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Directed Retrieve.

an article by Ralph in Holland posted here with his permission


Directionals (or how we raindance)

First of all, without being pedantic, let me give a warning about directionals. If you train directionals to often or with to much pressure on the dog, you could end up with a dog whose independence is totally destroyed.
And by independence in this context I mean, the capability to solve (very) difficult situations by himself, for example multiple blind retrieves. You could end up with a dog always asking for help (i.e. a directional command for that matter).

Most people start their directionals immediately with some kind of baseball diamond game.
Put paper plates out for the three bases (at first these should be close to the dog). You stand at home plate. Set a cookie on one plate (at first its OK for your dog to know which plate the cookie is on) and then return to home plate. Give your dog the arm signal and fetch command at the same time. Since the dog knows where the cookie is this should be a very fun and successful game. If the dog does run to an incorrect base all you have to do is run to the correct base and take the cookie so he can't be rewarded for "shopping" the bases.
Well what a load of rubbish this is, do you really think you can outrun your dog to get the cookie first. Maybe the first time but after a while the dog will walk to a random plate and when you are moving to the plate where the cookie is he will go there and beat you everytime to it. Although I’m a fan of positive reinforcement, I’m not a fan of cookies when training directionals. I want the retrieve in it self to be the ultimate reward. I have seen to many dogs which didn,t retrieve properly when given an directional command, they where franticly lookin for that damn cookie. Mind you, it can be done properly on cookies but the difficult point will be when and how will you leave the cookies out. I just think it’s easier with dummy’s (or game foor that matter), that’s all. Keep in mind that you have to use the biggest reward imaginabele and that will differ per dog, if the biggest reward consists of cookies, use them, but work them out of your exercise as soon as possible. Keep in mind , whats a directional command without a retrieve, just another circusact in my opinion. Anyway it will not surprise you when I tell you that I’m not starting directional commands before the dog retrieves properly.

However, before I begin with baseball diamonds, I’ll teach my dogs the directional commands first. One at a time that is. Left and right and straight forward first ((go out) starting point , dog besides me) and then the toughest one the back command.
To accomplish this I use something I call “directing poles”, it’s just a pole of white plastic, about a foot high. Stick it in the ground, the reward you’re using goes next to the pole. The strength of such a pole is the high visibility of it, but this will become clear in the next few paragraphs. Well let me talk you through some directions.


“go out”

Dog sits besides you, the mug facing the same direction as yours. Main objective here is the dog running away from you, fast and in a straight line. How do you achieve this, you need several things in a relative controlled surrounding so the dog is not able to make to much mistakes (has something to do with self-rewarding behaviour (something you could write endless threads about)).
Things you’ll need:
A. Something like a narrow trail in the field, with preferably something like a fence at both sides of the trail
B. Someone who helps you
C. Directing pole.
D. Rewards like a dummy or dead fowl (remember that I for one want the retrieve the best reward, but you always have to use the biggest reward possible, for the dog that is)
E. Body-language and luckily we humans don’t have a shortage of it.
F. A dog.
Well let me finally talk you through the exercise then.
Assuming you’ve found your narrow trail in the middle of nowhere. Place the directing pole several yards up the road. The second person, youre helper stays with the reward (let’s say a dummy) at the pole. Second thing you do is get your dog and let him sit besides you, tell hem to stay, no matter what, if necessary he stays on leash.
Third step is the helper making a funny sound throwing the dummy next to the directing pole. If the dog sits on your left side, you’re left hand goes above his head, like you’re shaking some ones hand but you keep the hand motionless. You’re little finger almost touches the middle of the skull and when the dog is looking up, he is just able to see the tip of you’re little finger. Hold that position until the dog is relaxed. And only then you give him the command to fetch the dummy.. Triggered by the high visibility and the upcoming reward, the dog will take the shortest road between you and the pole, the shortest way is, very convenient, a straight line. It’s better to use another command then you should use to let the dog fetch. For example I use the command “vooooruit” which means something like “goooo out”
But at the end of this posting I shall briefly say something about commands
When the dog gets this, the exercise has to be less and less and less thrilling. I mean in one of the last stages the dummy doesn,t get thrown, but is already at the directing pole, and the final stage is removing the directing pole. When you think the dog understood it all you can test him by sending him away (in the exact same way you did on the trail) in an open field without a helper and without a dummy whatsoever.
Get you’re self a decent and fast helper, his job doesn’t end by making funny noises and throwing or putting down dummies. The hardest part for you will be the following. When the dog, despite you taking all precautions necessary, is able to escape without having had a command, you have to keep quiet. Don’t shout at him, don’t run after him, you don’t give him any attention at all. When the dog does something like that, the helper fetches the dummy himself, before the dog that is. You shall see how disappointed the dog will be when he realizes that his reward is given to the helper. What will he do?, he will return to you for another go, really, take my word for it ( under the restriction, you using the proper reward.)

