Training in a rigged hunting situation

Diesel on her way back with a dummy.
Diesel on her way back with a dummy.

When we were in England a couple of years ago, we did set up a driven shoot with dummies, which means that we rigged a hunting situation. The difference between this training and a walk up – when handlers and dogs on a line flush the game in front of the line – is that handlers and dogs don’t move while other dogs and/or people flush the birds from the opposite direction so that they fly over the shooters (or you can also use birds that naturally fly over the place where the shooters stand).

We stood in one end of a meadow, on the top of a hill, there were a number of so-called “bumper boys”, which are a type of remote-controlled gun dog dummy launchers. They could launch ten to twelve dummies at a time before they need to be recharged. “The drive“ then started and the dummies were launched out over the meadow. In addition, somebody used a whistle that made duck sounds. The dogs standing on the other side of the meadow found this very exciting.?

Then it was time to send the dogs. After this little “drive” there were about 30 dummies in front of us on the meadow. Every handler selected one dummy according to the level of difficulty they wanted (if needed, the handler walked closer to the dummy before the dog was sent off) and then the handler casted the dog to that retrieve rather than a marked retrieve. If the dog marked a different dummy than the one that the handler had in mind, they had to do a blind retrieve with quite a lot of distraction.

Ruby is sent off on a blind retrieve.
Ruby is sent on a blind retrieve.
Full speed back with the dummy.
Full speed back with the dummy.

It is a very difficult distraction for the dog when you start doing blind retrieves when it just saw lots of dummies fall down. Before you can do that with your dog, you have to train blind retrieves with gradually more difficult distractions, and it is important to make one thing more difficult at a time. We usually use these three d’s:

  • Distance
  • Distraction
  • Duration

In other worlds: If you increase the distance, don’t simultaneously use a distraction. Duration means that the dog should be able to perform the behavior for a long time (which in this case, when you work with semi-blind retrieve, often is the same as distance), but the dog should also be able to do the behavior several times and when it starts to get tired. It is usually no problem with distractions when the dog is alert, but it is often more difficult when it starts to get tired. Therefore, don’t increase the distractions all the time, instead you can reduce them slightly, when the dog is tired, because being tired is in itself a “distraction” – we train the dog slowly to get more duration and be able to work even when it is tired (which is not to be confused with making it so difficult for the dog that it fails – it doesn’t learn anything from that.)We don’t train the dog when it is tired often, but from time to time we do it to increase the dog’s duration.

If you want to teach your dog to do blind retrieves in such a difficult situation as the one above with lots of dummies flying around and many other distractions, you can for example train like this beforehand:

  1. Throw a marked retrieve in front of you, turn around and throw one in that direction so you have one dummy in front of you and one behind you. Then turn back to the first one and send the dog to retrieve that one.
  2. Throw a dummy behind you again and turn around and send the dog towards the dummy that you threw as number two before.
  3. Turn around completely. Throw a dummy 90 degrees to the right, send the dog on the dummy you threw earlier (which is now right in front of you).
  4. Turn 90 degrees to the right and throw a dummy. Turn back to the left so that you look straight at the dummy you threw just before (point 3) and send the dog to retrieve it. (Here you can adjust the distances so that it doesn’t get too difficult for the dog, depending on how far away from each other the dummies are placed; you can simply throw them a little farther apart if needed).

If the dog forgets the dummy that you threw previously and only sees the dummy which is supposed to be the distraction, you might need to show the dog the dummy that you threw at first again. It is very good to have an assistant, who can pick up that dummy, if the dog has forgotten it.

If you don’t want to turn around so much, and maybe also want to make it a little easier for the dog, you can just send it for blind or semi blind retrieves in the same area many times. Then you can either pick up the dummy that is supposed to be the distraction yourself or let the dog retrieve that dummy as a reward afterwards.

As the dog gets better and better at this, you can throw out more dummies as distractions and send the dog to retrieve them in exactly the order that you want.

When this works with visible dummies, you should practice the same thing with blind ones (that is, dummies the dog doesn’t know that you have put there). In order to get a dog that is really good at this, I think it’s best to start to send the dog to places that it has a memory of, and not to completely new places (you can for instance choose a place where the dog saw that you put something just before, or to the same place as you sent the dog the day before and so on) and then later sometimes try to send the dog to a completely blind retrieve. If the dog seems insecure, when you send it on blind retrieves, you can train on blind retrieves at places, where you know that the dog has been before, and then send the dog only a very short distance if you send your dog on a blind retrieve to a new place, so that the dog really succeeds when it does these exercises. The most important thing is to get the dog to really believe that there always is something to find, if it runs in that direction where you point, and that trust you have to build by making sure that the dog really finds something and then it can trust you.

Dirigering åt vänsterDirigering åt vänster

We also trained to send the dog to the right and left. In the pictures above, the dog sits while the handler stands in front of the dog and then sends it to the left. In the beginning, it is much easier to ask the dog to sit, and then back a couple of steps away from it, and after that send it either to the right or to the left. A more difficult way to do this is to send it straight ahead, blow the stop whistle, and then send it to one side. It is good, though, to train one thing at the time until you know that the dog can do each part separately. First after that you can put all the parts together and the dog then knows how to do a blind retrieve.

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