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Out of sight: get to know the basics of the blind retrieve.

NO MATTER WHAT wonders your pooch may perform in marking and remembering the final resting places of birds that you and your buddies shoot, he won't mark them all, simply because he won't see every fall. When you shoot the bird, your retriever may be off in the tules plying his trade on another bird. He may be taking a nap behind the blind, or he may simply be watching the wrong birds in the flock. From your dog s viewpoint, you shot the wrong bird!

So, how do you recover an unmarked bird? Well, on land you might heel your dog out to where he can scent it. Or you might--foolishly--send him for a romp, hoping he'll stumble on your shot bird before flushing and chasing new ones.

In water, you might wade or row out. I've heard of one diehard who actually stripped and swam out once, then shivered near his car's heater for hours to warm up. He's never recommended this to anyone else.

Happily, as a retriever owner, you have another option: Train the beast to do a special handler-guided retrieve. In England, this retrieve's land of origin, proper sportsmen call it an "unseen" retrieve, which makes much sense. Over here in the Colonies, for whatever reason, we call it a blind retrieve.

Being a native-born Colonist with only distant ancestors from the Mother Country, I'll use this latter term from here on.

* THREE PARTS In a blind retrieve, the handler directs his dog to an unmarked bird by voice, whistle, body signals and hand gestures. Like Caesar's Gaul, the blind retrieve is divided into three parts: lining, stopping and casting.

Lining: Your first problem in sending your dog after a bird he didn't fall is getting him to leave your side and head out in the right direction. We call this lining, for the training of which we have numerous drills.


If he carries his initial line all the way to the bird, he is said to have lined the blind, which is relatively rare in both dog games and hunting. More often he takes a crooked initial line or, after running straight some distance, veers off to the left or right.

Stopping: After leaving your side, whenever your dog heads off in the wrong direction, you must re-direct him. But with his running out yonder, he can't see you. So, before you can communicate your latest instructions to him visually, you must persuade him to stop, turn around, sit and look at you. We call this "stopping," which we initiate with a whistle signal. For teaching this skill we also have numerous drills.

Casting: When your pooch has stopped and is giving you his undivided attention, you re-direct (or "cast") him toward the downed bird with one of several arm signals, each normally accompanied by a verbal command or whistle signal. For teaching these, too, we have many drills.

Many years ago, we made do with four basic casts: over to left and right; back to the rear; and come in, each with an arm motion plus a vocal or whistle command, and perhaps a little body English for emphasis.

Today's dog-gamers have accumulated a seemingly infinite variety of subtle casts angled in every direction. Frankly, these make the handler look like a ballet dancer as he goes through i his repertoire of meaningful movements.

For the hunter, the four basic casts should suffice for directing his retriever to any unmarked fall, without making him feel like he's auditioning for a spot on Dancing with the Stars.

* THE HISTORY In his long out-of-print book Training Gun Dogs to Retrieve, Scottish trainer David D. Elliot details how he developed the blind retrieve. However, he left out one significant detail--namely, when he did it! He mentions not one date.

But since he trained mostly Labs, it had to be after World War I, for that breed didn't become dominant in the British Isles until then. Since he came to America in the early 1930s, well after his blind retrieve became famous among British retriever field trialers, Elliott must have developed this retrieve in the early 1920s,

In British retriever trials, several handlers and their dogs stood in a line while distant "beaters" walked toward them, flushing pheasants at random as they went along. Shooters near the line of handlers shot the incoming birds here, there and everywhere. The judges indicated to this handler or that handler that he should send his dog for this bird or that.

With so many birds falling, it was quite common for a dog to fail to mark the bird he was sent for. If he didn't find "his" bird, judges eliminated him and asked another handler to have a go at it. If the second dog retrieved the bird, that handler was said to have "wiped the eye" of the previous unsuccessful handler. Wiping eyes not only helped win field trials, but was also a great game of one-upmanship among handlers.

Elliot's profession was training retrievers, especially for field trials, but his hobby was spectating at herding dog trials. (Talk about a postman's holiday!) At these herding trials he saw handlers direct their dogs with whistle and arm signals to guide them in moving the livestock correctly.

To start a herding exercise, the handler first sent his dog out from his side to the far side of the distant flock, usually sheep. Then he stopped the dog with a whistle signal, after which he directed him with arm gestures. Elliot found it fascinating how at a great distance the handler easily guided his dog so it would herd the sheep into a pen.

At some point in this spectating hobby, Elliot began to realize how a retriever trained to handle like a herding dog would have a significant advantage in field trials. He went home and experimented with this new concept using one of his Labs, a dog named Brandy. It worked amazingly well.

After he could line, stop and cast Brandy satisfactorily, he began using this new technique in field trials. His instant and ongoing success first brought on shouts of protest from the competitors whose eyes he regularly wiped (while keeping his own eyes unwiped) with this new approach to retrieving. But they soon came to accept it, and protests turned into acclaim.

During the 1920s, several members of our American economic aristocracy--Averell Harriman, Jay Carlisle, Mr. & Mrs. Marshall Fields, Robert Goelet and others--began traveling to England to hunt and attend field trials. Impressed, they bought Labradors to take home so they could simulate British hunting and trials on their extensive estates.


They also hired British gamekeepers to come to America, manage their estates and train their dogs. In their competition for outstanding gamekeepers, Jay Carlisle grabbed the brass ring, for he hired Dave Elliot to move to the States, oversee his Wingan Kennels and train his retrievers.

These wealthy sportsmen also initiated the Labrador Retriever Club Inc., which held the first American Kennel Club retriever field trial in December 1931 on Goelet's 8,000-acre estate near Chester, N.Y. Elliot's blind retrieve has been a part of American dog games since then.

Not surprisingly, American hunters also found it more useful as waterfowl numbers have declined, and recovering every shot bird has become more important.

* THE DETAILS This history should bring home the following critical training point: The blind retrieve must be totally trained.

No retriever breed--and, in fact, no herding breed--has any natural instinct for lining, stopping and casting. Each skill must be drilled into the dog, first separately and then in combination with one another. Appropriate drills for these can be found in my book Retriever Training Drills for Blind Retrieves, which is available from the Gun Dog Bookshelf.

What's more, the drilling ends only when the dog dies or is retired. Every retriever needs frequent refresher courses. So there's no point in hurrying through the initial drills. Besides, too much drilling in any one session damages the dog's style, so drill lightly and frequently.

Then, too, keep it positive, with lots of praise.
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Title Annotation:Retrieve
Author:Spencer, James B.
Publication:Gun Dog
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 23, 2011
Previous Article:Good enough: what behavior is acceptable in the field?
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