Like every new skill we teach a dog, it helps to break the ‘back cast’ down into simple stages.
With casting back we need to think about all the different factors of difficulty that are involved
The very first few times you cast your gundog back, he will be sitting in a specific position, in a specific location.
Ultimately of course, we will want the dog to cast back from any position, in any location, over any kind of obstacle, for blind as well as seen retrieves, and to do so under any amount of distraction.
But these are factors of difficulty and we need to build up to them gradually.
Keep it simple
Below are my steps for establishing the basic back cast.[wp_ad_camp_1]This is not the only way to introduce the back cast, nor the only type of exercise you can use to practice back casts (we’ll be looking at others later).
However, it is a simple, clear progression that will help beginners to get this important concept firmly established in their dog’s mind.
And I hope you find it useful.
- Basic back cast with no distraction
- Back with a right or left hand distraction
- Back in different directions from the same starting position
- Back in different directions with a distraction
- Rotating backs
- Rotating backs with distractions
There is an exercise for each of these six steps. I’ll give you a brief summary here, and publish the exercises separately.
The set up
All these exercises take place in the same location, the same field or piece of ground, and with the dog in the same part of that field. Don’t try and do this until you know you have access to the same bit of ground for several days in a row.
Later on, when these basics are established we’ll rehearse these skills in lots of different locations and under increasingly challenging conditions. But for now, you need to be able to train in the same place, every day, for several days.
Train on a fairly even surface, short grass or bare ground is fine. The dog needs to be able to see the dummy clearly as soon as he rotates away from you.
We don’t want him bumbling about hunting all over the place. This is a spin, grab and return scenario!
Adding a simple distraction
Initially we want the dog sitting facing the same direction at the start of each and every cast. So when you go out on Thursday, don’t forget where you were stood on Wednesday!
We also want the dog to learn to focus on his teamwork and on following instructions. So the second exercise makes it clear that the dog has to act on our choice of retrieve, rather than the easiest or most attractive option (which is usually the last thrown or most visible dummy).
This involves teaching the dog to carry out his cast even after he has seen a dummy thrown elsewhere. It is a back cast with a distraction. And it adds a new level of difficulty for the dog so we build the distraction in stages. I’ll explain exactly how in the exercise instructions
By the end of the second exercise, your dog will be casting back, despite having seen a tempting dummy thrown out to his right or his left.
But that is not all we require. A dog that will only cast to the North is no good to us!
We also need to dog to cast back when he is facing in different direction. South, East, West or indeed any other point of the compass. This is laughably obvious to us as humans.
But the fact that the back cast applies in different directions is not always obvious to a dog. My younger Labrador Rachael had no problem with this at all, but it is a common stumbling block for many dogs initially, including for my older lab Tess.
As always, when you first add a new concept, such as a different direction, it is a good idea to make the exercise more simple in every other way possible. This ‘sets the dog up to win’
So in the third exercise, we ditch the distraction and focus on casting back in different directions, and by that I mean to different points of the compass. Then, once we have mastered this, in the fourth exercise, we re-introduce the distractions again
The fifth exercise adds yet another challenge. Your dog may well be assuming that the back cast is an action whose direction is determined by the his position relative to the fall of the dummy. Or he may be assuming that he will simply be retrieving the first thrown of two dummies.
Neither of these is what determines a back cast. A back cast simply tells the dog to run in the direction that the handler is facing. And we need this to be crystal clear.
We now ask the dog to cast ‘back’ to a dummy that was in a different position relative to ‘him’ when he marked the fall.
We do this by rotating the dog after the dummies have been thrown. This shift in position after the dummies have been marked is a new concept and again can give a dog some problems.
What you are doing here is making it absolutely clear to the dog, that the back cast is a direction determined only by the relative position between the two of you.
It is not about remembering where dummies have fallen, it isn’t even about marking (though we use marks to get it started) it is about rotating his body through 180 degrees and travelling in a straight line, in the direction that his handler is facing.
No matter which direction that might be.
The final step in this basic casting programme adds a distraction to this position shifting exercise.
By the time you complete it, your dog should be pretty clear in his mind what the back cast actually means.
Just the beginning
Obviously this is just the beginning. There are a great many skills to add here. Your dog will need to learn to cast blind, to cast when there are great distances between you and him, and to cast when there are great distances between him and the retrieve.
He will need to cast into cover, over water, fences, and ditches. And anywhere else where we might expect to find a retrieve. But that is a separate story.
For now, if you are new to casting, you need a programme to teach your dog the real meaning of the back cast.
You need some clear steps to create an automatic and unquestioning response to your back cast, and in doing so build the foundations on which future training can be supported.
These six steps will help you achieve this. I am going to publish training exercises to help you with this over the next few days. Work through them in order, don’t skip any. And have fun!
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