It’s a great feeling to be able to point your dog in the direction of a long retrieve and know he will run to it in a straight line, not stopping unless commanded to.
Some shooters say this ability is something that only comes with experience.
But they are wrong – a dog can be taught how to do it as part of its routine training.
And all you need for the lesson is a large white bucket, six or seven dummies and a white marker pole.
It is important that the field you use for this lesson is fairly large, level and with no cover above ankle height because success depends on the dog being able to see the white bucket.
It is also important that you are not seen walking to the centre of the field and placing the dummies three or four feet around the bucket.
Test the wind direction. Place the white bucket of dummies in the middle of the field. Only walk the dog from its kennel, or car, after the dummies have been placed in the field.
Leave the dog in the car, or kennels, while you do it.
Now collect the dog and walk it to heel before making it sit 50 to 100 yards from the bucket.
The main proviso at this stage is not to sit directly downwind of the bucket, for reasons which will be explained a little later.
Check that you have not positioned yourself too far from the bucket by getting down on your knees alongside the dog and look at things from his eye level – if you can see it, then so can he.
Make sure you always give the dog a precise, clear direction to follow.
Have the whistle ready. As soon as the dog collects a dummy, give the recall command to discourage him from changing retrieves.
Once the bucket catches the dog’s eye and you see him focus on it, point him in the direction of the retrieve and give the command to either “get out” or “go back”, whatever you have been using in all his previous training.
Take the dummy from the dog and put it straight into a shoulder bag or large pocket; do NOT drop or throw it back into the field.
Now walk the dog – again at heel – to a different position in the field. If the field is not too large I like to gradually work my way round the outside of it in a clock face fashion, sitting the dog at various points and ‘aiming’ him at the bucket again.
As soon as he locks onto the bucket, send him out and be ready with the recall whistle.
Always remember to practice a proper delivery to hand. Make the dog sit before you take the retrieve.
Then move to another position. By now the dog should be starting to show an understanding of what you require.
STAGE 2: PROGRESSING THE TRAINING
INTO THE WIND
You should always try and engineer things so that the last position you send him from is straight into the wind.
If you hadn’t already noticed, getting a dog to take a straight line into a headwind is the most difficult thing of all because a dog’s natural inclination is to cast across the breeze to pick up a scent.
The white bucket, of course, helps him keep his course.
It usually takes four or five days for a dog to master this exercise and once he has done so it’s time to move to another, considerably larger, field where we can continue the lesson over much longer distances.
After several more days of this your dog will become very confident at running out on your direction towards the bucket at which point, it’s time to return to the first field and substitute the bucket for a white pole.
Making the change from bucket to pole usually makes the lesson more challenging for a dog but at least it means you can tell whether the pupil has actually grasped the exercise properly.
Replace the bucket with a white pole and repeat the retrieving exercise as before.
If there is ANY confusion on the dog’s part go straight back to using the bucket again and repeat the training.
Assuming the pole does what’s intended of it then go through the process of moving the dog to different positions around the outside of the small field, always paying attention to the direction of the wind.
If all goes well, move the pole to the larger training field where you should be able to get the dog confidently running two or three hundred yards in a straight line to the pole.
Guess what? Once you’ve reached this happy state of affairs it’s back to that smaller field again to continue the lesson!
Now place the dummies, unseen, in the middle of the field without a marker and get the dog to retrieve them.
All being well he will do what’s expected of him but if he should struggle, go one step back and use the white pole for a while longer, until he has fully grasped the exercise.
Final step is to move back to the large field, place the dummies in the middle without markers, get your dog from the car/kennel and send him – as before – from different positions around the field.
Watch his reactions carefully and if necessary move closer to the dummies so that you make it as easy as possible for him to be successful.
Keep practicing the exercise and, as you do so, gradually increase the distance of the retrieves and their direction in relation to the wind.
I would not recommend introducing a spaniel to this training regime until it’s hunting close, fully under control and has had a small amount of game shot over it.
Why? Well, spaniels are very bright and soon cotton on to the fact that anything of interest and worth retrieving in life is always to be found 100 or more yards away from the handler.
If you instil this into a young spaniel too early you will end up constantly having to nag the dog to hunt closely.
Retrievers are a different kettle of fish.
You can teach this lesson from a fairly early age to establish a confident out run and a quick return.
In fact the time to reach for a white bucket is when you’re happy your Labrador or Flatcoat won’t swap dummies in mid-retrieve. If it does you can bank on later problems.