Essential equipment for training your retriever as a hunting dog
If you plan on training your retriever by yourself for hunting, there is equipment you will need to purchase. Professional retriever trainers use a whole host of tools and equipment to efficiently and effectively train your dog. If you plan to do the training work yourself, it is important to understand what tools you need and why they are important. Here are six vital tools every gun dog trainer needs.
A quick note before we dive into the tools. If you have not yet selected a training plan to follow, I highly encourage you to do this first. Using the internet and random YouTube videos, is not a plan. You need to make sure that you follow ONE trainer’s plan, not pick pieces from one trainer and other pieces from another. Mixing training philosophies is a great way to confuse your dog! Not all training philosophies can be used together. It is important to understand that training your retriever as a gun dog will require a solid training plan, for more information see Setting goals for your retriever.
Also, training your own dog is a big challenge. Take some time to understand the task you have before you. We have a lot of education available on our website.
My husband and I are professional retriever trainers and the ideas I have discuss here are tools we use on a daily basis. I only recommend products I know are good quality and will stand the test of time. When possible, I include links to the product. Some of these links may be affiliate links in which I am paid a small commission, but all opinions and recommendations are my own. Learn more.
Training equipment you will need to train your gun dog
Here is the basic equipment you will need to start training your gun dog. Depending on the level of training you hope to achieve, there may be other essential equipment that you will need to complete the training. But the list below will get you started.
1. Obedience tools
All dog training begins with obedience training, and for obedience training you must have the right tools. Using a flat collar and leash will not work to effectively teach your dog obedience, and if you do not start your gun-dog training with obedience, you are already going down the wrong road. Obedience is fundamental to all dog training.
The obedience tools you will need include:
- lead and/or check cord
- chain or prong collar
- heeling stick
A 6-foot lead is ideal for starting obedience, but for young dogs and as obedience and retrieving training progresses, a 20-30 foot check cord may also be needed. If you are confused about leads and leashes, refer to What dog leash for training retrievers.
When correctly used, chain and prong collars are a highly effective training aid. Make sure you understand the proper way to put on and use a chain collar. When applied correctly, the chain will tighten when you pull or tug on the lead and quickly loosen when you release.
2. Retrieving items such as dummies and Dead Fowl trainers
Dummies, sometimes called plugs or bumpers, are round cylinder-shaped plastic or canvas items with a rope attached to one end. The rope makes them easy to throw and the size and shape are perfect for dogs to pick up and carry without developing mouth problems like chewing or munching.
There are many different sizes, colors, and textures available. For more information see What kind of bumpers/dummies should I use to train my retriever.
When training retrievers, it is important to have a good supply of dummies or bumpers for retrieving. Even when teaching obedience, doing play retrieves can be helpful to break up the obedience work and help your dog keep a good attitude during training. Play retrieves are simply hand thrown retrieves with little to no structure, the point is just to get the dog’s attitude up.
Although not required, I have found that it is good to have some Dead Fowl trainers available also. The reason is that these more accurately portray the size and weight of a real bird.
3. Whistle and lanyard
When training your retriever as a gun dog, it is important to have a whistle. Whistles are more easily heard by the dog at a distance, and the command from a whistle is clear, no begging or pleading.
To teach the dog to understand whistle commands, they must be incorporated into your obedience training. A single toot is used for SIT while a trill or series of toots close together are used for HERE.
When hunting it is important to be able to communicate with your dog while they are out away from you. The whistle is the best way to do this.
A lanyard is a simple way to carry your whistle around your neck. This way you will have the whistle ready and easily accessible when you need it. Lanyards come in many different styles from plain poly cord to durable leather. Pick one that works for you.
4. Starter pistol and/or shotgun and popper loads
Hunting dogs need to be comfortable with loud sounds. Many a dog has been ruined by poor introduction to gun shot. Unfortunately, we see it all the time.
The trick is to introduce the gun shot from a long way away and with a retrieve. When we start dogs in our programs, we start with retrieves but no shot. Later, we add a shot but from a gunner or thrower out in the field. We don’t move gun shots to the dog’s side until they are very comfortable with noise in the field. It can be a slow deliberate process, but it always produces the desired result – a retriever comfortable with gun shots and focused only on the retrieve.
We use a starter pistol with primers/blanks for our initial introduction to gun shot. But you could also use a shotgun with popper loads (loads with no shot in them). Remember to start slow and bring the shot closer to your dog over a long period of time.
5. Helper or thrower
Many people try to train their gun dog by themselves. And while there is a lot of work that can be done by yourself, having a helper – someone to throw marks for you – quickly becomes necessary. If you are always throwing the dummy with the dog by your side, your retriever is not getting the proper perspective or distance for hunting.
Most of the time your dog is going to see the bird out in front of him/her. This is where a thrower comes in. By having someone out in the field throwing a dummy or bird, your dog can learn to mark (watch where the dummy lands) from that perspective. So you will want to find a buddy, spouse or kids and employ them to help.
If you cannot find someone to help, there is another option, but it is much more expensive – mechanical throwers or wingers. There are many different brands of these available and this topic could merit a post of its own, but at the very least make sure to get one that is able to do a shot and/or sound along with the throw.
6. Electronic collar
While not mandatory, I highly recommend retriever trainers get an electronic collar for their dog. Can you train without one? Yes. But you will also likely have more problems and issues that quickly become difficult to fix.
It is vitally important that you learn how to introduce and use the electronic collar correctly. Electronic collars are wonderful training tools, but can quickly become a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Check out Using an electronic collar to train your retriever.
Extra things that are helpful for training a retriever as a gun dog
One notable thing that is missing from this list is live birds. There are people who train without live birds, but I would never recommend it. Every year I get emails and calls from people that cannot understand why their dog will not pick up a bird in the field. When asked if they trained their dog with birds, the answer is always “No.”
I do understand that it can be difficult for an amateur trainer to find live birds for training, but if you are serious about training your retriever to become a gun dog, this should be a priority. See Why do I need to use birds to train my retriever?
There are other important tools and equipment that your gun dog will need to be exposed to and that you should incorporate into your training. We cover that in Essential equipment for training a duck dog.
If you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I am here to help! You can email me (email@example.com) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.