The aspiring gundog is now delivering consistently to hand and finishing nicely in yard work as well, so now we move to the field. The suggested exercises are designed to facilitate the transition of delivery-to-hand skills developed thus far to practical field situations. Other exercises exist, but these, reinforced in a positive manner, will effectively transfer newly established behaviors into enduring habits relative to hunting situations. If sequence I and II have been successful, these transitional exercises will progress quickly and enjoyably.
1. Recall from sit - Sit the pup 50 yards out and place the bumper in his mouth with the "hold" command. Recall the student from remote sit to heel while holding. Insure a direct route is taken without dropping. Require a smooth finish (side or front) and delivery on the drop command.
A. Stop to Whistle - Incorporate a stop and sit to the whistle on the recall. The dog should sit, hold, and remain seated until recalled without dropping.
B. Diversion bumpers should now be tossed as the dog advances from remote sit. This is a great way to introduce diversions and prevent switching. Add cold game and gunfire to create more attractive diversions. Other distractions should be implemented as well, including other people, other dogs working at a distance, kids playing and/or other dogs honoring at the line. The pup's attention must not regress and compromise proper delivery.
2. Water work - Locate a water source with a long, shallow bank. Practice hold-heel and recall drills along the bank in the shallow water, requiring the pup to bound in the water on the return. Also include recall across deeper water while working in waders in waist-deep water to accept delivery.
Water exit - Place pup in chest-deep water and walk out on the bank, recall out of the water and get delivery to hand. No drops or shaking should occur at the water's edge. Begin close to the water if necessary, then extend to 40+ yards.
3. Obstacles - Set up situations that require the dog to recall and negotiate various types of obstacles while holding. Begin with the pup at sit/hold, cross the barrier yourself along the desired route and recall. Include practical situations such as jumps over fallen logs and rail fences; crossing steep ditches; punching through thick, tangled grass or briar patches; and negotiating under fences. Use a variety of hold objects in this drill such as Dokken duck dummies, heavy bumpers and cold game.
4. Land/Water/Land Drills - Place pup at sit/hold on land, then wade across a narrow body of water to the opposite bank. Be sure the channel of water extends long enough to discourage running around the bank. Recall the pup directly across the water and accept delivery. Lengthen land distances on both sides as you progress. Occasionally incorporate diversions such as gunfire, decoys, other dogs or throwing a bumper, and controls such as a "stop" to the whistle command.
Finally, our retriever prospect is naturally quite comfortable with deliveries to hand in a stylish manner without the pressure of force-fetch methods. Retrieving exercises now may progress with reasonable assurance that delivery behaviors have been successfully modified.
The sequences and steps outlined may seem a bit involved, but they are not. Phase II and III may take only a week for the talented pup with a natural mouth, while three to four weeks may be required for other young dogs. It is important to get delivery skills properly instilled in all retrievers of waterfowl and/or upland birds in the early stages of basic training. Through patience, persistence and consistent application of each of the outlined steps, success will embrace you and your future hunting pal.
"A dog believes you are what you think you are." -Jane Swan