Teach initial lining drills early, just after you have introduced simple marks. Start with marks that are about 15 yards away. The dog should leave the handler position on command, enthusiastically, by the most direct route to the mark, despite influences. There are several good exercises for this skill.
A. Ball Roll - For the young pup, simply roll a tennis ball across open ground into cover, or hit the ball along the ground with a tennis racket. Release the young pup to take the "seen" line into the cover. A visual line is established for the very young pup by the rolling ball. Lining skills are awakened.
B. Four-Bumper Wagon Wheel - using obvious white bumpers at a short distance, rotate the pup in a circle, and then line him to the indicated bumper. Later in training you'll throw the bumper and then turn the dog to a different target. Progress to less obvious bumpers in medium cover (unseen) and begin to extend the distance.
C. Inline Sight and Trailing Memories (my favorite) - use a natural straight edge (fence or wood line) to encourage alignment. Set bumpers out in opposite directions 15 yards apart to discourage switching.
x x 15 yards dog/handler 15 yards x x
Send the dog to each memory, alternating directions. A fence or hedge connecting at 90 degrees is another good drill. Remember to keep the distances short at first.
As the young pup progresses on initial lines, move to drills that promote holding straight, accurate lines at longer distances.
This drill initially incorporates several natural lining barriers (to keep pup moving out straight) that converge at one point. I have a location with a fence intersecting a wood line. A gate is at the converging point, allowing me to place seen or unseen lined bumpers at various distances in four directions. I can pivot the pup to pick up the bumpers in any order. I teach each leg of the line independently and then link them together until we are lining on quads in any of the four directions supported by the barriers. In an urban environment, one can often find industrial plant parking lots, athletic fields, or sports parks that offer similar environments.
Once your young dog is running supported lines with confidence, move the drill to less supported terrain: foot paths, farm field roads, pond levees, and ditch lines are excellent transitional barriers. Then, finally, switch to open terrain, woodlands, and water.
Lining Past Diversions
Start on the fence line with seen, inline bumpers, usually four. Line pup through on the first run. Prior to release for the second, toss out a mark at a 90-degree angle to the pup/fence (B1). Send for the second inline memory. With each successful lining, narrow the mark close to the line to the memories (B2). If the pup pulls to the mark, recall and shorten the distance to the memory. If problems persist, pick up the marks and begin the experience again with the mark at a wider angle. To avoid boredom, run this drill only once a day with three to four memories. As the dog gains confidence, eliminate the barriers.
x x x x dog/handler
Bumper Lining Drill
Toss out three bumpers in an angle, placing the first some 30 yards out, the next about 20 yards, and the third at about 10. The bumpers are staggered at descending angles from the dog and handler. Establish an angle line of bumpers with the longest bumper directly in front of the dog and others placed progressively closer and at a wider angle to the right or left. Line the dog past the bumper B3 and B2 for the farthest bumper (B1). Follow by picking B2, then finally the closest bumper (B3). This is a great drill for lining on water as well. It may be helpful to initially begin with only two bumpers set at a wider angle. Gradually narrow the placement angle and lengthen the distance to B1.
Other helpful exercises exist, including running a baseball or double T pattern, in which you send the dog through seen bumpers and effectively create a channel. You can also line the pup past a seen mark thrown last for a long mark thrown first by an assistant. Or line the dog in shallow water along a bank's edge to pick in-line bumpers while keeping the dog straight and in the water. Once the dog is proficient on land, move to the water and into field conditions for transitional work.
It is important to teach lining skills before progressing to marking extensions, multiple marks, or hand signals. The dog's ability to effectively hold straight lines to a fall area will make teaching the more complex gundog skills much easier and less confusing to the dog.