Practice makes perfect
Expert gun dog trainer Mark Davis addresses some of the common problems hunters encounter.
My retriever doesn’t see the downed bird that falls beyond the decoy spread. How can I get her to work further out and not be distracted?
This question has two parts — the first involves teaching the dog to run very basic blinds (pick up unseen items of game), the second is familiarising the dog with decoys and other distractions so the dog ignores them during a retrieve.
Firstly, running blinds: this can be started at quite a young age, six months onwards, and you will need training dummies.
Take the dog to a training spot with no distractions, sit the dog then walk off 20 m and turn to face the dog. Drop the dummy on the ground, giving the verbal “cue” for dead bird, then return to your dog and lower your hand to beside the dog's head, making sure he does not go before sent.
When he is focused, repeat the dead bird command and fetch — he should already be familiar with the fetch command.
When he is confident doing this exercise using the same spot every time but without seeing you place a dummy (three or four a night over a couple of weeks is usually sufficient, initially), it is time to introduce him to this exercise in the water.
If using a dam, to help ensure your dog understands and goes straight in the water, sit your dog at the edge and hand throw a dummy in the direction you will be placing blind. Do not proceed with teaching blind unless your dog happily goes directly into the water.
If he is, then sit him on the edge of water and walk around to a position directly opposite your dog and drop the dummy into the water using exactly the same procedure as we did on land.
If you have prepared him properly he will go straight into the water. Repeat this exercise over a period of weeks until he will enter water to retrieve without seeing the dummy placed.
Now to part two: the simplest way to familiarise dogs with decoys is to place them on the ground at home, let him investigate them but discourage any attempt to pick them up, then throw a dummy over them. If your dog is confidently retrieving dummies he will quickly learn to ignore decoys — repeat the exercise in water and finally introduce decoys to your blind training.