Diagram 1: Cone drill
As a matter of course, handlers commonly toss bumpers while training their dogs. But it can be equally beneficial to place bumpers at strategic locations in advance, heel the retriever, give the dog a line, and send him after the bumpers on the ground. The cone drill plays to that teaching technique, using orange traffic cones as the target areas.
In this drill's simplest form, only one cone is needed. The handler positions the cone and two bumpers 15 to 20 yards away from the start position. Send the retriever to the easily seen cone, where the dog will find the bumper and complete the retrieve to hand.
To expand this drill and extend the length of the retrieves, use three cones, each set 50 yards from the start point, with two bumpers located at each cone. Heel the dog to your side and give him a line to the first cone. Be patient. It is not unusual for a dog that has become used to less lengthy retrieves to stop short of the 50-yard cone. It may take some time for the dog to learn that he must go the distance to find the bumper. The handler may need to move closer to the cone, send the dog, and then retreat to the desired distance as the dog is running to the cone.
Once the dog successfully completes a retrieve from the first cone, rotate toward the second, give the dog a line, and send him to the second and ultimately the third cone. Once the lesson is learned, alternate the order of the retrieves. Your retriever is now learning to follow your instruction, which is a major step before advancing to blind retrieves.
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