By Mike Stewart of Wildrose Kennels - Home of Drake the DU Dog
Marking is a retriever's ability to sight fallen game or a bumper, and accurately remember the exact location of the mark(s), combined with the ability to line to the location and secure the downed game or bumper by sight or scent. Obviously, this is an attribute of utmost importance to the waterfowler and upland game shooter alike. It has been said that great markers are born, but the marking skills of any gundog can be enhanced through practice. For more on marking, please reference the Marking Enhancement series.
Marking encompasses the utilization of several skills that can be influenced through training:
- Focus and concentration
- Memory (remembering the location of multiple falls)
- Ability to line to the fall despite influences (terrain, diversions, obstacles or environment)
- Distance perception
- Use of nose in the fall area
Preparing the young retriever to mark with accuracy in an actual hunting situation differs from the common methodology employed in field trials and even many working tests. In trials, guns and bird throwers provide "flyers" (bumpers or cold game) and gunfire in the field at variable distances. On the hunt there is no forward-deployed bird thrower or field gunner to attract the dog's attention to the fall area.
The hunting dog must be conditioned to watch carefully at all times at the side of the shooter(s) for effective marking, especially given that shooting occurs without warning often after extended periods of inactivity. Multiple shots and falls may occur, hunters enthusiastically bound from concealed areas firing multiple shots, or they may swing quickly on flushed birds in any direction. The hunter's reaction can prove distracting to the unprepared gundog.
The wingshooter should prepare his or her retriever to "mark off" the gun. Use guns in training to condition young dogs to mark off the shooter's gun barrel, the direction of the pointed barrel and shot, rather than using a thrower's voice, calls, shot or other noises to attract attention to the mark.