What is “lining?” Many define it as simply training your dog to go from point A to B in a straight line, but to us at GameKeeper Kennels, when training, this is only part of the story. We don’t teach lining as a simple one-step process; we teach it as a concept that links other phases of training together, such as basic obedience, steadiness, body alignment and the release command.
The prerequisites for starting your dog on lining are; 1) completion of basic obedience training; and 2) that the pup understands that his reward is the retrieve and delivery of the training dummy to hand. With an abundance of positive reinforcement in the form of verbal praise and a good back rub from the trainer, this task should be accomplished in short order.
In developing lining skills, the pup’s initial retrieving training is based on sight retrieves and then pup is slowly transitioned from lining on sight retrieves to lining on blind retrieves which ultimately includes the use of their nose to successfully complete the retrieve.
Many articles that I’ve read only give part of the story with regards to teaching a young pup to line. Here at Mossy Oak GameKeeper Kennels, we teach lining skills at an early age and continue developing these skills as the dog progresses. As soon as pup completes basic obedience training and can successfully complete a short “mark” and a “trailing memory,” we move on to basic lining and then gradually extend the distance and complexity of the retrieve during each successive training session.
At the beginning of teaching your dog to go on a line, we use three white dummies for “unknowns” and one orange bumper for a “blind.” First, we go out to an area on our training grounds where we have mowed a narrow path. On this path, we place three white dummies in a line so that pup can clearly see them in the short grass. We place the first white bumper at 10 yards, the next white bumper at 20 yards and the third white bumper at 30 yards. We then place the orange bumper at about 35 yards.
We refer to the white bumpers as “unknowns” because the pup has not seen any bumpers thrown but can see them in lying in the mowed path; whereas, we refer to the orange bumper as a “blind” retrieve because again, the pup has seen nothing thrown and can’t see the orange bumper lying in the grass.
After placing the bumpers, we go back to the kennel, get the pup out of his/her kennel, heel them out to within 10 yards of the first white bumper, give the command “sit” and line their spine and head with the bumper. We place our right hand in front of and just above the pups head pointing in the direction of the white bumper. Once we observe that the pup is focused on the bumper, we give the release command.
After the dog returns with the first white bumper, he is realigned and sent for the second white bumper. When they return with the second bumper, we again realign pup and send them for the third bumper. Once they successfully pick the third white bumper, we realign and send them for the orange bumper. At any time during these training episodes, if the dog gets confused, we shorten the distance to the dummy by moving up a short distance, realigning and sending them again. We continue to move up, realign, and send until the pup successfully completes the retrieve. Why do we move up? Because we want them to successfully complete the task at hand, retrieving and delivering the dummy. Remember, we always “train for success, never failure.”
After a few days of training, your dog should become very proficient at completing this ladder-type drill, and as their confidence grows, we incrementally move the dummies further and further out until they are retrieving at distances out to 70 yards or more. We also gradually change from white bumpers to orange bumpers. This color change slowly decreases the pup’s reliance on sight retrieving to use of his nose to find the dummy instead. It also decreases their reliance on the use of their eyes to locate and run to white objects that might be encountered in the field, such as, discarded pieces of foam, old white plastic bags, white bottles, etc. This drill also builds trust between the dog and handler.
About every other day we mix it up by moving to a different area so the pup broadens his skill set by not running in the same training area every time. Some of the training areas will have paths that end in cover and some will end on mowed open areas. Why do we do this? Because the dog needs to work in a variety of locations in order to build confidence in his lining abilities. Also, if you continue down the same path, using the same set-up in every training session, you will be teaching the pup that every time he/she crosses a path, a trail in the woods, or perhaps a field road, they must turn and follow that path - expecting to find his reward, the training dummy. To keep this unwanted habit in check, we start placing a dummy in the high cover at the end of the mowed path so that pup has to leave the path to find the dummy.
At the end of this first phase of training the dog to take a line, what have we accomplished?
- We have reinforced the “heel” command.
- We have reinforced the “sit” command.
- We have reinforced the release command and amped up the pups training on steadiness.
- We have taught lining skills by aligning their spine and head with the bumpers before sending them on the retrieve.
- We have started teaching our dog to follow a line on blind retrieves by transitioning them from taking a line on the “unknown” white bumpers, to taking a line to the orange bumpers by going in the direction that his spine and head are pointing.
- We have built our pup’s trust in us as the trainer and their confidence that when they travel in the direction of his spine and head alignment, he/she will get their reward, the retrieve. The completed retrieve is always followed with lots of praise.
At the risk of repeating myself; successful completion of this phase of initial lining training should have transitioned the alignment and casting skills the pup has learned on the “unknown” bumpers to the “blinds.” As the training progresses, the pup will understand that the direction to the dummy, whether an “unknown” or a “blind,” is in the direction that his spine and head are pointing. After these objectives have been met, we move on to more advanced lining skill sets such as long trailing memories, circle memories, stationary and walking baseball drills.