Last Updated on February 3, 2022 by Marco C.
Training labs for duck hunting is a centuries-old practice. It has gotten simpler and easier over time but there’s still a lot of know-how to learn and figure out. So, whether you’re an aspiring pro or just curious, here are the basics of training labs for duck hunting – methods of training and other tips.
Training Labs For Duck Hunting
There are several schools of thought when it comes to how to train a duck dog. We can’t possibly cover all of them here but the most basic division is between the American and the English/European method. This is very noticeable when you look at American and English Labrador Retrievers too.
When it comes to how to train a dog to retrieve ducks, the English method is to emphasizes obedience training and non-retrieving first. In essence, trainers teach hunting pups not to jump in and retrieve everything they see falling out of the sky. Instead, they are told to wait and watch. This method teaches restraint in dogs and makes them calmer, more obedient, and easier to handle.
Then, once the dog knows to only act when told to, do trainers teach the dog to retrieve. That, plus extensive command training, makes hunting labs not only effective but very efficient duck hunting dogs.
Instead, a lot of American trainers teach dogs to retrieve first. They give them hundreds and thousands of retrieves to make sure the dog is perfectly proficient in retrieving any prey on their own. This makes labs very self-sufficient retrievers but it leads to a snag down the line – if the dog hasn’t received enough obedience and command training, teaching it restraint can be quite difficult.
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Training labs for duck hunting that way is faster and also makes them very effective but far less efficient. If you want a hunting companion that does exactly what you want them to, prioritizing obedience and command training first is a must.
Key Steps For Training Labs For Duck Hunting
Training labs for duck hunting is a very long process that includes much more than just training obedience, retrieving, and restraint. Different trainers would list different types of training – plus, different dogs need different extra training programs – however, the most common training programs include:
- Obedience training
- Command training
- Retrieving practice and instinct development
- Swimming proficiency
- Marking abilities
- Restraint training
- Ignoring distraction
- Soft mouth retrieving
- Confidence around birds
Not all dogs require all of these programs. For example, some dogs naturally have the instinct for soft mouth retrieving. Others, usually English labs, are intuitively much more restrained and obedient. Some are natural swimmers and have instincts for the quietness around birds.
The job of training labs for duck hunting, therefore, includes not just passing all dogs through the same programs and training regimes, but assessing each dog’s natural instincts, skills, and drawbacks, and working with and around them through an individualized program. That way, a skilled breeder can make a great hunting companion out of almost every lab.
How long does it take to train a lab for duck hunting?
Depending on the dog and the method, training labs for duck hunting can take anywhere between 5 and 24 months. There are a lot of factors that go into this such as the instincts of the dog and whether or not you need to train some bad behaviors out. Many dogs have to go through force-fetch programs because they have “hard mouths” for example (they bite the prey too hard while retrieving it). Other dogs have soft mouths intuitively and need less training in that regard. Of course, the proficiency and skill of the trainer also play a big part here.
How much does it cost to train a lab for duck hunting?
If you want to hire a trainer for your dog, the average cost in the US is around $500 to $1,000+ a month. This usually doesn’t include the cost of the birds but those don’t tend to be all that significant.
Are Labs good for duck hunting?
Labrador Retrievers are one of the best breeds for duck hunting. Not only do they have great water-resistant coats, webbed feet, and nice rudder-like tails, they also have most of the instincts necessary for a great duck hunting dog. Labs aren’t the only great water retrieving breed, however, so you don’t need to feel restricted to just labs.
What Color Lab is best for duck hunting?
There’s a widely spread myth/misconception that black labs are better for hunting than yellow and brown ones. While there isn’t any genetic or scientific evidence to suggest that black labs are better, dog trainers have been segregating labs based on color for so long that some say this has played a role in their selection by this point.
Today, most people expect yellow labs to be great guide/service dogs, black labs – great hunters, and brown labs – the perfect pets. So, there may be some hereditary influence after all these years of color segregation that makes black lineages have a bit more hunting and obedience instincts. But if you want to take a well-trained brown or yellow lab duck hunting, there should be no significant drawback to that either.
Are male or female Labs better for hunting?
Experts tend to agree that there isn’t any significant difference between the sexes when it comes to hunting and retrieving potential. Male labs are slightly bigger and stronger but that doesn’t really matter for retrieving. There’s also the somewhat intuitive myth that female dogs are calmer and easier to train but that also isn’t true or all that significant. In short, the sex of the dog is inconsequential.
How much does a good hunting lab cost?
Depending on the age of the dog and how much training it has received, you can expect a total cost of anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000. If you get a younger dog from a good hunting lineage that’s only started learning the basics, then you can expect to pay less. However, then you’d have to pay for the continuous training of this dog or do it yourself.