How to Train a Hunting Dog To Retrieve | Duck Hunt Dog

So you want to know how to train a hunting dog to retrieve ducks? Follow these basic dog training steps and your dog will be fetching ducks in no time.

(Be sure to read this whole post, because I’ve included a fun game for you to play at the end!)

hunting dog

How to Train a Hunting Dog To Retrieve Waterfowl | Duck Hunt Dog

When it comes to hunting, people consider bringing a dog along with them, however before telling a dog “Fetch the duck,” you may want to consider training the dog, so that it actually fetches the duck.

While many people think that for a dog, fetching a duck is exactly like fetching a rubber ball, but actually, for the dog’s first time, it can be rather hard. You see, dogs can sense life and death. When telling your dog to bring you the duck you shot, they may refuse, as they can smell that the duck has been killed. In this guide, you will be taught to train your dog, so that it’s easy for you and your dog.

How to Train a Hunting Dog To Retrieve | Duck Hunt Dog

image via

Step 1 – Choose The Right Dog

For hunting ducks and similar birds, Labrador Retrievers are proven to do the job best. However, any retreivers are quite good at retrieving – hence the name. Don’t have a retriever? Basically any dog that has “English” in their name, such as the English Setter, or the English Springer Spaniel are also naturals. You’ll want a dog that is good at swimming and fetching.

Step 2 – Choose a Location

This training lesson requires water. A pool (chlorine free), pond, or lake are all ideal options, but make sure that the water has no current, as it makes the training more stressful for your dog.

Step 3 – Gather Equipment

duck hunt dog 1

You will need:

  • mock duck
  • rope
  • anchor

The mock duck can be any object that floats, but can be pulled down into the water. It has to be the size perfect for your dog’s jaw, not too big, not too small, nor hard. Preferably a duck toy for dogs. You can make one by stuffing a sock with other socks, so that it’s stuffed and then tying it closed. Make sure that the sock doesn’t have your smell on it so you don’t confuse them.

The next thing you need is a rope. The more unnoticeable it is, the better. It has to be around 15-25 ft.

The last item you need is is an anchor. Something that will sink, and can have a rope get pulled through it.

Step 4 – Add Scent

Take the floating item you chose and rub raw meat on it. Let the meat soak in. WARNING: After you you have rubbed meat on the item, use it within 24 hours. You don’t want the meat to rot on the toy.

Step 5 – Prepare the Rope

Tie one end of the rope to the floating toy, then pull the rope through the anchor. Drop the anchor along with the floating toy in the water. While you do this, make sure you hold the other end of the rope.

Step 6 – Training the Dog

duck hunt dog 3

The rope is already setup in the water. Now, with the rope in your hand send your dog to swim to the floating toy. This can be done by a person swimming near the toy, encouraging your dog to swim to it. DO NOT LET THE DOG SWIM TO THE PERSON, ONLY THE TOY!

When your dog gets close to the toy, pull the rope, bobbing it a little and then making it as if diving into the water.

Wounded ducks will dive from the retriever, hoping to survive. Your dog should get encouraged by the bobbing and dive after it. This is a natural instinct for dogs. 

When your dog dived in after it, let your rope go, letting your dog bring the duck to you!

Reward the dog with treats and lots of praise once they have properly retrieved the duck. Dogs thrive on positive reinforcement.

A diagram, courtesy of our Author’s daughter: (Thanks Natalia!)

How to Train a Hunting Dog To Retrieve | Duck Hunt Dog

Retriever Diagram, handdrawn

Step 7 – Repeat

Once your dog knows how to do that, practice it over and over again at least thirty times for memory permanence.

More Duck Retrieving Tips & Tricks

Time – Expect training to take a whole month. Practice for at least 30 minutes a day several times a week. Positive reinforcement is key. Retrieval will become 2nd nature for the dog in no time.

Gunfire – The sound of the firing gun can startle your dog. A dog needs time to get used to the sound. Spend some time in nature, ask a friend to shoot at the sky far away, and then closer to you and your dog. Calm down your dog if it gets startled, act as a role model. If your dog sees you acting calm and happy when someone shoots, your dog will understand that the sound is nothing to be afraid of.

Finding the Duck – In the last step, we recommended to make someone stand in the water, encouraging your dog to grab the duck toy, however most dogs will probably swim to you, and not the duck.
To help your dog grab the duck,  spend some time playing Fetch with the floating item. Preferably in the water. Your dog will understand that you want the item, so he will bring it to you.
A good practicing idea is to shoot your rifle, gun, etc. Into the air and then throw the floating item for your dog to retrieve. This will help the dog get used to the rifle sound. It may even teach your dog that the “BAM” means “Go get the duck!” And you won’t even have to tell your dog to retrieve your meat!

Age of Dog – Although many commands and tricks should be taught to a puppy, training a dog to hunt should be taught later in the dog’s life. When the dog isn’t a puppy but is still young (1 year old) is a recommended age.

Have fun! – Don’t force your dog to fetch the duck. The more fun the dog senses in you, the more fun it will have. And what’s better than a happy dog learning from its master?

Now you’re ready for some duck hunting! Always treat all animals with respect- yes, even the ones you are hunting. Practice the rules and regulations of waterfowl hunting season – and all hunting seasons for that matter.


I am Anna, a mother of two sweet girls, and a caring man’s wife. Our family enjoys spending time outdoors, in nature. We also adore all animals- especially dogs! And as my husband loves hunting, I decided to write an article to help anyone train their dog to become their loyal hunting companion.
The drawing pictured in the article, is a quick sketch my older daughter drew. Thank you, Natalia!

Good luck, folks!

How to Train a Hunting Dog To Retrieve | Duck Hunt Dog

Our author’s own hunting dog, with retrieved duck.