9 Tips: Train Your Dog To Resist Decoys
October 13, 2015
A quick way to lose any chance of a second invitation to hunt your friend's duck camp is to bring an unruly dog that spends the day banging around in the blind, spilling coffee, breaking with the shot and retrieving decoys.
On the other hand an obedient dog preconditioned/socialized to any distractions you might expect when hunting from a blind or boat can win you a repeat or open invitation. I use hunting from a blind only as an example; you may be planning to hunt a field layout or flooded timber, but in any case there are certain aspects you can plan for and condition your dog to before the big day.
As you know, my articles usually deal with upland hunting and pointing dog issues, but living 400 yards from the Mighty Mississippi and hundreds of acres of backwater, I spend a fair amount of time in a blind or duck boat. I've witnessed a few upsetting, embarrassing and often unsafe situations unfold primarily because of untrained dogs or, more specifically, dogs who were not properly pre-exposed or trained in mock-ups of the real life duck hunting situations.
For example, I'll almost guarantee you if your dog isn't introduced to decoys ahead of time, you'll be red-faced soon after the first ducks are down and your dog starts dragging well-set decoys ashore. But by spending just a little time beforehand, you can accustom your dog to work around and ignore decoys, so let's start there.
I suggest you begin on dry land when you train your dog, assuming your dog has completed basic retrieving training and is a reliable retriever. All we have to do is set out a half dozen decoys on the lawn and allow our dog to check them out but discourage him from picking any up.
Next, heel your dog through and around the decoys, again staying ready to discourage any interest he may show.
For the next step let's move to an open area and place a couple decoys right in front of you to the left and right but not in line with where you'll toss a training dummy for your dog to retrieve. After each retrieve, move the decoys further out, nearer to where you toss the retrieving dummy.
Doing this gradually makes the decoys a stronger distraction, thus testing your progress and allowing you to again discourage any attention the dog might pay them.
The next step is adding more decoys and tossing the retrieving dummy right into the middle or beyond them, train your dog to pass through your "decoy spread" to retrieve. Depending on your dog's experience you may want to repeat this exercise on land from a small boat.
This is an especially good idea for softer dogs, that is, introducing another distraction, the boat, while still on solid ground.
Assuming all is going well with these drills, we'll move to water repeating the same steps to make sure our dog totally ignores the decoys while making repeated retrieves from land, then from a boat on the water.
A word of caution here — it's a good idea to be sure your decoys are suitably anchored so they're not floating side to side with excess line that could tangle around your dog as he swims past.
Getting caught and tangled can really spook dogs new to water work and cause serious setbacks in progress.
Something we can't overlook here is being certain your dog has been properly introduced to retrieving actual game. If your dog is already reliable at retrieving dead pigeons and upland gamebirds, all we have to do take a little time to be sure he is comfortable handling larger ducks and maybe geese.
Start by using a cold dead duck. Calm your dog and show him the duck, then train your dog to carry it as you heel him around the yard. When you're good there, go back to your decoy set-up on land for a couple retrieves, then repeat the same steps in the water.
You might even want to tape the wings of a live duck for a couple short chases and retrieves so your dog experiences a simulated cripple chase. This is great summer work and will go a long way toward ensuring responsible, ethical retrieving of downed game this fall.
You should also think about other situations you might see while hunting, like layout blinds in cornfields, where you might use one of those folding dog blinds. Again, you should practice with your dog to make sure he will kennel and stay in the blind until called to retrieve.
If you have plans to hunt flooded timber, you should train your dog to make retrieves from a platform in water. The list goes on but my point is, don't wait until opening day and expect your dog to handle these new scenarios.
Think it through beforehand and set up any possible distractions to acclimate your dog so they're no longer distractions simply part of the deal.
Finally, remember all of this is for naught if your dog isn't at least trained to what I call a "good citizen" level — reliable response to the heel, come and sit commands and staying put for long periods of time. A refresher course on this basic obedience will allow you to accept any hunt invitations you get, secure in the knowledge that your dog will be under control and not an embarrassment.