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Pro Tips for Using Training Dummies with Your Gun Dog

Featuring Chris Akin, Webb Footed Kennel

There’s much more to using a training dummy than just tossing one and having your Lab fetch it up, says Chris Akin. Here are some pro tips from Akin who currently holds the record for the most Grand Champions trained.

Buckets of orange and black and white bumpers


Believe it or not, color selection is important. “Something many people don’t think much about is the color of their bumpers,” Akin said. “The main colors we use in retriever training are white, black, black and white, and orange. Orange is used the least. Dogs are not color blind, but their color vision isn’t as sophisticated as humans. Dogs have better vision in low light conditions or at night, but it’s not as strong as ours during the day. The bright sun makes it hard for them to pick up color. It’s really fascinating.

“Because of the contrast, I’ll use black and white bumpers for puppies because they can more easily see the bumper. If they find the bumper they’ll learn more quickly, and from that comes drive and confidence. For young dogs I’ll use black, white or black and white, and I’ll use them for running marks. The black bumpers are great on cloudy days and when throwing at a distance.

“Just because the dog’s eye can’t pick up the orange color doesn’t mean those bumpers are useless. Orange bumpers are valuable for running blinds and doing controlled work where they need to use their sense of smell. Out of the 4000 dogs I’ve trained I’ve only had two that could see orange, so give some thought to the bumper color before you throw it.”


Akin says, “the two-inch size is most popular for dog training for a few reasons. You can store a lot of them easily, fitting lots in a small space, and it fits in young dogs’ mouths. And of course, lighter and smaller means they are easier to throw.

“A three-inch bumper is better when someone is throwing for you. They’re good if your training partner is out 100 yards, and they don’t have to throw it but a few yards. Day in day out a two-inch is what we use 80 percent of the time.”


Akin prefers rubber over any other material due to cost. “Canvas bumpers are favored by the Brits. They’re a little lighter and easier on the dog, but they don’t last as long. If I lose a rubber bumper I might find it 10 years later and still be able to use it.”


“With puppies a big bumper is too much, so we take a sock, twist it up and tie a knot in it,” Akin said. “I don’t put anything else inside. These are great for tossing inside the house, they don’t mark up walls, and they’re easy for a puppy to grab and hold. For slightly bigger dogs, a tennis ball does something to a Lab that makes them crazy. They love them, so it’s a big part of training. And paint rollers are fantastic for puppies, 12-weeks and under.”


While dog training, a lot of people throw from their side, which is not how it works when you’re hunting. “People get off work, get the bumpers, go out and start throwing,” Akin says, “but nothing you and I do in the field comes from our side. Everything is from a distance or going away. Having a partner on foot or in a Ranger and setting up distances 40 to 200 yards is the way we do it. Strategically placing bumpers on the ground so the dog has to use his brain to leave my side and go to the area of the fall is key. It’s important to establish the hunt so the dog can make the retrieve.”

“What happens when you throw from the side is your distance isn’t that far, maybe 40 yards or so. You want to vary the distance so the dog doesn’t go to 40 yards and stay there. You want him to be inclined to go as far as he needs to go to make the retrieve. When they’re young we’ll have guys throw at distances. That way the dog knows they have to use their brain to figure out where that bumper fell. When they get to the general area they’ll start to use their noses, and that means we’re developing dogs who can figure things out.”

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