Basic Gundog Training

HVGDC Basic Retriever Level Training Program

Goal: To develop a hunting retriever that has learned and responds quickly to basic but essential obedience commands; that can consistently complete single marked (visible to the dog) retrieves to hand on land or in water; and that understands the concept of quartering and hunting to the front of the hunter in the uplands. This training is intended to provide both the dog and handler a solid foundation of basic experience upon which to build.

Requirements: Owners must be current members of the Helena Valley Gun Dog Club ($35 individual membership). Membership applications are available on the HVGDC website. Before participating in a training program involving other dogs, each dog must have completed their vaccination schedule (usually completed by 16 weeks). It would be preferable if the owner/handler has begun basic obedience work at home. Given that club training sessions will likely occur once per week, the owner must be willing to practice training concepts during the week to see progress in their dogs over the course of the training program.

Training Program: The HVGDC trains at a number of locations in the Helena valley. Training will occur once per week at a designated time and place. Experienced handlers will conduct the training sessions. Training instruction and assistance will be provided as concepts are introduced. Training elements will include, for example, such things as teaching your dog to heel on leash to a spot (line) from which they will retrieve, learning to sit and remain steady in the correct position next to the handler that provides them the best opportunity to view and go to the bumper/bird thrown for them, learning to move directly to the area of the fall and picking up the bumper/bird with minimal direction from the handler, returning directly with the bumper/bird to the handler and delivering the bumper to hand. Complexity is added when bumpers are thrown into heavier cover and when teaching water retrieves. This is a step-wise process designed to help the dog and the handler succeed.
Training Location/Dates/Times: Training sessions will be scheduled for one evening per week (typically Monday or Tuesday evening) and will extend for approximately 6 – 8 weeks. **Specific details of location/dates and times will be posted as soon as they are determined.

Fundamental Obedience and Retrieving Concepts:

Reinforcement of Obedience Commands (Objective – Establish consistent response to basic commands)

  • On Leash – Sit, stay, come and heel in the “yard”
  • On Leash – Sit, stay, come and heel in the “field” with distractions
  • On Leash with Whistle (duplicating voice commands where appropriate)
  • On Leash with “place-based” station (mat, rug, covered board, etc.)
  • Introduction to the crate, loading and unloading from a vehicle
  • Responding to basic commands in the presence of other dogs (leashed) and other handlers

Introduction to Retrieving (Objective – Establish quick, direct line to the bird and a direct retrieve to handler, holding the “bird” until taken by handler)

  • Drills for single “marked” (visible) retrieves begin with dog on lead
  • At Home – Play retrieves with tennis ball, etc. teaching the concept of returning to handler with object and releasing it. Controlled setting. Limit 2x per session.
  • In the Field – (to include introduction of another person throwing bumper, use of duck call to get dog’s attention, introduction to gun (shot))
  • Introduce retrieving bumper, then frozen pigeons, then fresh pigeons and then ducks
  • Introduction to being steady (with leash) – only retrieving upon command
    Introduction to cover/distance in the retrieve – beginning with open fields and minimal cover over short distances extending to more “cover” and/or obstacles and longer distances
  • Introduction to shallow “ running” water (with warm temps) and then extending to short retrieves in “swimming” water

Introduction to Upland Hunting (Objective – teaching the dog to consistently hunt to the front of the gun (handler) and remain within reasonable “shooting” distance)

Reference Books/On-line Training DVDs:

  • Training Retrievers for Marshes and Meadows – Jim Spencer
  • 10-Minute Retriever – Amy Dahl
  • SmartWorks Retriever – Evan Graham
  • Water Dog, and Game Dog – Richard Wolters


  • HVGDC President – Jeff Herbert
  • HVGDC Secretary – Jerry Hoover
  • HVGDC Instructor – Lisa Noble
  • HVGDC Instructor – Nola Synness