Sticking the Fall
In the shooting field we need a dog that will stick to the fall and have the determination to succeed. Some dogs will give up when they do not find quickly and others will stick to the hunt no matter what you do to call them off. The latter is a different problem, one of control and obedience. So let’s have a look at ways in which we can encourage a dog to stick to the fall and find the bird or rabbit no matter what the difficulties. I have two 7 month old lab puppies that I am working with at the moment, brother and sister. The dog when he was younger, and saw a dummy fall, got to the area and, if he could not find it where he thought it had dropped, began to hunt the vicinity. The little bitch however went flying out to the fall area and if she could not find it where she thought it was, came flying back. This started to happen with her the moment I began to steady her to the throw of a dummy and give her memory retrieves. It was as though her drive to retrieve was a little lower through the steadying process and she had not got the motivation to hunt if she was not successful at the first try. With her, all I did was to allow her to run in and chase once more to build up her enthusiasm. I also used a tennis ball which will of course bounce and roll and is not where she first saw it hit the ground. This encouraged her not only to keep trying but, where the grass was a little thicker, to use her nose. I then began to use a tennis racket to knock the ball further and give longer retrieves and stronger bounces. When I steadied her again, this lack of interest in finding the dummy had gone and was replaced with a desire to hunt and find.
In the previous marking article I mentioned the idea of ‘seeding’ the ground with more than one dummy so that your dog finds quickly. If you have a problem with your dog sticking an area you can again ‘seed’ the ground with dummies and begin removing the dummies one by one as your dog succeeds on each retrieve. In the end there is only the one thrown dummy for him to fetch, but he has learnt slowly and in increments to stick the ground for longer and longer periods. Teach your dog a verbal command that means he is in the right area and to hunt it. Many handlers use the words “Hi Lost” which sounds like “Hi Low-ss”. Teach your dog that when he hears these words it is in the right area of the fall and to start working with its nose. To do this is quite easy. When your dog is within about five to ten yards of a retrieve just call gently ‘Hi Lost”, and if he doesn’t find it encourage when he is in the circle of contact with the words again. Only call the command when he is within a close distance of the fall – this can vary according to terrain and scenting conditions but is usually within five to ten yards of the fall. Another way of teaching this and encouraging hunting is to roll a ball into long grass up close and then instead of sending him to fetch encourage and move forward with the words “Hi Lost” to send him to find it. Very quickly you will be able to roll a ball, unseen by your dog, into the long grass as you walk along, then call him across and with the command “Hi Lost’, set him off hunting for it. If he is obedient to the recall whistle, by judicious use of it to call him into the area and giving the command “Hi Lost’, you can control and hold him within the ‘strike’ zone until he finds it. Initially it should not take long for him to find the ball, therefore never be too proud to go in a give a little help if he is struggling. As he gains more determination and skill at this hunting you can hold him there longer and longer. Another variation of this, which builds up the hunting time and determination, is to throw a ball about ten yards away into grass or cover where the ball will not be seen. Then throw a second ball as far as you can where it is easy to find, and send the dog for this second ball. When the dog is on its way quickly go and pick up the first ball and put it in your pocket. When your dog returns with his tennis ball and delivers it, send him for the first you threw and have now picked up. Using “Hi Lost” and a gentle recall whistle when necessary, hold your dog in the area and then, when he does not see you do it, throw the ball back into the area and let him find it. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog has to hunt the area before you throw the ball back into the hunt zone. In this way your dog will learn to stick that area because it does find in the end. The important thing here is to watch your dog and not wait until it is discouraged by not finding. If you read your dog right you will be able to return the ball just before that critical point occurs.
Once you have your dog understanding the command ‘Hi Lost”, you now have to teach him the command at a distance. Some dogs find distance a little insecure and return straight away if they do not find the dummy immediately, others, because they have run longer distances, seem to lose orientation and run everywhere and anywhere. I have even seen them run across to another place where a dummy may have been thrown previously even though it is fifty or more yards from where the dummy you require actually fell. Where a dog appears to want to run wide and deep and not stick to a smaller ‘strike’ area I look for ways of restricting his hunting perimeters by having, for example, the retrieve just out from the corner of a field where fences or hedges will restrict his hunting area. Walls, paths, streams and other natural occurrences can be used in effect to contain a dog and build the habit of sticking to an area. I also play a variation of a previous technique I mentioned. In this case I use an assistant to throw a dummy about fifty yards away while I make the dog wait, I then throw a second one in an opposite direction and send the dog for that first. While he is going for this my assistant dashes out and picks the dummy he threw. Upon returning with the first dummy my dog is then sent for the second dummy that has now been removed. Again using a combination of the whistle and ‘Hi Lost’, I hold my dog in the area and when the dog is looking in the opposite direction the assistant rolls the dummy in where I encourage him to find it successfully. Another variation of this is to use something that is not retrievable such as an earth clod that breaks up as it hits the ground. The dog sees an object thrown goes out to the fall but finds nothing to retrieve immediately. The clod will have scent on it and many times a dog will keep returning to that scent, which teaches it to start its search from where the scent is greatest. Once more after the dog has worked the area for a period of time (a short period at first but increasing with experience), unseen to the dog, your assistant again rolls in a dummy past the clod fall for the dog successfully find. A further enhancement to this technique is to use live gunshot fired at the ground around the dummy or the clod when it is thrown to lay a stronger scent.
In the shooting field we need a dog that not only gets out to a fall but also sticks that fall until it is successful at finding the game or finding the trail it has left. A dog that runs deep and wide with seemingly no real purpose or ‘canine common sense’ can disturb unshot game and will also take far more time to locate a bird, than one taught to stick the fall area. Good, clean, sharp retrieves not only look slick but are also far more efficient in putting more game in the bag. So this form of training is worth working at if you want a dog that will really stick the fall area and find game promptly.