Build the Retrieving Drive in your Gundog 
By Jeff Griffiths

14 May 2012

With many new gundog and handler teams coming into Retrieving Ability Tests for Gundogs (RATG), and some moving up into Retrieving Trials (RT), we should look at building the retrieving drive in your gundog. How do we get them to go out hard and with enthusiasm for a retrieve? This relates to one of the areas they are scored on: action and style. It is also important in having your dog running out straight for a retrieve and coming straight back again  to you after finding the retrieve. Judges will be looking for the dog that goes out and back in the most efficient way. This may involve the dog facing cover such as tussocks and long grass, blackberries, fallen logs, hills, gullies, and even water.

build driveWith a young pup we can start with anything they are keen to pick up or fetch. It may be a puppy sized retrieving dummy, but could also be a rolled up pair of socks or anything else the pup may be keen to retrieve. Avoid sticks as you never want the dog to think it is okay to bring back a stick when it is working for a retrieving dummy or bird.
You don’t have to throw it far for a pup. Just get their attention and hand throw out in front. Let the pup go out fast. Don’t worry about control at this stage. Later you will need to have them staying until you say fetch. Bring the control, or obedience, in later after you have built the retrieving drive. In the early stages you want a pup to be encouraged and enthusiastic to go out to retrieve. Be excited and this will rub off on your pup or young dog.

When your pup comes back with the retrieve call them back, clap your hands, and move back or run away if necessary. You want them to come to you every time with keenness and drive. Don’t under any circumstances chase your young dog if they don’t come straight back. Chasing your dog will only turn it into a game and encourage them to run away instead of coming to you. Just keep calling them back with enthusiasm, with you moving back and the pup coming towards you.
Older dogs should be trained in a similar way, but it will depend on their current training and experience. For example, a gundog that is already trained to sit and fetch a dumbbell on command is already well on the way to working in RATG and Retrieving Trials. However, you will need to train them to retrieve over much longer distances and to retrieve dummies and/or birds. You will also need to get them used to a variety of terrain and cover. These are huge differences to what is found at an obedience trial.Whilst it is convenient and quite okay to train a beginning gundog or pup on an oval or easy flat terrain, you will soon need to train them in cover, hills and gullies, and even water to be sure of success in RATG and Retrieving Trials.

As you start to lengthen the retrieves to say 50 and up to 100 metres, look for places you can train that have long grass and similar cover. This will teach the dog to work through this and most importantly to use their nose to find the retrieve. Find places where the dog has to look up hills or even down, to watch for the mark retrieve. They need to learn how to mark in a variety of situations, and to traverse this terrain, and this is done by experience in training. A dog has a natural tendency to veer off when running up hills, so experience in marking up hills will be beneficial to them.

Also try to find places where your gundog can learn to retrieve through gullies as this terrain is often used in Retrieving Trials and used when available in RATG. Have your dog sitting on one side of the gully and get someone to through the retrieve on the other side. Try to have a reasonable distance of 50 to 100 metres. Gundogs need to learn how to handle this terrain and take as straight a line as possible to find the retrieve and come back. Teaching them to retrieve over natural obstacles such as fallen trees is beneficial. Train your gundog to retrieve into or across water as well. This means being able to swim. Water retrieves are always included in Retrieving Trials, and are an option in RATG when suitable water is available. When first getting your dog to retrieve in water, get in the water with them and throw the retrieve. An alternative is to have experienced swimming dogs go into the water: a young dog will usually follow and before they know it they are swimming.

Look for advertised RATG trials in your local club or state members journal. They are usually held in conjunction with obedience trials or with Gundog breed and group shows and trials.
To find where Retrieving Trials are being held look on this Retrieving Australia website retrieving.org.au. On this site you can get all sorts of retrieving information and see training questions and answers. Get your gundog and see RATG and Retrieving Trials, meet other trailers, train up and give it a go.  Your gundog will love it, being able to do what it was bred to do!

Photo by Lara Sedgman

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the January 2012 issue of Dogs NSW magazine.

This page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc. (Affiliated with Dogs NSW)