Retrieving in the Field

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

Many pointing dog sports require the dog to retrieve. In the last article we covered the "trained retrieve" -- teaching your dog to hold, carry and deliver. After you have taught your dog the "trained retrieve," you can advance its skill by teaching it a quick pick-up and a prompt return--definitely important skills to have in timed events. Now you will also be able to advance your dog's retrieving skills in the field by developing its marking ability and teaching it how to locate shot birds it did not see fall.

Teaching a quick pick-up and prompt return

To teach a quick pick-up, begin by spreading several dummies that vary in color about 18 inches apart and 30 feet from the dog. Throw another dummy to the pile as the dog watches, and then send the dog. If the dog goes to the dummies, picks one up and then starts to investigate or switches to another, immediately reinforce the "Here" command with your Tri-Tronics collar. Don't worry if this surprises the dog and it drops the dummy before returning to you. This won't become a habit. Just walk out, pick up the dummies and move them to a new place. Then repeat the procedure in the new location.

After reinforcing the "Here" command a few times when the dog tries to switch, it won't be necessary to use the collar. Just command "Here." From now on, if the dog is slow in picking up a dummy or bird, an authoritative "Here" is the only reminder that will be necessary to cause the dog to pick it up promptly.

To develop a prompt return, reinforce your "Here" command with the collar whenever the dog picks up the bird but then makes a wide loop instead of immediately returning directly to you. Also, reinforce the "Here" command whenever the dog retrieves but runs right past you instead of stopping to deliver the bird.

Developing Marking Ability

When developing the dog's marking ability, gradually increase the distance from the dog to the fall. A dummy launcher with light loads can help you increase the distance to the marks.

Be sure that most of the marks are directly downwind from the dog (the wind to your back when you send the dog). Throwing most of your marks downwind will encourage the dog to use its eyes and develop depth perception. Too many crosswind marks will cause the dog to develop the habit of fading with the wind to find its marks, and it will learn to rely just on its nose instead of using its eyes and memory to go directly to the area where the bird fell. Then when there isn't any wind and the scenting conditions are poor, such a dog will have a much harder time finding the bird compared to the dog that has learned to rely on its eyes and remember where the bird went down.

Teaching the dog the Meaning of "Hunt close"

If you just got your pup, you can get a head start by teaching it to hunt for slices of hot dog scattered in your vicinity. You will be amazed at how quickly a pup will learn what "Hunt close" means by using this technique.

To teach an older dog a "Hunt close" command, "salt" an area with several dead birds. Give your "Hunt close" command just as you walk the dog into the salted area, and encourage the dog to hunt close to you as you slowly walk through the area. If you have salted the area with plenty of birds, the dog will find one near you shortly after it hears the command, and will learn this game quickly.

Teaching the dog the Meaning of "Dead Bird"

You can easily teach the dog to go in a particular direction when you send it by practicing the "wagon wheel drill." Place a pile of dummies at the end of four imaginary spokes of a wagon wheel, as shown in the illustration. Throw the dummies about 15 feet from the center. At first, let the dog watch as you throw a dummy to each pile, so it knows where the piles are.

Stand in the center of the "wheel" with your dog, say "Dead bird," and then send it to retrieve from one of the dummy piles. Place the dummy it just retrieved in your game vest before you send the dog to another pile. Each time say "Dead bird" just before you send the dog, so it will learn to believe there is something to retrieve even if it doesn't see it. Send the dog to a different pile each time, working your way around the "wheel."

If the dog tries to go to the wrong pile, stop it with "No!" and call it back to you before it can retrieve. Then walk the dog half way to the correct pile and send it again. Praise the dog when it retrieves from the correct pile.

When the dog becomes good at taking your direction, you can make the drill more challenging by placing some of the dummy piles on the far side of a small creek or ditch. For additional challenge throw each dummy back to the pile it came from after each retrieve, and then send the dog to retrieve from a different pile.

Some pointing dog sports require more difficult blind retrieves. We suggest that trainers of versatile hunting dogs read the book Tri-Tronics Retriever Training for more in-depth information.

First Appeared In:
Pointing Dog Journal
July/August 1994

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