Developing Desired Marking Skills In Young Dogs
Excellent marking skills can be attributed in large part to habits that we shape, mold and ingrain in our dogs from the very beginning, through the basics and transitional training.
These skills include watching the mark through the complete arc to the ground, targeting the mark, going straight to the mark and locating the mark in the fall area with accurate precision. They’re not developed accidently or through coercion, they happen because we eliminate any possibility for failure. We setup training opportunities that guarantee our dogs will execute each one of these skills in the fashion I’ve described.
So what does that mean? Well, it involves giving careful consideration to several key components of accurate marking development.
1. Distance – It’s a mistake to believe that increasing the distance of retrieves, or stretching your dog out is important, or that it defines your dog’s level of capability. Running marks that are too long, too early may cause your dog to lose track of the mark through the arc and prevent it from targeting the mark on the ground. This can lead to undesirable habits and traits in your dog that include; running at the gun instead of the mark, poor lines to the mark, hunting early, disorganized hunts, hunting away from the mark or hunting at the gunners feet.
2. Visibility – There are three things that are extremely important when considering the object that’s being thrown for your dog. 1- It should be easy to see, attractive, perhaps flashy and it should contrast well with the background. 2- It should be light enough so that it’s easy for the thrower to throw. A higher, longer throw is preferable. This provides more time for your dog to track it in the air and work toward developing this desirable trait. 3- It should sit as high as possible on the ground or water, making it easy for your dog to target as they sit at the line or travel to the mark. I prefer a large white bumper with black and white flagging if necessary. It helps achieve all of the objectives outlined here – tracking, targeting, lining and precision marking.
3. Cover – Ground cover must be minimal. Golf course or soccer field like situations prevent the cover from concealing a white bumper. If your dog can see the bumper laying on the ground from the line, in route to the fall area and as it enters the fall area, your dog will continue to target the retrieve, run straight to it, mark it precisely and retrieve it without a hunt.
4. Factors – It’s important to eliminate or neutralize factors. They’re the elements that push or pull your dog off line while on route to a retrieve. They include irregular terrain, changes in cover, crosswinds, cheaty or angle entries into the water as well as angle exits from the water. Avoid ditches or angling hillsides and irregular cover, which will cause your dog to alter its course to take the path of least resistance. Run straight downwind in a stiff crosswind and make sure the lines to water marks have square entries and exits.
5. Find the longest gun station first – If you want your dog to come to the line and watch the longest mark without fail, then you should do that one first as a single as often as possible. (See article coming August 2020 - The Value Of The Staggered Triple)
In summary, setting up marks for young dogs takes some planning and foresight. You need to choose the right location. You need to be precise about where each mark should land. You need to have a keen awareness of the factors that may affect your dog’s performance. You must make adjustments so that things are “Right”. Finally, you must get out there and train. Good habits are formed not only through well thought out training setups, but also through a solid effort to train almost daily.