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Q&A - Wagon Wheel Lining Drill

Hello! I recently wrapped up my first free mini-course. I had a lot of fun creating the content for this course and love that we were able to connect with retriever trainers from around the world. I received several training questions which I've answered below.

Because of the popularity of this course, I've decided to make it available (free!) to all site members, even if you missed the initial registration. To access the course, you must have an account and log in. Go to to learn how to set up your account and access the course content.


If you enjoyed this mini-course, check back next week as we'll be opening registration for our "Line Mechanics for Success" course. This is a true deep dive into the communication and influence handlers need to master in order to be successful in today's challenging tests and trials. We've divided content over 6 weeks and will hold regular coaching calls. Check-in next week and join us!


The following training questions were submitted during the launch of the Wagon Wheel course. I hope the answers are helpful to you as you continue to work on mastering this important drill.

Module 1 WW Questions

My pup Cinco just turned 5 months of age and is not force broken yet, my question is while I did start the 4 bumper wagon wheel 3 days ago will this deter force breaking? She will heel after retrieving the bumper but drops it at heel. No corrections are made she has to go and she has to heel and it's done with no pressure.

I feel it is alright to play around with some simple lining drills as long as they are not taken too seriously at this stage. Some pups will actually line to bumpers or piles of bumpers. If they enjoy it, have at it. But don’t confuse this with the more formal version that will be done later. I would discontinue this if I was starting force fetch until they were delivering to hand consistently.

Video 1 at one point shows 2 white bumpers in the frame and then 2 orange bumpers in the frame... no explanation; what are they for?

The purpose for putting 2 bumpers at a destination is that you don’t have to throw the bumper back out in an effort to line by it. Often times you spend more time walking out to place the bumper after an errant toss. However, I do like to like to toss the white bumpers back and heel off of them in practice for poison birds.

Also, looks like the handler has a heeling stick resting on her shoulder but didn't use it... how would it be used or what is its purpose here?

The use of the heeling stick is to practice with when a dog is stubborn about moving with you. It also teaches the handler the mechanics of carrying a stick while on line. It can be awkward at first.

Do you use any kind of a verbal que (ie "dead bird") before picking up each bumper? I didn't hear the handlers using any verbal ques other than here or heel.

I may use a subtle “Dead Bird” que on the 1st send or 2 or if “Fido” seems confused about what we are doing. But once we get going I discontinue that que.

I’m starting wagon wheel with a young dog. I’m having trouble getting her to look where I want her to go. Head and spine are aligned where she needs to go but her eyes are looking in the wrong direction. My hand is over her head pointing in the right direction but she still is looking with her eyes the wrong way. Of course this results in her going off line. Any tips on getting her to look in the correct location?

You could start out by tossing the bumper out before sending each time. Also you could prop your white bumpers up by using 2 of them in effort to create a more visible target. What you are describing can be called “bugging”. That is the act of intentionally looking away in an effort to avoid being sent. I try and ignore it and send anyway. I will no them and move up if they go the wrong way. If “bugging” doesn’t get the desired result, often times the dog will abandon this avoidance behavior. In extreme instances I may heel forward with a nick, then send again.

What size of mat do you use?

Roughly 28” x 28”

I am training a young dog right now. Just turned 6 months old. I trained this one on two-sided heeling.

So do you train equally on one day 10 minutes on the right and then 10 minutes left? Or do you alternate one day left and one day right?

I typically try to alternate sides equally during each session.

Do you use a verbal cue, such as dead or dead bird?

Do you raise your arm? For instance, if I cast BACK in the field I raise my arm.

When I am doing a Wagon Wheel Lining Drill I am not typically doing any casting. However, in the event that Fido lines between the desired bumpers but doesn’t see the orange bumper that they are going for I may handle them to it.

I don’t see a tab in any of the videos. When is the use of a tab appropriate?

I am a fan of having a tab on my dog when working on these drills. I would use the tab to guide a dog's behavior when rotating left or right.

My dog is progressing nicely on single T. Is it too early to start Lining Wagon Wheel?

It would not hurt to do some basic Wagon Wheel with obvious white bumpers. However, I would delay the more complicated 16 leg version until the completion of the Double T.

Why not simply a half circle wagon wheel? One potential advantage is that it is more similar to ultimately the type of lining that will be done on marks and blinds

The reason I like to do the full circle is that requires your dog to do the full 360-degree heeling drill.

Module 2 WW Questions

Is there such a thing as too much wagon wheel? My dog loves this "game" and I have a week or two without training coming up. What if I did just wagon wheel and walks with my dog? Is there a downside to concentrating on only one drill?

There is a downside to doing too much of anything. Oftentimes the benefit of a drill is not the perfection of it, it is the challenges of learning it.

Until what point do you continue to exercise the wagon wheel (2nd and/or 3rd tier)? So in other words, when mastered by the dog (and handler), should we then assume it's conditioned for life? Or, like in any other sports, should we continue to practice to keep it conditioned/maintained? And if so, what should be the frequency of exercising the wagon wheel?

I will go back to the Wagon Wheel Drill at the beginning of the season or after a layoff. Or if I see that I am struggling on the line to get my dog to respond to my movements.

Would you ever consider a stage when adding the outer round of bumpers to reverse the colors to help the dog understand to run the longer distance or should this always be done going straight to the orange?

One of the biggest benefits of this drill is to get a dog to accept being sent to an unknown destination. I am more apt to move up than I am to mark the 2nd or 3rd tier with white bumpers. I want to take full advantage of the challenges that go into working through these things.

What degree of push pull competency do you recommend prior to attempting this level Pat?

Basic 360 degree heeling drill is all that is needed. Push and pull are taught during this drill.

Terminology question: dog is on the left; Handler pivots counterclockwise. The voice-over says this is a PULL. Isn’t it actually a PUSH? Shewould have said HEEL and stepped into the dog.

I think of the push and pull more of a movement that the handler does by adjusting their position in reference to the normal neutral or starting point. When you are heeling your dog backwards or rotating in either direction there is an act of pulling both ways. But yes you are correct in saying pulling is typically when you are influencing your dog towards you and you are pushing when you are influencing them away from you.

Module 3 WW Questions

For the third tier - what color bumper is used and what distance are they from the mat?

I use orange bumpers on the 3rd tier. The 3rd tier is around 32 yards from the mat. Tier 1 is around 12 yards and tier 2 is about 22 yards from the mat.

Do you ever use a raised platform instead of a mat and what might be the advantages / disadvantages of doing so?

I would be totally fine with using a raised platform. I believe an octagon shaped platform would work best.

Also, do you do wagon wheels on the same field or recommend moving to new locations?

I would use the same location if possible. However, I set up a wagon wheel on a fairly steep side slope as an advanced version. It added additional challenges. I wouldn’t have started with this more complex version.

Would you extend each tier out to a longer distance?

There is a practical reason for the prescribed length. This drill can be physically fatiguing. A Chinese Drill would be an example of a large-scale Wagon Wheel. I describe it as a Wagon Wheel on steroids.

In the past I have got very frustrated by wagon wheel drills at module 3 level with my field champions. Do you believe that there is a point where wagon wheels can do more harm than good?

Any drill overdone can be counterproductive. I would typically do this for 3 or 4 days and then give it a rest. If I sensed it was deteriorating my dog’s attitude, I would shorten the sessions and move up to simplify quicker. Also this is not a drill that I use e-collar pressure on. And yes sometimes dogs overthink this drill and try to avoid the white bumpers even when sent for them. Not unlike short birds that dogs need to be relaxed on, I will use a softer more relaxed send on them.

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