Copper State Hunting Retriever Club

Dedicated to preserving the hunting instincts of retrievers

Hunting Retrievers

Hunting Retrievers are a category of the versatile Sporting Dog group that find and return downed game, and are sometimes used to flush upland game from deep cover. Some dog breeds have physical characteristics that make them well suited for various specialties. Labrador retrievers for example, have a water-repellent coat and webbed feet, making them ideal for retrieving downed waterfowl in cold, wet conditions.  


There are a variety of skills that are often desired in a hunting retriever, and are often the focus of training for these dogs. Some of those skills include:

• Remain steady and under control: Remaining under control by sitting calmly and quietly until sent helps to avoid an accidental boat capsizing, disrupting the hunters aim, and is essential for the safety of other hunters and the dog itself. A dog that is under control is also better able to mark game.

• Mark downed game: Marking is the process of watching for a falling bird in order to help retrieve. When the command "mark" is given the dog should look up for incoming birds and remember where each bird falls.

• Perform Marked, and Blind Retrieves: Retrieving a “Mark” is the act of bringing back a bird, that the dog sees fall.  For cases where the dog does not see the game fall, and does not know where it lands, retrievers are trained to take hand, voice and whistle commands from the handler directing the dog to the downed game for retrieval. This is called a blind retrieve.

• Retrieve to Hand: Once the dog has completed the retrieve it will gently but firmly hold the bird until commanded to release it to the handlers’ hand.

• Flushing:  Often used to hunt upland birds, this is the process where the dog will "scare up" the game from its hiding place within deep cover.

• Quartering: A technique where the dog sweeps a selected portion of the field in a methodical, zigzag, pattern, in order to locate game to be flushed.

• Remain Steady to Wing and Shot: When hunting upland birds, the flushing retriever should sit still when a bird rises. This will help mark the fall, avoid flushing other birds, as well as keep them safe while the hunter takes aim.

• Shake: While many non-hunting retrievers are trained to place their paw in the hand of it owner, as if shaking their hand, this is not how this command is used by hunting retrievers.  In this case, a dog that returns from a water retrieve will not shake off excess water from its fur until commanded.

Desired Traits

• Biddableness (biddable): The dog’s level of intelligence, controllability and openness to learning.

• Desire & Drive: This trait covers a broad range of behaviors.  Most notably the dog will demonstrate the desire to retrieve even in the presence of various obstacles.  Many handlers also look for a “desire to please” their owner, as it is sometimes considered a level of “trainability” of a dog.

• Memory and vision: Good eyesight and depth perception are very important to marking game. Remembering where a bird falls is also critical to being able to retrieve the mark.

• Nose: Dogs are led primarily by their nose, and a good retriever will use its nose to hone in on game in heavy cover. This is useful in both retrieving and flushing.

• Soft-mouth: A soft mouthed dog will pick up and hold game softly but firmly on the retrieve. Dogs that unnecessarily drop birds, crunch on, chew or even eat the bird before delivery to the handler are considered hard-mouthed.

• Hardiness: Field work can be done in a wide variety of locations and conditions from thick timber, to cold ponds and lakes.  The dogs’ ability to handle the varieties of environmental extremes is a must.


Labrador Retrievers

Golden Retrievers


Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Flat Coat Retriever


Curly Coat Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever


Standard Poodle