Wagon Wheel Drills – Control at the Line
What many hunters overlook is that they would never need to spend time handling their dogs if alignment drills were practiced. However, many hunters neglect these drills because they do not understand just how easy they are. Here, wagon wheel drills will be discussed.
A wagon wheel drill is a simple and easy exercise that can be used for practicing proper alignment when going after marks. This exercise gets its name from the way that it would appear from an aerial perspective. Hunter and dog are the center of the wagon wheel, while the lines that the dog runs to retrieve thrown bumpers represent the spokes of the wheel.
There are a few things to remember before initiating this drill. First, if your dog heels on your left as most gun dogs do since shotguns eject shells on the right, then you want your dog’s body aligned with your left leg. You will use your left leg to gently position your dog’s spine and tail, while your right leg will be used for fine tuning your dog’s head position. This drill does not rely on pressure; rather, repetition is most important.
Once you and your dog have perfected positioning, the next step is to throw the bumpers. Start with 4, and throw them at 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00, as if your wagon wheel were a clock. Each time you throw a bumper, make deliberate pivots and make sure your dog follows you accordingly.
Perhaps the most important part of this drill is talking and communicating with your dog. Provide plenty of praise when your dog is properly aligned and runs the perfect line, while also verbally correcting your dog when the alignment is not ideal.
Once the final bumper has been thrown, turn to one of the other bumpers on the wagon wheel and re-align your dog. Be meticulous and ensure that your dog’s alignment is perfect, all the while giving cues. Use your knee to push / pull your dog as needed. For instance, when you pull your leg back, your dog should move backwards. Alternatively, when you push your leg forward, your dog should move forward. This aspect of the drill is best learned through repetition. Once you are happy with the alignment, send your dog after the bumper.
An important component of this drill is that you throw the bumper back after your dog retrieves it. Not doing so is a common mistake. After the bumper has been returned to its starting point, move to another point on your wagon wheel and repeat the drill. Once your dog has mastered this drill with 4 bumpers, move up to 8. Some hunters even use 12 – 16. Ultimately, the wagon wheel drill is all about repetition. If you complete this drill 2 – 3 times for the duration of your dog’s life, hunting will become much easier.