Outdoors: The joy of training a hunting dog

Jay Anglin

Recently, the American Kennel Club announced that for the 26th year in a row, the Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog breed in America.

It should be no surprise that Labs are so popular given their great demeanor, intelligence and good looks. Compared to other breeds, they are remarkably low-maintenance as well. Labs are blessed with a short, water-resistant coat that is durable and sheds dirt and things like burrs without a second thought.

Most labs are athletic, and frankly, they’re physically tough, too. I once ran over our chocolate-colored female Trix with all four wheels of an ATV doing about 30 miles per hour. She cut in front of me, went underneath and popped out the back doing somersaults. Amazingly enough, she hit the ground running like nothing happened. The combined weight of the ATV was roughly 900 pounds!

Our black male Deuce was hit by a car a couple years ago following his clever escape from the house; he figured out how to open the door handle on the front door and let himself out. A few hours later, he showed up with his front left leg kicked out at a 90-degree angle from the elbow, as well as lots of cuts and contusions, including obvious signs that he had taken a direct hit to the head. Late that night, our vet Erin Sako performed miracle work on him and now he is as athletic as ever, albeit with a slight limp from arthritis and an occasional bought of goofiness.

Since Labs are so desirable as pets and hunting dogs, it’s a given that some people take advantage of the situation and breed any old pair of dogs. Or, maybe they just don’t know any better? Unfortunately, some of the issues associated with Labradors are the result of poor breeding. This is a real shame as the vast majority of Labs are great dogs, it’s just that some of them get the short end of the stick and end up with terrible joint problems or allergies.

This sort of thing can happen to any dog regardless of pedigree, but the odds that problems arise increases tremendously when the parents should have never been bred in the first place. This can be said for any breed of dog, of course. Our Trixie is pregnant again and this will be her fourth litter. We did our homework before breeding her to Deuce and the puppies have turned out to be fantastic, so we’ve done it multiple times.

Like many hunting breeds, the Labrador not only excels in the field and marsh, but also makes a great house pet. This is another issue that resurfaces time and again when a well-intentioned hunter decides to buy a puppy and sees a sign on the side of the road “Lab Pups 4 Sale.” Some of those pups turn out fine, but quite a few don’t live up to the new owner’s expectations as generations of dogs in the bloodline have never hunted. With great litters, there should be a waiting list for pups and that is what we’ve experienced with our litters.

To mitigate health problems and improve trainability, do your homework. Not surprisingly, good puppies tend to cost more money. Though, this is not to say spending a ton insures great results - I’ve seen plenty of super-expensive Labs turn out to be a total mess. Many high-end breeders pump out numerous litters annually and once they’ve established their name in the dog business, they sort of ride on the coat tails of their own acclaim, all while charging exorbitant prices for puppies.

There are many great breeders out there, and while some are well-known, quite a few of them are folks like the Anglin family who have great dogs and like to raise a litter now and then. We may charge more for pups than the local “going rate”, but I can promise you that it’s less than a world-renowned breeder would.

Quite often, people breed litters so they can keep a pup for themselves and that is certainly the case with us. We kept one from the last litter and she’s already seven-and-a-half months old. I’ve trained a good number of Labs over the years, and I have to say this is one-remarkable pup. Each puppy presents its own set of challenges from a training standpoint - the fact is, Takoda is as sharp as a tack. She wants to learn and has a great memory. I’m sure this has a lot to do with her being raised by her parents, but from what I’m hearing, her brothers and sisters are the same way. Again, mission accomplished.

Getting feedback from all the people that have puppies from the last litter is very rewarding. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that some of our puppies have changed people’s lives - dogs will do that. Regardless of breed, I can see why breeders that stay in the business for years develop great relationships with the families they sell their pups to. Like many dogs, these puppies become deeply-loved family members.

Deuce has another hunting season or two left in him, but Trix is only 4 years old, so if all goes well, she and Takoda will hold the fort down after he’s retired and eventually gone. They sure don’t last long enough.

I’ve been training Takoda just about every day and it has inspired me to take the two older dogs out for some training sessions as well. It has been amazingly rewarding to watch the pup learn and reinvigorate her well-seasoned parents (and me) at the same time. Some people have a drink after work, I take my dogs for a training session. If you’re a waterfowl or bird hunter and you haven’t done it, I highly recommend training your own hunting dog. I doubt I’d even hunt waterfowl or upland birds if I didn’t have a dog. That’s how rewarding it is.

Jay Anglin writes a weekly outdoors column for The Herald-Argus. Write to him at jay@anglinoutdoors.com.

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