Marking, is the act of accurately memorising the location at which the falling object reached the ground.
Marking ability is an important attribute in any retriever
Some dogs have more natural ability in this respect than others, but training and experience are important influences.
A good retriever watches intently when he hears a shot.
He is looking to see where the bird falls.
He then ‘marks’ the location at which the bird has fallen by making a mental ‘map’ of its position.
The ability to mark accurately depends on a number of factors
Including the dog’s
- Natural ability to memorise locations
We probably cannot influence our dog’s natural ability and eyesight, that comes down to your choice of puppy.
But we can definitely improve on what nature has provided, with regard to training and experience.
A learning curve
Memorising where a dummy or bird has fallen, and travelling to the exact spot with a reasonable degree of accuracy, is not as easy as you might think.
Get a friend to throw a ball into some long grass 30 yards away from you, and see how quickly you can find it.
We often expect young dogs to do just that, with no training.[wp_ad_camp_1]Try the experiment again in a different place, and this time look away from the area of fall for a few seconds before setting off to search for the ball.
See how much harder that makes it?
Of course the dog has his nose to help him, but marking in itself is an important skill, and a very different skill from gamefinding using scent.
You are not helping your dog to improve his marking, if you force him to rely on his nose. Nor is his nose an effective tool if he is not hunting in the area of fall.
Your dog will get better at marking with experience, but he will get a lot better at it if you train specifically for this skill.
Helping your dog
Marking is about making a mental image of the location of an object, relative to the visual cues around it.
It is also about paying attention and focusing, so that the image is embedded into the memory.
If your dog is busy watching you open a chocolate bar, or looking at what someone else’s dog is doing, immediately after the dummy or bird has fallen, he will struggle to locate the mark.
With an inexperienced dog, one of your jobs, is to make sure he is able to concentrate on the job in hand, and is not distracted.
You need a thrower
One reason that dogs struggle is because people try and train alone.
If you want your dog to learn to mark well, you need someone to throw dummies for you.
Ultimately, a retriever needs to learn that retrieves come from a gun, but before that he needs to know that they come from somewhere other than his handler.
You cannot expect a dog to learn to mark simply from your hand thrown retrieves.
Factors of difficulty
Marking improves with practice, but there are many different factors which increase the level of difficulty in a mark, and we tend to alter too many of these factors at once
- Depth of cover
These are all variables that you alter each time you set up a mark for your dog.
And you need to alter them gradually as the dog gains in experience and in confidence
Confidence is an important factor here. Lack of confidence in himself will make a dog overly dependent on his handler, and more likely to hunt short of the area of fall.
Your dog needs to experience success after success, not only to help his brain become more efficient at making mental maps, but in order to build up his confidence in his ability to do so.
Don’t send a young dog for retrieves that have fallen over the brow of a hill for example, if he cannot accurately mark on flat ground.
Your dog should be proficient at marking on short grass, before asking him to mark in cover at the same distance.
Whenever you increase one factor (distance for example) make the others as easy as possible. So when you are stretching out distances, don’t introduce cover, and when you are introducing cover, keep your distances short.
Marking drills and practicing
There are drills or exercises that you can do to improve your dog’s marking ability but remember that retrieving drills have the potential to cause boredom and will put some dogs off retrieving if overdone.
Too much marking practice in a young dog also has the potential to create unsteadiness and possibly whining from over-excitement.
It is important to keep a balance.
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