How to Train Your Dog to Hunt

Ever been waterfowl hunting with a bird dog? There is nothing quite like hunting near a lake on a frozen winter day, shooting a duck, and have your dog swim out in the near freezing water to collect your prize, and swim back to shore with duck in his mouth. Let’s face it: all serious waterfowl hunters understand and appreciate the convenience and rewards of a hunting partner with four legs. With the proper training your dog will not only be able to help you successfully hunt waterfowl, it will also serve as an obedient, loving, lifelong friend. If you want to fill your hunting bags with birds and your heart with love, follow these simple steps to choose, train, and develop a first class waterfowl hunting dog. This method does not work with all dogs. It works best with Spaniels, Terriers, Pointers, and Retrievers.


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    Research the different breeds of water dogs. There are many dogs suitable for hunting waterfowl. Some of the most popular are Labrador Retrievers,Golden Retrievers and Springer Spaniels. Look into the different breeds and decide which one is best for you and your hunting adventures. You should also be mindful of the amount of care a particular breed will need. Some dogs require a lot of room to run, for example, while others are more sedentary. Choose a dog that you can provide a good home for.
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    Pick out a puppy. Although there are many adult dogs that are trained to hunt waterfowl, it is generally best to train your own puppy. Not only will a puppy allow you the time to train the dog for your hunting style, starting with a puppy will also ensure a loyal dog that is bonded and conditioned to its owner. Make sure you use a reputable breeder; you can research breeders online or at your local dog or hunting clubs. Animal shelters and animal controls often have lab and retriever mix puppies that are in danger of being put to sleep. Many mixes can be trained to retrieve ducks if proper time is spent training them. Ask a shelter if you can foster retriever mix puppies and find one that has a natural instinct to retrieve and likes water! Many times if dogs do not have a natural instinct you can help find them a home and work with a different puppy!
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    Introduce the puppy to water when they are little. Instill the idea that water is good, water is fun, and playing in water is a way to earn rewards and other positive reinforcement. You can start in a small wading pool at first, and in no time your dog will be ready for the open water.
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    Teach your dog to sit and stay. Although these are basic and cliché dog commands, they serve as the foundational commands for more complex hunting demands. Use food as a way to teach sitting. Hold food over the dog’s head. Give the command to sit while simultaneously pressing gently on the dog’s hind legs. As soon as the dog sits give it a treat. Repeat this over and over. Soon your dog will sit at the first glance of a treat. Eventually, he or she will sit without requiring a treat.
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    Introduce your dog to decoys and to the scent of waterfowl. It is important that your dog quickly understand the difference between a real duck and a decoy. You can utilize waterfowl scent and dummies to train your dog. Be sure to set decoys far away from the dog before throwing the dummy so they are able to find out where the dummy is and knows the difference between a real bird and a decoy.
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    Practice daily, if possible. Make waterfowl training a fun, rewarding experience for your dog.
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    Reinforce positive behavior with positive rewards. When you attach a scent to a decoy or training device, throw it in the water, and see your dog fetch the trainer and return it to you, make sure to let your dog know what a good job it has done. There is nothing a dog wants more than to please its owner, and to establish a lifelong hunting partnership it is important to let your dog know from a young age that retrieving game is something he or she will be rewarded for.
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    Expose your dog to actual hunting situations before taking it out into the field. A dog that is trained only in theory may not perform to expectations in the field. A dog that is expected to perform around guns needs to be trained in the presence of guns. Take your waterfowl dog with you when you target practice, or set up simulated hunts in a proper shooting area. The key point is that your dog has to be prepared for actual situations if you expect it to perform like a seasoned hunter. Condition your dog prior to the hunt. You want your dog at peak performance in the field.
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    Use training dummies early and often. The more you train your dog to the scent and feel of waterfowl, the more your dog will impress you in the field. Remember, a dog’s biggest pleasure is pleasing its owner, so if you show appreciation for good behavior in practice your dog will certainly please you in hunting situations.
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    Train your dog in a boat prior to a hunt if boats are going to be used. Load it in and out, and practice retrieving dummies from the boat.
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    Simplify the training by keeping it simple. Your basic goal is to get your dog to retrieve the bird. In your training program focus on rewarding your dog for retrieving the training dummy. It is in the natural instincts of a retriever to want to go after, retrieve, and return a shot bird. It is the job of the owner to get the dog trained to consistently and methodically do so.


  • Teach your dog not to chew the birds and to be gentle with them.
  • In training, start out shooting away from the dog and slowly adjust until you are shooting right over the dog, so that it won't be afraid during actual hunting.
  • Dogs are like children, shouting at the dog does not help. Instead, use positive reinforcement.
  • Do not give the dog treats. If you use treats your dog will look forward to them, even when they are in the fields, or attempt to eat whatever you shoot. Use "good boy/girl", or pet and rub the dog.
  • Research waterfowl dog training on the internet or consider purchasing one of many training videos; if nothing you do seems to work, enlist the help of an experienced trainer.
  • Use films with the sound of guns shooting in them to familiarize the dog with the noise.
  • Join a Hunting Retriever Club in your area.
  • Don't take your dog to the range. Get a blank (starter), have you dog in hand, have a bus release a pigeon 35 feet from you and when he does he shoots blank gun; then do shot gun, you want bang to mean bird every time. Then he'll love the sound of a shot. Shooting a rifle over the to of his head will ruin many fine dogs.


  • Do not expect your dog to automatically understand what you want it to do. Don’t get mad at your dog if it doesn’t understand your commands.
  • If your dog isn’t learning, explore as many training methods as possible, and be prepared to devote plenty of time to training.

Things You'll Need

  • Dog
  • Waterfowl decoys and dummies
  • A lot of time
  • Real birds
  • Land to train on.. Shoot on
  • Leash or some sort of training restraints (if training a pup)

Article Info

Categories: Hunting