It's virtually impossible to imagine training a dog to retrieve without using retrieving dummies. Dummies are usually incorporated into the beginning phases of a dog's training program before frozen or live birds are introduced. There is a wide variety of retrieving dummies available to trainers today. Different dummies have decidedly different purposes.
Most people are familiar with basic canvas dummies which are good for teaching your dog to retrieve. Plastic dummies are preferred for water retrieves because they float and are easy for swimming dogs to grab.
Training bucks are frequently used as a tool in the force-breaking method. Additionally, if you notice your dog is biting or chewing on canvas or plastic dummies, you can revert back to using training bucks, which are made of hard chew-resistant wood.
Finally, before your dog progresses to working with birds, you can add training scents to the dummies you are using. This adds another dimension to your dog's training by helping him associate the scent of game birds with the item he is retrieving.
No matter what your sport, retrieving dummies and launchers are available to provide you and your dog with the best training experience possible.
Photo from the book, "Just Setters."