For the duck hunter, few things are more exhilarating than watching a retriever execute a blind retrieve, which involves finding a bird the dog did not see fall, often in heavy cover. Running successful blind retrieves are mutual victories for both dog and handler and a testament to the training level they have achieved as a team. A retriever needs four fundamental skill sets to succeed at blind retrieves: holding a line; handling, or responding well to whistle commands and hand signals; good scenting ability; and confidence in the handler. The dog must trust that there is a bird down and that the handler will assist in locating the reward (the retrieve).
In addition to honing your dog’s lining ability and working on hand signals during summer training sessions, you’ll need to set aside some time to focus on whistle commands. To be successful on blind retrieves, your dog must stop on the whistle promptly, recall (come to your whistle) quickly under all conditions, and hunt back toward you while slowly searching for a fallen bird (a whistle different from the recall is usually used).
Mike Stewart uses the push/pull drill to reinforce the whistle commands required on blind retrieves (see diagram). With your dog at heel, drop a bumper and walk away. About 30 yards from the bumper, make the dog sit and stay while you continue walking. When you are about 30 yards from the dog, pull the dog toward you with a recall whistle. When the dog is halfway to you, stop it with the whistle and, if it obeys, cast it back to the bumper. Over time, the drill teaches the dog that it will be rewarded with a retrieve when it heeds your whistle commands.
When there are multiple marks, most retrievers will instinctively set out to retrieve the last bird that falls. Sometimes, though, that bird may be dead while the one shot first may be crippled and swimming away. Waterdog host Justin Tackett uses what he calls the no-no drill to gain control over which duck his retriever goes after first. Tackett places one bumper at 9 o’clock about 60 yards out and a second 20 yards away at about 2 o’clock (see diagram). The dog is put at heel on the left side of the handler, who uses his body to shield the dog from the closest bird. “You should turn and talk the dog into that long bird on the left,” Tackett says. "A dog has to be steady to do this, and you may need a check cord to keep it under control. But make sure the dog knows that it is to go after the bird you line him to, and often that’s not the last bird down."
Story by By Gary Koehler