Teaching the blind retrieve
Teaching your young dog to make blind retrieves is relatively straightforward, providing you have really established the basics – he should be showing style, power and confidence in his straight line, marked and memory retrieves. Without having mastered these, blind retrieves could not only prove to be difficult but, worse still, may undermine his confidence further. Confidence is key in getting your dog to take a strong line on a blind retrieve.
The advice given is based entirely on the proviso that you have reached a point in the dog’s training where the basic retrieve is really smart. Throughout basic training you will have been monitoring your puppy’s development and by now you should have a pretty good idea as to how he is doing.
Make sure you have a strategy – a training plan – and take time to assess where you are in the training programme. If you’re new to training, having regular lessons with a professional will help you do this. A fresh pair of eyes can sometimes spot things that aren’t quite right – and it might be nice to get a pat on the back if everything’s going well.
Either way, listen hard to comments and advice. Don’t rush, do things properly, assess and plan a way forward, making changes to the training plan where necessary.
Choose an area that the dog is familiar with; a relatively confined corner with some light cover, ideally with a path, track or, better still, a Retrieving Corridor. This is a mown pathway designed especially for developing young dogs.
Sit the dog up about 20 yards from the cover, throw a dummy into it and send the dog for the marked retrieve. Maybe repeat this exercise a couple of times just to ensure that the dog is expecting to find a dummy in the area.
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Now you’ve got things going nicely, stay in the same area and gently ‘ramp things up’. Memory retrieves are a great way to develop your dog’s retrieving confidence and skills. If his retrieving confidence is not where you feel it should be, it might be helpful to spend some time dropping a dummy into the cover and walking him away from it before turning round and sending him for the retrieve. How far you walk and how long you wait before sending him back will of course be dependent on the individual.
Make things easy to start with and gradually increase the distance and time, and before long you’ll have the dog streaking back to collect the retrieve.
The blind retrieve
Now you’re ready to send the youngster for a blind. Without the dog seeing what you’re doing, leave a dummy in the cover (this is ‘the blind’). Set yourselves up just a few yards from the cover and send him. If you’ve done everything correctly up to this point, as you send him he’ll think: “I know exactly what this means, I’ve found a dummy in that cover at least six times already. I bet there’s another one in there and I can’t wait to find it.” Brilliant, well done, your first blind retrieve is in the bag!
Things don’t always go to plan. Some dogs appear to be confident retrievers when sent for a mark or a memory, but as soon as you try to cast them for a blind they freeze and stand and look at you. This can be frustrating for the handler, but remember: he is not being difficult, the dog simply doesn’t understand what he’s being asked to do.
There are all sorts of reasons why this might happen. Some youngsters can become slightly ‘over-trained’ which makes them ‘sticky’, or the dog might be fearful of making a mistake. If so, you need to diagnose this as early as possible and avoid putting too much further pressure on the dog.
At Mullenscote we are currently working on a young labrador who ‘freezes’ when sent for a blind. He will retrieve a mark with confidence from as far as the eye can see, but give him a blind and he gets really flustered. So we are giving him a few marks from an area, then walking him to about 5-10 yards away from the same area, then sending him for the blind. From this really short distance he understands and makes a nice job of a blind retrieve.
It’s a really slow process but we are winning and I’m confident that he is going to make a really nice dog. There’s a long way to go yet and we need to keep using this training technique and several others.
Keep training and make sure that every time you work with your dog you leave him wanting more!
Checklist for success
• Choose an area of light cover. Avoid heavy bramble, nettles, thistles or really dense cover – we want the dog to enjoy the retrieve, it should be pain free and relatively easy to find.
• Ensure the area of cover you have chosen is confined or clearly defined; this will help the youngster to learn to hold and hunt the area. If you give him too much space there’s a really strong chance that if the dog doesn’t find the dummy straight away he’ll loose his confidence, leave the area and start to develop bad habits. We need to teach the dog to mark and memorise the fall and be confident to hold and hunt the area until he finds the dummy (or at a later stage in training a shot scent or blood trail that will help him to take a line from the fall to collect the retrieve).
• The Retrieving Corridor, path or track is there to channel the dog in a straight and obvious line to the area. Remember, you are aiming to train the dog to take a straight line away from you. Think of yourself as the bow and the dog as the arrow. Aim him at the target and fire.