1. KICK-START THE DOG’S DRIVE
“Let your pup be a pup before you try to do too much,” says Brad Arington, owner of Mossy Pond Retrievers in Patterson, Georgia. “But between eight and twelve weeks, you’ll want to spark that innate desire to retrieve.” Use a tennis ball, a noise-making toy, or a bird. “Toss it three or four inches initially. The first time, your dog might just look at it, but that drive will slowly wake up. Then begin steadily increasing the distance.”
2. SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE
And not just with other dogs and people. Slowly expose your dog to everyday activities such as going down a flight of stairs and getting in and out of a car, but also to sporting-related tasks, like entering the water, being around gunfire, or riding on the back of a four-wheeler. “If you go into a duck blind and your dog has never been around decoys, he’s going to be distracted.” Or worse, think they’re real ducks and plunge in after them.
3. MASTER THE BASICS
“Between twelve weeks and six months, work to get the foundation commands—sit, here, and heel—really ingrained. At the six-month mark, you can begin increasing the distance and difficulty of these basic commands. When teaching a young pup to sit, we might make him stay for only five or six seconds, but at six months, we’d try for maybe five minutes and work up from there. On a slow duck hunt, you might need him to sit for hours.” Repetition and consistency are key. “From four to six months, I work with my dogs for ten to fifteen minutes, three to four times a day.” When they succeed, be effusive. “Your dog is always looking for that affectionate touch.”