Aside from being wonderful companions, us Labradors also make excellent hunting dogs. When our breed was founded in Newfoundland, it was our special hunting characteristics that began to make Labradors so popular with hunters and fishermen alike. These traits that made us so effective for hunting were pursued by early Labrador Retriever breeders, and continue to be desirable breed traits with today’s Labrador breeders. Us Labradors can make excellent hunting dogs, though it is recommended to give us a bit of training before taking us hunting.
Though this probably won’t be difficult, the first thing to do when training your Labrador for use as a hunting dog is to get your dog used to the water! Most of us Labradors love anything having to do with the water, and won’t require much encouragement to swim and thoroughly soak everything in sight. However, there are still some dogs that are a bit hesitant when encountering water for the first time. The best method is to have your dog approach the water slowly, giving them time to sniff at it and realize what it is. If necessary, you can go into the water yourself, which will help show your dog that they don’t have to be afraid of the water.
Try throwing a toy a short distance into the water (floating toys work best for this!). If your dog immediately goes into the water to retrieve the toy, be sure to give them a treat and praise.
After this, you need to get your Labrador Retriever familiar with the scent of waterfowl. This can be accomplished by purchasing “waterfowl scent” at a hunting supply store. It’s also advised to purchase a “decoy” at this time, since this will be your main training tool in teaching your Labrador how to hunt. Use the waterfowl scent to thoroughly saturate the decoy, so that your dog will be able to distinguish the source of the scent. The decoy is what will help you train your Labrador Retriever to find and retrieve fallen game.
With the scented decoy, try playing “Fetch” with your dog. This can be done on land at first. Throw the decoy a short distance away, and praise your dog when they retrieve it. Most Labradors will naturally retrieve the decoy out of instinct, but don’t forget to teach them to bring it back to you! Also, it’s important not to encourage your Labrador Retriever to chew on the decoy, since this can result in them returning damaged game to you.
Now it’s time to start training in the water! This is also done with the decoy, and requires a shallow body of water that does not have a strong current. A small pond works best for this exercise. Be sure that the waterfowl scent that you have purchased is water-resistant or waterproof, to prevent the scent from washing off of the decoy in the water. Attract your dog’s attention, and then proceed to throw the decoy into the water (but still within sight). When your dog returns the decoy to you (which they should, if you have successfully trained them to retrieve the decoy on land), be sure to give them a lot of praise! Reinforcing this as “good” behavior is a very important step toward a successful hunting training for your Labrador. Try throwing the decoy farther out in the water, so that your dog has to swim a short distance to retrieve it. If they can accomplish this, give them a treat!
These training steps may have to be repeated many times, before your dog has a 100% retrieval ratio and always brings back the decoy unharmed. Some dogs may learn faster than others, especially dogs that have been specifically bred to highlight hunting traits. Certain Labrador Retriever breeders specialize in hunting dogs, and are highly skilled in producing the ideal Labradors for use in waterfowl hunting.
Hunting with your dog can also be a great bonding experience, since we love any opportunity to spend time with you! Us Labradors are very loyal, and will do our best to fulfill your needs for an effective hunting dog. The best training program, with the highest success rate, is a training program that is implemented while we are still puppies. Early learning development raises the chances that we’ll be able to easily adapt to training techniques. Don’t forget to use positive reinforcement! Us Labradors only want to please you, and will excel at a training program that produces rewards from you.
After you’ve successfully trained your dog with retrieving a decoy, it’s time to go hunting! It’s important to take many precautions when taking your dog hunting, especially the first time. A gunshot can be a scary experience for your dog, so try to get them used to the sound of a gun before your hunting excursion. The best way to do this is to have your dog in an area a significant distance away from where you’re practice shooting, though at a distance that they can still see you. As your dog becomes less afraid of the sound, try having them restrained at a safe distance slightly closer. Once they associate the sound of the gunshot with you, they’ll be less inclined to be afraid of the noise. Don’t forget that a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than a human’s! Their hearing is very delicate, and it may be necessary to provide ear protection for your dog when shooting.
The first hunting trip, try to limit it to only one retrieval. Remember, this is a learning experience for your dog, and some Labradors may require a bit of time to understand the association between the decoy training and a real hunting trip. It may take your dog several hunting trips to understand how to properly retrieve the game, but don’t give up! Your dog wants to please you, and will eventually understand how to assist in hunting as long as you are patient.