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Author Ros Parmenter


Why train directional retrieves? Quite simply, on a shoot your dog will need guidance as to where to search for a fallen bird, and more importantly, the bird that you want him to pick up, not the one he chooses. We need to be able to give that guidance from a distance. The dog will be relying on your command, hand signals and body language to get to the right place. The purpose of this plan is to help you understand how to train the dog to take direction from you.


I have referred to your dog as “him” throughout. This is not canine sexism, it’s just easier!


Principles of training


You’ll be training a complex skill set so your dog will need al lot of help. Set him up for success and try to keep things light-hearted. Lots of play time and reward. If it’s not going well don’t be afraid to take it back a step or two – it’s not failure, it’s a way of moving forward. And if he’s getting frustrated play with him. Always finish on a high note


Assumptions at starting point The assumptions at the start are that your dog can do basic marked retrieves, is steady to thrown dummies and will sit while you walk away.


Descriptions of commands used To give the signal for the right or left command, slowly raise your hand until your arm is straight up with your palm facing your dog. When you’re ready to send him move your arm out briskly to the side, and move your leg out at the same time. It’s exaggerated because you’ll need to use it over a distance. The commands we use are “get out” for (your) right and “get on” for (your) left, but it’s entirely up to you what words you use. When you use the back command, raise one arm in front of you, angled upwards. Bend the hand at the wrist and briskly flick your hand upwards




  • Sit your dog facing you, with a wall, hedge or fence behind him

  • Make him wait while you move back a few paces

  • Throw or place a dummy to one side, a reasonable distance away (about the same distance as you would have started with when first training the marked retrieve)

  • Go to the other side, put another dummy down and pick it straight up again (you want him to get the scent but not the dummy at this stage)

  • Give your command for him to go for the first dummy down. He will go for the second one because it is fresh in his mind, but it doesn’t matter because there isn’t one there. Keep repeating your direction command until he understands to go the other way. That way lies his reward, so he will have learned the first lesson in paying attention and believing in your signal

  • When you have him going the right way first time, change over and train the other side in the same way

  • Once he is reliable at following your directions you can put both dummies down, but still send him for the first one thrown

  • When he’s brought the first dummy back, return him to the position he started in and walk away from him again before sending him for the second dummy

  • After a short while he’ll start to anticipate that he is going for the first dummy first, so now you need to mix things up a bit and start sending him randomly

  • Once he’s got that, keep 2 dummies down all the time. So, when he’s brought back the first one, put it down again before sending him for the second one.

  • If you find he’s going in the right direction every time, you’ve cracked the first part of the training and it’s time to move on



Training the third dummy


  • Now you need to move away from the fence or wall

  • Have your dog sit as before, and move a few paces in front of him. Ask him to sit while you put two dummies out, right and left.

  • Put a dummy out behind him, the same distance as before. This time we send him for the last dummy down, while it’s fresh in his mind, so.

  • Give the back command.

  • If this is successful you can then send him for the other dummies

  • Remember to keep returning him to the position he started in, between pick-ups

  • Keep the back dummy the last one thrown and the first one picked up until he’s consistent in following your directions, then you can start mixing them up

  • As you’ve added another element, you may need to pick up one or both of the right and left dummies to help him get the message. Clarity is important, leave him in no doubt as to what you want him to do

  • Once he’s reliable in following your directions you can start to increase the distance you stand away from him.


Also train you dog to go forward to two dummies thrown at an angle


  • Start with your dog sitting by your side, just as you would with a basic marked retrieve. Throw a dummy out at an angle to one side, say one o’clock, then to the other, but pick this second one up, as you did before. then pointing at the dummy, send him in the same way you would a marked retrieve, to the first one thrown

  • Progress this just as you did with the right and left, until he is reliable to picking up only the dummy you want him to pick up

  • It helps if you have a helper to be ready to stand on the other dummy if he heads off in the wrong direction!


The progression


To progress further the assumption is that your dog is trained to the stop whistle


Advanced training sessions with dummies will test your dog’s ability to put what he has learned into practice. So when you send him and he doesn’t find the dummy straight away, use your stop whistle, once you’ve got his attention you can then use your directional commands to help him get within scenting distance. Where the dummy is off at an angle further away from your dog you can use a version of the back signal, where you move your arm in the direction of the thrown dummy, so not a straight back movement of the arm, but an angled movement


Hope this has been helpful. Have fun training


Jacky Walker also wrote her version on the same subject so I will also add this to help people to decide how it is trained.



Directional Training

Author Jacky Walker


Before we begin directional training we must have a dog who will sit and stay and is also steady.

Only work on one direction at a time and when the dog is confidently going out then progress to the next stage.


To begin sit the dog with it's back against a hedge or fence, walk a few paces back and throw a dummy to the left or right side of the dog, or if you prefer place the dummy but not too far away. The dog should mark the dummy, get the dog's attention, hold your hand up to maintain the sit then bring your hand slowly down to shoulder level keeping elbow bent and indicating the direction you'll want the dog to go - make sure you use the hand appropriate to the side you are sending the dog - a quick movement stretching out the arm and taking a step sideways moving your body in the same direction giving the out command. The dog will not understand at first so encourage it and even run towards the dummy using your silly encouraging voice (yes gentlemen, bring out your feminine side!). Keep repeating at this short distance until the dog goes out without any hesitation.


When the dog is going out confidently you can then teach the opposite direction but also do one or two from the first side to maintain the training. Now try both sides but don't send the dog to the one it's looking at and replace the one picked so that there are always two dummies out, otherwise the dog learns to anticipate where you will be sending it!


The next step is going back, to teach this you need a track or path, sit the dog a few feet away and facing you, throw the dummy over the dogs head give the back (voice and hand signal) command on which the dog should turn and retrieve the dummy, again encourage and if necessary run towards the dummy. Once the dog understands the command and assuming you have a stop you can call the dog to you, stop it and send it back.


With all the exercises slowly increase the distance of both the dummy and yourself from the dog, if problems occur go closer again.

Finally try to put all these together, sit the dog on a crossroads of paths (I've used a track with a farm entrance), throw dummies on the track left and right along with one behind, try not to let the dog dictate which dummy to go for ie not the one it's looking at! When the dog has picked, replace that dummy so that there are always 3 dummies out. Don't be tempted to make the distances too long, better that the dummies are a short distance from the dog and it succeeds, confidence for longer distances comes with time.


Don't overdo the training, keep it fun and if it goes pear-shaped go back to the beginning.

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