Skip to main content

Steadiness Slippage: How to Keep Your Gun Dog from Breaking

The immediate preseason is the last chance you've got to break the breaking habit.

Steadiness Slippage: How to Keep Your Gun Dog from Breaking
Photo Credit: Tony J. Peterson

A lot of the bird-dog focus during the preseason is centered on physical conditioning. We want our retrievers to enter dove and duck season, and later a litany of upland seasons, in peak physical shape. This is a good goal, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you work on with your dog.

Steadiness should be a priority as well. In fact, I’d say that the number-one issue most bird dogs have is with breaking. This can be annoying during certain upland hunts, but devolve into something infuriating during dove or waterfowl hunts where a dog is expected to stay until he’s sent.

What’s worse is that a dog that is prone to breaking might also invite a correction while he’s doing what he thinks he is supposed to do, which is go get the birds you shoot. That can lead to a loss of confidence and cause confusion on the dog’s part, neither of which are something you want to instill in your dog. Instead, head off the breaking issues now before it’s too late.

Easy Drills

I realize that most of us have limited dog-training time in our daily lives, so this can be difficult to get into, but hear me out. When you toss a dummy in the backyard for your retriever, make him wait before you send him. If he’s a young dog, this might only be 10 seconds. If he’s six years old and knows exactly what he’s doing, this might be five minutes.


The goal is to get the dog to start understanding that a retrieve doesn’t immediately happen just because a dummy hits the dirt or water. You want to gauge your dog’s body language to see when the tension dissipates and he relaxes. You’ll know it when you see it, and that is a good thing because it shows your dog is starting to understand that you’re in control of the retrieve timing, and that it will happen when you decide—not him.


This is especially important with high-drive dogs, because they are going to want to go, and if they can’t wait during a backyard drill, they aren’t going to be able to contain themselves when a greenhead falls into the drink during the first hunt of the season. It’s also important with medium-drive dogs as well, but with those retrievers you also want to be careful to not make them wait so long that they lose interest.

This goes for pups, too. A young dog needs to learn to wait, but you don’t want to torture them by making them wait too long and allowing their interest in the task to disappear. Pay close attention to your dog’s body language, so you know when you’re in danger of losing them during a drill.

As you progress through these backyard sessions, start changing locations and adding in more and more real elements of a hunt. This should include calls, a shotgun, decoys, and anything that can get your dog closer to the real deal. With each new addition, your dog will have the potential for breaking, which means you can work on it step by step.

First Hunts

The first hunts of the season, even for veteran retrievers, always involve a little behavior refresher. Just like how you might miss an easy shot—or three—when the first ducks cup their wings and try to settle into your spread, your dog is going to forget some of the finer points of being a well-behaved duck fetcher.


This is why I like to hunt with a small group, or one other person, during the first few duck and dove hunts. I want absolute control of my dog, and I don’t want a bevy of distractions or other dogs thrown into the mix. I want my retriever to succeed, and to do that I’ve got to construct a situation where he has every chance in the world to get things right.

To do this, I need to focus more on handling, and less on shooting. If I don’t, I could end up with a dog that is so excited about potential retrieves that he jumps into the water as the ducks approach, which will predictably flare the birds and cause all two-legged hunters’ tempers to redline.

A consistent training regimen that is followed up by a controlled hunting environment will reduce your dog’s chances of wanting to break. This is good, but it’s important to note that you also need to pay attention to the birds. If you or your hunting partner dumps a wood duck that falls with his head up and his faculties about him, you’re not going to want your dog to wait 10 minutes for the retrieve. Send him immediately, because your new responsibility is with a quick recovery, not a training lesson on patience.


Steadiness is the foundation of all good bird dogs, and it’s something all retrievers should possess. It’s a necessary skill for doves, ducks, and just about any hunting scenario where you want to ensure safety for your dog, and enjoyment for all involved. The good news is that this is something you can shore up right now.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 12

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 12

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 12

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 9

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 3

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

Gun Dog: Shed Antler Training 10

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Kyle Wintersteen does a dog breed comparison on Chessies and Labs. See how these two breeds stack up.Dog Breed Comparison: Chessies vs. Labs Profiles

Dog Breed Comparison: Chessies vs. Labs

Kyle Wintersteen

Kyle Wintersteen does a dog breed comparison on Chessies and Labs. See how these two breeds...

You've heard it before: it takes birds to make a bird dog.

Sure, you can train—at least to aWhy You Should Be Training with Penned Birds Training

Why You Should Be Training with Penned Birds

Dave Carty

You've heard it before: it takes birds to make a bird dog. Sure, you can train — at...

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will ensure a safe and comfy home for your favorite hunting buddy.How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel How-To

How To Build the Perfect Dog Kennel

Jerry Thoms

Whether you're building or buying a new dog kennel, following these simple guidelines will...

See More Trending Articles

More Training

E-Collars have changed the way we train. Know how to use them! Understanding E-Collars: Purpose and Limitations Training

Understanding E-Collars: Purpose and Limitations

Brad Fitzpatrick

E-Collars have changed the way we train. Know how to use them!

With a bit of pre-training, your gun dog can easily hunt in a new environment with a bird it has little experience with.Will New Birds, Places Cause Your Dog Problems? Training

Will New Birds, Places Cause Your Dog Problems?

With a bit of pre-training, your gun dog can easily hunt in a new environment with a bird it...

You'll want to take action to prevent in-blind whimpering before it starts!Why Your Retriever is Whining, and How to Stop it — Fast! Training

Why Your Retriever is Whining, and How to Stop it — Fast!

Ed Bailey

You'll want to take action to prevent in-blind whimpering before it starts!

The best training results come from carefully balanced, controlled training combined with your pup's natural talent.Find Balance for Best Training Results Training

Find Balance for Best Training Results

Jeremy Moore

The best training results come from carefully balanced, controlled training combined with your...

See More Training

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Gun Dog App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Gun Dog subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now