Dakota Dog: Dakota Sport Retriever Breed Information and Facts


The Dakota region of the U.S. offers wingshooters unbelievable opportunities for shooting sports. Excellent waterfowling in the pothole regions, pheasants, and a regional population of grouse and prairie chukars await the hunter and their gundogs. It is a true “sportsman’s paradise” to steal a slogan from another more Southern sporting state justifiably.

The retriever and pointing dog enthusiast find the Dakotas a splendid place to hunt over their dogs in challenging environments in pursuit of a variety of games. One can hunt ducks in the morning, pheasants in the evening, and the following day go after geese. On our trip out this year just north of Mitchell, South Dakota, we even took in an afternoon of rabbit shooting to collect a bit of game for the evening table. Many unsuspecting hunters in our party were quite surprised when Drake, Whiskey, and a client’s dog, Cole, picked rabbit with equal proficiency and enthusiasm as they had pheasants that same day.

This is the first article in a series titled Dakota Dog. We will examine how to prepare the retriever and flushing dog to meet the challenges of this particular area of our country, the Dakotas. My purpose is to pinpoint some specific training that will benefit you and your dog on a Dakota bird-hunting trip in pursuit of a variety of games. The concluding article will coincide with the Wildrose Upland Hunting Dog Training Course to be held in Oxford on February 25 and 26, 2006.

Prairie pothole retrievers:

The water environment famous for producing and holding ducks in the Dakotas is known as the prairie pothole region, which extends well into Canada. These small bodies of water actually offer minimal challenges for the average water dog as long as the bird is dead on the open water. The retrieval will be short. The challenges for the retriever are high winds, multiple falls, ice, and, of course, the thick cover that encircles most of these ponds.

Ice is a complex and dangerous factor. Thin ice presents the danger of the dog falling through. Some dogs need to gain the experience of ice breaking, that is, breaking a trail through sheets of surface ice. Others may be put off by working across the frozen surface itself. In all cases, a thermal water vest is advisable for the retriever, and some pre-hunt training in icy waters is advisable.

The real challenge reeds:

The difficulties of retrieves in many Dakota ponds, lakes, and wetlands lie in the thick, fallen, and entangled cattail reeds and water grasses, which often surround the potholes. These dried reeds stand over six feet tall and cover a vast space from the water’s edge to open areas of the bank. In winter, wind and ice cause some of the reeds to fall and become matted on the water’s surface, even frozen. It is challenging terrain for a dog to locate a wounded bird, which is swimming and diving about, determined to elude the dog.

Another problem associated with this type of thick cover at the water’s edge is that a retriever may well lose the line to a dropped bird, which falls beyond the stands of cattails. The dog swims across the open water, enters the thick growth, and loses his line and visuals on the handler. The bird has fallen well beyond the reeds into open fields. It takes a good lining dog to stay focused on the mark and drive through the entanglements for a successful retrieve.

In addition, a bird that falls directly into the thick cattails may be a challenge to mark. Depth perception of the fall area may be minimized, and again, there is no visual of the dog for handling corrections. A successful Dakota dog must be prepared to meet all of these challenges.


The key is preparation. First, try to find the opportunity to train in icy conditions in a shallow area of the pond well before an actual hunting trip to the prairie potholes. Stay away from deep water with surface ice at first to prevent an inexperienced dog from falling through. The first time your retriever experiences an icy surface should not be on an actual hunt. We Southerners must seize any opportunity to involve ice or snow in our training. Our dogs only see these conditions sometimes.

Hunting in and driving through thick cover at the water’s edge must also be practiced. Not all birds are found in open water. When conducting water drills, include thick grasses as tall as possible, waterweeds, and woody debris at the water’s edge.

First, be sure your dog will drive straight through this thick cover. Marks should require the dog to cross open water, punch straight through thick cover at the water’s edge, and then line across open ground (both grasses and plowed fields) to locate the mark. It’s essential to teach the dog to blaze through the border cover first before too much time in training is spent hunting in the cover.

The pothole retriever:

The pothole region is a beautiful place to duck hunt with a retriever. In fact, birds will only be recovered if you have a game-finding retriever along. Before your Dakota adventures begin with your retriever, be sure to:

  • Acclimate the dog to frozen water conditions.
  • Train for proficient lining through and beyond dense cover across the water to pick birds that fall in fields beyond the water’s edge.
  • Develop the dog’s hunting skills in thick cover out of sight of the handler and across the water (self-reliance).
  • The dog must maintain its focus long enough to comprehend multiple marks that may occur almost simultaneously. The dog must line up and handle the bird you select and not be distracted by short birds still on the water.

I am confident that these tips will prove beneficial in a variety of waterfowl hunting situations, but they surely will be put to the test in the Dakotas. These are the first steps among many in the development of a tremendous multipurpose Dakota dog.

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