By Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels - Home of Drake the DU Dog
Two decades ago D. L. and Ann Walters, noted field trial trainers and authors, defined a mark as, "a fall of a bird, which a dog should watch, remember and retrieve when ordered to do so." This simple yet accurate definition of a mark contains one very important word: remember. A trainer must concentrate much of the dog's development on memory to mold a retriever with superb marking ability. A properly bred and trained retriever will likely possess the natural ability to see a bird fall and run to the location of the fall to make a retrieve. The dog's use of his eyes to make a simple mark is natural and is not where effective training time should be concentrated.
The dog's ability to concentrate and remain focused is imperative to effective marking. In Part II, we addressed steadiness and its influence on concentration. Another equally important attribute is memory. Marking memory is the dog's ability to remember the location of multiple bird or bumper falls with precise accuracy. This is where much of our training time is invested: memory enhancement.
Many handlers attempt to develop marking memory by using multiple thrown marks first thrown as doubles at 180 degrees, then narrowed to 90 degrees. Gradually, the angle closes to about 45 degrees. The dog is normally sent to the first bird down, then the second mark, or "memory" bird. Later, multiple marks are thrown and the dog is sent to bumpers in various orders.
Many marks must be run to provide substantial repetitions to effectively impact a young dog's memory development. Herein lies the complication with this methodology. Excessive marking promotes independence on the part of the young dog. Unsteadiness may creep in, and transitions to blinds, where the dog sees nothing fall, may prove more difficult.
To enhance memory at Wildrose Kennels, we use two methods that are similar in design:
1. Sight Memories
2. Trailing Memories
There is a third method, Circle Memories, but we'll leave that topic for another time at a more advanced level.
The sight memory is a seen placement of bumpers, located about 15 yards apart, never in a pile, which could promote switching. The dog should sit while watching the handler walk out and place the bumpers. The dog is expected to remain absolutely still and quiet, no creeping or distracted behavior. Keep the dog's attention. Bumpers are dropped on short-clipped grass in a straight line entirely visible to the dog. The handler slowly returns to the dog and briefly delays the release a few moments. As the dog's confidence develops, the distance is lengthened and terrain variables are added, such as a ditch or cover.
The sight memory may be set up in two ways:
1. Straight Edge - Use a fence line, woods' edge or hedge, straight trail, or even along a long building to provide a straight-line edge to the bumper placements to serve as a stabilizer for the young dog.
2. Land Contours - Select a gradual grade, a downward slope that gradually rises at a distance. With the dog at sit, the handler walks out and places bumpers in a visible position, 15 yards apart. After returning, the dog is released for the retrieve. As the dog drives out, down through the slope, eye contact with the bumpers is briefly interrupted. Sight is quickly regained if the young prospect continues the line through the lower area. With each repetition, distance to the next bumper lengthens. This has proven to be a very effective exercise at enhancing confidence and the promotion of lining skills in addition to memory enhancement.
As the dog's skills develop, switch to colored cloth bumpers placed in short grass to effectively create an unseen lining/memory exercise.
The trailing memory builds upon established skills developed through sight memories. The handler heels the dog into the field and tosses out a bumper. The dog is then heeled away in the opposite direction 180 degrees, effectively creating the "trail." At the appropriate distance for the dog's ability, the dog is turned about facing the memory bumpers. A brief delay precedes the release, allowing the gundog an interlude to focus on the placement area, distance and establishment of what is about to occur. This is a very effective drill at water's edge. Toss in the bumper and heel away. Send for the memory at gradually increasing distances.
As the dog's confidence builds, sight and trailing memories can be run in a variety of locations incorporating lots of factors, influences, and terrains. We now have moved away from the crutch of the straight edge such as the fences to incorporate more realistic conditions.
No marks have been thrown, yet memory is being developed. These methods involve delays, requirement for patience and concentration. No disruptive behavior can be tolerated: No creeping, no whining and no messing about or inattention.
Through consistent repetition, sight and trailing memory exercises will enhance more than memories applicable to marks. They will build a young dog's confidence in his handler while promoting patience and steadiness. As an added bonus, trailing memories that are discretely placed provide a natural progression to blinds. Next, Part IV: Distance Extensions.
Marking Enhancement Series
Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V