Prerequisites for "Taking the Line"
By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
Going in the direction sent is an all-important skill for a retriever.
On a simple marked retrieve, the dog does this on its own--because
the dog knows exactly where it's going and there's nothing in the
way of going straight to the fall.
But when the retrieve is more complicated--a memory bird, a blind
retrieve, or a retrieve with hazards along the way that will make
the dog want to deviate-- then taking the line becomes important for
a successful retrieve.
Taking the line from your side ("Initial Lining")
For a retriever trainer, teaching a dog the skill of lining can be
divided into two projects: (1) teaching "initial lining" (roughly
defined as going straight for the first 20 yards), and (2) "holding
the line," which means that the dog stays on the line it initially
committed to. We will start with the first step, of course, initial
Canine structure dictates that the first few steps a dog takes when
it launches for a retrieve will be in the direction that its body
is aimed. So teaching a retriever to take an initial line really begins
by teaching it "precise alignment at heel."
Precise alignment at heel
Precise alignment at hee is an important part of basic obedience
for the field dog if you plan any sort of advanced work involving
multiple marks or blind retrieves. When we perfect a dog's skill at
sitting straight at heel, we use the following eight exercises, proceeding
in the order listed:
- Heeling in a straight line
- Left and right square turns
- Heeling backwards
- The "pendulum"
- A 90 degree and an 180 degree return to the heel position
- A 360 degree pivot to the left (assuming the dog heels on the
- The "Close" command - realigning the dog's shoulders to the right
(again assuming the dog heels on the left)
- One-step sit drill
Some of these maneuvers are self explanatory, and need no introduction.
Let's take a look at the ones that need explaining.
No. 3, heeling backwards, is a crucial exercise. It teaches the dog
to know where its butt is, and how to control the motion of its hindquarters--critical
for achieving precise alignment at heel.
There are various methods to teach a dog to heel backwards. The one
we prefer at the DOBBS Training Center initially uses a stick presented
in front of the dog's front feet to encourage the dog to step backwards
as the handler steps back with the dog.
You must "limit the dog's options" when teaching this maneuver by
(1) keeping the dog on a snug lead, and (2) initially working against
a fence so the dog cannot move sideways.
No 4, the "pendulum," is an extension of heeling backwards. After
the dog knows how to step back with you, you can require it to "follow
your left leg" like a pendulum as you take one step forward, then
one step backward.
The return to heel
No. 5 is returning to the heel position. In this exercise, the dog
learns to automatically get into the heel position as it approaches
you. (Memory birds are remembered better when a retriever goes straight
to heel before it delivers, and looks out at the next bird.)
To teach the finish motion, heel the dog backwards on leash. While
it's moving backwards with you, suddenly present the stick in front
of the dog as you pivot to the left and say "Heel." When the dog swings
its hindquarters behind your legs to move away from the stick, quickly
remove the stick from the dog's picture, thus rewarding the dog for
the finish motion.
No 7, "Close" keeps the dog in balance. Since the dog has learned
to pivot to the left, the "Close" command will require the dog to
move its shoulders to the right
Start with the dog on a leash and choke chain, and give the verbal
command "Close" as you step sideways to your right and simultaneously
give a low leash correction to the right. Hold the leash in your right
hand for this one.
The "One-Step Sit drill"
Step No. 8 is the one-step sit drill. Leave the dog on a sit, and
you take one step forward. Command "Heel" and the dog should come
up into the heel position, in line with the direction you're facing.
When the dog is good at this, make your step at an angle away from
the dog. Take one step 90 degrees left or right from the dog so that
it is sitting perpendicular to you, and have it come to heel on command.
Then take one step backward, and finally a step to the side. Expect
the dog to be able to find the heel position and sit straight in the
direction that you're facing regardless of what reorientation you've
added to the puzzle.
Now advance to having the dog move with you as you take your
one step, rather than stay on a sit and move to you on your command.
Help the dog line up straight as it comes to heel. If its butt tends
to end up behind you, block this area with your right foot so it can't
sit there. If its butt tends to be out to the left, practice next
to curbs. If you block off the wrong place to sit, the dog will learn
the habit of sitting straight on its first try.
The next step - Initial Lining Drills
Now the dog sits straight at heel, and it is prepared for the initial
lining drills that come next: The four-bumper, and eight-bumper wagon
wheels, the "focal realignment" drill, the staggered wagon wheel and
the 16-bumper wagon wheel. These drills will be the subject of our
First Appeared in:
The Retriever Journal, v.2, #3 Feb./Mar.'97