Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Amazing Retriever Facts

7 things you should know about your duck dog

Photo Chris Jennings

By Gary Koehler

Ever since Ivan Pavlov used dogs during the 1890s to explore classical conditioning, the sky has been the limit for those who want to learn more about canine biology and behavior. Because of their popularity as pets, dogs may be the most studied animals on earth.

Most of us have probably done at least some delving into what makes our retrievers tick. We can't help it. The subject is endlessly fascinating, and the more we know about our dogs, the easier it is to train and live with them. Although many questions remain, science continues to provide new insights into the lives of our four-legged hunting partners.

Here's a look at several interesting facts that explain how dogs perceive the world and why they behave the way they do.

1. Sight

Contrary to popular opinion, dogs are not color blind. The old notion that they can see only black and white is incorrect. The canine color field may be limited in comparison to ours, but dogs can perceive gradations of yellow, blue, and gray. They can't, however, distinguish red, green, and orange colors, as humans do. That's because the human eye contains three types of cones, while the canine eye has only two. As predators, however, dogs are equipped with superior night vision and are also much more capable of tracking motion than we are.

2. Smell

As discussed in a previous column, a dog's scenting ability is truly remarkable. The noses of some breeds have more than 200 million scent receptors, which is about 40 times the number humans have. This isn't surprising considering that a dog also dedicates about 40 times more of its brain to the process of smelling than we do. No wonder our retrievers continually amaze us when they locate fallen waterfowl in heavy cover.


3. Hearing

Dogs generally have a much better hearing range than humans. A dog's ears include at least 18 muscles, while ours have only nine. Dogs can therefore rotate and tilt their ears, which allows them to more easily locate the exact source of a sound. In addition, they perceive almost twice the frequencies we do. This explains why dogs can hear high-frequency whistles that are soundless to us. If your retriever is afraid of your lawn mower or weed whacker, it's probably because the dog is bothered by the sound, not the motion. Thunderstorms can also be troublesome.


4. Mood Detection

Your retriever can read your mood just by looking at your facial expressions and body language. Over time, he or she will learn to sense when you are happy, sad, and angry. The flipside of this is our tendency to attribute human emotions to dogs. For example, when you chastise your retriever for digging in the yard, he may put his head down or look away. The dog is probably reacting more to your tone and body language than out of a sense of guilt or shame.

5. Intelligence

Mental sharpness varies greatly from breed to breed, and even from dog to dog. In fact, pups from the same litter may exhibit different learning abilities. Some dogs are inherently smarter than others. Studies have shown that intelligent dogs can learn the meaning of up to 250 words. Average dogs are capable of understanding about 150 words.

The normal body temperature for a dog ranges from 100F to 102.5F. Fur insulates a retriever's body in cold weather and helps slow heat absorption in warm weather. Although dogs do sweat through their paw pads and nose, they regulate body temperature primarily by panting. Always keep in mind that the risk of hypothermia and heat stroke are very real when your retriever is outdoors in extreme conditions.

7. Dreams

The fact that dogs can dream shouldn't come as a surprise to retriever owners who have seen their dogs whimper, twitch, and move around in their sleep. Determining what dogs actually dream about is a more complicated matter, but recent research seems to indicate that, like people, they tend to recall memories of events they experienced while awake. This means that retrievers are probably "fetching" mallards in perhaps their most lucid dreams.


6 Essential Commands for Retrievers

Proper communication is the key to all retriever training

Photo Bill Allen

By Gary Koehler

One of the most common mistakes amateur retriever trainers make is rushing the learning process. The temptation to get a young dog out in the field as soon as possible can be hard to resist. Born with an innate retrieving drive, the pup is already raring to go. And with hunting season only months away, you may be just as eager to start running retrieving drills.

Before you jump headlong into field work, however, make sure your dog has mastered the fundamentals of obedience. Be patient and take it slow. There are no shortcuts. To be able to perform advanced tasks, a retriever must first learn to follow basic commands. Repetition and consistency are the only sure ways to build understanding and trust.

Here's a brief primer on 6 basic commands that will help set the stage for your retriever's future training and hunting success:


1. Here

Some trainers use the word come instead. Whatever word you use, your dog must learn that this is an unconditional command, not a request. Get a 20- or 30-foot check cord and attach one end to your pup's collar. Hold the other end in your hand and walk several paces away from the dog. Say the command here. If the dog does not move in your direction, begin pulling him toward you with the check cord. Be firm but not rough. Repeat this exercise several times until the dog learns to come to you without hesitation. Remove the check cord and repeat the exercise again. Praise the pup when he does well to help make this lesson as much fun as possible.

2. Sit

This command can be incorporated into your pup's feeding regimen. Hold the food bowl in one hand and say sit while pushing down on the dog's rear end with your other hand. When the dog sits, place the bowl in front of him on the floor. The pup will quickly learn that the reward for sitting is food, which is a great motivator.

3. Stay

You can teach stay as an extension of the sit command. While the dog is sitting, hold your hand out toward him with your palm facing outward and say stay. Walk away, wait a minute, then call the pup to you. Gradually extend the length of time the dog remains in the sitting position. If the pup breaks and runs to you without being called, take him back to the spot where he was originally sitting and start the lesson over again. Never allow your dog to think that staying put is optional. He should remain in place until released.

4. Kennel

This lesson is easy. When putting your pup in his crate, simply say kennel. Once the dog learns to associate this word with entering the friendly confines of his kennel, you can use it when loading him into a vehicle, boat, dog hide, blind, and other such places. The key is to make the crate as attractive as possible from the get-go. You can do this by placing a blanket and a treat inside to entice your puppy to enter it.

5. Heel

Your retriever should be trained to walk at your pace and not drag you down the street. That's the purpose of the heel command. Begin walking with your pup on a lead. He should always be on your left side. When he quickens his pace and pulls ahead, say heel and pull him back toward you with the lead. Repeat this lesson each time he moves ahead of you. If you stop walking, your dog should stop and sit down beside you.

6. No

This command should be used to discourage undesirable behaviors such as chewing on furniture, jumping on people, messing in the house, and similar indiscretions. Be sure to say it loudly and emphatically. Your dog should not have any doubt about what you mean when you say no.


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