In my previous article I mentioned three drills that I use as the foundation for training gundogs on blind retrieves. They included the T-Pattern, the Wagon-wheel and Memory blinds.
These three drills should be taught following proper force-fetch training, obedience training and remote collar training. It is important to have proper control established before demanding your dog to start taking these more technical lining drills. Let me now discuss the T-Pattern drill in-depth.
This drill is commonly referred to as “playing baseball” with your retriever. If you can imagine standing on home plate with your dog and setting a pile of dummies at second base this will help you visualize this drill. The distance should begin somewhat short, but can eventually end up being as far as 100 yards away. A larger training area is recommended since we will be covering this distance. I have personally trained dogs on soccer fields, hay fields and even empty lots in a housing development.
Once you have decided where to train, begin by establishing where home plate and second base will be. Also consider where your halfway point is, which we will call our “pitcher’s mound.” To the right of this spot will end up being your first base, and to the left will end up being third base. Both first and third base can range anywhere between 15- and 25 yards.
The pitcher’s mound is where I always begin training. Start out on it and throw a series of dummies toward you second base. I like to use a “ladder” technique when beginning. This simply means I will throw a dummy about 30 yards toward second base, then one at 25 yards, then 20, all the way to my last one only being thrown five yards away from me. So imagine about a half-dozen dummies out in front of you ranging from five to 35 yards away.
Lining Your Dog
Begin by bringing your hand down over the dog’s nose and sending him with the “fetch” command. This is called lining your dog, and is one of the most important parts of a blind retrieve. If your force fetch is established, your dog should understand that this a command, and not a request. Normally the dog will go after the shortest one, or the last one thrown, so do not be concerned which one is retrieved first. Then bring your dog in the heel position, which should be facing the direction of the string of dummies. After taking the initial retrieve, line the dog up again and send it with “fetch” again. Repeat this until all of the dummies are picked up.
During this beginning phase, I also will incorporate whistle training into the equation. Make sure to do this separately by using a one whistle blast for sit, and the repeated whistle blasts for heel (or come here.) This should be done by going back to your choke chain and leash work and using the whistle commands in replace of the verbal. You will slowly want to use your remote collar for both commands so the dog knows that you will correct it from a distance with a refusal.
After your dog is comfortable going from the pitcher’s mound toward second base start to increase distance. Not only will I use the ladder to start this process, but also I begin backing up every time I send the dog. This means I can put the dummies out vertically out to 40 yards away from the pitchers mound and gradually take two or three steps back on each retrieve. You can end up being on your home plate during your first week of training. Remember, your home plate may eventually be around 80- to 100 yards away from your second base.
Now you can begin a back cast. Do this by placing the dog on the pitchers mound and have it face you so the dummies are behind it at second base. Keep a dummy with you and blow the whistle to reinforce a sit command and throw the dummy over the dogs head to your pile at second. If the dog wants to break, make sure you are ready to blow the whistle for sit. Bring your hand up directly over your head and say, “Fetch-Back” at the same time. This is how you will eventually end up just using the word, “Back” as you command for a blind retrieve.
Doing this over and over will get the dog comfortable with sitting on the pitcher’s mound and taking a cast toward a pile of dummies. After numerous repetitions, try sending your dog with just “Back” from home plate, stopping him on the mound and then back cast him to second. Depending on your dog’s ability and willingness to do so will be the determining factor on how much collar you will have to use. I feel it is important to use the collar during this training so the dog understand that you are making them go, not asking them to go! The amount of stimulus will be a judgment call on your part. Remember, it is not the amount of pressure you use, it is more if the dog knows how to “shut off” the pressure with the command.
After Second Base, Try First, Third
Once the dog understands the lining to second base, and you are able to stop and back cast it to second consistently, and you are using the remote collar for both stopping and casting, you can now introduce first and third base. One thing that may help this transition is using some sort of flag or marking device to indicate these new piles.
Start again back with the basics. Have the dog facing you on the pitcher’s mound. Place a pile of dummies to the right of your dog about 20 yards away. You may have to use the ladder technique if you think it might help. Toss the last dummy out so the dog see it go over there. Send the dog with fetch so he understands that he must go get one. Continue this process until all dummies are picked up. Do the same thing to the left, or third base, again use a flag to help the dog identify where to go pick up this pile of dummies. Make sure to send the dog with “fetch” again. Remember you are demanding that the dog goes over there!
For the first session just put piles on one side, then the other side. Your second session you can put out two piles, both at first and third base. The dog may be confused with both piles out so you may have to help it out by putting a long check cord on if he tends to lean one way or another. It is important that when you are making any cast, “back,” “left” or “right,” you bring your hand up or out very slowly and take a few steps in the direction you are casting. Do not allow the dog to move until you have given the verbal command. Some dogs will start to react to any movement, but make sure you are ready to whistle stop the dog until you verbally command it to go.
If you are at the point where your dog can sit on the mound and take a cast left, right or back, you can start to put everything together. This means you can run the dog from home plate, give a whistle stop on the pitcher’s mound, and cast in any of the three directions. I like to call it putting your dog on a “joystick” much like a video game. Making your dog go forward, stopping it, and casting it any of three directions will allow you to pick and chose where the dog makes any retrieve.
Please keep in mind that this is not something that happens over night! Nor does it get accomplished in a week’s worth of training. This is something that should be tried only if your dog understands complete obedience with both voice and whistle commands, a forced retrieve with the remote collar, and complete off leash control with the remote collar.
You can make this drill both easier or more difficult by shortening the distance to the piles or lengthening them. Once mastered, you can even begin a “Double T,” which will give you another pitcher’s mound and will help increase distance and control and will really create a solid “joystick.”
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Jason Dommeyer has a lifetime of hunting experience and 15 years experience as a dog trainer. He has turned many pets into expert hunting dogs at Cannon River Kennels. In addition to training hundreds of hunting companions, he has trained dogs for premier pheasant hunting lodges in South Dakota along with duck hunting lodges in Mississippi and Mexico. His experience also includes both hunting and guiding for upland and waterfowl game from Canada to South America. If you have any questions, Jason can be reached at 507-663-6143 or visit Cannon River Kennels. He provides dog training tips twice a month.