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Robert Duck walked up to the starting line, placed his pet duck, B.F.D. Express, in front of the 16-foot-long, caged-in racing lane and waited. "On your mark!" said the starter. "Get set!"
The bugle blasted.
Duck, 32, tickled B.F.D. Express' ribs, shoved him over the starting line and watched him waddle down the lane.
This was the final of last August's Great American Duck Race in Deming, N.M. Duck and duck had been training for months, waiting for this very moment—when B.F.D. Express would have the chance to beat out 450 web-footed friends from all over the country for the title of World's Fastest Duck.
Duck, who runs a wholesale jewelry business in Albuquerque, had begun racing his ducks only a year before. "I heard about the races on the radio," he says. "Since my last name is Duck, I kept a couple of ducks in the backyard. I'm of a competitive nature anyway, so I decided to train them for the races." His ducks worked hard for the 1980 race, and though they had only six weeks to get ready, one of them, Lloyd the Duck, finished third out of a field of 186.
In 1981 Duck got together an all-new racing team and installed a more sophisticated training regimen. "My wife, Kathy, and I used to train obedience dogs," says Duck. "It's surprising how that transfers to training ducks. You have to stand back and look at the situation and ask, 'What would make a duck or a dog want to do this?' Once you analyze the problem and break it down, you can develop a program.
"We first tried using food to get the ducks to respond, but a duck doesn't want to eat under these conditions. The primary thing on a duck's mind is that he wants to get away."
This invaluable info formed the basis of Duck's training program. He built a 25-foot run in his backyard. The lane was covered with wire mesh to keep the birds on the right track, and the far end was closed to keep them from escaping during a workout.
The birds would sprint down the lane to get away from Duck, bounce off the closed end and waddle around dazed for a moment. It wasn't long before they figured out it was better to stop before reaching the end. As a result, their times became slower.
Duck overcame this by opening the end of the track so the ducks could run straight out into the backyard. Now each time one of them sprinted to the far end, it would get its freedom for the day. This idea caught on quickly with the fowl, which are domestic ducks and unable to fly. Soon they were running faster than last year's racers.