One skill your summer training program should emphasize is lining. Once the hunting season begins, you want your retriever to mark a fallen bird, find it, and return as quickly as possible. “Holding a line means that the dog will run a straight line to the fall despite distractions,” says Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi. “Two core skills are involved. One is marking, or seeing and remembering the location of the fall. The other is the ability to run an accurate line to the fall area by the most direct logical route.”
While working your dog this summer, you can sharpen its lining prowess with a simple drill (see diagram). Walking with your dog at heel, drop three bumpers staggered at descending angles—the first one 30 yards out, the next at 20 yards, and the third at 10 yards. Heel the dog to a position where the middle bumper is directly in front and 20 yards out. Line the dog past the close bumpers (B3 and B2) for the farthest bumper (B1). Then line the dog for the middle bumper and finally for the close one. As the dog masters the drill, gradually move B3 and B2 closer to the line to B1 while at the same time lengthening the distance to B1. This narrows the angles between the bumpers and increases the temptation for the dog to veer off the handler’s line toward the closer bumpers. This is also a great drill for lining on water.
Lining drills form the basis for more advanced skills, such as hand signals. A dog’s ability to effectively hold a straight line to a fall area will make teaching such complex skills much easier and less confusing to the dog.
The baseball diamond drill, a simple yet classic handling exercise, can help you fine-tune a trained retriever’s understanding of hand signals this summer. With the trainer stationed at “home plate,” the dog sitting at the “pitcher’s mound,” and bumpers placed at first, second, and third bases (see diagram), cast the dog right, left, or back with the proper hand signal in conjunction with an “over” or “back” voice command. One goal of this drill is to establish through repetition that when you give a hand signal and the dog obeys, something good happens. The retrieve (along with the resulting praise from the handler) becomes positive reinforcement for responding correctly to the cast.