3 Tips to Improve Your Retrievers
During a recent Arkansas hunt, my buddy and I were finishing our limits of mallards and leaving the hole so it could rest and be hunted the next day. I couldn't help but think to myself, while watching mallards keep pouring in, what if we didn't have a dog or even a well trained dog? We would still be out there trying to run down cripples, walk a mile out of the way to cross a ditch that our last bird sailed over, and most importantly, we would have kept running the ducks out. Several times on this hunt I watched my dog execute multiple marked retrieves, tough blind retrieves, and stick with crippled birds! I also recalled the times I've watched guys out in the decoys trying to help their dogs while birds were coming in.
Too many times people get in ruts while training their dog and don't realize it. I mean, hey, everything is going good so why change things up? Well, in the retriever world, there are no rules to judge if your dog is getting better or worse. So next time you are out training with your dog, try and think outside the box! Challenge your dog and yourself!
What is a no-no drill? It's a drill designed to train your dog to take the straightest line to the bird, no matter what is in their way. Whether it's a piece of water, thick cover, downed logs, etc. we want our retrievers to take the most direct route to the bird.
All you need for this drill is an object for your dog to cross over (hay bales, logs, etc) and a hand full of bumpers. Remember, just like in other drills, our objective is to show the dog the right way first. Begin by walking the dog up to the obstruction and cross it a few times with him at heel. We want the dog to be comfortable first when they are crossing the obstruction. After we have done that a few times, take the bumpers and make a pile behind the obstruction so that it is very easy for the dog to find. Walk back to your dog and position yourself so that you are merely inches from the obstruction and toss a bumper into the pile. Send your dog on its name the first time, then use the command 'Back' for subsequent sends. We want the dog to go and come back across the obstruction. By being really close to the obstruction during the first few retrieves, we give the dog a better chance to succeed. With young dogs I tend to hook them up to a check cord for added control. Like any other drill, after a few good repetitions, we want to back up and make it more challenging. When the dog does try to avoid the obstruction, we simply use the commands, No, Here, and step up closer for success. During the first few sessions I don't use any pressure and I simplify whenever the dog seems confused. After the dog shows me they understand the drill, I will begin to challenge them. If we are successful on 4-5 sends at 10 yards from the obstruction, I back up to 15 yards and so on. You can start using light nicks with the e-collar for avoiding the obstruction, but only when you believe that your dog fully understands the drill. If there is confusion, walk up, and simplify. Be creative! Add more obstructions in the line to the pile. This drill has no end to it. The further your progress the better you and your gun dog will be in the field!
Marks and Blinds
Countless times I have had people come and train and they explain how their dog is a great marking dog and can run 400 yards blinds. The look on their face is priceless when their dog struggles with a 75 yard mark that was strategically placed in the middle of a patch of cover or they can't get their dog to finish the last 5 yards of the blind because the dog doesn't want to get near the base of a tree. It's usually the same story from all of them, "He doesn't do this at home." My response is simple, "you're not challenging your dog." Yes, it is great to watch your gun dog go out and step on every mark and line every blind he is sent on, but if that is the case, are you doing him any justice? If you never step outside your comfort zone, and start challenging them on a daily basis, you and your dog will never get better.
Whether it's a mark or blind retrieve, bird placement is imperative for challenging your dog. Next time you get to your training grounds and you're trying to decide on your setup, think of spots where dogs wouldn't naturally go. That should be where your marks should fall. I like to place birds in ditches, patches of cover, right up against a tree, or through an old fall. In a real hunting scenario, it's difficult to get all the birds to land belly up in open water, so why train that way? Same goes with blind retrieves, place the blind where you can incorporate as many factors as possible. It's best to set up one blind with many factors than many blinds with few factors. Again, think outside of the box and challenge your gun dog!
This is probably the most difficult because not everyone has access to thousands of acres of training grounds, so do the best with what you have. Try to rotate the training grounds you have and run from different positions in the field each time you go. Running the same areas on a daily or even weekly basis will become more of a pattern field. You can only do so much with a piece of property before you're doing the same mark and blind. By mixing up as many training grounds as possible, you will teach your dog to be comfortable with running in many different types of terrain.
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