or to the dog itself. A steady dog is also better able to “mark” downed game.
  • Mark downed game: Marking is the process of watching for a falling bird or multiple birds. When the command "mark" is given, the dog should look up for incoming birds and remember where each bird falls. Well-trained retrievers are taught to follow the direction the gun barrel is pointing to mark where the birds fall. Once the game is downed, the handler will command the dog to retrieve the game. The dog’s ability to remember multiple “marks” is extremely important, and trainers use techniques to improve a dog’s marking and memory ability.
  • Perform a blind retrieve: When hunting waterfowl, a retriever's primary job is to retrieve downed birds. At times, a dog will not see the game fall, so retrievers are trained to take hand, voice, and whistle commands from the handler directing the dog to the downed game for retrieval. This is called a “blind retrieve”. Precision between the dog and handler is extremely useful and desired so as to minimize retrieval time and limit the disturbance of surrounding cover. The majority of blind retrieves in the field are made within 30-80 yards of the gun, but a good retriever/handler team can perform precise blind retrieves out to 100+ yards and more.
  • Retrieve to hand: Although some hunters prefer to have a bird dropped at their feet, the majority of handlers require the dog to deliver the game to hand, meaning once the dog has completed the retrieve, it will gently but firmly hold the bird until commanded to release it to the handler’s hand. Delivery to hand reduces the risk of a crippled bird escaping, as the bird remains in the dog's mouth until the handler takes hold of it.
  • Honoring: When hunting with multiple dogs, a retriever should remain under control while other dogs work, and wait its turn. This is important because having multiple dogs retrieving game simultaneously can cause confusion. This is one reason why many handlers use the dog's name as the command to retrieve.
  • Shake on command: Following a retrieve, a well-trained dog will not shake off excess water from its fur until after the delivery is complete. A dog shaking water from its fur in a small boat at worst risks capsizing the craft in cold winter conditions and at best will most likely shower hunters and equipment. Also, a dog shaking while still holding the game in its mouth could damage the bird to the point of making it unfit for the table. To avoid these mishaps, trainers use a distinct command releasing a dog to shake.
  • Quarter: Retrievers are often used in a secondary role as an upland flushing dog. Dogs must work in a pattern in front of the hunter seeking upland game birds. The retriever must be taught to stay within gun range to avoid flushing a bird outside of shooting distance.
  • Remain steady to wing and shot: When hunting upland birds, the flushing dog should be steady to wing and shot, meaning it sits when a bird rises or a gun is fired. It does this to mark the fall and to avoid flushing other birds by unnecessarily pursuing a missed bird.