Stopping the switcher, part II

The pesky habit of a retriever switching between birds or bumpers is a practice not too difficult to prevent if addressed early in the pup's career, but it's a precarious one to correct once entrenched. By beginning early, we can instill a no-switching attitude from the start by incorporating the concept in everyday training sessions.

In Part I of "The Switcher," it was stressed to begin with the end in mind; that is starting the young prospect off as a non-switcher by applying proper principles that don't promote the habit. Now, in basic training, we must incorporate non-switching drills into daily training activities.


First, don't encourage switching opportunities by the training methods employed. For instance, don't pile bumpers for multiple retrieve drills. The practice promotes shopping, that is switching among the pile of available bumpers. Piles make no sense anyway for the hunter unless your shooting skills afford you the luxury of "piling" downed game. This practice also encourages the young dog to return to the area of old "falls," another problem that would have to be addressed. Instead use ladders or salting methods for repetitious lining drills.

Ladders are bumpers placed in a straight line about 10 to 15 yards apart … as many as you like.

Handler/dog ____________ X … X … X … X … X … X

Each bumper should not be too obvious or the dog will be pulled forward and could be enticed to switch.

Salting is using bumpers in conjunction with a fixed reference point for the dog to be lined toward (tree, post, telephone pole). Salt the area with 4 bumpers set out in a cross pattern around the reference point.


Handler/dog _______________ X … O … X


Flyer diversions

Short bird/long bird: On a hunt, two birds that are dropped on a passing shot. One is very short, the other sails farther out in to open water. The closer diversion bird must be ignored as it's going nowhere. We want the long bird first.

Secondary bird on the return: As the dog returns with the bird, another bird is dropped and falls in the view of the dog.

Secondary bird fall as dog goes out on a retrieve: After our retriever is sent for a bird, a secondary bird is dropped before the dog reaches the primary bird. He should not deviate from the primary bird.

Each of these scenarios will take specialized training, which should begin in the basic retriever course, and they should be practiced throughout the dog's training life.

As with all training exercises, begin preparing for diversions on land first. Get the dog solid on non-switching drills on land where corrections can be made before progressing to water.

Training for success: Diversions

Diversion: Short bird/long bird

Teach the young prospect early on to ignore the shorter bird by using split 180-degree doubles with a trailing memory along a fence.

We place two birds at 180-degrees some distance apart. As the second bird lands, say, "No," and heel the pup back towards the first bird — the memory. Line and send the pup. Then repeat the drill with the second bird as the memory.

As the pup progresses, simply begin to bring the diversions around until they are placed at 90 degrees and you can "no" the dog off either bird without a switch.

Special note: A Wildrose law: Never send your dog for the diversion bumper. Pick it yourself or have another dog retrieve it. The dogs learn that they simply won't get a diversion, therefore, they have little inclination to do so. Not to worry. If on a hunt, a secondary birds needs picking, your dog will do it without hesitation. Birds become a huge attractor.

Diversion: Secondary bird falls on the return

Begin this introduction during the hold condition training. With bumper in mouth, recall the dog (part of the delivery to hand exercise). As the pup approaches, toss the bumper behind you and encourage the dog to deliver. As the pup progresses, begin to bring the diversion around you gradually closing the distance closer to the dog as they approach.

Later, once retrieving has resumed, drop the occasional bumper in the field to either side of the dog as he returns. Once proficient on land, do the same on water, then add a bit more interest with tethered live birds, and bumpers shot from a launcher.

Diversion: Secondary fall going out on a retrieve

Well after our prospects are casting off simple diversions, we need to ensure that our dog can be handled off the secondary diversion bird, back to the original bird for which they were sent should the need arise.

Toss out a mark or memory, which can be seen in the field by the dog. Release for the retrieve. Ensure that the dog is locked on the primary bird then get the pup's attention with a whistle stop. Toss the diversion wide then give the back cast to the primary bumper.

Next, give no cue at all. Just drop or shoot the secondary bumper wide once the dog has the primary on sight. If we have spent enough time on the former exercise, the dog will ignore the secondary fall.

Diversions should be continuously revisited throughout the dog's training career. I have seen each of these scenarios play out with success in the field many times on hunts for upland birds and waterfowl. Diversion birds are going to occur on the hunt so prepare early on to ensure that you field a dog that is switch proof.