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For the longest time, whenever I would think of a Labrador, the same picture always came to mind. This picture consists of the traditional family, mom, dad, a couple of kids, running around in their picket-fenced backyard, with of course – their beautiful yellow lab. However, when it came time to look for a good hunting dog, to my surprise, it turns out there’s a strong case for Labs as gun dogs!
Among the many breeds of hunting dogs, labrador retrievers are one of the best and most popular. Labs, with their steady temperament and reputation for intelligence, always make excellent hunting companions.
Even the name, labrador retriever, suggests that the breed is an effective hunting breed, in that they can retrieve nets, fish, or other game, and act as a retrieving gun dog. Their stout stature and thick fur coat ensure that labs can last for hours outdoors in the elements, weathering snow and rain, and can travel through water whenever necessary. Labs thrive in rough conditions; they love being outside, exercising and getting dirty.
While labs can be trained as hunting dogs for many different animals, such as birds, waterfowl, small mammals, and deer, the most common animal that a lab hunts is duck. Labs are well known to be the best breed of duck hunting dogs. They are known for their ability to find kill in the most difficult, hard to reach places, and have no problem swimming through ponds to fetch the ducks.
Once you find the right labrador, whether an adult dog or puppy, the next step is training. Gun dog puppy training is a big commitment and very time consuming, so keep that in mind before you get a lab puppy specifically for this purpose. Any dog takes a lot of time, energy, and money, but hunting dog training is an especially difficult task. Once you have a well-trained dog, a lab as your hunting companion will not let you down.
Gun dog puppy training
Understanding how to train a hunting dog is important before you commit to a new puppy. You will likely need to be home with the puppy for several days after you bring it home to cover the basics of puppy training (eating, using the bathroom outside, sleeping alone, etc.). Mastering these commands is necessary before you begin gun dog training or general hunting dog training, usually when the puppy is at least six months old, sometimes closer to eight.
The most important commands to teach a new lab puppy you intend to train into a gun dog are sit, stay, and come. If the puppy doesn’t learn these three basics, the dog will not be a very effective hunting dog right from the start.
To teach a dog to come to you, use the same word every time. Say “come” or the dog’s name, and when they come to you, give them a treat or lots of affection. This will teach the dog to return each time you say the word you’ve chosen. A similar approach–using one word for each command and rewarding with treats–can be applied to both the sit and stay commands as well.
After the puppy masters these three basic commands, you can then begin the hunting dog training. Using similar strategies–giving clear commands and rewards–you can teach your lab puppy to crawl, which is useful in hunting when trying to blend in; to point, to help you locate prey; and to remain completely still, to not give your location away.
Socialization of your puppy is also crucial to raising a well-rounded hunting dog. Gun dogs cannot be afraid when in the field, and must be willing to take some risks when assisting on your hunts. Start by introducing your puppy to as many people and animals as possible. Bring your dog with you in the car to introduce the pup to many different environments and situations.
While your puppy may act shy at first in these new settings, as an adult your dog will be more accepting of other animals and other people, more open to new experiences, and less afraid of the unknown. The more you can expose your dog to, the better acclimated the dog will be down the road.
Wait until your dog is a little older before introducing it to the sound of gunfire. The sound can really upset a new puppy, so be sure the dog is ready before taking that next step. Experts recommend never beginning gun dog training until the puppy is at least six months old, preferably between six and eight months.
Hunting dog training for adult dogs
Luckily, you can often teach old labrador retrievers new tricks. Labs are known for their ability to learn new commands at any age, whether puppy or adult. Labs want to please their owners, and they get a great deal of satisfaction from performing tasks well and having a specific purpose each day.
Make sure your adult dog already knows the basic commands covered in the above section–come, sit, and stay. Then, start with training your dog to retrieve, which is just like fetch, only eventually you will move on to outdoor training with dummies, working up to training the lab to retrieve your kill.
Another important thing to teach your hunting dog is to keep still and to follow your signals. Give your dog the stay command, and once the dog is completely still and alert, throw a dummy, teaching your dog to remain still and not to retrieve the dummy until you give the dog a specific signal. This teaches your dog to remain completely still until you actually tell the dog to move.
This tactic–basically teaching your dog NOT to get the kill–teaches your dog obedience and patience when hunting. It’s important for your gun dog to have steady obedience and focus, no matter the distraction.
Gun dog supplies
It’s crucial to train your gun dog with the right supplies. The first training supplies you should purchase are training dummies (they make puppy-size dummies) and a training whistle. Using the methods previously discussed, use the dummies to start your dog along the path of retrieving your kill. You can also buy training scent sticks that will put a scent on the dummies so your dog can locate the dummy.
Another tool you should have when training a hunting dog is a slip lead, which is a leash that helps give you a little more control over your dog, as opposed to a regular leash. Slip leads allow you to tighten your hold when you’re training the dog, and loosen when the dog obeys your commands.
A company like Gun Dog Supply has a multitude of supplies for training your hunting dog, including training collars and GPS trackers, which are also effective in training your dog to be a gun dog. E-collars give the dog a sensation when you call them or ask them to obey other commands, and once they get the hang of these commands you may not have to use them anymore. Garmin makes the Astro 430/T which is a collar that is a GPS tracker, which always helps when out in the field hunting.
Training any hunting dog is a challenge. But you’ll find the labrador retriever is very effective as a hunting companion. Because labs have stable demeanors, the right coat and build, and are easily trained, these dogs are hunting powerhouses. As long as you understand how to train a hunting dog, your lab will never let you down.
Remember to teach your puppy the basics before you start gun dog training. Use tools like slip leads, dummies, and whistles to take your hunting dog training to the next level. Remember that your labrador retriever is especially efficient at following scents and obeying hand signals, so emphasizing those tactics in your daily training will benefit you both in the long run.