The difference between an easy marked retrieve and a difficult blind retrieve
Last summer when we were in England at Philippa William’s Castleman’s gun dogs & Dogs for Life’s summer camp we got good advice on how to train heelwork. Among other things, we trained the dog to follow our left leg. If we teach our dog to follow our left leg almost regardless of how we move, we have a much greater chance to help the dog to learn heelwork and to control what the dog can see. That might be the difference between a marked retrieve and a blind retrieve – if I turn around and the dog does not follow me she might miss the marked retrieve and instead of sending the dog on an quite easy marked retrieve I may have to direct the dog to a difficult blind retrieve.
We started practicing “on the lawn at home” by walking on a line, turn around and gradually shape the dog to follow our left leg faster and faster. A few days later we were out doing walk ups in the deer park, and then the retrieves landed sometimes in front of us and sometimes behind us – so we had the opportunity to practice this in “real life”.
To turn around is necessary when you walk on a line, but also on field trials and working tests, you need to turn in different directions before you send your dog on a blind retrieve, for example. It is usually more difficult to turn to the left, because then the dog has to move away from the handler (which may be difficult for a dog that is very excited and walks a little in front of the handler), so you might need to add some extra training on left turns. Moreover, it looks a lot nicer and more organized if you can send your dog in the right direction quickly instead of stumbling over the dog or if the dog doesn’t sit straight.
If you have trained obedience with your dog and already have taught her to turn on the spot you have a very good basis for this behavior. It might take quite some time for a big dog to learn to control her hind legs (that is the dog needs to understand that it is the hind legs she needs to move) and that’s why we start training this early with our puppies. In the beginning we use a “block” and teach the dog to put her forepaws on top of it so that they are in the same place all the time and then the dog moves the backside around the front part. Here is a short film that shows you how to teach the dog this behavior: (unfortunately not with text in English) http://www.canis.se/film.php?filmid=62