Before starting this set of lessons, you should be able to sit your dog and throw a dummy, the dog should remain sitting until you send it for the retrieve, and you should be picking up two out of three thrown, seen dummies yourself. The young dog should also be handling to dummies that you have previously hidden. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities to do this, go back and check out the ‘Basics’ article. Whatever you do, don’t rush.
Retrieving one of a selection of dummies
Sit your dog in front of you and facing you. Throw a dummy to the left. If you have been sending her for every dummy, she will not take her eyes off it and will ignore you – go back to the basic lesson. If you have been picking up dummies as well, she will watch you to see if you are going to fetch it. The latter is much preferable for this exercise.
Assuming she is watching you, throw a second dummy to the right. Now, if you just ask her to fetch, she will go for the last one thrown. Try it, then pick the first dummy up yourself.
However, we are going to pretend we have shot a pair of pheasant, and the first down only had a pellet in the wing, and is currently making off at a rate of knots through the undergrowth, with the second stone dead in the open. You have to be able to send your dog to the wounded bird to give her any chance of recovering it.
Set up the situation again, and this time give her the left command, and be ready with the stop whistle if she goes right; and I mean READY WITH THE STOP WHISTLE. If she gets to the dummy, it is your fault for rushing her training – you knew what she was going to do, so don’t blame the dog, praise her up and go over the basics again.
Continue with these exercises over a few weeks, and you will soon be in the happy situation of being able to send her either way or out (and don’t always send her for the first bird; sometimes you will wound the second; you want her to be looking to you for instruction, but if she gets it in her head that she always retrieves the first bird down then that is what she will start doing!).
If your dog is a labrador, or you attend a number driven game shoots or any situation where you are likely to encounter more than two birds down, extend the number of dummies thrown. This is a good exercise in memory for a dog.
We will leave the retrieving here for the moment, and move on to hunting, but in a later lesson we will send her for unseen dummies whilst a distraction is thrown. Then we will send her for gradually longer distances, using these lessons to enable us to handle her at further and further distances, paving the way for the successful retrieval of long distance runners.