In addition to being wonderful companions, Labradors are also excellent hunting dogs. When our breed was founded in Newfoundland, it was our special hunting characteristics that made Labradors so popular with hunters and fishermen alike. These traits that made us so effective for hunting were hunted by early Labrador Retriever breeders, and they continue to be desirable traits for Labrador breeders today. Labs can be excellent hunting dogs, although it is recommended that you train us a little before taking us hunting.
Although this probably won’t be difficult, the first thing to do when training your Lab for use as a hunting dog is get him used to the water! Most of us Labradors love anything to do with water, and we won’t require much encouragement to swim and completely soak everything in sight. However, there are still some dogs who are a bit hesitant when they first encounter water. The best method is to have your dog approach the water slowly, giving him time to sniff it and figure out what it is. If necessary, you can go into the water yourself, which will help show your dog that he need not be afraid of water.
Try throwing a toy a short distance into the water (floating toys work best for this!). If your dog immediately enters the water to retrieve the toy, be sure to give him a treat and praise.
After this, you should familiarize your Labrador Retriever with the scent of waterfowl. This can be accomplished by purchasing “waterfowl scent” from a hunting supply store. Purchasing a “decoy” is also recommended at this time as it will be your main training tool in teaching your Lab to hunt. Use the scent of waterfowl to fully saturate the lure so your dog can distinguish the source of the scent. The lure is what will help you train your Labrador Retriever to find and retrieve downed animals.
With the scented lure, try playing fetch with your dog. This can be done on land at the beginning. Throw the lure a short distance and praise your dog when he retrieves it. Most Labradors will naturally retrieve the lure on instinct, but don’t forget to teach them how to return it to you! Also, it is important not to encourage your Labrador Retriever to chew on the lure, as this can lead to damaged play being returned to you.
Now is the time to start training in the water! This is also done with the lure and requires a shallow body of water that does not have a strong current. A small pond works best for this exercise. Make sure that the waterfowl essence you have purchased is waterproof or waterproof, to prevent the essence from being washed off the lure in the water. Get your dog’s attention and then proceed to throw the lure into the water (but still in sight). When your dog returns the lure to you (which he should do, if you’ve successfully trained him to retrieve the lure on land), be sure to give him a lot of praise! Reinforcing this as “good” behavior is a very important step toward successful hunting training for your Labrador. Try casting the lure further into the water, so that your dog has to swim a short distance to retrieve it. If they can pull this off, give them a treat!
These training steps may have to be repeated many times, before your dog has a 100% recovery rate and always recovers the lure unscathed. Some dogs can learn faster than others, especially dogs that have been specifically bred to bring out hunting traits. Certain Labrador Retriever breeders specialize in hunting dogs and are highly trained to produce ideal Labradors for use in hunting waterfowl.
Hunting with your dog can also be a great bonding experience, as we love any opportunity to spend time with you! We Labradors are very loyal and will do our best to meet 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. Developing early learning increases the chances that we can easily adapt to training techniques. Don’t forget to use positive reinforcement! We Labradors just want to please you and will excel in a training program that generates rewards from you.
Once you’ve successfully trained your dog to retrieve a decoy, it’s time to go hunting! It is important to take a lot of precautions when taking your dog out hunting, especially the first time. A gunshot can be a terrifying experience for your dog, so try to get him 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 at a significant distance from where you are shooting, albeit at a distance where you can still see it. As your dog becomes less afraid of sound, try holding him at a safe distance a little closer. Once they associate the sound of the shot with you, they will be less willing to fear you. Don’t forget that a dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than a human’s! Your hearing is very delicate and it may be necessary to protect your dog’s ears when shooting.
The first hunting trip, try to limit it to a single recovery. Remember, this is a learning experience for your dog, and some Labradors may require a little time to understand the association between decoy training and an actual hunting trip. Your dog may need several hunting trips to understand how to properly regain play, but don’t give up! Your dog wants to please you and will eventually understand how to help you on the hunt as long as you are patient.