For most types of gundogs, a good deal of this practice is to do with retrieving.
And of course we cannot practice and train these skills using actual birds or animals.
So gundogs learn to retrieve by using a retrieving ‘dummy’. And these can come in a bewildering array of shapes, sizes, materials, and colours.
The traditional dummy
The traditional gundog trainer’s retrieving dummy (pictured above) is a 1lb sawdust ‘log’ wrapped in plastic and covered with canvas in a kind of aquamarine shade. An eyelet at one end with a toggle attached makes for easier throwing. You can still buy these today, they are enduringly popular.
I have heard quite a few people say that they find canvas dummies do not float indefinitely but I have never yet, in many years, had one sink on me. So I am not sure where that rumour comes from!
The plastic/rubber dummy
More recently a few gundog trainers have taken to using the moulded rubber or plastic dummies that are very popular with retriever trainers in the USA.
I particularly like these dummies because they are very light and easy to throw. I can carry five or six at a time, and hurl them much farther than the canvas ones without getting ‘tennis elbow’.
I especially like that these dummies come in ‘white’ and that you can keep them fairly ‘white’ indefinitely with the occasional wash.
Why does colour matter
A major part of getting a dog retrieving with enthusiasm, speed and style, is the building up of his confidence. This means making sure that the dog experiences heaps of success. Especially in the early days. A white or pale coloured dummy is very easy to see against a background of earth, rock or vegetation. (For training in snow, choose black dummies)
This is ideal for marking practice, and first blind retrieves, where you don’t want the dog to have to hunt, but simply to get the dummy as quickly and easily as possible.
As your dog moves onto more advanced blind retrieves, you will need to make things more ‘testing’ for him. Using an orange dummy which is harder for the dog to see yet easy for you to spot, will enable you to make retrieves more difficult for him, without losing your equipment.
Nowadays you can also buy canvas dummies in different shapes. There is a dummy shaped like a rugby ball, and another shaped like a disc. Some roll and bounce when they land, leaving a scent trail for the dog to follow. Each has their own virtues
Skins and wings
As you draw nearer to the moment when you introduce your dog to real game, you may want to make your dummies a little more like the ‘real thing’. You can wrap a rabbit skin around a canvas dummy and secure it with elastic bands, and do the same with pheasant wings. This just makes a bit of a ‘half-way’ house between a plain dummy, and cold game.
What should I buy?
I recommend you buy a standard 1lb canvas dummies so that your dog gets used to carrying some ‘weight’ in his mouth. And several white rubber dummies for marking practice and early blinds. Some of the cheaper plastic ones are very poor quality,
Later you will need some dummies for practicing blind retrieving. Preferably in a darkish neutral colour (dirty old ones will do) or the popular orange which dogs find quite hard to see.
The Working Dog Company make a number of different dummies, including an oval shaped one which gets the dog used to holding a more ‘body’ shaped object in his mouth. They also sell rabbit skins for attaching to a canvas dummy.
Quest Gundogs do a disc shaped dummy that is suitable for puppies and slips easily into a pocket in addition to the more traditional range of canvas dummies in various weights. You can buy the white rubber ‘Dokken’ dummies from Black Dog Trading They are imported from the USA and that is reflected in the price.
There are numerous other online gundog suppliers and a search for retrieving dummy will soon provide you with a number of shops to browse through
Happy shopping! And let us know of your favourite retrieving dummies in the comments box below.