Training to run lines to 'blinds'

by Trevor Stevens

Once your dog has his Novice Retrieving Dog (NRD) qualification, he must compete at Restricted level which requires him running a line to a blind or unsighted bird and to obey directions from the handler.

Training to run lines can commence at puppy stage and should not be left until the dog is ready to graduate from Novice.  However it is most important that this training should be done quite separately from directional training for left, right, and back.  All of these things can be taught when the dog is the same age, but they should not be taught in the same sessions - regardless of how tempting it might be to show off and have your dog run out, stop on whistle and turn - otherwise you might finish with a dog which stops or 'pops' consistently looking for instruction.

The objective is to have a dog, which runs stylishly and confidently off the handler’s hand up to about I50 metres over various types of terrain, and in all types of cover, including water.

Some handlers like to use a different instruction for this retrieve than for a mark.  For instance if a dog is sent to a mark with the instruction 'fetch', then the word for a blind might be 'back' or 'go on'.  Also the instruction might be preceded with the words 'dead bird'.  The objective is that in a trial, when a dog has seen a mark but is being sent instead for a blind, then (apart from being pointed in a different direction) he also receives a totally different command.

Here's how to start.  In the passageway at home, or down the side of the house, or on a laneway, place a number of retrieving dummies on the ground.  The dog must have seen you place the dummies in position.  Take the dog (say) I0 to 50 feet away - use commonsense, this is not a test, and the distance will depend on the age and tenacity of the dog.  Have the dog sitting at heel, (or with a puppy, kneel down to steady him).  Hold your left hand fully open in front of the dog's nose lined up in the direction of the blind.  Go through your routine; calmly say "stay", "dead bird" and then "go on" in an urging tone.  Initially the dog may not have a clue what you want -  why should he - so you should cajole, run with him, say 'fetch' etc whatever is needed to encourage him to pick up a dummy and run back with it.  The narrow restricted area that you have chosen should help to keep the dog focussed. It shouldn't be more than a few sessions before the dog has the idea.  The younger the dog the shorter the sessions should be.  Always stop before your dog tells you he’s had enough!  And always finish on a good note.

When your dog is doing this well find a quiet area in a park (a track is a good spot) which has short grass and start the routine again.  Once again start with short distances and as the dog catches on, move progressively further away from the dummies.  Next move is to an area where the grass is longer.  Let the dog see where you put the dummies but he cannot see the dummies from the position he is sent because of the grass. Try to always send your dog to the same spot, and progressively increase the distance by moving back.

After you have been working to the same spot a few sessions, peg the dog out of sight and place a couple of dummies in the usual position.  Bring the dog up and send him for dummies from one of the shorter positions.  He should confidently complete his first 'blind'!

Here are some training tips;

  • Move away from the blind, rather than moving the blind away from you.  Otherwise the dog may potter where the previous blind was.
  • When you have mastered the exercise in one location move to another.  Sometimes a dog identifies with a particular location rather than the instruction.
  • Don't put a blind in a location where your dog will confuse it with one it has already done.
  • Go back to short distances when you first introduce obstacles like undulations, rushes, creeks, logs etc.  Start double blinds I80 degrees apart and progressively bring the angles to about 90 degrees, so there is no chance of swapping game.
  • When giving a line to a dog, always make sure its backbone and head are lined up with the blind.