Practice Like You Play

By Brook Richard

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dog running through water

We’ve all been there. The anticipation of duck season is at an all-time high, our gear is ready, and when opening morning arrives, there’s a wild dog running around. Don’t be that guy. The off-season is a great opportunity to take a step back from the excitement and exhaustion. Now is the time to prepare.

The grass is green instead of frozen, we’re wearing flip flops and shorts instead of waders and gloves, but the game is still the same in your dog’s eyes. I like to spend time working with my dog Max in the yard and in the house. Max is a great dog with a lot of professional training, but still develops quirky habits. Here are some of the ways we practice.

Decoy Management: Untangle decoys and clean them. I prefer to use a pressure washer. A lot of people like to use soaps and chemicals on their decoys, but this can drastically decrease their longevity. Most cleaners have harsh solvents that will deteriorate the paint. A little elbow grease with a brush and pressure washer will go a long way!

Memory drills in the yard with multiple bumpers are a great way to keep your dog’s mind sharp. I throw two to three bumpers for Max in different directions and wait two to three minutes between each retrieve. He must remember where the bumpers are. It’s a fun game for him that we both enjoy. We are simulating downing multiple birds out of a flock, and him having to mark each bird, remembering where to find them. This will translate to less whistle blowing, less yelling, and your dog not running wild through the decoys.

Steadiness drills are another important “game” Max and I regularly practice. I’ll throw single or double marks and make him wait until his name is called. A lot of times, I see dog owners throw a bumper then yell the dog’s name as soon as the bumper hits the ground. This encourages the dog to believe they are going to get sent as soon as the bird or bumper hits the ground (which can lead to breaking). Instead, throw a bumper, watch your dog, make a phone call, answer an email, and teach your dog to wait for your command. Your dog is on your time, you aren’t on his. Breaking dogs are not only unsafe, but they have a hard time marking more than one downed bird if they are chasing after birds while you’re still shooting the rest of the flock.

Stretch your dog! After weeks of throwing 30-yard bumper retrieves in the yard, your dog will learn he doesn’t need to look beyond this distance for other birds. I like to take Max out to a large field and throw some 100- to 300-yard marks for him. This “stretches” your dog’s area of hunting. I’ll get my wife to walk out to the other end of the field with bumpers and toss them in the air when Max is watching. Throwing a short bumper first (just like we would in the back yard), then signaling my wife to throw the long mark from the other end of the field. This shows the dog that he needs to pay attention to close birds, as well as far ones. Be careful with this drill in the heat of summer. We don’t want our dogs to overheat.

Swim with your dog. We aren’t the only ones who enjoy a nice swim during the summer. Swimming is a great way to keep your dog in shape with minimal impact on their bodies. This is a low-stress way to keep your dog healthy.

If you’re wondering what Max and I will be doing for the next four months, this is it. I hope these tips help you out.

HRCH Dry Ridge’s Magnum MH
Call name: Max
Age: 8
Weight: 65lbs


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