Retriever training is much simpler for a professional gun dog trainer when the dog’s owner has spent time and effort training his retriever before sending him off to the trainer.

Recently Lonny Taylor of Taylor Made Retrievers got Clinetop’s Boscarelli (“Bosco”), a black Labrador male in for training from Gary Hubbell of Marble, Colorado. Gary is an outdoor writer and photographer, and the publisher of the well-known books, “The Labrador Shooting Dog” by Mike Gould, and “The Pointing Labrador”. Gary had worked as an apprentice trainer for Mike Gould back in the 1980’s, and consequently had a pretty good idea of how to start a gun dog.


“If every dog I took in for training was started as well as Bosco, my job would be a lot easier,” Lonny said. “I could put AKC hunt test titles on dogs twice as fast.” Why was Bosco different? “First of all, Bosco knew his basic obedience,” Lonny said. “Gary had taught him sit, heel, stay, and here, and he knew it well.”


Bosco had also seen a lot of marks. “Marks” are training dummies that are thrown for a dog to retrieve. “My wife and I own some ranch property that we have to irrigate on a daily basis,” Gary says. “It takes about two hours to cover the property. So every time I went out to irrigate, I took a couple of dummies with me and threw marks for Bosco. I started him out by throwing short marks that he could see easily, and as he was successful with those marks, I either extended the distance or extended the difficulty of the marks. For example, a 20-yard mark on short grass is easy, but a 20-yard mark thrown into thick willows is a lot tougher.” Pretty soon Bosco was able to confidently handle fairly tough 60-yard marks.


That’s when Reed and Jake Hubbell joined the training program. At 11 and 9 years old, respectively, the boys were at a perfect age to help. “If you consistently throw marks as far as you can, and no further, the dog won’t hunt any farther out,” says Lonny. “So you have to extend the distance of your marks. Young boys are perfect for that duty.” Bosco, by the way, was between six and nine months old when this training occurred. In fact, the relationship between kids and a puppy can be a difficult one for a trainer. Kids love to throw sticks and puppies love to retrieve sticks, “But that’s one of the worst things you can ever do for a dog!” Lonny emphasizes. “When a dog is having a difficult time finding a bird and he comes back with a stick, you’ll know that someone’s kids have been throwing sticks for that dog. DON’T let them do it! If you have them help throw marks, this is a positive way for the kids to participate in a dog’s training.”


A training bumper, or “dummy”, has a short cord tied to it that allows a trainer to throw it. Bumpers are thrown under-handed almost like a softball pitcher. It takes most kids a little while to master the technique, so give them some time without the dog around to get the hang of throwing bumpers. When you send a boy or girl out to throw a bumper, make sure that the trainer and the thrower each understands his or her role. The trainer’s job is to make the dog sit, heel, and stay; to send the dog on command; and to correct the dog on the retrieve if he needs it. The thrower’s job is much simpler: when the trainer waves at the thrower, the thrower makes some noise, such as “Hup, hup, hup!” to get the dog’s attention. When the dog pricks his ears up and watches, the thrower then arcs the bird above the horizon. This is important, because the dog needs to see the bird. You’re training for success, not to trick the dog. Another important tip: always face the dog into the wind for his early training sessions. As he approaches the thrown bumper, the dog will scent the “bird”, even if it’s just plastic, greatly increasing his chances of finding the bumper.

The thrower does not help the dog find the bird at all. That is the trainer’s job. He should be still and quiet, and not say anything to the dog. If the dog approaches him the thrower should ignore the dog.

“If you can throw a bumper 45 yards, that’s a start,” says Lonny. “But if you can get your kids out there to stretch your dog out to 60 yards, then 80 yards, then 100 yards, you’ll be way ahead of the game when you send the dog to training.”


“When I started Bosco on longer retrieves, I made sure that he could see the bumpers,” Gary says. “I’d send the boys out with 6 or 8 bumpers, and if he did well, I’d call it a day.” Pretty soon Gary had Bosco doing 150-yard single retrieves, and then Gary backed up and started Bosco on double retrieves at 20 yards. “Bosco is one of those dogs that could retrieve all day, but the goal is to leave him wanting more,” says Lonny. “Don’t wear a puppy out by throwing marks for a half hour or an hour. Give him a few good retrieves and quit while he still wants more.”


“The dog has to be steady for double marked retrieves,” Gary says. “He has to sit still and watch you throw both marks. Otherwise he’ll bolt before you throw the second mark, and your drill doesn’t do any good.” This steadiness goes back to basic obedience, which is accomplished in the yard with a choke chain or slip collar. “Sit” means just that, and no other response will work. “Stay” is built upon the Sit command, and “here” is easiest because that’s what the dog wants to do.

VERY IMPORTANT: “Heel” is always taught on the trainer’s “off” side. In other words, a dog should always heel on a right-handed trainer’s left side, and a dog should always heel on a left-handed trainer’s right side. When throwing marks, a trainer can generate enough force to thump a dog hard in the head with a bumper if he’s heeling on your dominant side—in fact, hard enough to put out a dog’s eye, as some unlucky trainers have learned. When hunting, it’s better to have the dog out of the way of your gun.
Sometimes you can hold their collars if they’re tempted to bolt, but Gary had to resort to another method. “Bosco was such a willing and energetic retriever that it was really difficult to teach him to sit while I threw a bumper,” Gary reports. “Finally I had to resort to an old trick Mike Gould taught me. I put a lasso around his waist, just forward of his hips. When he bolted, I held onto the rope and his forward momentum suddenly tightened the rope around his waist. Dogs hate that. He didn’t want to bolt after that. He sat.”


“Send a dog on his name when you’re throwing marks,” Lonny says. Gary agrees. “And by the way, I once made a mistake of naming a dog with an ‘S’ sound,” Gary says. “So if you want your dog to sit and her name is Sage, and you’re sending the dog on her name, she’s going to be confused. Name a dog with a short, crisp name that does NOT start with an ‘S’.”


“The other thing I did with Bosco was spend a lot of time in the field with him,” Gary says. “I took him with me on horseback rides and long hikes. I didn’t say much to him. I just expected him to keep up with me. Luckily he really likes being around people, so it wasn’t much of an issue to keep him in touch with me.”
“The dog had a lot of confidence when he got here,” Lonny says. “He knew how to find his handler, but he also knew a lot about the natural environment. He knew how to swim, he knew how to jump logs, he knew how to work his way through cattails.”

Once Lonny got Bosco into training, it was easy to put a Junior Hunter title on him. Lonny tightened up his force fetch, started him on longer marks, taught him not to “cheat the banks” on water retrieves, and started him on handling. Lonny was gearing up to run Bosco in the Senior Hunter tests, but Gary took the dog home for a season of blue grouse hunting in the high country. “He’ll be a Master Hunter before long if everything goes right,” Lonny says. “And Bosco points. Gary is curious about bringing Bosco to some Pointing Retriever trials.”