Lining to a Pile drill – hidden advantages

British Ret Champs 2007

Everyone who has ever trained a gundog to work on blind/unseen retrieves has done this drill at one time or another.  The “primary” role of the basic pile retrieve exercise is to teach confidence for the send away and part of the introduction to sight blinds.  One of the principal aims is to teach the quick pick-up and prompt return.  But, in addition, it also assists in the hold-heel-sit-deliver sequence becoming very automatic in the dog while he is concentrating on being sent for another retrieve.  In the field the dog has to remember how to swing into heel position and sit down focussed on the field (not up at your face) while holding onto the one he’s carrying and then delivering it properly.  He has to do all this while he is excited about watching the next throw, or going for the next bird of a multiple mark.  Having a pile of objects in front of him that he knows he will be sent to again provide the forward focus and of course keeps the subsequent retrieve aspect in the mix while he practices all the sub skills.

One disadvantage of pile work is that most dogs will try to shop, at least a little so the pile retrieve exercise can be considered a form of proofing to NOT do it.  Shopping is likely to appear in a minor or major way with more than half the retrievers out there.

Troubleshooting the Shopping Habit

Some dogs just love to test each dummy in the pile before selecting the one that is “just right” and then returning to the handler.  There are some things you could do to stop shopping:

  • Make sure that the recall component of the retrieve is much more fun than shopping.  A solid, reliable recall is the best way to nip this behaviour in the bud from the very beginning.  A dog cannot be spinning around to answer a recall cue if he is trying to shop. It is an incompatible behaviour.
  • You could also limit options with a long line so that he cannot shop once something is in his mouth thus taking away the opportunity to self-reward with this undesirable behaviour.
  • What would also work is following him to the pile so that you are close to him when he picks up which would make you the biggest thing in his world right then, not the next dummy.  Then gradually lengthen the following distance.

With a beginner dog that is only just learning the lining exercise you will probably get a couple of attempted shops and if you do not allow the shopping to become a habit by following the options outlined above the shopping will be over so quickly you will wonder if you really “trained” the dog not to do it.  But you did.  Dogs do what works.  If shopping does not work for him the first time he tries it, compared to alternatives that work better (give him more pleasure), he is not likely to continue to do it.

Another way to increase the no-shopping proofing once your dog has the basic understanding is to use a pile of non-similar objects.  For example, large and small dummies, some canvas, some plastic, and a Dokken duck (if familiar to the dog). Do not expect the dog to grab the closest object, and it is okay for him to inspect the pile (quickly) for his preferred object. But whichever one he picks up first needs to stay in his mouth and be delivered, even if he wishes he’d grabbed a different one. He will get an opportunity to do that on the next send!

Louise’s Comment:  These insights come as a result of a discussion on the Positive Gundogs forum.

5 Responses to Lining to a Pile drill – hidden advantages

  1. Jules Brittan says:

    Hi Louise

    I’ve recently subscribed to your Blog and find your write-ups interesting and informative, thank you!

    I work with dogs on a daily basis – as a self-employed Animal Care Specialist and Photographer. My dog training background originated in South Africa some thirty years ago where I handled German Shepherd Dogs in Schutzhund training over a period of twenty years. Since returning to the UK a decade ago I’ve broadened my dog training knowledge and scope of interest considerably. I don’t have any gundog training knowledge and would love to know more about it. I live just outside Lyndhurst in the New Forest. Do you know if there are there gundog training classes I could attend, and observe, in my local area? Or perhaps you could guide me in terms of where I might source more information on local training groups?

    Kind regards


    Jules Brittan Paws and Prints 077477 95077


  2. clickapup says:

    Hi Jules,

    So nice that you’re thinking of investigating gun dog work. There are two trainers that have “switched” from the more traditional training methods to positive reinforcement and both have websites that you might be interested in visiting. Pippa Mattinson and Phillippa Williams at I’m not sure that either of these trainers are near New Forest, but I am in contact with John Birkett at Winchester who might be able to put you in touch with clubs in the area. He has a facebook page and you could possibly contact him through that Then there’s also

    Good luck with your quest.
    Kind regards


  3. I am an avid retriever trainer who uses mostly positive methods.
    Walking baseball is a favorite pure casting drill because each cast is to a new location.

    I also combine fun of agility with a lining drill:

    To me retriever training is fun, not work and I look forward to the journey…


    • clickapup says:

      I quite agree with you. Should be fun for both of you – what’s the point otherwise… Have watched some of your videos – nice! Do you compete with her?


      • We occasionally compete…but I enjoy training even more…just me and my dog doing what she loves…I’ve had four labs over the past 25 years and really enjoy the journey…I find retriever training easy and fun and often the highlight of my day.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: