I was recently talking with a friend of mine that is an avid hunter, and he was telling me how big of a help his Lab is when they are out in the field. That got me curious, so I did some research to understand exactly how good are Labs at duck hunting.
As a result of generations of purposeful breeding, Labs excel at hunting ducks. They have strong retrieval instincts and a soft mouth which ensures they won’t damage game when retrieved. Labs are physically well-suited to hunting ducks, thanks to a rudder-like tail, webbed feet, and a water-resistant coat.
Trying to decide what breed you want for duck hunting can be challenging. Understanding why Labradors are well-suited for duck hunting is critical. You’ll also need to know how to teach them to hunt with you to help you make your decision. I’ll cover that, as well as which color of Lab is best for hunting. In the event a Lab isn’t right for you, I’ll give you a couple of other breeds to consider as alternatives to Labradors for duck hunting.
Is a Lab a Good Breed for Duck Hunting?
Labrador Retrievers have been bred to seek out ducks and bring them back since the early 1800s. Originally, Labradors rode on fishing boats and jumped out to get any fish that fell off of the nets. Later, when hunters began to use guns to hunt ducks, Labradors were the perfect dog to find and collect fallen ducks and bring them back to the hunter.
For years I’ve witnessed Labs shiver in anticipation and then launch themselves into the water after a duck. It still astounds me just how well-suited they are to duck hunting. Labrador retrievers have physical traits that are designed for duck and other bird hunting:
- Webbed feet. Labradors have webbing between the toes of each of their feet to provide more propulsion and control in the water.
- Short, dense coat. Labradors have an oily, weather-resistant coat that is dense enough to keep them warm in frigid water but short enough that ice does not form on the hair when they get out of the water.
- Otter tail. Labradors have a muscular tail that acts as a rudder in the water, aiding them in swimming and steering.
- Gentle, willing disposition. Labrador Retrievers are gentle and willing to learn. They aren’t aggressive to people or animals, to the point that they will bring back living ducks without injuring them.
How to Train a Lab to Hunt Ducks
The foundation for a complex skill like hunting is good puppy obedience. It’s very important to play give-and-take games so that your Labrador learns to offer you things directly from their mouth in a gentle manner.
Consider an online training program
I highly recommend taking your Lab through a professional training program if you haven’t already done so. Developing the fundamental training techniques will prove to be useful throughout your Lab’s life.
I was hesitant to get professional training with my first dog, but that was mostly due to cost and convenience. This was back before online training programs were as accessible as they are now.
Specifically, Brain Training For Dogs, by Adrienne Farricelli is a program that I highly recommend. Adrienne is a certified trainer, and has a very easy to follow training program that you can access from anywhere. This makes training super convenient, and keeps you involved in the process. In fact, it is the only online training program that I recommend in my Recommended Products.
For more information on how she structures the program, click here.
Teach Them to Love The Water
The earlier a Labrador Retriever has positive experiences with the water, the more likely they are to love swimming after ducks. Begin with calm, shallow water that your dog will have fun running around in.
Labradors are natural swimmers, so provided a gentle introduction to the water, most take to swimming very readily.
Introduce Guns in a Positive Manner
It’s very important not to shoot the gun the first time the dog is exposed to it. You want your dog to think about the gun in a positive way, so expose your dog to the gun while giving them lots of rewards. On the other hand, you want them to respect the gun, so don’t let them play with it or paw at it.
Acclimate Your Dog to Loud Noises
Hunting dogs have to be steady even when guns are going off around them. They need to be acclimated to loud noises as well as the physical presence of the gun. Reward your dog with very high-value treats and toys whenever they hear a distant loud noise and gradually increase the volume until your dog is relaxed even when guns are going off nearby.
Take Your Dog on a Boat
If you’re like most duck hunters, you spend a lot of time hunting from a boat or skiff as well as wading. Labs are big dogs that can easily tip over a small boat, so it’s a good idea to get your dog used to being on the boat and learning how to balance on it from an early age.
Are Some Labrador Colors Better for Duck Hunting Than Others?
Labrador Retrievers are available in the AKC recognized colors chocolate, black, and yellow. Which of these colors is best for duck hunting? There are wonderful duck hunting Labradors in every color, but there is some argument to be made in choosing a black or yellow lab instead of chocolate.
Chocolate is recessive in Labradors, which means that to get consistent litters of chocolate Labradors, chocolate must be bred to chocolate. This reduces the potential breeding pool overall and reduces the number of excellent duck hunting dogs that may be bred.
If you want a great duck hunting Labrador, choose a breeder that is working towards field skills and isn’t worrying about breeding for color.
What Other Dog Breeds are Good for Duck Hunting?
The Labrador Retriever is a great duck hunter, but it is far from the only breed that excels in this area. Labradors are large dogs and they are very high energy, so they may be too much dog for the average hunter to also have as a house pet. Here are some other breeds that are also great for duck hunting:
- American water spaniel. American water spaniels only weigh between 25 and 45 pounds, which makes them a great size for many households as well as unlikely to tip over even a small craft.
- Standard poodle. Standard poodles are extremely intelligent and most are dedicated duck hunters, but they are typically not as high-drive or energetic as other retrieving breeds.
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. These retrievers are exceptionally well-suited to cold weather and freezing water temperatures, thanks to a water repellent double coat.
Labs are phenomenal duck hunters, but they aren’t the right duck hunting breed for everyone. Be sure that you are up for this dog’s extremely high drive and energy before you choose it for your duck hunting companion.