Simple Drills Develop Important Skills
By Jeremy Moore
After many years working with numerous dogs, one of my biggest takeaways is that too many times, we as trainers complicate what shouldn’t be complicated.
I’m sure you’re in the mid-winter swing of thing at this point – ice fishing, snowmobiling, maybe some rabbit or predator hunting. Yes, they’re all great ways to spend the winter, but even better when you can enjoy them with your dog, and better yet when you can build in some worthwhile training in the process.
Built on memory
Some of the simplest and most valuable drills I do with my dogs when it comes to retrieving is not built on “marking” – that is, visually seeing an object down and then making the retrieve – but instead are built on memories, which is based on setting up the retrieve with delay for the dog to remember the location.
One reason I lean so heavily on memory drills with my dogs is because they are multi-faceted. They not only allow the opportunity for the retrieve, but at the same time I am building and reinforcing other valuable skills that are not so natural to most dogs, including steadiness and lining, to name a few.
There are several variations of retrieving memories such as trailing, circles and loops. Once you develop an understanding of the basics, the options become endless as to how you can mix things up to not only continue to challenge your dogs, but also remain fresh and avoid boring your dogs in training. We have the ability to set up memory drills in many ways and a slight change or variation in location, direction, cover, etc. can put a completely different feel to the drill for the dog.
The most basic is the trailing memoryand probably the simplest. I use this drill for a variety of reasons including introducing a dog to lining, extending distances, pushing a dog into and through various types of cover.
Here are the steps I take when setting up a dog on trailing memory.
- Find yourself an edge or line to work from. It can be a physical line like a fence line or the edge of a building. Or it can be more of a visual edge like the change from a taller grass or CRP field to a mowed lawn or even along a tree line. Something that will help the dog keep a straight line to start out.
- Put your dog in heel position and heel them out to your desired location for the retrieve. Have them sit, take the bumper or dummy from your training bag, and drop it in front of you while ensuring your dog stays calm and quiet. Tell them “no, heel,” turn 180 degrees, and heel them back to the distance you wish to send them for the retrieve.
Don’t push the distance too long to start. You can and should always add distance once they become familiar with the drill.
- Along with your dog, both of you turn back to face toward the dummy and have them “sit.” Pause just momentarily to start – you should add time in as the dog becomes familiar with the drill – and then line the dog toward the dummy and send them on their name. The objective throughout this drill is to maintain control and ensure your dog does not whine or break.
- Finish the retrieve the same way you would any other, with a good solid hold and delivery.
I use trailing memorythe majority of the time with young dogs, especially early on in retrieving. It’s easily extended into running short doubles by simply building in a second dummy in the 180-degree line and from there we are off and running. At this point we can make adjustments to the angles and soon we are lining dogs with confidence and have not eroded any steadiness or control.
The second drill that is valuable for me as a handler is thecircle memory. It’s an extension and variation of trailing memory. It sets up differently and requires using more dummies, so you get the value of making multiple retrieves in one drill. In the circle memory, instead of walking straight lines, you will always be walking in an arc that ultimately will complete a circle.
Here are the steps taken in setting up a simple circle memory:
- Start out to either the left or right side while heeling your dog in position and under control in the shape of a circle. Just for reference, a diameter of around 25 yards is a good distance to start out – you can add to the size of the circle as you progress.
- At about 135 degrees, stop and drop a dummy from out of your training bag. Pause and let the dog focus on the dummy and then give the command, “no, heel.” Continue on with your circle until you get to about 215 degrees. Repeat the sequence with dropping a second bumper and return back to your starting point.
- While maintaining the control in the heel position, line the dog back to the first dropped bumper and send them on their name. Upon return and with a good hold and delivery, line the dog back to the second dummy and send on their name again.
- Again, be sure to finish the retrieve with a good, solid hold and delivery to hand.
Not all retrieves are thrown
These memory drills are certainly not complicated, however they both require a good amount of control in order to be successful. What is a seemingly simple drill can become a big mess quickly if you do not have the control and ability to do the heel work, the steadiness and the delivery.
Part of the value I find with trailing memoryand circle memoryis that you maintain and reward a dog’s steadiness with a retrieve. It is the ultimate reward for a retriever and these drills allow us to sharpen those skill sets within the setup and execution of the drill.
The other major benefit I get out of memories is the value of a dog learning and realizing that all retrieves do not come from my handand are not necessarily seen thrown or in the air. This is particularly important for me when working with dogs that I plan to shed hunt with.
A struggle I hear from those working on training dogs to pick sheds is that their dog will always pick up the ones they have thrown but struggle to pick them up off the ground if not seen. The memory drills build in time, and that time is a delay from when the dog sees the dummy to when they actually pick them up. That slight variance is the key to how I get pups to understand that just because I didn’t throw it, the reward is still there for them to make the pick.
I mentioned earlier the winter activities you can enjoy with your dogs and even build in some worthwhile training. Ice fishing is one of them. Here is an easy way to apply these memory drills while you are counting down the days until shed hunting or maybe even to stay sharp for an upcoming spring snow goose trip.
When you set up your tip-ups, position them in a way that you can build in bothtrailing and circle memorieswith your dog. Throughout the day you likely are going to be making trips to get flags, clean out holes, check minnows, etc. These are great times to build in a few retrieves.
Bring your dog along and position your tip ups in a way that you can replicate your drills. While spending a day on the ice, I have sent my dogs on 200- to 300-yard lines and on multiple retrieves in a circle memorysetup that was hundreds of yards in diameter. The dog has a great time, gets in a tremendous workout along with us, and actually makes some nice gains in their training by doing this rather than simply throwing countless, meaningless marked retrieves all day long.
If you start building more memories into your training than marks, I think you will find you make nice gains on much more than just retrieving…and this time of year affords a lot of great chances to do so.
Best of luck in your training!