Training Gold

By Spider Rybaak

Gary and Kelsey.

Gary Fischer has been hunting birds for over 60 years. He’s been training dogs to retrieve for that long, too. He learned both from a beagle.

“When I was growing up,” explains the Central Square native, “I loved to hunt. But I didn’t know much about it. I didn’t know much about dogs, either. One day my beagle follows me into the field…and he knew a lot about both.”

Since then, Gary’s trained five golden retrievers, two Brittany spaniels and two pointers. As you can probably tell, he doesn’t do it professionally. Rather, he takes the family pet out, and, with a patience that would make Mother Teresa proud, teaches the pooch everything it needs to know to be his most valuable hunting asset…after his gun, of course.

“You have to start ‘em out immediately,” says Fischer. “In fact, breeders start the first step in the process, called socializing, by exposing the dog to people and different situations like playing with balls, chasing sticks and stuff.”

According to Fischer, the best time to pick up the puppy is when it’s about 7 to 8 weeks old. After you get to know and trust each other, you start training.

Fischer advises you field train 5 times a week—“don’t let the dog get bored”—and “obedience train” every day for about 10 minutes. “Repetition…repetition…repetition…,” he adds.

Fischer’s latest trainee is nine-month-old Kelsey. A golden retriever, she’s been studying under the master for about six months. Typically, class starts out in the fields on the north shore of Oneida Lake, followed by a little water work in an adjoining swamp.

On the day we go, Gary’s doing remedial work; something he calls breaking her to the shot.

“She’s not holding when the gun goes off or when she sees the game,” says Fisher. “When a pheasant flushes or a duck flies into range, you want the dog to stay put, giving you a clear shot. If she jumps into the picture prematurely, she can get shot, scare off a second bird…a lot can happen. Secondly, you want the dog to stay put so it can see everything that’s happening,” he adds.

Arriving at the field, Kelsey’s anticipating everything, proving dogs have imagination. As Gary’s showing me how to insert the dummy onto the barrel of the launcher (it’s attached to a cylinder that fires a blank 22 cartridge; gas propels the dummy), Kelsey practically knocks me down trying to get at the thing. As they head out into the bush, she’s jumping at his every move, even before he gives me the hand signal to launch.

His first sign is for me to fire a simple blank.

Hearing the report, Kelsey tugs at the leash, trying to jump at her imaginary bird. Gary keeps her put.

Next, he signals me to launch a dummy.

This time Kelsey is surprisingly calm. Gary issues gentle commands for her to hold and she stays put. When he says “out,” she takes off like someone fired a rocket under her butt and heads right for the spot in the grass where the dummy hit, mouths it and returns to her master.

After several more practice runs in the field, we head for a swamp. I launch 4 dummies and Kelsey retrieves each one immediately upon command. Surprisingly, I feel proud of her—so does Gary.

“OK, Spider, she can hunt. Let’s call it quits.”

We head back for the truck; each of us salivating over the thought of duck season being just around the corner.

Fischer offers the following advice:

Any good working retriever can make a great family dog; most family dogs will not make good hunting dogs.

If you’re thinking of getting a pup, get it from a breeder with proven credentials like hunt test titles and field trial points. Mexico, NY’s Adirondac Goldens (, has a national reputation for breeding truly great dogs.

For additional information, check out the Finger Lakes Retriever Club ( and The Golden Retriever Club of Central New York (

Good places to train your dog in Oswego County include:

Three Mile Bay/Big Bay Wildlife Management Area, Toad Harbor Road (off NY 49), West Monroe;
Happy Valley WMA, NY 104 (between CR 22 and NY 13), Town of Parish;
Deer Creek WMA, NY 3, two miles north of Port Ontario.

Oswego County’s Fishing and Hunting Guide contains a map showing the locations of these and several more state forests and WMAs:

Fischer loading a dummy on the launcher.
Kelsey locating the dummy.
Delivering the dummy.