"Diversions" and "Cold Blinds" for the Versatile Dog

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

This is our third and final article on the training needed to compete in the NAVHDA Invitational, the championship event for finished versatile dogs in the United States.

Diversions

A diversion is something the dog finds so attractive that he veers toward it rather than continue in the direction he was sent. Typical diversions are the location of marks the dog has already picked up and scent from old falls.

Your dog will be much better prepared to obey you if you use "diversion marks" in your training program. A diversion mark is a mark the dog must first pick up before running a blind. The mark will usually influence the dog's route to the blind, because he will want to return to where he has had success, rather than follow his handler's directions.

When you introduce diversion marks to your dog, the blind you use should be a sight blind, one the dog can see. To set up a sight blind, put out several bumpers in a location where you can run the dog from 150 yards away. Put a large white marker at the pile, so the dog can see it from a distance. We like to use a white plastic bag tied to a stake. This "flag" is easy for the dog to see.

Bring the dog to about 10 yards from the bumper pile, and toss a bumper to it. Send the dog to retrieve. This procedure lets the dog know where the bumpers are. Now have the dog retrieve several more times from the same pile, increasing the distance to the pile by backing up each time. Add 10-20 yards with each repetition.

Use the same blind location in your next session. Repeat the procedure of building distance until your dog can confidently run 150 yards to the blind.

Once the dog is good at remembering the location of the blind, stop using the white flag, and make the transition from a sight blind (one he can see) to a permanent blind (one where he knows the place).

Now your dog is ready to start diversion marks. In your next session, run your permanent blind. Then throw a mark about 45 degrees off to one side of the line to the blind. Send the dog to retrieve the mark and then have him run the permanent blind again. Handle as needed to keep the dog going straight to the blind.

If you handle the dog and he ignores your stop whistle, apply mild electrical stimulation with your collar as you blow your whistle a second time. If your dog doesn't take your cast, shout "NO!" and stop him with the whistle. Let him wait a few moments and then repeat the cast. If he still ignores you, repeat your stop whistle and move up close to the dog before casting again.

Over several sessions, throw marks in different places, but use the same permanent blind. As the dog learns the exercise, you can throw the mark closer to the line to the blind.

When the dog no longer requires handling to pick up the permanent blind after retrieving the mark, establish a different sight blind in a new location. Use the same steps you used to establish the first one, and then run diversion marks off the new blind.

Practicing "cold Blinds"

When a dog is sent to retrieve from a place he has never been before and where there is no visual aid such as a white marker, he is said to be running a "cold blind." Now he must rely on identifying the direction (the "line") he's given by the handler, and adhere to it despite distracting influences. Once sent, he must respond obediently to the whistles and the directional casts used to correct his direction.

When you first start training on cold blinds, make them short (not over 20 yards) and gradually increase the distance over many sessions. Failing to start short and increase distance gradually is among the most common mistakes made by beginners.

Train on cold blinds in several different locations. Set up the blinds so that the dog can learn to run confidently through cover and on different types of terrain.

Even if your dog has trouble with a cold blind, it is rarely useful to repeat that blind in the same session. Once the dog knows where the bird is, asking him to go there again is not the same task from the dog's point of view. After all, it doesn't help a child learn arithmetic to repeat a math problem right after the teacher gave him the answer.

Handling In the Field

The tips in this section will help you and your dog be successful when running "cold" blinds.

  1. Be aware of the wind direction before you send the dog, and handle just to the downwind side of the blind so that the dog can wind the bird and not overrun it.
     
  2. Always be sure you blow your stop whistle loudly. This is especially important if you are downwind of the dog, the dog is moving through heavy cover, or he is galloping in shallow water.
     
  3. When you stop your dog, always wait a few seconds before you give the cast. This gives the dog a chance to concentrate and focus on you. If the dog moves before you cast him, apply mild stimulation as you repeat your stop whistle. Make him wait calmly for your direction. You're leading the team during blind retrieves, not the dog.
     
  4. When giving an "Over" cast, take a couple of steps in the direction you are casting. Dogs will handle much better, especially from a distance, if you provide motion in the right direction.
     
  5. If you are having trouble getting your dog to respond accurately to your casts during training (a very common problem), move up after you've stopped the dog so that you are much closer to him. This increases your influence over the dog. If your dog seems to have a lot of trouble obeying your casts, give him more practice on the Single "T" and Double "T" exercises that were described in the last two parts of this series.
     
  6. Try to cast away from "hazards." Hazards are influences in the field that make your dog veer off line. Sometimes it may seem odd to do this, because a cast away from a hazard may not seem to be the cast toward the bird. But often an "Over" cast is more effective at communicating to a dog how to correct his route than a "Back" cast. Beginning dogs tend to interpret "Back" as permission to continue to go in the direction they were already going.

If you're interested in more ideas for training blind retrieves, you can obtain in-depth information in the book, Tri-Tronics Retriever Training

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