One of the major differences between a good dog and a great dog is the ability to take a straight line.  There is an old adage in Field Trials when a dog is running a blind in the Qualifying stake you should be able to hold your arm straight out with 3 fingers turned up and you should not be able to see the dog because he is in that corridor.  In the Amateur you should not be able to see the dog if 2 fingers are held up.  In the Open, 1 finger should cover his progress to the blind.

So straight lines are essential.  How do we achieve this?  The answer is the same for all our training, start out very short so the dog cannot fail.  Permanent blinds I believe are the best way to start.  Please review blog 11 where this topic has been thoroughly covered.  One thing I have noticed in the Hunt Test world in my opinion training blinds are too short.  The dog will go out about 100 yards and start to hunt.  This is undesirable, at 100 yards the dog should be just shifting into third gear and really starting to run.  Permanent blinds and the “T” drill should be a minimum of 150 yards.

 Another mistake I see more in Hunt Tests than Field Trials is the habit some people develop of letting the dog get too far off line before blowing the whistle and then attempting to direct the dog in the correct direction.  The farther off line he is, the longer it is going to take to get them back on line.  I have seen some advanced handler’s blow the whistle at the first sign the dog is starting to get off line.  They really know how to read their dog.  It may be a slight turning of the head or some other subtle change in how the dog is running.  They NEVER allow their dog to get way off line.  There is an old adage “Are you hoping or are you knowing”?  It simply means some people believe the dog will miraculously will get back on the correct line with no assistance.  You are a team, help your dog.

We have covered straight lines in blinds so now let’s apply this concept to marks.  There are many factors that will throw a dog off the line when he is running a mark.  Let’s begin at the beginning.  It all starts at the line.  When you come to the line give your dog a chance to look around and survey the terrain.  Given a little time the dog will be able to tell you what the test is going to be. For the first bird down, line your dog so his spine and head are in a straight line to where the bird will fall.  Don’t line him to the gunning station.  This is moot in hunt tests because in a well-designed hunt test you should not be able to see the gunners.  In multiple falls when your dog comes back with the first bird, take your time to get him lined up perfectly to the next fall.  Don’t rush this process.  Too many handlers grab the bird and send the dog off immediately.  Let him settle in, shake off any water if he wants to.  Use your oral cues “Easy” or “Way Out”.  Look back along his spine and make sure it is aligned.  Locate the best place in the area of the line that gives him the best chance to get a straight start not over a bush or around some other obstacle.

Let’s give some examples of cover negatively influencing straight lines.  In the following photograph of a triple the 2 outside birds do not present any problems.  The middle bird is the issue.  The dog takes a straight line to the bird but the last 60 yards some cover pushes him to the left.  Follow the dotted lines the dog chose to take.

To teach a dog to take cover we start by walking right up to the obstacle, throw a bumper to the other side and send him.  We repeat the same drill but each time move a greater distance from the obstacle.  Soon we can send him in that general direction and he will seek out and go through the obstacle.

Im the photograph below count how many factors and concepts profoundly influence the dogs to go left.  In the truck that day not one dog would have past the test in a trial.  We gave it the nickname “Hell Blind”.  The dog was asked to enter heavy cover but there was a very tempting road that went off to the left.  Once through the heavy cover there was another road that they wanted to take the dog to the left again.  The next factor was to enter the water in a straight line but each dog would start to swim to the left down into the cove.  Once you got the dog back in open water, he had to swim parallel to a shoreline for some time and at the very end go over 2 spits to the blind {B}.

Working up close to the dog is easy, how do you correct a greater distances? Please study the photographs below. 

In this case the dogs starts to  go too far to the right. Timing is important.  You must stop the dog before he gets too far out in the wrong direction, even worse would be if he ran all the way out to the right side of the thrower.

In the next photo the most important factor in marks and blinds comes into play, WIND.  There is a very strong wind coming from the left.  Land is to the right.  The average dog will be pushed by the wind to the right and towards the land.  I get a kick out of people saying the current is pushing the dog.  There is no current!! The water below is not moving in a pond, it is the wind creating small waves.

Below are 2  excellent examples to teach the dog to fight the wind and hold that straight line all the way to the Mark 1.   It make take many whistles and even a correction or two because of the profound influence of the wind.  When he can fight all the way to that mark on a straight line you have experienced an extraordinary training day.

Happy Training
John Schulte