The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

How can I improve my dog’s training on unseen retrieves?

I still want to use her this season but feel I may make matters worse when she is sent for birds she hasn’t marked.

Jeremy Hunt says: Everyone training a labrador for the first time assumes that a pup that will retrieve from a very young age is showing signs of being a top class working dog.

In reality most dogs – of any breed – will bring something back if it’s thrown by the owner, so it’s fairly safe to assume that working labradors bred for generations for the job will have an inherent ability to retrieve.

While it’s very important to nurture this ability, the real work on ‘seen’ retrieving should aim to develop the dog’s skill at marking the fall of the dummy, or the bird rather than just purely the act of retrieving it.

As steadiness is the foundation of all gundog training, it’s more important to instill into a labrador not to retrieve – in other words it must only do so when told to.

So, once you are happy that the youngster has the ability to undertake seen retrieves, it’s important to convince the dog that when it’s sent away from
you in a certain direction, it will also find something to retrieve.

The unseen retrieve is asking a lot of a young dog. The dog is being asked to leave you, to go in the direction you want it to, to hunt for something it hasn’t seen fall and to retrieve it efficiently and correctly. That’s quite a tall order for
many young dogs.

In your case I’d advise cutting out marked retrieves for a while.Concentrate on unseen retrieves but it’s essential that you base this on the principle of building-up your bitch’s confidence so that she knows that when she’s sent away from you she will defi nitley find something. In other words she has total faith in you just as she did when you sent her for a marked retrieve.

Go back to basics with this. Use a hedge or a wall to give you straight lines of direction during your training and start as you would do with a young pup. Walk her at heel along the boundary you’ve chosen as your training ground and then make her sit; throw the dummy a few yards ahead, turn and walk back – say 10 yards to start with.

Take off the lead, make her wait and then give a very clear hand signal pointing in the direction of the dummy even though we’re assuming
that she knows exactly where the dummy is).

When you are sure she has taken notice of your direction, send her with
whatever command you prefer. Gradually increase the distance and always train in the same place.

Then go to your regular training location with a helper and get them to hide a dummy in the usualplace only this time, although your bitch will not have seen it, she should have sufficient confidence in you to know
that she will find somethingwhen sent.

Repeat this until you can increases the distances but still use the hedge or wall. Unseen retrieves are all about the dog having total confidence in the handler and that’s what you must aim for.

Eventually you’ll be able to hide the dummy in cover so that your dog will be prepared to take that confidence a stage further and hunt for it.

From there you can progress to longer distances in more unfamiliar ground and with more cover.