How to Train a Gun Dog for Hunting Wildfowl

If you’re interested in training your four-legged companion to become an accomplished gun dog, you’ll need to invest time and energy in the off-season to condition your pup. With proper training, many dogs can become the ideal partner for South Dakota pheasant hunting, waterfowl hunting, dove hunting, and more.

Basic Obedience for Hunting Dogs


Before you can train your dog to perform complicated actions related to hunting, they’ll need to be well-trained in the basics of obedience. Any obedient dog will need to know the commands for “come,” “sit,” and “heel” before they advance to field work. If you’re training a young pup, make sure they have a solid foundation of obedience with these core commands before your begin more advanced training exercises.

Teach Your Bird Dog Force-Breaking

Force-breaking, also referred to as force-fetching, will teach your hunting dog to retrieve birds and deliver them to hand. While many dogs naturally enjoy playing fetch, force-fetching will make sure they are well-trained when it comes to holding onto birds and always delivering them to your hand instead of dropping them.

Table-Training Your Retriever

Many dog owners will recommend you begin force-breaking on a table so that you can maintain stability and control while training your young dog. It’s important to familiarize your dog with the training table before you begin, so they are confident and comfortable throughout the training process.


Once your dog is comfortable with the table, you can begin teaching them hold and fetch commands. Experts suggest using some form of pressure to force your dog to accept these commands. Common practices are ear pinches and toe hitches because they cause slight discomfort without harming your dog. While practicing these commands, make sure to apply pressure when saying “hold” or “fetch” and release pressure when your dog performs them correctly. This technique will teach them that they can avoid the slight discomfort by listening to these commands. But, always remember to positively reinforce your dog every time they perform correctly.

When your dog reliably performs to both the fetch and hold command, you can begin making them walk to fetch the bumper or toy on the table. This will help them get used to actively retrieving the object before you further their training on the ground. The same principles of pressure apply when getting your dog to do a walking fetch on the table. Again, remember to always praise your dog when they follow commands correctly.

Ground Work for your Gun Dog

Once your young hunting dog is reliably fetching the bumper or toy from the training table, it’s time to ease them into following the same commands on the ground. For some dogs, the change of scenery can create some confusion so it’s important to still have patience and use appropriate pressure to get your dog to follow commands.


Start with training them to fetch and hold while sitting still, and then slowly progress to the walking fetch again. Make sure that your dog always delivers the bumper or toy to hand as well, and use pressure to correct any mistakes. You will also want to set up a bunch of decoys in your yard and walk your dog through them, only allowing your dog to grab one when you command it. Use the principles of pressure here to correct mistakes. This will teach your dog that they should only retrieve something when you say “fetch.”

Collar-Conditioning a Bird Dog

Collar-conditioning is another common technique used when training a hunting dog. This technique uses an electric shock collar to reinforce actions that your dog has already been trained. It basically replaces the ear pinch, by allowing you to apply pressure from a distance while your dog works on more advanced fetch scenarios.

Before using an e-collar, you’ll need to associate it with the ear pinch so your dog understands the slight discomfort from the collar is coming from you. To do this, you can place your dog’s ear over the remote for the collar and use it to push the button when giving the “fetch” command.

Once conditioned to the e-collar, you’ll be able to use that for all of your yard work and you can even use it out in the field. It’s a very useful technique for further enforcing actions that you’ve already trained your hunting dog to perform. If they ever do something incorrect, a buzz on the lowest setting will be enough to get them back on track.

Moving Up to Mark Retrieving

Teaching a dog to mark typically comes after learning the force-fetch. In this training exercise, a dog is held at the handler’s side under control and watches a mark go down. Then the dog is released, retrieves the mark, and returns to the owner’s side with the bird in mouth and waits until the bird is taken from its mouth. It’s very important to get out into a practice field and incorporate real birds before going on an actual hunt in order to get your dog used to retrieving fowl.


By making sure you thoroughly train your hunting dog with several solid techniques, you’ll end up with a reliable retriever that always brings the mark back to your hand. Of course, it will take several hunts over a span of a few years for your dog to completely maximize his or her potential, so you’ll need to be patient the first couple of hunting trips. Always remember to keep training activities short and fun for your dog, and you’ll build a trusting relationship that you can enjoy for many years of hunting.

Conditioning Your Dog to Gunfire

You may also want to get your dog used to the sound of your shotgun so it doesn’t frighten them when you get out into the field. To do this, you can start with low noise pops at a distance to read how your dog will react to the noise. Many hunters will mix in retrieves with gunfire so their dogs will learn to associate the gunfire with the reward of a retrieve, which can really help with this transition.


At any rate, it’s important to get your dog acclimated to the sound of gunfire so they are prepared for everything they will encounter when they hit the field in the fall.

Hunting Dog Breeds

While many breeds can be trained to become great bird dogs, some breeds, like retrievers and pointers, are naturally better suited for the task. Read more about hunting dog breeds here.

Plan a South Dakota Pheasant Hunting Trip with Your Bird Dog

Is your hunting dog ready for the open field? Plan a trip to Double P Ranch and bring your partner along for the fun. We provide accommodations for bird dogs and welcome your companion to join you on a hunt for pheasant, waterfowl, or doves. Read more about our trips and lodging here.