Retriever training drills in the winter – solutions for where and how
If you live in an area where winter means cold and snow, you know how hard it can be to keep your retriever in shape and learning throughout the winter season. What you might not realize, is that while it might not always be comfortable training your retriever in the winter, there are drills and concepts you can work on that will keep your retriever advancing in knowledge and in top shape. Here are some ideas on how to train your retriever in the winter using a Stand Alones drill.
Where to train your retriever in the winter
Snow can quickly reduce your training area causing many to wonder “How can I possibly train. There’s no room to do marks or drills!”
It is true that deep snow can make training difficult. Throwing marks in deep snow can be counter productive since they sink and do not give off much scent in the cold making it extremely difficult for your retriever to find the bumper. Too many experiences not finding the bumper can degrade your retriever’s confidence. That is why, for winter training, you need to think outside the box.
Some locations I have found useful in the winter are:
large parking lots during off hours,
school lots during weekends,
business parking lots on the weekend or early evening (many are still lit),
frozen lakes, and
If you happen to live near a lake, frozen lakes are often great training areas. The snow is usually not deep on lakes, due to the wind, and when there is snow, it is often crusty and hard allowing bumpers to rest on top instead of sinking. In addition, your retriever can usually run on the crusty snow easier.
A few cautionary notes that really should go without saying:
- make sure you get permission to use such places, and
make sure they are safe for your retriever.
Hazards of training your retriever in the winter
Training in the winter can be tough on dogs. Their paws and limbs can take a beating, so be watchful for any injuries or signs of them not running like they usually do. Also, make sure you have plenty of water for your dog to drink, they can dehydrate fast while training in the winter.
Great drill to work on with retriever in winter – Stand Alones
One drill that you can teach your retriever in the winter that can also transfer over to the spring and beyond is Stand Alones. These have been popularized by trainer, Dennis Voigt. The drill is great for working on several fundamentals such as communication between your dog and you, obedience with the SIT/STAY command, steadiness, and marking.
How to perform the Stand Alones Retriever Training Drill
Here is how to teach your retriever the Stand Alones Drill.
Step 1 – Have your dog SIT in a specific spot.
I like to use a mat or a dog stand, similar to the MOMarsh dog stand, that way I can easily tell if the dog has moved and it makes the SIT location very easy for the dog to understand. Also, this will help with other parts of the drill I will be explained later.
Step 2 – Walk away from your dog, leaving him or her on a SIT.
The distance you will walk away will gradually increase as the dog progresses, but start with just a few feet while you are teaching the dog the drill and so you can make sure they remain sitting. Again, a good tool to help them remain in the same spot is a mat.
Step 3 – Face the dog and throw a mark.
Start out by throwing the mark between 90 degrees and roughly 160 degrees in relation to where you are standing compared to the dog.
Step 4 – Release or send the dog for the retrieve.
You then can either release the dog to retrieve the mark from your throwing location, or you can walk back to the dog and then send them for the retrieve.
Step 5 – Gradually increase the distance you move from the dog before throwing the marks
As your dog progresses, you can increase the distance to upwards of 100 yards if you so desire.
What do Stand Alones teach my retriever?
By doing Stand Alones, your dog will learn how to mark and track birds better. In addition, you are strengthening the SIT command and their steadiness.
This type of marking is better for your retriever than you just throwing items straight out with you dog by your side. Think about hunting, how often does the bird come directly behind you and fly directly away from you? With Stand Alones your retriever learns to watch a mark that comes across his field of view, it is a more natural marking situation.
Variations for Stand Alones Retriever Training Drill
Once your retriever understands this drill, there are many variations you can start implementing. Variations will help increase your retriever’s skill level. Also, using praise correctly will help your dog learn faster. If you need to review how to do this, review How to train a Labrador Retriever – Tip 8.
