Learning Pile Work with your Gun Dog
Pro Staff team member, Rick Rokjer of Locust Ridge Retrievers, gave me an inside look at how he begins to teach his dogs pile work. Like anything else in training, having a solid foundation is essential. Rick explains, "pile work is about putting together all of the mechanics that you've taught your retriever; force fetching, coming into to the heel position, and delivering to hand are essential before you begin pile work. You are laying the foundation for a new skill, the blind retrieve."
Rick places three to five white bumpers in a line with a foot or more of separation between them. The space between the bumpers will decrease the likelihood of "shopping." Shopping is when your retriever is at a pile of bumpers and selects the one they want after careful deliberation. This behavior is unwanted, so it's best to not allow it from the beginning. Rick then begins about six feet from the first bumper. He places the dog in the heel position and identifies the "pile" by tossing a bumper to the closest bumper in the line. He releases the dog on FETCH. Once the dog has returned with the first bumper, and has delivered to hand, Rick then lines the dog up to the pile and commands FETCH again. Rick emphasizes, "you are looking for the dog to go to the bumper enthusiastically and return to you quickly. You can reinforce any refusals with a repeat of the Fetch command accompanied with an ear pinch."
This is a trained retrieve. Repeat this drill for a few sessions until the dog is proficient. As the dog becomes confident, you can increase the number of bumpers as well as the distance to the pile. As Rick moves through this advancement, he changes the command he gives the dog. He explained, "I start with "FETCH" because the dog has learned what that means through force fetching. After a few sessions, I start saying "FETCH, BACK" and finally, "BACK." This verbal command transition takes place over several sessions and prepares the dog for blind retrieves.
Stay tuned as Rick brings us great information on Force to Pile in our Pile Work Volume Two!
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