Hunting – Bird Dog Training
While your dog may be great at marking a downed bird on land or in still water, retrieving a bird in a river current is a different story. The moving water can disorient your dog, and will also take more energy to swim in. An untrained and unconditioned dog will lead to lost birds, which we all want to avoid.
To start with, condition your dog physically with regular exercise, including swimming and swimming in a river or stream. But until you have your dog trained to retrieve in a current, don’t throw sticks or training birds in moving water for him to retrieve; you first have to teach your dog how to retrieve a floating object in a river.
To do this, find a small stream or narrow point in a river that is not too fast, but still has some current, and is about 30 feet wide. By this time you should have trained your dog with land and still water retrieving, and you will want to use the same bird dummy as in your previous training sessions. With this bit of training, it is very important to use a highly visible dummy, I prefer a bright orange dummy for all training until your dog moves into advanced stages of training.
Take your dog to the edge of the river, make him sit, throw the dummy directly across to the other bank of the river on the land where your dog can clearly see it, then send him after it. When your dog last saw the dummy, it was in a straight line in front of him, but the current will carry your dog downstream. When he gets out of the water on the other side, use your whistle to make him stop, and make him sit for a brief moment. Then use hand signals to point the dog back upstream to the dummy.
Do this many times, and eventually the dog will learn to fight the current rather than drift with it, and he will learn to take a tighter line to the dummy. Once the dog shows the ability to do this, start throwing the dummy in the current. Begin with an upstream throw so the dummy comes to him on his retrieve. Repeat this many times, over a couple of training sessions. Once you are building up confidence in your dog, throw it straight across into the current, then eventually downstream. Repeating this exercise over and over will teach the dog how to retrieve in the current of a river.
When you are out hunting, you as the hunter need to have discipline when hunting in a place where birds will fall into a moving current. You can’t keep shooting ducks that fall into the river and expect your dog to retrieve them. Be smart, not greedy. If one bird falls in the water, stop shooting and let your dog get that bird before you shoot another one. Also pay close attention the physical condition of your dog, retrieving birds from a moving river takes a lot more energy than a pond or land; you don’t want to push your dog beyond its limits of physical capacity.