By Mike Stewart
One of the most exhilarating and rewarding aspects of developing a
finished waterfowl retriever is training the dog to run blinds, that is
to pick up birds the dog didn't see fall. Little else in the gundog
world will equal the thrill of being directly involved with a retriever,
one on one, as the dog boldly goes out to a fall area to locate an
unseen bird under complete control, returning promptly to make a
retrieve to hand. Successful blinds are a visible testament to anyone's
Our goal is to develop a hunting companion that has the trust and
confidence in his handler to go out enthusiastically for a retrieve
without seeing anything fall, just because the line was set and the
retrieve/release command was given. That's when all the hard work comes
to fruition... the natural game-finding ability achieved through
genetics, the dog's intelligence and the skills trained into the dog,
combined with the dog's confidence in the handler that there is a
retrieve to be made.
Successful blinds are mutual victories for both the dog and the
handler, and the achievement will likely mark the pinnacle of the
overall training experience.
Let's briefly look at the four fundamental skill sets necessary to run successful blinds.
A line is simply the dog's most direct route of travel to the bird.
Holding a line implies that the dog will run a straight line to the fall
regardless of influences and distractions. Primarily, lining skills are
developed at Wildrose through sight, trailing memories. Initially, a
barrier edge is used to provide support for the young dog to run
straight. One may incorporate a fence, field road, ditch edge or wood
line to encourage holding a straight line. As the young dog's lining
confidence and skills improve, we eliminate the "crutch" of the straight
edge and begin to incorporate various types of terrain. Permanent
blinds involve the dogs' running to a familiar location where they have
successfully found bumpers in training. Permanent blinds are confidence
builders and serve as a transitional step to cold blinds. Cold blinds,
as the name implies, are blinds that are run in new, unfamiliar
locations. The locations may differ, but the sequences to line and
release the dog are identical to previous exercises, so confidence is
The retriever must respond well to whistle commands and cast
effectively in order for corrections to be made to the line if
necessary. Dogs must reliably:
- Stop on the whistle promptly; a slow stop can put the dog further out of line.
- Recall quickly under all conditions.
- Hunt back toward the handler, slowly searching for a fallen bird.
This is usually a different whistle signal than the recall whistle.
Casting requires the dog to drive deep and straight back on command,
and to take right and left casts with accurate lines. The dog must be
conditioned to take and hold straight lines given by hand signals until
stopped or until bird scent is discovered. A dog that does not handle
properly cannot be adjusted to the correct line to the fallen bird, a
vital requirement to running successful blinds.
The third necessary skill for effective blinds requires the dog to
hunt the fall area thoroughly. This is where the nose counts. What we
want are effective game finders trained to hunt cover, marsh or thickets
on command after a whistle stop. The dog's drive on the line is
interrupted in the general area of the fall. Wind direction must be
considered. The "hunt" command causes the dog to devour the area in a
methodical search for the bird. The dog should remain (or hold) in the
area, land or water, throughout the hunt unless otherwise directed. The
competent retriever should also possess the perseverance to handle
diving, wounded waterfowl and the skill to track runners (injured birds
making an escape) as often occurs.
Last but not least is the dog's confidence in his handler. Confidence
enough to go out with enthusiasm and accuracy on the line without even
seeing any indication that there is a bird to retrieve. Blinds require
the dog to trust that there is a bird down and his hunting pal will help
locate his reward, the retrieve. This level of confidence and trust is
built slowly in training through daily success. "Make haste slowly" is
always our rule. Never test the dog above his limits. The dog's
confidence in himself and his handler is established through repetitive
successes, not failures. Interdependence is the relationship between the
dog and the handler that must be established to run blinds effectively
in the field.
There is little else in dog training to equal the thrill of your
retriever picking his first blind on the hunt. So often our retrievers
do not see the birds go down. The dog's ability to handle blinds may
mean the difference between whether or not the bird is recovered. The
retriever's ability to pick those unseen, fallen birds remains a very
important aspect of the dog's role as a game finder... to bring back the
ones we can't get.