I’m by no means an expert or a professional trainer, but these are my top bumper drills to get started with retrieving. Keep in mind that everyone trains differently, but all of these drills aim to build trust between you and your dog and get them ready for the field. – Addison Edmonds
Addison’s Bumper Pick: Orange
This is the first step I taught Chevy– I’ve always called it “dead bird.” Sprinkle some dog food or treats in an area of your yard, let your dog run around, and when they get somewhat close to the kibble, start saying, “dead bird.” This will teach them to put their nose to the ground and start hunting.
Once your dog gets the hang of it, switch to use a bumper instead of food. I like to put feathers in the bumper, hide it when he’s not looking, and send him on a blind retrieve. When he starts getting close I’ll say, “dead bird,” just like when we did the drill with the food. By this point, your dog should know to start hunting the area to find the bumper.
I like to use the orange bumper with this. Since dogs have a harder time seeing orange, it helps them learn to rely on using their nose to find it, which becomes really valuable in the field.
Addison’s Bumper Pick: Flasher
I don’t know if this is an official drill, but it came in handy with Gunner. I’d put the bumper on a hook or an easy disconnect at the bottom of the pool– just something weighted that’s going to pull it down. I’d stand on the side of the pool with him and say, “deep,” which meant he needed to go underwater and look for it. Gunner picked it up pretty quickly.
“Deep” is pretty helpful if a wounded duck dives down and grabs hold of any vegetation that can help them stay underwater, or if they go swim around before popping back up. Dogs naturally look for birds on top of the water, so by teaching him “deep,” he knew to go underwater and look for it.
For this one, I’d recommend using the flasher bumper. Since it’s further underwater, this will help it stand out and allow the dog to locate it quickly.
Addison’s Bumper Pick: White
I like to use “up” with Chevy in the middle of other drills to keep his awareness up. When he’s not looking, I’ll go hang a bumper off of a tree limb at a height where it’s just reachable from him. Ideally it’s pretty close to the trunk of the tree so he can jump off of the trunk to get up there if needed. I’ll send him toward the tree, stop him under the branches, and then start repeating, “Up,” until he learns that the bumper is up in the tree. I like to put feathers in the bumper to help with their detection, especially when it’s hanging up higher. Chevy picked up on this one pretty quick.
Your dog is going to look at you a bit confused the first time you do this drill, so make sure you start by hanging the bumper a bit lower. Show them where it is and keep saying, “Up,” until they get it. As your dog gets the hang of it, keep putting the bumper higher and higher into the tree. The loop on the end of the bumper rope makes it really easy to hang on branches.
I like to use the white bumper for this drill since it’s easier to see in lower light and shaded areas. It’s a great drill to prepare your dog on the off chance a bird lands in a tree or brush pile .…or for training other skills, like getting a refreshment out of the refrigerator.
Addison’s Bumper Pick: White, Orange, and Flasher
I’m not sure if this is officially called a t-drill, but it’s by far the drill I use most often. If you picture your yard as a baseball field with you and your dog standing on the pitcher’s mound, put a pile of bumpers on first, second, and third bases. I like to put them about 30-40 yards away from where Chevy and I are standing.
This one is fun because it quickly builds trust between you and your dog. The first time you do a t-drill, do a very hard direction/cast with your hands so it’s easier for them to pick up on. Since there are three piles of bumpers, you can tell them which way to go. This will help with at least 80-90% of your retrieves, since your dog trusts you to point them in the right direction and you trust them to take a straight line to the retrieve. You don’t need to over complicate it early on.
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