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By: Ryan Eder

The split drill is arguably one of the best and easiest handling drills to work on with your dog.  There are a few different explanations of this drill out there, but I will review the version I was taught and use on all my dogs.

Conceptually, the split drill is similar to the wagon-wheel drill in that you have white bumpers, and then orange bumpers in between; it is also similar to pattern blinds in that you use white poles to mark your initial blind retrieves.  This is a handling drill, but we are also working on many other things such as:

  • push and pull at the line (here, heel; see last issue)
  • initial lining
  • whistle-sits
  • casting
  • running past an area where the dog previously picked up a bumper

Prerequisites for Split Drill

Again, this is a handling drill, so our dogs do need to have basic handling skills, as well as having been introduced to the idea of identifying sight blinds and being sent to them.  This drill can be set up at shorter distances with wider splits for dogs just starting.  I would recommend having a dog complete the following stages of training prior to starting this drill:

  • basic obedience
  • force-fetch
  • three-handed casting
  • force to pile
  • T-pattern drill
  • simple wagon wheel (three or four bumpers minimum so that the dog is used to being sent to multiple destinations within one drill)

Advantages of the Split Drill

When tuning up our duck dogs for the upcoming hunting season, one of the most important traits we strive for is the dog going where we send him and handling crisply to the bird.  Sure, we want our dog to mark multiple falls; but in some of the marshy, trashy grounds we hunt, they will inevitably need to be handled.  The split drill is a great way to tune up our dog’s handling, regardless of his age or experience, because it is essentially nine blind retrieves per setting.

This drill can be done in the yard or a nearby park and requires only your whistle, five white lining poles, five white bumpers, and four orange bumpers.  For advanced-level dogs, you could do away with the white lining poles (I like to have them marked so I can identify the orange bumpers in between easier).

The Overall Setup

#1 – #5 are white bumpers (also each marked with white lining pole).  #6 – #9 are orange bumpers.


Again, there are other interpretations of what the split drill is, but this version is what I like to run with all my dogs from young transition dogs learning to handle, to advanced dogs as a tune-up.  With nine blinds per set, if your dog did this even twice per week he would be getting 18 total blinds!

Once the drill is set up, decide which way you’d like to run.  The diagram shows the drill set up to run from left to right.  To start, you’ll want to pick up your white bumpers first (1-5).  Then, you’ll pick up the orange (6-10). If your dog goes offline or makes mistakes, simply handle him to the desired bumper.  Typically, he’ll do better on the white bumper blinds.  But be ready to correct him — white does not always guarantee your dog will line it!  If you have a young dog, you may begin the drill by only using the 1 through 5 white bumpers and progress from there.  You are still able to work on several elements in this simplified form of the drill. For advanced dogs, we can lengthen the blinds, make them tighter, or even add more splits.

Be ready for several handles when you start working toward the orange bumpers.  Naturally, your dog will face suction toward the white poles where he or she just picked up a bumper successfully.  This is a good thing!  We want as many opportunities to handle the dog as possible, so work through it and be patient.

This drill requires minimal equipment and space to be effective.  We get to address so many things in this drill, all of which are critical in the duck blind.  Whether it is the push or pull at the line to get our dog facing the where we want him to go, initial lining, sit whistles, or casting, our dog is being provided with several opportunities to learn and sharpen things up.

This article first appeared in the August/September 2017 issue of The Retriever Journal.

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