Retriever Training – Taking an Initial Line
From Tri-Tronics Retriever Training Book, By Jim and Phyllis Dobbs with Alice Woodyard
Reprinted by permission of Tri-Tronics Inc.
We recommend that you first teach your dog lining before you attempt multiple marks or marks that incorporate obstacles, diversions or other hazards. By emphasizing lining before advanced marking, you have control of the dog's course from the beginning so that the dog will understand that a straight line out and back will be the only acceptable route.
Teaching lining includes teaching the dog two basic skills: taking a good initial line, and carrying that line despite influences, such as wind, terrain and old falls. This article will cover the first skill, teaching the dog to take an initial line. For descriptive purposes, we will consider the "initial line" to be the first 20 yards that the dog runs.
Precise Alignment Drills
To get a good initial line in retriever training, your ability to control the dog's precise position at heel becomes very important. Precise adjustments make it possible for you to aim the dog where you want it to go. Remember, you and the dog are a team. A quick adjustment from you can help the dog when it seems unsure of a mark and teamwork is essential when lining the dog up to run a blind.
Perfecting precise alignment at heel requires regular practice, but the results will give both you and your dog an important skill that is needed for doing advanced work in retriever training. The following eight drills are designed to teach your dog to sit straight.
They also teach it to move with you and align itself in the direction you are facing.
Since the following drills are new concepts that you are teaching the dog, in most cases, you will not use the Tri-Tronics collar. Just use your voice, leash and rattle stick for guidance.
Alignment Drill 1 - Square Pattern
Heeling in a square helps teach the dog to align itself in the direction you are going. Four decoys on the ground provide a pattern for the drill and are also a distraction which the dog must learn to disregard.
Practice heeling the dog on leash, going in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions while making square corners around the decoys. Use a rattle stick to correct the dog if it forges ahead or hugs your leg, and use the Tri-Tronics collar if the dog checks out the decoys or lags behind. By practicing these square corner drills, you are helping your dog learn to pay attention to your body language, which is the basis for precise alignment.
Alignment Drill 2 - Backwards Heeling
Training the dog to heel backwards is essential so that you can subtly align it in the heel position. To teach backwards heeling, you must keep the dog from moving away from you, so keep your leash snug, and place the dog between you and a fence.
Command "Heel." Take one step forward, then start moving backwards. As you move backwards, lightly rap the dog across the front feet with a rattle stick and guide it with the leash. The fence will prevent the dog from turning around and the rattle stick will motivate it to move backwards.
Then command "Heel" and take a few steps forward along the fence line, followed by "Heel" and a few steps backwards. If the dog does not step backwards when you do, tap in front of its feet and guide it back.
If the dog starts to sit as you move backwards, immediately move forward to prevent it from sitting. Then command "Heel" as you step backwards and repeat the drill. Continue along the fence, a few steps forward, a few steps back, until the dog will move forward and backward with you.
Now try moving your left leg in a pendulum motion, one step forward, one step backward. Repeat this until the dog will automatically follow your left leg without the use of the rattle stick or a command. Practice this drill until the dog will move backwards when off leash and away from the fence.
Alignment Drill 3 – Backward Pivot
Once the dog will move backwards reliably, teaching it to pivot backwards is the next step. Say "Heel" and pivot on your left leg, turning counterclockwise. Use the leash, to hold the dog snugly in the heel position and, if necessary, use the rattle stick to make it move backwards as you pivot 360 degrees to the left.
Alignment Drill 4 – Return To Heel
By using the backwards pivot, you can easily teach the dog to get into the heel position. Start by reviewing the Backwards Pivot Drill. Next, have the dog sit. Step away a quarter turn so that you are facing the dog's shoulder, and then command "Heel." If necessary, use your rattle stick to motivate the dog. If your backwards pivoting drill has been thorough, the dog should move backwards into the heel position.
Once the dog is moving into the heel position from a 90 degree angle, stand facing your dog and repeat the drill until it will quickly move into the heel position. This makes a nice "return to heel" and allows you to align the dog correctly for the next retrieve.