Fish and Fetch

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Published on: Jul. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

This initial learning is best accomplished in the yard or a place where there are few distractions. Once a dog links responses to commands and complies readily, the dog must then learn to comply amid distractions. Creek fishing provides plenty of distractions.

For some retrievers with strong instincts, a lure hitting the water is cause enough to break the "sit" command. In his eyes, that lure needs to be retrieved, as does a splashing bass on the end of your line. A green-backed heron swooping down the creek, or the fact that you have been fishing a long time and are now moving to the other side of the creek, all serve to tempt a dog to break "sit." When the dog does, you're there to enforce your command.

There's another benefit to taking a gun dog creek fishing. It prevents obedience training from getting boring. When I take one of my gun dogs on a creek outing, I enjoy the fun of fishing while my dog, on "sit" or "lie down," remains alert because he is watching me cast. When I catch a fish, I may bring the fish over and let my dog sniff it. Sometimes, if the fishing is good, my dog might sit or lie down for 30 minutes or more while I bring fish to hand. This teaches the dog patience and mirrors conditions that retrievers work under while hunting, which is mostly sit or lie down and wait, with brief periods of activity when birds work within gun range.

Heel work comes as we walk from fishing hole to fishing hole, which is far more interesting than walking up and down the driveway. Sometimes, when we are walking to a new hole, I let my dog run ahead, then give him the "come-in" whistle for practice on that important obedience command.

After fishing a hole, I let my dog do some retrieving. For this, I keep a couple of retrieving dummies snapped to my belt loops. Working a dog on water retrieves in a pond is fine, but a creek provides a greater variety of places to throw a dummy--places where crippled game tends to hide. These include undercut banks, tangles of downed trees and brush, root wads and thick growths of creek-bank and gravel-bar vegetation. I throw dummies in these spots to improve my dogs' skill at making retrieves in places similar to

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