Training retrievers – best bumper/dummy to use
Retrievers, by nature, love to retrieve. You can pretty much throw anything for them and they will go out and get it. But if you are planning on using your retriever as a duck dog or gun dog, or if you are hoping to compete your retriever in tests or trials, the bumper or dummy you use to train does matter.
Here at Otter Tail Kennels, we use a lot of live and dead birds for training. But there are retriever training drills, especially as the dog advances into handling, that require the use of bumpers or dummies. I also like to have a bumper or two with me when working dogs on obedience. Throwing a few “fun” retrieves is a great way to lift your retriever’s spirits.
As a professional retriever trainer, I have used and tested many training products over the years. Some good, some not so good. In this post, I share what we use for our training and products we believe are a good value or good investment as you train or maintain training for your retriever. When possible, I include links to the product. Some of these links may be affiliate links in which I am paid a small commission, but all opinions and recommendations are my own. Learn more.
What kind of bumper should I use to train my retriever?
If you look at dog training bumpers online or in stores, you might quickly become overwhelmed by the selection. There are literally hundreds of options. But basically, the differences can be broken down to material they are constructed from, color, and size. In my 30-plus years of training retrievers, I have personally tested a vast assortment of bumpers. And while almost any bumper can work for training, some brands and designs stand out and have survived the test of time.
Types of bumpers or dummies
There are basically two types of bumpers, canvas and plastic. While not really bumpers, since we use them quite a bit I am also including dead fowl trainers.
Canvas bumpers for retriever training
Canvas bumpers are usually a foam core wrapped in a canvas material. A puppy sized canvas dummy is great for teaching a puppy to retrieve. They are light weight and easy on a puppy’s developing teeth. For ongoing training, once a dog has his or her adult teeth, I do not use canvas bumpers. They are difficult to dry and can become very musty smelling after a while. In addition, over time the canvas can and does break down and holes and rips in the canvas will appear. For this reason, the only time I use canvas bumpers is for puppies.
Plastic bumpers or dummies
For all dogs age 6-months and older, I use plastic bumpers. Plastic bumpers hold up well over time. They work great for land and water retrieves. There is one caveat though, in the winter or on very cold days, plastic bumpers can get extremely hard and icy, making it difficult and uncomfortable for retrievers to hold them. For this reason I often use dead fowl or dead bird trainers in the winter months.
Dead-fowl or dead bird trainers
While not technically bumpers, these bird shaped trainers are perfect for some training scenarios. Their larger size and swinging heads encourage the dog to pick them up properly and discouraging shaking. There are two companies that make good dead fowl or dead bird trainers – the Dokken Dead Fowl Trainers and the Tanglefree or Avery Dead Bird trainers.
If you plan to hunt geese, it can really be helpful to have a Dokken Canada Goose Dead Fowl trainer available. These are great to get your retriever used to the size and weight of a real goose.
Lastly, as previously noted, these work well in the winter since they do not absorb saliva like the canvas bumpers can or get as wet and icy as a plastic dummy can.
Size of bumpers
While there may be off-size products out there, there are basically two sizes of bumpers – roughly 2 inch by 12 inch or 3 inch by 12 inch. I, personally, own a mixture of both, but 95% of the time I use the 2-inch version. The only time I use the larger ones are for long distant marks, or anytime I am trying to make it easier for the dog to see the bumper.
Puppy bumpers are usually smaller versions of the large ones.
Color of bumpers
When it comes to bumper colors, your options are almost endless. When I began training back in 1989, I had a choice of white or orange. However, today it seems you can get bumpers in any color you want.
I still prefer white or orange, however I do find value in the black and white versions. The black and white bumpers offer a nice contrast in the sky and if I am training in the winter, with a lot of snow on the ground, black ones are easier to see. However, I have found the black and white ones to be a struggle when used in water. Depending on how the bumper lands in the water, there may not be enough white showing. This can be a problem when you are working on developing confidence for young dogs.
What bumper should I use and when?
I select the type and color of bumper I am using based on the drill I am working on. With most drills, I use either white, or white and black bumpers. I want the dog to easily see the item I am sending them to retrieve.
If I do not want the dog to see the bumper, such as when working with advanced dogs on blind retrieves, I use orange bumpers. Dogs are not actually color blind, but they do have a difficult time seeing orange,
Do my dog training bumpers/dummies need scent?
There are many products on the market today that have been designed to work with or require scent. I, personally, have found no reason or need to scent my bumpers, dead fowl, or dead bird trainers. A dog’s nose is an amazing thing. They can smell the bumpers or trainers just fine without additional scent. And when I need them to learn a duck or pheasant scent, I use a duck or pheasant.
How many bumpers do I need to train my retriever?
As for me, I believe you can never have too many bumpers. But this question really depends on how far you intend to take your retriever in training. An amateur trainer, just starting out with one or two dogs can probably get by with six to a dozen. But if you plan to continue to advance your retriever in his or her training, you will likely need far more. Handling drills can get very tiresome if you constantly need to be replenishing your piles with a few bumpers.
Bumpers or dummies are one of those things you can continue to accumulate over time.
Hunting dog training supplies
Bumpers or dummies are just one of the supplies you need to train a duck dog, gun dog or competition dog. For a more detailed list of supplies read Essential equipment for training a duck dog and 6 vital tools every gun dog trainer needs.
Does it matter what brand of retriever training dummies?
The number of companies selling bumpers seems to be growing daily. I am sure that there are many new features and improvements being made. However, it is often the product that lasts and stands the test of time that stands out.
I have been using Neumann and Bennett bumpers since I began training back in the 1980’s. I am a fan of buying American whenever realistic, and Neumann and Bennett, rebranded as Plasti-Duk™ is in Oregon. I still prefer them and like the plastic consistency they use as well as their life span.
Neuman and Bennet was recently been acquired by SmartTechProducts and production has been hit or miss, so finding these bumpers in stock is a challenge. When these are in stock the Original Dog Bumper Trainers by Plasti-Duk (previously Neuman and Bennet) are available on their website or on Amazon. They still boast that they are made in the U.S.A. and are made of non-toxic materials, both pluses in my book. Now if they can just figure out how to keep them in stock.
I have tested some other brands. One is the Avery Regular HexaBumper . These are sized a little different, 2 inch by 10 inch, but they seem to be working well with the dogs.
I have also heard good reviews regarding the AirFlow Bumpers®, however, I have not personally tried them yet. They are more expensive than both the Avery and the N&B Plasti-Duk, but they may be worth the price.
Here is a list of our top picks. To get pricing information and more details, click on an image below:
Final thoughts on the best bumpers and dummies to train my retriever
As with almost any task, having the right equipment is important. Retriever training is no different. Having the right retriever training equipment will make the task of teaching your dog easier. It can also keep your retriever from developing some bad habits along the way.
Remember, if you really want your retriever to grow and progress in his/her hunting this year but doing the training yourself sounds overwhelming or maybe your schedule is just too busy to get it done, I’m here to help! You can email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.