No. 2

Left \right

Let’s say I want de dog to the left. I place the dog on the right side of the pole. I put myself in front of the dog, stick my left arm out and say “to the left”. Triggered by my hand-signal and the high visibility of the white pole, the dog will go to the left (in the beginning just out of curiosity). At the pole he finds his reward (retrieve in my case). In the beginning, when the dog arrives at the pole he gets an extra command (fetch) or a “territorium whistle”. (which means, here’s something to retrieve). Dog retrieves, PARTYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY.

Basically the same as No.1, you’ll need the same things, the same helper, the same trail etc.
OK, to make a long story not any longer, when you think the dog understands the separate directional commands, you have to test him. A test does not have to be hard, i’ll probably use a test like his:

I place the dog in the middle of a crossroad (which helps him to walk straight lines), give him the “stay” command. Walk away from the dog and I place one dummy on the left side of the dog and one on the right side. Important is that the dog can clearly see you placing the dummy’s. (when the stay is not solid stay with your dog and use your helper).
Back to the dog, stand in front of hem and give him the directional command, say to the left.
When he succeeds on the crossing you can perform the same exercise in an open field.
When the dog fetches the left dummy without hesitation (and in a straight line!!!!), he passed the test and is ready for more difficult assignments without directing poles.

No. 3


In my opinion there are two things the dog must master before you can speak about a solid back command. I shall try to explain why and how to tell your dog what’s expected from him.
First of all I don’t think in commands but I think in directions. Ask yourself the question, which way do I want the dog to go. Back command, you want the dog, generally spoken, away from you. Ok, away……in a straight line? Yes, preferable in a straight line. Realizing that, you get stuck with two scenarios or better said two starting positions of the dog.
1 Dog sits besides you, the mug facing the same direction as yours (Exercise NO 1)
2 Dog sits in front of you mug facing opposite of yours (Exercise No. 3) ((i.e. you’re looking at each other)this is the position where the actual back command starts, isn’t it? )
To begin with, the dog has to master No1 before I even start thinking about No3.
If you’ve the time and courage to read on, I tell you why.

We will start all over again, just like in exercise No.1.
Things you’ll need? same as No. 1 including the helper
Even the exercise and the tasks of the helper are the same
Hold you’re horses, hold you’re horses two things are different, namely the position of the dog and your body-language.
A. position of the dog, the dog will sit in front of you with as I said before, mug facing opposite of yours. (He looks at you as it were) rightie then, helper performs his little tricks
B. Bodylanguage, hold both you’re hands at your hart and wham while you give the verbal command, you’re arm flies straight up. Bam, via your ear straight up, palm of the hand facing the dog (nice white spot, remember??)
There the dog goes, principle the same as number one, instructions for the helper are the same, testing will be the same, just the position of the dog and your bodylanguage are different.

I hear you asking “and what about my verbal command, shouldn’t that be different”. Well I personally think that’s a big load of rubbish. I use for No1 and No 3 the same command, vooruit (try to pronounce that you englisch speaking, you can translate it in GO OUT)
Why?, dogs are totally in bodylanguage, it’s the same direction you’re sending him, (just the position of the dog is different), and when the dog is at 100 meters and I want to give him the back command, I have to shout really, really loud, so I want him to react at my body, so why bother my vocal cords.

But I can imagine that it feels awkward to tell the dog to go back when he’s right besides you with his head facing the same direction (that’s why I’m using GO OUT). So I think you’ll have to use the verbales you’re comfortable with.

Hand-signals, bodylanguage, clothing and whistles.