Here are some suggested variations for the Stand Alones Drill
Sending dog from SIT location
This is the version we have already discussed. After you throw the mark, you return to the dog at their SIT location, stand with the dog at your side and then send the dog for the retrieve. Remember, when starting with this drill, you need to start small. Only walk a few feet away until you are sure the dog is understanding the drill and what is expected of him.
Sending dog from throw location
In this version, instead of sending the dog from your side at the SIT location, you send them from your location in the field where you made the throw.
After you make the throw, simply send your dog using the retrieve command you have taught him or her. Here at Otter Tail Kennels, I send dogs using their name, such as Rover, Scout, Rixie or whatever it is. At first you dog may hesitate, so be sure to sound excited when you send them to retrieve. It won’t take long before they will immediately cue off you.
Increase time between throws
As your dog starts to understand the game, you can extend the time between the throw and when they are sent for the retrieve. This will help improve steadiness. If the dog leaves for the mark prior to being sent, make sure you do not allow them to get the retrieve. Either intercept them and put them back on a SIT right where they were when they broke, or run and pick up the bumper/dummy prior to them getting it.
For retrievers, the mark is the reward. Therefore, if they disobey, they should not get the reward.
Increase distance of throws
Increasing the distance between where the dog is on SIT and where you are throwing is something that you will want to work on. Retrievers usually learn this drill quickly. So, in short order you can easily increase the distance to 100 yards or more.
Remember, start close and move further away ONLY if the dog is understanding the drill and responding correctly. If there are problems, decrease the distance until your dog is back on track.
More advanced variations of Stand Alones Drill
These variations are more complex, so be sure that the other variations are solid before proceeding to these.
Send from new location
In this variation, after your dog makes the retrieve and you take the item from their mouth, you then leave the dog in a SIT at the new location where you took delivery instead of having them return to their original location. Walking away from them, you perform another throw. In this variation you can move all around a field or parking lot.
Mix it up
When your dog is really progressing on the Stand Alones Drill, you can start mixing things up. You can decide after each throw to either leave the dog on a SIT at your location and walk out to do another throw or have the dog return to their original sitting location. I like to mix it up and add in some obedience training as I walking the dogs at HEEL back to the original spot.
Sending dog back to SIT location
If you want to get to a point where you can send your retriever, on their own, back to the SIT location, having a specific, noticeable spot helps immensely. Therefore, using something like a MOmarsh stand, a mat, or even the bottom half of a plastic kennel works well. This gives the dog a specific spot to go and helps them understand much faster what you are expecting of them.
To teach your retriever to return to the SIT location, follow this progression:
Lead the dog to a position a foot or two away from the SIT location you are using, let’s say it’s a mat.
With the dog on lead and sitting at your side, say the command you want to use. Some people use PLACE; however, I like the command KENNEL.
After you say the word, immediately walk the dog to the mat and have them SIT.
Praise them for going to the spot.
Repeat steps 1-4 several times, first on lead, and then with the dog dragging the lead, and finally without a lead.
As soon as your retriever goes to the spot immediately upon command, you can start adding retrieves.
Put the dog on the mat, stand a few feet away, make your throw, send the dog.
After your retriever delivers the mark, tell them KENNEL. They should immediately return to the mat. If not, just walk them over to the mat and repeat your command of KENNEL.
If you are consistent, it won’t be long before your dog will happily run back to the mat, even at long distances, because they know that being on the mat means they will get a retrieve.
Stand Alones with multiple marks
This is only for dogs that already know how to retrieve multiple marks. if your dog is at that level, Stand Alones are a great way to increase the memory of your dog.
Simply leave your dog on a SIT, walk out several yards.
Remind your dog to SIT and then throw a mark.
Wait several seconds, then walk to another location and throw another mark.
Walk back to your dog and send them for one mark and then the other.
Remember, in the beginning you should always send your dog for the first mark you threw.
Final thoughts on training your retriever in the winter
Stand Alones is a great drill to work on in the winter, or anytime. The work you do on this drill can help make your retriever a solid, steady marking machine. And the great thing is, most retrievers love doing this drill, so it can be fun for you too!
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.