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Samantha Erkkila column: Am I messing up this hunting dog?

Five months into having our Labrador retriever puppy, I'm questioning every move I make in training this future duck dog.

Eddie, a five-month-old Labrador retriever, fetches a plastic bumper in Chub Lake in Carlton on May 1, 2021. The warm spring day was the puppy's first experience retrieving in the water. (Samantha Erkkila/serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Raising a hunting dog is like raising a human child. Everyone has an opinion on how to do it best.

Read this book. Buy this food. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.

As a new parent three years ago, I found myself Googling various topics late at night. “How long does the four-month sleep regression last?” “How do you treat a diaper rash?”

Now five months into having our first Labrador retriever puppy, I find myself in hunting forums after my child is asleep looking for answers to my questions about how to raise a duck dog. “Is it normal for my Lab to eat super fast?” “How should we introduce him to the sound of gunshots?”


Eddie retrieves a plastic bumper from Chub Lake in Carlton on May 1, 2021. (Samantha Erkkila/serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Prior to Eddie, our family had a high-energy husky mix that I wouldn’t say was the most well-trained dog in the world, but he did the basics. He came when called, he sat (mostly for treats), and he was house trained. Now with our black Lab, I get this overwhelming feeling that I’m doing everything wrong.

House training went pretty smoothly, considering we got him in the dead of winter. He comes when called, most of the time. He sits and stays. He retrieves the bumper and brings it back. As a puppy he does all of the basics our last adult dog learned over the course of a few years and yet I still feel like I’m failing at raising a hunting dog.

Maybe it’s because of all the internet courses I see advertising training programs that say, “No one wants to end up with a dog that’s mediocre at best.” And, “No one sets out to have THAT dog. But … all too often that’s what ends up happening.”

I’m not much of a duck hunter — that’s more of my husband’s thing — but I am home with the dog most of the day so I feel a responsibility for not messing him up.

Eddie, a five-month-old Labrador retriever, brings back a toy after a quick lunchtime training session in late April. (Samantha Erkkila / serkkila@duluthnews.com)

We stick to the common, and very repetitive, commands. “Sit! Stay! Get it! Come! Down! Sit! Drop it! Good boy!” Treat crumbs gather in the corners of pockets in every jacket I own and duck decoys litter the yard as diversions for him as he retrieves his bumper.


I consciously think about leaving him in his crate for periods of time throughout the day to avoid separation anxiety, a trait that’s probably not preferred in a duck dog. We socialize him with neighbor dogs and neighbor kids.

And still, I question, “Am I messing up this hunting dog?”

Eddie, a 5-month-old Labrador retriever, swims back to shore after fetching a plastic bumper in Chub Lake in Carlton on May 1, 2021. (Samantha Erkkila/serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Whenever those thoughts creep in, I remember what our wise breeder said the day we picked out our Eddie from the rest of the litter. “You can make any dog excited to hunt a few months out of the year,” she said. “But you’ll be living with him for the rest of the year.”

She’s right. He’s our family dog first and a hunting dog second.

He’s needed as a companion to our daughter as she runs around the yard. He’s needed to keep me company when I work from home. He’s needed for snuggles after a long weekend at the hunting shack. And yes, he’s needed in the duck blind, too, but to me those skills are just a bonus.


Labrador retriever puppy, Eddie, relaxes in the sun after a training session in late April. (Samantha Erkkila/serkkila@duluthnews.com)

Samantha Erkkila is a digital content producer at the News Tribune. You can reach her at serkkila@duluthnews.com.

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Samantha Erkkila

Samantha Erkkila is a former digital content producer for the Duluth News Tribune.
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