For a retriever to proceed in the proper direction when sent for a retrieve is an all-important skill for a retriever. On a simple marked retrieve, the dog performs this task on its own. The dog has seen the flight of the bird and knows exactly where it is going. The dog will proceed to the fall area and return with the shot bird.
However, when the retrieve is more complicated such as with a memory bird, a blind retrieve, or a retrieve where hazards may be involved along the way the dog may deviate from the initial line to the bird. At that point the dog’s ability to take an initial line and hold the line becomes ever important.
For you as a trainer, teaching a dog the skill of lining can be divided into two projects:
• • •
First: Teaching “Initial Lining” (roughly defined as the dog going straight for the first 20 yards.)
Second: “Holding a line” (which means for the dog to continue on that line without deviation.)
Third: "Stopping on the whistle and taking directional casts to retrieve the bird it has not seen fall."
In helping you to prepare for the process of running your first Season Class blind we will begin with proper alignment drills. These drill will become the basis of all alignment needed for difficult marks and blinds.
When beginning these drills the training equipment will require a training collar, a leash, and a rattle stick or rolled-up newspaper.
1. The first drill will be the act of walking in a straight line at “Heel” without the dog forging ahead. You will require the dog to start and stop with you and remain in the proper heel position throughout the exercise.
2. The second drill will be the act of turning both left and right with you dog while remaining in the heel position. For those of you that heel you dogs on the left side, begin your turns by turning left only. This act of turning left will teach the dog to lag back to avoid you running into the dog each time you make a turn. For those heeling your dog on the right, you would begin this drill with your right hand turns.
3. The third heeling drill would be that of backward or reverse heeling. For those heeling your dog on the left you would begin against a wall or fence with your dog placed at heel between you and the fence. You would command “Heel” and slowly put pressure on the leach as you encourage the dog to back-up. Tapping the ground in front of the dogs front feet with either a rattle stick or a rolled up news paper will help the dog to perform this act. You are looking for the dog to move straight back only a few feet - not to walk around the block backwards. Remember here that we are teaching proper alignment drills.
4. The last drill for this secession will be the “One-Step Drill”.
(Step-1) First, you will begin again with the dog properly sitting in the heel position facing forward. You will now command “Stay” and the take one step forward while the dog remains stationary. Next, you will call the dog to heel and the dog should join you in the proper heel position.
(Step-2) You will now again command “Stay” and this time take one step to the right away from the dog. You will now again command “Heel” and with the help of the leash guide the dog into the proper heel position.
(Step-3) To continue you will again command “Stay” and this time take one step forward but in addition you will pivot on your left foot and turn to face the dog. From this position you will again command “Heel” and again with the help of the leash guide the dog into the proper heel position. This can be a little tricky at first, but with practice you will manage.
(Step-4) This step is sometimes the most challenging of all the “One-Step Drills”. This time you will again command “Stay” and you will take one step backwards. Many times the dog will have trouble with the “Stay” command because they don’t care for someone standing directly behind them.
Once you are in the proper position again command “Heel” and again guide the dog straight back into the proper position. Remember we are looking for the dog to move straight back not to turn around to achieve this position.
Just like all things in dog training, we are breaking the lessons down into its smallest elements. I like to call these building blocks. Without putting together a program that has all the necessary tools for success, those missing links can cause all kinds of problems in the future in the form of bad habits.
As we proceed with these building blocks necessary for a solid dog capable of running difficult blinds you will be able to see how each block will fall into place.
Additional lessons will include:
Platform Casting Drills
Bumper Casting Drills (Baseball)
Flag Extended Lining Drills
4-8 bumper Lining Drills (Wagon Wheel)
Modified “T” Pattern Drills
Obstacle Training Drills
Water “T” Pattern Drills
Water Casting Drills
Water Swim-by Drills
Many of these drills can be done in combination, but none can be achieved with consistency
without the proper sequence and skills needed. Trying to run a cold blind with a dog that does not have proper alignment drills in place would be counterproductive.
In every one of the drills above, the dog must be headed in the proper direction first before advancement can take place. For example, when performing a simple 4-bumper lining drill where the distances are short and the cover is low, the dog’s ability to leave the handler’s side in a straight direction is improved by the dog's ability to see the bumpers located on the ground. If the cover had been such a height that it would actually hide the bumpers, the dog's proper alignment will provide the first step in success for the dog.
I have been through the old ways of teaching blinds and I feel these methods have proven success. For example, I once came to a test with a poison bird sitting some ten-yards to the left. The test was to “No” the dog off of this poison bird and then run a blind up the middle of a pond. Well, I was able to turn the dog’s head and look down the pond, but as soon as I cast the dog this dog jumped into the water and headed for that poison bird. At that time, I had no way of the dog signaling back to me its intentions. At the time all I had was the dog's head movement and that is not enough.
Through these drills, you will learn to read those signals back from your dog each time you proceed through your sequence of running a blind. When you are then confronted with this same poison bird situation you will know exactly where your dog will be going as he will give you the proper signal back.
I hope you will all take advantage of these drills to improve your dog's performance.
REMEMBER: “You Drive the Bus!!!”