by Chad Love
One of the most common questions from those new to retriever training is “how many bumpers do I need?” And as always, there’s no “right” answer. When I got my first retriever back in college, I had perhaps three or four bumpers of various makes, sizes and condition. But when I first started training on a regular basis with a local pro, he told me “get yourself about 16 white bumpers, a dozen orange and maybe a half-dozen large black-and-white ones. That’s a start.”
Why the huge disparity in what I thought I needed in college and what he thought I needed? Simply the natural progression and evolution of my training goals and expectations. My first dog wasn’t trained to the level my second dog was. She wasn’t force-fetched and wasn’t trained to handle. She could do simple blinds, but when she veered off her line I had to resort to that most embarrassing of acts, chucking a rock in the direction of the bumper, because, of course, she couldn’t handle. In fact, a good argument could be made that my first retriever wasn’t really trained at all. For that level of training (or lack thereof) three bumpers were plenty.
But when I started with an experienced trainer, I was introduced to basic handling and lining drills that required far more bumpers than the three or four I had. Force to pile, wagon wheels drills, pattern blinds, baseball drills, the single and double T–all these new-to-me training concepts took bumpers, and lots of them. So I went out and bought the requisite 16 white bumpers, 12 orange and half-dozen black-and-white.
Can you train a dog to the same level with fewer bumpers? Absolutely, and many owners do, but it requires a bit more time, work and creativity in how you train. Personally, I find it easier to just cough up the expense for a few extra bumpers than figure out a way to do the same thing with the bare minimum. And since that initial purchase, I’ve gone on to supplement my basic bumper battery with electronic launchers like Bumper Boys http://www.bumperboy.com/index.php/ , realistic bumpers like Dokken Deadfowl http://www.deadfowltrainer.com/ and wingers launching real birds, but I still find that 16/12/6 bumper ratio works for me.
How many bumpers do you use for the basics?