Valuable Lessons I Learned After Training Two Duck Dogs – Conkey's Outdoors

Valuable Lessons I Learned After Training Two Duck Dogs

Conkey's Outdoors

Training a hunting dog is the most frustrating and rewarding act I’ve ever done regarding hunting.

Growing up, we always had at least one family dog, and my dad trained a few labs to join us on our duck hunting adventures together. The problem was he wasn’t a professional dog trainer, and dog training resources were extremely limited at the time. So, he did his best to train the dogs to bring our dead birds back… most of the time.

I’ll never forget those hunts with my dad and our labs, and I wanted to pass that tradition on to my daughter.

Lessons From Training My First Dog

While in college, my fiance bought me a chocolate lab for my birthday. Stryder came from a hunting line, and I was eager to train him.

I watched YouTube videos and picked up tips from my buddies who had trained a couple of dogs themselves.

Having a mentor was one of the best things I could have done then. I didn’t know much about training, and having someone to walk me through the basics allowed me to avoid several mistakes.

However, I didn’t avoid them all, as I often learn the hard way.

I made many mistakes that eventually meant my pup would never join me on a hunt 

Mistake #1

I was impatient with his training.

I’m naturally impatient, and that’s a terrible quality to have as a dog trainer.

I tried rushing my pup through the training process instead of ensuring he had the basics down. I introduced him to advanced techniques too early, which meant he wasn’t accomplishing the tasks I wanted, and I got incredibly frustrated.

It’s a cliche for a reason: patience is a virtue, especially when training a dog.

Mistake #2

I assumed all dogs could be hunting dogs. 

This pup came from a lineage of duck dogs, so I assumed it was just in his blood. I was wrong.

It wasn’t that he was untrainable, either. He quickly picked up basic obedience, but he had little interest in retrieving. I tried various methods to excite him to fetch, but nothing seemed to work. He would run out to the dummy or ball, smell it, look at me, and run back, rarely bringing it back to me.

Eventually, I had to accept him as a family dog and not my die-hard duck-hunting partner.

Mistake #3

I worked against his “personality.”

Stryder was not strong-willed, but I treated him as though he should be. I simply had to raise my voice or give him a look, and he would shut down in fear, which only made me want to yell louder!

I should have realized this earlier and disciplined him differently, but I was still learning and mistakenly thought he would change.

It took me several months to realize he would not be a hunting dog. I was partially to blame, but his natural temperament played a significant role.

Stryder was destined to be a family dog and spent his days hanging out on our property instead of joining me in the duck blind.

Despite my mistakes, I still wanted to train another hunting dog, so we picked up Shadowfax from a buddy who gave us the pick of the litter as a wedding present.

Lessons From My First Duck Dog

Once again, Shadow came from a lineage of hunters, but this time, I ensured he enjoyed fetching by bringing a feather with me when we picked him up. He was the first puppy to the feather and picked it up, so I knew we were getting started on the right foot.

I was also more patient with him and his training. I was not perfect, but I was much better with him than with my first dog. 

He quickly excelled in our training together, and I couldn’t wait for opening day.

When Shadow brought back his first duck, I was ecstatic! All the mistakes, corrections, and hard work had finally paid off.

We hunted together for several seasons, and I learned more valuable lessons then.

Lesson #1

Training never stops.

Whenever we hunt together, I notice something that needs to be refreshed or reinforced, either in my approach or Shadow’s training. These corrections always carry over into the off-season.

One year, I chose to take the off-season off and relax on Shadow’s training. To say the following season was frustrating was an understatement. I spent most of duck season trying to correct the bad habits Shadow picked up or reminding him of the basics he’d been taught as a puppy.

Don’t stop training your dog; no matter how old they are, they will always need refresher training.

Lesson #2

Have reasonable expectations.

As I mentioned, I’m not a professional dog trainer, which means I shouldn’t expect my dog to behave like a professionally trained dog.

It’s also critical for me to remain understanding and calm when we experience a live hunting situation that we haven’t trained for, and Shadow is confused or not doing what I need him to do.

Having reasonable expectations has helped save many of my hunts.

Lesson #3

Enjoy it while you can.

Shadow is getting older and turning gray, so I know the number of our hunts is limited, which makes me reminisce and wish for a few more hunts with my buddy.

Looking back, I regret not enjoying more of our hunts together because something didn’t go according to plan.

Enjoy the training process and hunts you get to experience with your dog because you’ll soon realize your time together is limited.

Parting Shots

Training my hunting dogs has been filled with ups and downs, but It’s taught me many valuable lessons I will never forget.

I highly recommend taking the time to train your dog, if, and that’s a big if, you have the time to dedicate to the training process.

Author BIO

Wes Littlefield is a lifelong outdoorsman, accepting any challenge the outdoors presents him. He loves hiking and camping with his family, big game hunting, waterfowl hunting, and kayak fishing. When he’s not in the woods or at the water’s edge, he’s playing disc golf or writing about the outdoors. He’s the lead writer for and and has been published in several leading outdoor magazines.


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