Placed retrieves

 

The first task in training the send away is to teach the dog to run out at a target on command. If the animal is “ball‑crazy,” it is quite easy to get the dog to do this by placing a ball on the ground where the dog can see it and then sending it to retrieve. This is called a placed retrieve.

The handler begins by leaving his dog on a sit stay and walking out just a few feet in front of it. He shows the ball to the animal, tossing it up in the air and catching it a time or two, and then places it on the ground.

The place on the field where the handler puts the ball is the target spot and, for the time being, we will not move it. The dog will always be sent to exactly this spot.

The handler returns to his dog, steps to heel position and gives the dog the “line”–meaning that he points with his left hand at the ball. Then, with the command “Go out!” and a sweeping arm gesture toward the target, he sends the animal.

The dog bounds across the fifteen or so feet that separate it from the ball and grabs it. Meanwhile, the handler takes several steps backward, so that he is now perhaps twenty‑five feet from the target spot. When the dog happily retrieves the ball to him, the handler pats and praises it lavishly and then takes the ball and puts the dog on another sit stay. He takes the ball back over to the target spot, leaves it there, and again sends the dog to retrieve it.

Over several training sessions, the handler repeats the placed retrieve again and again, each time retreating a little father from the target spot while the dog is making the retrieve. Soon, he is sending the animal from 100 feet or more. This is far enough so that, with any ground cover at all, the dog is not able to actually see the ball during much of its run. The animal will go perhaps fifty feet “blind” before it can even see the target. But, because it has learned where the target spot is, and knows that it will always find the ball at that exact spot, the dog goes there straight and goes as fast as it can.

What we are doing, of course, is setting the dog up to believe that, if it takes the line its handler gives it and goes, it will find the ball. In order to accomplish this, we need the dog to:

• go out hard and fast and “true to the line”–meaning that it does not weave or curve or wander, but runs a beeline between its handler and the target spot

• go out a long distance, during much of which it cannot actually see the ball

The traditional way of increasing the distance so that the dog would practice running blind was by changing the location of the target. The handler sent the animal always from the same place on the field, making him travel farther each time by gradually moving the ball away.

This meant that each time the handler moved the target spot, the dog did not know exactly where it would find the ball. Hopefully the animal found it the way we wanted it to, by running as fast as it could in a straight line until it saw the ball. However, unless the handler was extremely careful and meticulous, a lot of other things could happen. The dog could begin weaving as it ran, searching for the ball. The animal could even miss the line or run a curve and go right past the ball, and then wind up finding it by quartering randomly about the field. However, more commonly the dog would run out to the certain distance from the handler at which it was accustomed to find the ball, and then it would slow down to a canter or a trot and put its head to the ground and continue slowly up the field, searching for the ball with its eyes and nose.

The dog’s stable strategy for finding the ball in the send away could thus easily become a tentative, head‑down gallop in which it weaved as it went out, turning back and quartering the instant it thought it might have gone too far.

In our method, the dog always finds the ball in the same spot, the target spot, and the handler gradually increases the length of the send away by moving back away from the target spot . The animal knows exactly where it is going. The animal travels blind farther and farther, but it never weaves, drops its head, runs past the ball or finds it by casting about. The dog goes right to it and it goes at a dead run.

 








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