Gun Dog Training Basics

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Published on: May. 2, 2001

Last revision: Nov. 9, 2010

Amid waves gilded with autumn sunlight, a sleek, golden dog swims purposefully through a flock of bobbing decoys. Gathering a mallard drake's disarrayed wings into a neat, mouth-sized bundle, she turns and makes for her owner, who waits among flooded corn stalks 40 yards distant. She delivers her parcel to hand, accepts a congratulatory pat and then turns her face skyward to watch for the next flight of birds.

Watching a good dog in action, it's easy to believe you lack the skill needed to train one of your own. It isn't true. I trained my golden retriever, Guiness, based on what I learned from a couple of books. She wouldn't win any field trials, but I don't want a field-trial dog. I want a well-behaved hunting companion who shares my zeal for the hunt and fetches the birds I shoot. She fills that role admirably.

Gun dogs are born with 90 percent of what they need to be good hunters. Their most impressive skills, finding game and bringing it back to their masters, are purely instinctive. All a trainer has to do is build a foundation of discipline needed to work with people.

The basics of dog training are the same whether you hunt waterfowl, quail, pheasant, grouse, doves or nothing at all. To be fit for human company, all dogs must sit, stay, come and heel on command.

Start training your pup when he's seven- to 12-weeks old. Don't use any discipline or punishment until he's three months old. Learning has to be fun.

Training sessions should be short and frequent. Two or three a week are enough, but four or five are better. You may be able to train effectively for as long as 15 minutes per session. Stop at the first sign of boredom.

Always finish with a few minutes of play. If you lock your dog in his kennel immediately after training, he'll feel like he's being punished.

Basic Commands

Snap a leash on your dog's collar. When he's standing calmly by your side, gently pull up on the leash. Eventually, the pressure will cause him to sit. When he does, and only when he does, instantly give the command, "SIT." After a few repetitions, he will associate the command with the action, and he will sit on command.

With this and every other skill he learns, praise your dog and stroke the tops of his shoulders each time he does what you want. Don't

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