Retrieving game is critical
Failure to retrieve game birds is unethical and leaves the broader hunting community open to justified criticism. As Mark Davis explains, retrieving doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need a faithful companion and patience.
The use of a well-trained gundog in the field enables those of us who hunt with a dog to be comfortable in the knowledge that we, as ethical hunters, are doing everything possible to ensure that game is recovered for the table in a humane manner. In doing so, we meet our responsibility to respect the game we hunt and the expectations of the community.
It is not difficult to comply and there is much more to be gained from using a gundog than efficient retrieval. You can experience the satisfaction and sheer pleasure that one feels when your dog makes a fantastic retrieve on a bird that would be impossible for the lone hunter to recover, then there is the companionship our canine friends provide whilst waiting for the birds to arrive.
A gundog will give you an edge when hunting; their superior vision will often alert his owner to approaching game, long before the shooter is aware — his ability to scent game and indicate its presence allows the hunter to prepare for the shot, resulting in fewer wounded game. Having a dog really does add an extra dimension to your hunting.
This opening I spent two hours on the Friday afternoon building a hide and positioning and repositioning decoys — you know how hard it is to get them just right. Saturday morning, my faithful companion and I were in the hide by 7 am; we had a lot of birds in the area and they were continually dropping in the decoys. 7.20 am eventually arrived and we bagged out in short time, by 8.15 we were back in camp cooking a hearty breakfast. Now for me, that’s duck hunting.
The little effort it takes to train a dog to the standard required to retrieve most birds is negligible compared to the rewards gained. A mere 10 to 15 minutes every second night or even once a week will be enough to have your dog steady to shot, come when called and retrieve to hand; the finding of difficult birds comes with experience and parentage.
If I couldn’t hunt with a dog I wouldn’t bother; for me it is the complete hunting experience.
Mark was also posed a question about a 13-month-old labrador that performed well in training but seemed to lose interest when Duck Season started.
Sounds like there has been a lot happening for your young dog: retrieving dummies, toys, live birds, dead birds and all apparently from a very young age.
This firstly tells me the retrieving desire is not the problem here. It sounds more like overload, confusion and her age. You have simply introduced her to game before she is ready.
Young dogs exhibit this typical response when you do not follow some sort of structured format and establish reliable results before moving to game.
Desexing can have an effect on dogs, even just having time to fully recover, however, proper training is the culprithere.
At 13 months Ella is still in the puppy category; you have unfortunately interrupted her natural delivery. I suggest suspending any type of retrieving activities for a while and let her settle. You should concentrate on some obedience work for a couple of months: heeling, sit-stays, and especially recalls.
Some folk might suggest a program of force fetch, but I’m not a fan and have never employed these methods with any dog I’ve trained, maintaining natural delivery, in my opinion, is the only way to go, because it is possible to build resentment in the dog, which will happen with force fetch.
When you think she is ready to try retrieving again, go back to square one: start with a dummy and stick with it until she is regularly delivering to hand. You want her to return directly to you, so use the side of the house or hallway, get her excited, throw the dummy and then kneel down and make a fuss of her on return while she is holding the dummy, you can then gradually settle her down. Repeat a couple of times every second or third night until you have re-established natural delivery.
The transition to game should be dummy, frozen or cold game then warm game, and do not move on until she is reliably retrieving each in that order.
I employ the three P’s when training dogs: Patience, Perseverance and Praise. I recommend it to everyone.