Tom Smith, Wildrose Oxford
There is nothing more satisfying than sending your dog after a downed bird into thick cover and watching them methodically search and make the recovery. But, as with all things, there is always an equal and opposite reaction that can occur.
Training your dog to only find bumpers or game in cover will create a cover hunting monster but will they cast out of the cover when required? Will they run past a mark short of the cover? Will they hold an area outside of cover? Do they consistently pull to cover (suction)? Now is the time to implement a balanced approach to your training. It is imperative for a dog to cast both into and out of cover to guarantee consistent game recovery. Many pattern drills work for both upland and waterfowl such as switching on doubles, pull-push and stop-diversion-back. We run all these drills in short grass, tall grass, water and the woods but never in just one type of cover. Casting drills are especially important to get the dog into, or out of, cover. So, let’s see where we start.
With a young pup I will do a lot of just walking through the cover to make them bold. I’m not looking for a perfect heel as I want the pup to get a little lost and work through the cover to find me. As the training moves forward with retrieves becoming a little more complex, I will start having the pup find bumpers in the cover also. Nothing fancy, just short trailing memories. Make it a party and be animated when the pup makes the recovery. Let them know that is what you are looking for and reward them. These short retrieves in cover at a young age will pay dividends as pup progresses as it also teaches them to ignore those psychological barriers.
We start teaching casting (backs, lefts, rights) on the fence to entrench the dog taking a straight line with a cast. Once I am sure the pup understands what I am asking and is consistent with the casts I immediately move to cover. The “pods” field has several different pods with heavy cover surrounded by short grass. Start by doing simple backs and left/rights into the cover. It gives them a very visual, defined target when they turn to take the cast. The other upside is it teaches them to hold an area on the hunt. Win-win right? Not so fast.
Remember the adage for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? Now is the time to make sure you balance the equation. After Rover is casting consistently into cover now invert it and teach him to cast out of cover. Set it up with a trailing memory from outside the cover, sit the pup in the middle of the cover and make your cast. As always, reward the pup verbally with a confident “GOOD” when they take the cast you are looking for. Not only do this for ground cover, but into and out of the woods, into and out of the water and any other type of cover, barrier or terrain change you can find. The game does not always end up exactly where it falls so Rover needs to be confident with casting into and out of all the different types of cover. 5X5– pup must be able to do each drill 5 times, correctly, in 5 different locations and cover types. When your dog is consistent and you are confident in him, remember Train Don’t Test, you can increase the complexity with a pickup drill. Drop a memory in the cover and have a friend move it to a location of your choosing such as into the woods or another patch of cover or 10-20 yards outside the cover in short grass. Send Rover into the cover, let him hunt a bit, stop him and cast him to the bumper. Again, a solid verbal “GOOD” lets the pup know he is making the right decision. When I start teaching this drill I usually use cold game for the find to make the reward much better than a bumper. Pup’s performance on this drill will truly show if he has the understanding of what you want and that he has full confidence in you to help him find the downed game.
The Wildrose Way balanced approach to training will develop a well-rounded dog that is as comfortable either in the duck blind or the upland field, hunting open water or thick cover or relaxing on his bed in the lodge. To achieve this goal, you must start with the end in mind and make your training plan a road map to success to create your Dog of Duality.