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How can I get my Lab to cross a ditch to retrieve?

Q: I can get my Labrador to cross a wide ditch to pick a seen retrieve but if we walk a few yards back and I then throw the dummy he goes to the edge of the ditch and runs from side to side, but won’t cross. How do I get him to do as commanded?

A: This is a fairly common fault among young dogs and should tell the handler that they have failed to grasp the basics of this exercise. In short, you are pushing too fast with the training and, in this instance, skipped the most important instruction of all – and that’s to ‘get back’.

Teaching this lesson is quite straightforward. In fact, it’s one of the easiest of all. Simply walk the dog to heel, let a dummy fall to the ground, and keep on walking. Go, say, another 15 or 20 yards and stop. Get the dog to sit quietly, then give the ‘get back’ command accompanied by a hand signal waving him away. You can gradually increase the distance but more important is to advance the exercise by introducing the stop whistle as the dog goes for the retrieve. Now hold him quietly on ‘stop’ before commanding him again to ‘get back’. Be careful not to overdo this part of the lesson because it might make some dogs a bit sticky ie hesitant on the outrun because they are expecting you to blow the whistle.

Once the dog fully understands this command you can go back to retrieving across water: sit it up, issue the command to fetch and give a directional hand signal at the same time. If the dog should now run from side to side when it reaches the water’s edge you can now stop it on the whistle, get its attention, then tell it to ‘get back’.

This is a fundamental command when training a gundog, so don’t rush through it.