Report: Retriever Training Day with Lisa Harris


26th May 2018
Write up by Richard Gourlay

The grounds at Standlake were fantastic and appreciated by all who came.

There were 5x handlers in the morning session and another 5x in the afternoon.  2x of the handlers did both sessions and worked different dogs in each.

After a brief introduction a suggested plan for the day was given.  The aim of the sessions were to be able to provide handlers with different ‘tools’ for their ‘toolbox’ so that they can call upon them when needed. Not every method will work for every dog, so it is useful to try different things in order to be successful.
We discussed the KC J-regulations and talked about the standard required.  Although not everyone was looking to compete in tests it was still very useful to know the level expected and for an explanation on why things were done and why they were expected, and also why you would lose marks for doing particular things. Lisa provided real-life comparisons to how these skills would be essential in the shooting field, working a dog whilst handling a gun.

The Morning session – young or inexperienced Dogs/Handlers

Skills covered:  – The Walk up, Walking to Heel, and Water Retrieving

Everyone lined out in the field and one by one walked with their dog on or off lead. Stopping, turning and changing direction every few steps and working on keeping the dog close. During each pairs turn, Lisa provided guidance on how to progress the exercise, tips on how to succeed, providing variations on the technique based on the level of heel walking shown and any advice on any issues seen.
Then everyone was given a length of string.  This was looped through the dog’s collar and held by the handler and we did the exercise again.  The object was to keep the string loose at all times with the idea being for the dog to feel like it was ‘free’ and off lead but the handler had the ability to correct and stop any increased distance from them.

Next, we all went back into a line and cones were place in a line in front of the handlers and the same behind, so creating a large rectangle with the dogs and handlers in the centre. Each handler then had to walk their dog out to the edge of the rectangle, turn and walk back, through the middle, to the other side – passing the next handler who was sat with their dog. This was to introduce some distraction and ensure control was still maintained as you were walking.

We finished the session with some water retrieves.  All the dogs did well, and one even gained a personal best on their distance – surprising their handler who thought it might be too far!

Afternoon session – older/more experienced Dogs/Handlers

Skills –   Water Retrieves, Walk up with Steadiness and Retrieves, Retrieves over an Obstacle

Due to the weather warming up we decided to do some water retrieves first.
Each pairs retrieve scenario was set up differently depending on the dogs known water retrieve ability, which ranged from very unsure around water to confident.
The first two pairs were given the most complex scenarios – a marked dummy thrown into water then a marked dummy thrown to the side of them on land.  Dogs were turned and walked away, then sent for the land retrieved first and then the water one.
The rest of the group did some straight forward marked retrieves from the water, with focus on encouraging the dog’s entry into the water for those a little less sure, or on delivery for the rest.

Next we did a Walk-Up. Those who felt confident did it off lead! Once we had practised walking slowly and inline and with dogs to heel – there was then an added distraction by having dummies thrown ahead. To start with, when called, the dog had to sit and wait while the handler went to retrieve the dummy.  After we had been down the line, we then carried on and if the dog was steady and your name was called then you could send your dog for a retrieve.

The session ended with retrieves over an obstacle. We had a large 10m x 10m pen with an adjustable height wooden fence on one side. To begin with, each handler introduced their dog to the fence to check they could all jump it safely.  Next a marked dummy was dropped into the pen and each handler in turn sent their dog, over the fence, into the pen to retrieve it.
Next a sheep wire fence, on the opposite side of the pen to the wooden fence, was introduced to the dogs, again to check they could jump it without any issues. Then a marked dummy was dropped a short distance outside the pen where everyone was now stood. The handler was then sent back through the pen with their dog to the other side of the wooden fence, turning on the far-side to set up for the retrieve through the pen. They then sent their dog back over both the wooden and then the wire fence on a single command for the retrieve.  This gave the dogs the test of 2 jumps out and then 2x jumps on the return with the dummy.  This was done to teach that no matter what is in the way of the dog, it needs to keep going straight to find the retrieve – or until until told to stop. Everyone did this exercise very well.

In the de-brief  it was hoped that everyone had found it useful and that if they had only gone away with only 1 thing from the day then it had been beneficial.
Everyone was given a ‘Skills’ pack along with some training tips to go away with.
It was emphasised that if the dog could not do a task within a 1m radius of you then it would not be able to do it 20m+ away from you, so do not move on until you have proofed and practiced it sufficiently. We talked about 3x Rules: Distance, Time (Duration) and Difficulty and that all these factors influence training and the combination of these things are applicable to all dogs when learning a new task.

Feedback from some of the participants:


“….really enjoyed the session”


“I loved the training.  Lisa is extremely good and for competitive Gundogs I think you need someone who has huge experience in both trials and tests and judging.
I would like it to be repeated – please!”


“Really enjoyed Saturday, loved some of Lisa Harris’ tips and methods.
Would be interested if she did another event.”



“I thoroughly enjoyed the day. Lisa was great as she did not pile on the pressure and got the best out of dog and handler
Would love to attend another please
Thank you again, now planning my home work! “