By Brandon Trentham
The lulls of the offseason… wives doubt its legitimacy, employers are acclimating to seeing the waterfowl hunter back in the office, and the retriever reclaims the throne at the end of the couch. As a child anxiously looks forward to Christmas in June, the hunter anticipates opening morning in March. All hope is not lost, this time does not have to be another melancholy “break up” story until next year; instead, the offseason is a time of training, preparing, and anticipation. Save the skeet shooting for September and load up that retriever, it is time to hit the bumpers hard. From March to August is the time to correct that embarrassing moment from last season when your prized pooch botched a retrieve. As handlers and trainers, the offseason should be an exciting time of bonding with your best buddy.
Stay local, where else can you get all the distractions of the city?
Many hunters shy away from the commitment of training a waterfowl dog for a multitude of reasons, shortage of time, lack of locations to train, and general ignorance to the process. All of the excuses previously listed are shattered when that first duck is retrieved to your hand and the shower of the retriever’s shake is like a victorious Gatorade bath after a big game. Having a dog in the blind makes the trip more enjoyable for new hunters and seasoned hunters alike. “Man’s best friend” is certainly not an exaggeration in the life of a waterfowl hunter. For the hunter claiming that there is not enough time or places to train, this article is for you. Some of the best duck-dogs, I have had the privilege of hunting over, are trained in the city limits by outdoorsman with a full time job. The key is taking advantage of the surroundings available.
There is no reason to leave the city limits when training your dog in the offseason. On your next drive to work, or across town to your favorite restaurant, count how many ponds you see. If there are less than two ponds, invite me hunting with you next season and I will buy lunch. Lack of training facilities should never be an excuse for a waterfowl hunter living within ten minutes of a metropolitan area. Churches, city parks, golf courses, and neighborhoods all boast beautiful ponds, or as we like to call them, “training facilities.” Keep your pooch on lead until you reach the pond and I can almost guarantee no one will complain about watching a “good” dog work. It is innate to be enamored by the intellect and drive of these beautiful retrievers. Plus, it is fun to show off your hard work!
Another perk to suburban gundog training is the vast array of obstacles, distractions, and… other dogs. A trait that determines a trainer’s talent is his or her ability to recognize that dogs and humans perceive situations differently. What is a waterfall to a human is the same splash that motion decoys make to a retriever. A Poodle out for a stroll to the human eye is another hunting dog to be respected and honored to a retriever. The rolling hills and small ponds of the local golf course are an advanced blind retrieve over differing terrain to a retriever. Trash and floating pop bottles make great decoys in the eyes of a retriever. The one aspect of the sport that transcends season dates and city limits is the desire to get the duck or bumper to the hand of the trainer and the wait for the next retrieve. If your dog is steady enough to pull off a suburban training session, the serenity of the outdoors will be cake next season.
Include the family, how else do you raise up a generation of hunters?
Hunting is an expensive hobby, or lifestyle, that is difficult to attract newcomers to. After license fees, camouflage, and gas to get to the honey hole, the wallet can be pretty light. In order to keep the tradition of the waterfowl pursuit alive, hunters must not only focus on the conservation of our fowl, but the conservation of future enthusiasts. Not only is a gundog a great tool in the field, retrievers also prove advantageous when introducing people to the sport.
This offseason, when venturing to a local pond, invite and encourage your family to tag along and help for a training session. Bringing a kid into the field to see you work with a duck dog and the respect, hard work, and obedience on all ends of the equation would be a great parenting or “role model” moment. All of this experience is what dog trainers, and psychologists, refer to as positive reinforcement. Do not limit their attendance to the crowd, use the extra hands to your advantage and stage them in different areas to throw bumpers. Your dog is used to you throwing the bumper for practice, this will enhance the quality of the session. By having fun with your kids in the field, avoiding the dreadful early alarm clock and tundra temperatures, the kids are associating great memories with the waterfowl pursuit. Expose them to the excitement of a dog hitting the water with force trailing a bumper and the climax of a splash that puts all canon balls to shame, before you know it… a new generation waterfowl hunter has been born.
Be persistent… after all, it is your back yard!
I have been told that exercise regimens become a habit after some undisclosed amount of days in a row. I am not testifying, simply the messenger. However, this is the case when training your retriever. After eliminating the hassle of a long drive to a training location, the remaining issues pertain to dedication on behalf of the trainer. Find that pond that you can get to, with your dog, within 15 minutes of clocking out, changing clothes, and in the truck. If this only leaves 30 minutes of daylight, take full advantage and knock out long retrieves first. End your workout as the sun rests on the horizon with a quick obedience session. At the bare minimum of 30 minutes daily, your retriever will get 3.5 hours of work in a week (think about how much weight we would shed on that workout plan). When was the last time your dog received 3.5 hours of work weekly? Next season is looking promising.
Remember to have fun with your hunting partner, family, and friends. Training your dog should always be enjoyable; do not be the little league coach that embarrasses himself yelling at the referee. If suburban retriever training is new to you, the key is to be aware that pedestrians are watching you train your hunting dog and this may be their only interaction with our sport. Be respectful, answer questions, let a stranger throw the bumper, and help our sport grow. See you in the field, or local park.