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Marking Enhancement

Among the most valued skills of a retriever is his ability to effectively mark fallen game
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  • photo by Tim Bromley
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Among the most valued skills of a retriever is his ability to effectively mark fallen game. Waterfowlers want a dog that continuously scans the sky for birds, marks the location of downed game, drives out enthusiastically straight to the fall area on command, hunts the area closely and quickly returns an undamaged bird directly to the handler.

A retriever's marking ability can be enhanced greatly by addressing the individual component skills necessary for effective marking. These skills include:

concentration/focus negotiating obstacles
steadiness lining
memory nose/hunting cover
distance estimation ignoring diversions

Future articles will address each of these factors and their influences on marking. These skills are also necessary for running accurate blinds. Remember that marking exercises should play a very small part in the early stages of training a retriever. Marking drills are used only intermittently in a variety of locations and environments throughout the Wildrose basic retriever curriculum. The ability to mark is a natural instinct among quality retrievers. All the trainer has to do is enhance the gifts proper genetics has provided. Dogs with weaker natural skills can benefit from properly formatted marking exercises. Place more emphasis in early training experiences on memories, steadiness and handling skills.

Excessive marking can promote unsteadiness with an excitable pup, and often results in a "self-employed dog," a dog overconfident in getting the job done on his own. Handling and memory exercises, on the other hand, promote interdependence between the handler and the dog. The young dog will rely to some extent on the handler, thereby remaining both under control and confident, a much more cooperative relationship. Periodic, meaningful marking activities will not interfere with this relationship as long as the dog is kept calm and marking is not overdone in each session. Never needlessly excite a pup with repetitive, meaningless marks unless the pup has a motivational problem.

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