with Bill and Becky Eckett,
Blackwater Retrievers, Missouri USA.

Report by Helena Cornelius

Bill and Becky Eckett conducted a wonderful three day seminar on retrieving training in Jan 2003 in Shepparton, Victoria. Many thanks to Julie and Andrew Cramond for organising this! Here are some of the training concepts that hit me the most forcefully.

First and foremost you are a teacher.

What are the fundamentals of the task you wish to teach? Use progressive drills and much repetition.


If the dog is having trouble with a concept, simplify the task. e.g. shorten the distance, change the colour of a bumper to make the correct one more obvious or the incorrect one less obvious, point out to the dog by throwing another bumper where you want him to go. Always carry an extra bumper in your back pocket when teaching new concepts, because you donít know when you will need to simplify with an extra throw.

Dogs learn from ďyesísĒ not ďnoísĒ. Donít be afraid to go back to a previous success in the midst of training something new. If youíre in doubt about whether the dog is being disobedient rather than confused, err on the side of treating the problem as confusion. Donít bully your way through.

If something is sloppy when teaching a newdrill, before you do it again the next day, correct the problem in a simplified and different situation e.g. tidy up a slow sit with your preferred simple drill for this. You might not choose towork excessively on the sit in the middle of teaching a new concept.

If dog is doing well on a drill, complicate it with many variations. If that doesnít go well, drop back to a simpler version of the task.

Balance your training schedule Ė donít do only one thing.

Balance your blinds & drills work with marking.

When running blinds, balance lining with handling. Allow momentum sometimes. Work for tight handling, sometimes.

Balance known against unknown work.


Generally have multiple blinds in the field (three is good) when practising them. Then the dog understands why itís being handled. Effectively you are saying: ďThereís more blinds here than you think. Thatís why Iím on your case!Ē

Lining your dog for a blind

Line yourself up with the blind and then find a spot on the line thatís really close to your feet and in front of the dog, line the dogís head to that spot. Of course, make sure his spine is straight, too.


Slow it down

Handle slowly: in the field, stop the dog, count 5, cast. But ifyour dog is over quick to move, counteract the problem by counting 10 before every cast, until it becomes steady. Get the dog to be very focused on you before you cast.

Also when the dog is by your side, exaggerate a slow send, at least in training. SIT, wait 5 seconds, line up dog, put your hand down if you choose to confirm with this gesture, wait 5 seconds, then SEND.


Other choice titbits

If doing the same drill multiple times, make sure you do it from exactly the same spot. For example, use a mat that stays put which the dog can sit on each time before you send him. Mark where the piles are also, so you can do an exact repeat.

With a more advanced dog, in new terrain, your dog might take a bad Right back to a blind. Stop the dog, YOU move, so that your next cast is a Right back again to get to the blind. You may have to do this several times. Itís worth it to practice the cast your dogís having trouble with.

Use silent angle back casts, vocal straight BACK casts and medium voice for OVER casts.

On the way to a blind, if your dog takes too long to stop on a STOP whistle, call him back to where you first blew it, then give the command you would have had it stopped immediately. BUT, take your time before you blow your COME IN whistle for this. Otherwise it may well anticipate you and start coming in on all STOP whistles.

Starting a new exercise, you could show your dog every pile first before you send him, but if you donít point them out first, you could practice handling as you teach the dog where the piles are. You can use such situations as opportunities for multiple handles.

Attitude, Focus, Momentum

Your dog should love what itís doing and should be highly tuned to your instructions. If you lose attitude or focus, you might throw a few happy bumpers to get itback, or change to something simpler, or take a break. Kindly teasing with a dummy may improve focus in a young dog. Getting that dummy should be a great game.

Momentum is important. Have one or two very long blinds the dog knows (Bill suggests 500 metres away!). You donít stop or handle the dog even if itís not running dead straight. Your message to the dog is ďJust get out there and run!Ē