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Is distance handling hard to master?

I’ve seen some really good picking-up gun dogs responding to hand signals a long way from their handler.

It is clearly a big advantage to be able to do this but I don’t know how to start.

What do you advise?

A Start by sitting the gun dog against a fence or wall – preferably where there are no distractions.

Make sure the gun dog is sitting and steady and then walk about 10 yards away at right angles to the gun dog.

At that point I usually give one ‘stop’ blast on the whistle – to confirm that I want the gun dog to remain where it is – and raise my palm outwards at the same time.

I then lower my arm – while still keeping it straight and keeping the palm facing outwards.

This serves to reiterate the ‘stop-and-staywhere-you-are’ command, ensuring that when you give the right or left direction it sends a clear directional movement to the gun dog.

Once I am confident he is steady I then throw the dummy about 10 yards to the left or the right of the gun dog.

Only when I am ready do I send the gun dog (either by name or by another command).

Ideally, the gun dog should retrieve the dummy.

Occasionally, I will throw the dummy and pick it myself to enforce steadiness.

If that is successful I persist in the same routine, throwing the dummy to the same side (left or right) until I am confident the gun dog is aware of what’s wanted.

At that stage – and it maybe be after several days of training this exercise for a few minutes a day – you can switch to repeating the exercise in the opposite direction.

Always throw an occasional dummy and pick it yourself.

As you realise your gun dog is getting the message, start to move further back and repeat the left and right retrieves separately to achieve the same response at a distance.

Do not mix the retrieves with lefts and rights until you are sure he has mastered each retrieve.

You are aiming for a situation where you can throw out two dummies – one left and one right and then select each to be retrieved in the order you want.

This would simulate a shooting day when a bird is down to the left and is dead while another bird on the right is a runner.

You would need to stop your gun dog if he was going for the ‘dead’ dummy and retrieve the runner first.

Permutations on the training can move on to placing an unseen dummy to one side, sitting the gun dog and then throwing a dummy to the other side.

You can then ask your gun dog to retrieve the unseen dummy.

Again, this can be extended to working at longer distances, with the gun dog away from the wall or fence (which is initially used to keep the gun dog going in a straight line) and also into rougher cover.

When you progress to the right and left retrieves always remember to put your gun dog back where he was in the sitting position.

When a gun dog gets a mental block about going for the blind as the second retrieve – and refuses to move – it’s best to quickly reinstate what you want by throwing out a second dummy in the direction that you had placed the blind.

For more gun dog training advice click here