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 , realistic bumpers like Dokken Deadfowl 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?