A straight line from A to B might seem obvious to us, but it’s not at all as obvious to the dog. Particularly in hilly terrain or if there are obstacles such as fences, fallen trees or brushwood in the way. Running straight across a football field or along a path isn’t that hard, but running straight across a clear-cut area, a creek or cutting across a path is a lot more difficult. This is why we like to include obstacles and shifts in the terrain into the casting training as early as possible.
When Åsa and I were in England a while ago, this was exactly what we worked on. We had the great fortune to be in a place that was created for dog training, so the obstacles were made in a way that made it difficult for the dog to run around them and in other words easier for us to get many repetitions of the correct behaviour. We began close to the obstacle and then back chained the line, obstacle by obstacle. The final skill was a straight line over five obstacles: jumping over a sheep fence with overlays, another sheep fence with overlays, then a sheep fence without overlays, another sheep fence without overlays and finally a wall. The sheep fence was made into small round enclosures, so we could stand inside them and teach the dogs to jump in and out. That’s what we started out with in order to get them used to jumping over the fence. We don’t see fences as often back home in Sweden, so the dogs weren’t used to them. They learnt quickly though!
We began by throwing a mark over a wall and letting the dog retrieve it. We then threw an object to the same spot and climbed over the first fence with the dog, before sending it over that fence and across the wall to retrieve the object. We continued in this fashion until we had cleared all the obstacles with the dog and the dog had retrieved the object from all distances. In order to make it a bit more challenging, we sometimes threw the object without letting the dogs see it. They had to trust that there would be something there to retrieve, even if they had been there before.
Here’s a video showing the training:
Of course, the final goal is for the dog to be able to do a blind retrieve and clear all the obstacles. The training steps that we most often use for this are:
- Show the dog that there’s something there:
- Take the dog out to the spot and place the object (the object can of course be exchanged for a food bowl).
- Place an object so that the dog sees it (or let your helper make a little noise when the object is placed).
- Do a marked retrieve, and then a blind retrieve to the same spot (without the dog watching something new being placed out).
- Do a marked retrieve, but then wait a little bit before sending the dog on a blind retrieve (memory retrieve).
- Return to the same place the following day and send the dog on a blind retrieve.
- Try a blind retrieve in a new place.
We make sure to vary ONE of the following things at a time:
- Difficulty (i.e. how ”hidden” the spot is to the dog – when increasing the distance we often create a stronger memory for the dog and let it run quite far, but we choose to work at a shorter distance when doing blind retrieves – everything matched after the dog’s skill level, making sure that it succeeds four out of five times.)
Naturally, we then do the same thing when directing the dog to the right, left and back, so that everything works even with obstacles in the way. So next time you’re going to be working on your casting skills – find the most difficult path you can and try back chaining it into one long straight line!