Once your dog had built up his confidence on basic land and water retrieves, you will need to begin setting up retreives that resemble realistic hunting-type settings. To begin, find a field that has light cover. "Light cover" means low, sparse patches of weeds and plants with nothing taller than 12". Start with short throws (20 yards) with the bird or bumper landing on open ground within easy view of the dog. Be prepared to have your helper encourage the dog to the retrieve. Slowly increase the length of retrieves and the denseness of the cover, paying close attention to your dog's behavior. If your dog seems confused or isn't marking the falls, go back to the basics.
When your dog is doing consistent work in light cover, find a field of moderate cover. "Moderate cover" is thicker than "light cover" fields, with areas of taller plants randomly growing throughout. Moderate does not include waist high grass! If you can't walk through it easily, it is NOT moderate! Follow the same steps as your introduction to light cover; start short, use lots of encouragement, and take a step back if your dog seems insecure.
Another type of "cover" that you will need to train your dog to handle is changes in cover: going in and out of areas of moderate cover to an area of no cover or vice versa. Going from a field , across a road, and back into cover needs to be practiced. Also, not all ground is flat, so look for hills to train on too.
In addition to normal "weed" type cover, you will also want to introduce your dog to planted fields with rows that he will need to run through, hedge-type cover that he will have to push through and, in the water, tules.
Planted fields with mounded rows can present a problem for some dogs. Running too fast can result in tripping and tumbling head over tail. If a dog has had an initial bad experience in running rows, getting him to do it a second time may be difficult. So, for your first time, walk the dog through the rows for a few minutes to allow him time to acquaint himself with mounded ground. Set up short, straight retrieves; no angled entries. Once he is going straight out and back, over the mounds, you can increase the length of the retrieve. Do not set something up that will encourage him to run around the mounds, i.e.; angles or retrieves that are too long.
Hedges - dense plant growth - also needs to be incorporated into your training program. Look for a stand of dead corn plants (or any other plant that you can find) that may be tall and dense but NOT too deep to start out with. Your dog should be able to run through the hedge in two or three strides. Initially, if your dog is reluctant to push through the cover, walk him through. Be patient, most dogs see dense cover as a wall and need some assistance in learning that they can go through it. To start with, have your helper throw high marks that the dog can see over the top of the hedge. The dog will not see the actual fall. Use lots of encouragement and praise when he gets his mark on his own without help.
Some basic tips on land cover work: always walk the field first, check for gopher holes, glass, burrs, and foxtails. Never run a dog through a field that has burrs or foxtails.
In addition to land cover, many duck ponds will have varying degrees of surface water plants and tules. As in land cover work, look for ponds that have a sprinkling of tules to start off with. Throw marks in frontof, beside, and then behind tule stands. Start simple and increase the difficulty slowly. As any sign of confusion on the dog's part, back-up and reduce the degree of difficulty.
If you have an older trained dog, or can train with someone who does, let the young dog watch the older dog complete a new type of retrieve first, and then let "pup" try it.
If the pup gets stuck, send the trained dog out to help - unless you have waders or it's hot and you don't mind getting wet. With water work, it is a guarantee that at some point you will be in the water with your dog.
With cover training, always be on the lookout for new situations that you and your dog can use. Be aware that cover changes throughout the year, so fields that are unusable in May may be perfect in November.
One other reminder; never send your dog out into a field with a choke chain collar on. Use a flat buckle web collar, or no collar at all.
Take your time, be patient, and have fun building a good working relationship with your dog!