Neil Varney outlines various tried-and-tested methods of training a puppy to run in a straight line.

Neil Varney uses a place-board and natural retrieving alleys to train a puppy to run in a straight line to retrieve.

The labrador puppy, Remy, is growing very fast both physically and mentally; he is now beginning to test a few boundaries, and at times push his luck. He has become a keen and confident retriever, and regular readers will recall that he has taken to picking up a tennis ball and running past me; before this gets to be an ingrained habit, I need to take some steps to nip it in the bud.

Using a place-board

I have never used a place-board to train a dog, but I know trainers who have used them to good effect, and the biggest advantage is that they do not put any pressure on the dog. Over the past few weeks, I have been gradually introducing Remy to the board, having started by getting him used to sitting on it while still on a lead. He has taken to this well. I make sure I give him plenty of praise and keep these sessions relatively short.

Neil introduces Remy to the place-board, getting him used to sitting on it while still on the lead

Neil introduces Remy to the place-board, getting him used to sitting on it while still on the lead

I have moved on to giving him a tennis ball while he is on the board, and he is now quite happy to sit and hold the ball. I hope to build this up by putting a bit of distance between me and the dog, the ultimate aim being to get him to a point where he is comfortable to sit on the board and hold his retrieve.

Place-boards are not for everyone and will not suit every dog, so, as a trainer, you may well have to adopt various methods to overcome an issue. A tried and tested method to help to prevent a young dog running round you with a dummy is to find a wall, fence line or hedge, and stand with your back to it so that the dog cannot get behind you. Always remember not to be in too much of a hurry to take the retrieve from the puppy, and I have found that stroking his chest will encourage the dog to lift his head and present a better delivery.

After short sessions and plenty of praise, Remy is happy to sit on the board and hold a tennis ball

After short sessions and plenty of praise, Remy is happy to sit on the board and hold a tennis ball

Retrieving alleys

Many trainers will have retrieving alleys, which are basically long outdoor corridors that “channel” a young dog out and back on a retrieve. Of course, not everyone will have this luxury, so you may have to find alternatives and use a bit of imagination. Even though Remy is still very young, I want to start conditioning him to run out in straight lines to a retrieve.

Remy would pick up  a tennis ball and run past Neil during training, a habit that had to be nipped in the bud

Remy would pick up a tennis ball and run past Neil during training, a habit that had to be nipped in the bud

Here at Twistmount, I do not have a retrieving alley as such, but I have plenty of natural features that I can use. We have various paths and tracks that run through the woodland, but at this stage I want to keep it as easy and straightforward as possible, so I use a tramline that runs between two grass strips. The added advantage of this track is that, over the years, it has sunk slightly lower than the grass strips, so it does naturally channel the puppy.

Stroking his chest will encourage the dog to lift his head and present a better delivery of the retrieve

Stroking his chest will encourage the dog to lift his head and present a better delivery of the retrieve

The retrieve needs to be put on the tramline, so I have been walking Remy out on the lead and doing little memory retrieves. Over the coming weeks, I will start to increase the distance and I have the added advantage that this particular track dips down to a gateway, so eventually I will be able to send him out of sight, but that’s all in the future.

The retrieve needs to be on the tramline as Remy must be encourage to run out in straight lines

The retrieve needs to be on the tramline as Remy must be encourage to run out in straight lines