Hand-signals are best kept simple. I use three of them but I use them always in the same movement. My hand-signals are always coming from the hart. Wow that’s a weird sentence.
When I’m directing I stand like a tree in the ground, nothing moves, my hands are folded on my chest, elbows hanging down, whistle in my mouth.
When the dog must go to the left, I’ll attract it’s attention by a short whistle and whammm my left arm shoots straight out. Back signal?, whammm my arm shoots straight up. My arm is the only thing that moves, and I want my arm to be the only visible signal for the dog.. I’ve seen people making complete raindances when directing their dogs, which are, at least in my opinion, not necessary. The raindances people perform are very very entertaining for us but for the dog they are confusing. I’ll tell you why. Dogs eyesight isn’t much better then ours but they can detect movement far better then we do. I’ll give you an example of how the raindances can go wrong.

Once up on a time there lived a woman with a top dog. He was really a top dog but he had one problem, she could not direct the dog when the distance between her and the dog became more then 50 meters. At 49 meters the dog was fantastic at the directionals. The woman thought the dog gave her the finger beyond that range of 50 meter. What did we do to solve this problem.
To begin with, this was a “raindance” woman, when she was directing her dog everything moved and when I say everything I mean everything. Legs, arms, fingers, head, shoelaces, ti……sorry, everything. Ok, we analysed her movement, whats your directional command “to the left”? The woman moved her whole body to the left, everything was flapping around. You could subdivide her movement “to the left” by roughly 4 movements. Left leg, left arm, upperbody and her head was noddin’ to the left. We asked her if she could direct her dog at a distance 0f 5 meters, of cours she answered a bit grumpy. We told her to do one movement at a time.
She stood before her dog and stuck her leg out….nothing, stuck her arm out….nothing, upperbody…..nothing, only the verbal then….nothing, little tiny nod with the head. Whammm there the dog went.
Moral of the story, at 49 meters the dog could see the movement of her head and was directable, at 50+ meters he didn’t saw the movement anymore, He didn’t gave her any finger at all…, back to the basics, problem solved.

Dogs are so into bodylanguage that you never know what his trigger is when you teach him directionals, so stand there like a massive tree in the ground and just move your arms . Even then, dont flap your arms around’, you’re not a bird. Concentrate on keeping you’re movements stern.

I really believe clothing can play an important role in directionals. I’ve already written that a dog’s eyesight isn’t much better then ours (in normal circumstances that is). Imagine your looking at a green guy against a green background. Hard to see isn’t it? Or a white guy against a bright sky, same thing isn’t it ?
Well I know some people who will take a whole wardrope into the fields. Dark clothing against a light background and light clothing against a dark background. What do you think of people waving with handkerchiefs or complete national flags. There’s some truth in it though, but I think it’s slightly exaggerated. When I look at them I think something like “buy some glasses for your dog”.
No, without kiddin around, there is some truth in it. Against a dark background I just roll up my sleeves. And again, the dog sees the movement of my arm much better then a human will.
Oh eeeeh and keep everthing else buttoned up, the less extra movement the better it is.

Well this is me, moving to much, clothing not buttoned up, green clothing against green surroundings and everything is flappin around. (the dog understood me though)

And this is the way it should be, me givin a back command. It was taken at a country fair where we were demonstrating directionals. Everything is as it should be

A story apart, I know a guy who is directing his dog just with wistles. I know, it doesn’t make much difference, it’s just that I have no experience with that so I shall not write anything about it. Although I use two different whistle sounds when I’m training directionals, no1, short burst = PAY attention, there’s a change of direction at hand. No2: short burst on a referee wistle = stop immediately and sit on your bum.

Wind direction
The wind direction is very important when you are teaching directionals. When youre dog knows squat about directionals you should always send him down wind. This is necessary to accomplish straight lines. Downwind the dog has less temptations in his nose and will run straight lines. When uo send him upwind his nose is gone be filled up with a lot more interesting scents and he will have the urge to wander. When you taught and tested him well it’s soon enough to send him upwind.

Ok if you’ve reached this sentence and you’ve not fallen asleep, I hope you enjoyed my writing. And again it’s not meant to be pedantic, just the way I think about some aspects. I also hope my englisch is good enough to ensure that I mean what I write,or write what I think or whatever…….. Sometimes it is difficult to verbalize what you mean, especially in a foreign language. (fishing for a compliment here)

Gr. Ralph