Ironically, I’ve seen the same old answer to this question in many magazines in the past. Everyone says the best way to tackle it is to stand with your back to a fence, hedge, or other obstacle so that it is now impossible for the gun dog to get behind you.
In principle this sounds a good idea, but in practice it only prevents the dog circling you when your back’s to the wall, so to speak.
As soon as you’re in the open, though, the dog reverts to its previous behaviour. It has taken me years of experimentation to both find the best way to solve this problem and also realise why a dog might deliver short.
But to start with I reckon it’s best to look at what causes the problem in the first place. First off we must look at what the dog has done in the past. For instance, the dog might have been reprimanded for picking the wrong thing up, or, especially with a softer dog, for attempting to run in.
Maybe the dog has retrieved something nasty (say, a manky old maggoty rabbit) and received a negative reaction from the handler when it brought it back!
Another common cause is the almost obsessive insistence of some people on getting a sitting delivery from a young dog. This will often confuse the youngster and, as a consequence, cause the circling to develop.
1: What you are trying to achieve is the dog coming in and walking to heel without running past you. You should practice this until it is 100% reliable.
2: You now walk your dog to heel, give the ‘sit’ command, and then throw the dummy approximately five yards back in the direction from which you have just walked.
3: Send your dog back to retrieve the dummy.
4. Immediately the dog picks up the retrieve turn your back on him, walk away briskly and command him to heel at the same time. The dog should then – almost without realising – come in and walk to heel while carrying the retrieve. If he drops the retrieve, send him back for it and then carry on walking, commanding him to heel when he picks it up.
5: As the dog comes in and walks alongside, I tend to teach them to walk on the left. This means I can stroke them on the top of their head with my left hand while my right hand comes up beneath their jaw (unseen) to take the retrieve. This is all done whilst I am still walking at a reasonable pace. You may find you have to practice this several times until the dog is happy to walk alongside you carrying the dummy.
6: Over the next few weeks I gradually extend the distance I send the dog back for the retrieve, simply by walking him (at heel) away from where I have thrown the retrieve. In other words, I’m turning this exercise into a memory retrieve for the dog. Also, I will gradually slow the pace that I walk away from the dog when it’s returning with the retrieve.
7: If I have taught the dog to walk to heel and sit when I stop, I can then bring this into the equation to accomplish a sitting delivery without any pressure being applied to the dog.