So we are making the fast approach to hunting season and I have had some inquiries about dog training drills that don’t require too much time and are very easy to set up.   So below is a drill I consistently use for working with my dogs on developing confidence , which in turn translates to drive, and also reinforces handling and more importantly obstacle navigation.

We all know that hunting and training are two different worlds.  In training we train for perfection in hunting we need speedy retrieves, dedication to the hunt, and birds in hand.  If you have been around the hunt test world or field trial world you may have heard handlers talking about their dogs seeing “the picture”.  This basically means they see a potential scenario that they have been trained on before and in turn they should know whats expected of them and have the confidence to complete the task.  The picture could be a 150 yard blind that requires a dog to go over an obstacle, navigate between two obstacles (the key hole), or it may require them to shave a small piece of water.  That’s why training on a multitude of scenarios that allows you to teach things like obstacle navigation or busting through cover are critical.  I constantly train and use difficult handling situations in navigable terrain to TEACH “the picture”,build confidence, and fine tune handling situations like tight angle casts.

Some folks may call them school blinds or pattern blinds so for this article we will call them pattern blinds .  These are blinds that can be set up and run repeatedly to introduce the dog to obstacles and get them comfortable so that when a similar situation arises they can run straighter lines with more drive and less casts.

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In the picture above I set up what I call the three pole drill.  I have three blind stakes set up at about 100 -125 yards away with two “jumps” or pieces of cover that the dog must go through and a ditch they need to cross.  I run the center pole first, the right pole second and the left pole third.  It sounds easy and I have run this drill a hundred times but more times than not the dog wants to decide which stake they are going to  about halfway through the drill rather than the one I am sending them to.  Or after I send them and they go through the cover they have lost their picture and start to think for themselves and make the decision on their own.  The three poles are about 20 yards apart .  The correction cast when the dog deviates, ends up being an angled back (most of the time).  This is where I reinforce angles and reinforce which way the dog should spin (over their left or right shoulder) when given a cast.  If you are just starting this drill it may be a good idea to move closer to the stakes and take out the cover and terrain changes.

In the picture below I run three pattern blinds through a small pond and incorporate shaving small pieces of water, taking the whole pond and swimming parallel to the bank.  I even through in a “jump” to teach the dog to run straight lines and go through rather than go around.  So on the first blind retrieve the dog takes a line taking the corner of the pond.  In the second blind the dog takes a more squared up line to the pont and swims across the entire pond . In the third line the dog takes a tight line in the water to swim parallel to the shore.

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Again….. when we are hunting typically we don’t care how the dog returns to us or if they cheat by taking the easy way but these  drills will translate into trainability and will strengthen the bond of trust between you and your dog so that should you need to handle a dog to a crippled bird that has swam close to shore and hasn’t left the water you can send your dog parallel to the bank, or if there is a down bird across a channel the dog will be confident making that big swim.  It also teaches the dog confidence in their decision-making process so they will drive through a retrieve and push through heavy cover .

This drill was set up in an area that was set up specifically for this drill. If you don’t have access to a place like this its very easy to do this pretty much anywhere. Notice my terrain and cover. The bulk of the line is run through short grass because here I am TEACHING and building confidence.  Starting simple is key.  So any location can be used for this.  Look for things such as terrain changes like hills .  Another good option is to run across different types of cover . Sometimes dogs will see something  as simple as a ditch or a change in the height of grass, say from a short cut grass into a bush hogged field, and stop almost treating the cover change as a wall and they will start to ping-pong back and forth or check up, taking them off-line or creating doubt.  Using fallen trees that aren’t to big and that are safe for your dog to cross over is a great way to incorporate an obstacle, or setting up a blind between two trees to teach the key hole concept.  If you only have a limited amount of space run the blinds from different angles or find a hay filed with hay bails in it to run them through.

Another good tool is changing surface types ONLY IF ITS SAFE and you can guarantee its safe.  Now when I say this please note that you should really steer away from running them down roads or down the open paths in row crops.  In my opinion it teaches the dog that when they see a dirt road or four-wheeler path that they should go down it, and will create bad habits. With the row crops, by not challenging the dog to cut across the rows or take them at an angle it can lead to the bad habit of the dog wanting to square up the open paths every time they see one.

Remember start simple and TEACH.  Once the dog has learned this, you can revisit the drill to tighten up your skills as a handler and to reinforce confidence and handling in the dog. If you found this article helpful please share this with others.

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