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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Marking off the Gun

Improve your retreiver's marking skills
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Phase II
After the pup has been carefully introduced to gunfire and is standing under shot and fall, begin to extend the marks. As the mark appears, track the flight path in an exaggerated manner. Wean the young retriever off the audible assistance of the thrower. Point the gun just before the mark is thrown and continue the "watch" cue. The handler fires a popper or shot shell as the flyer appears at the arch of the trajectory. Silent, hidden assistants now throw the bumpers. Be sure the bumper is tossed high initially to provide a clear mark.


  • Steadiness must be maintained. Deny 50 percent of the marks.
  • Note any sensitivity to gunfire.
  • Delay release as the pup gains experience. Extend the time between shot/fall and release for the retrieve.
  • Be sure the shooter includes both sitting and standing positions.

Gradually extend the delay period prior to release while adding movement, distractions, noise and conversations. Reload, drop shells and work the calls for a brief period. The retriever must remain focused on the fall area.

Phase III
Construct similar drills using doubles, then multiples. Train from blinds, boats, in water, off elevated stands and while doing walkups at heel. The dog must be exposed to a variety of hunting situations. To begin multiples, place the barrel of the gun a bit in front of the dog's line of sight while at sit or at heel on a walkup. As the bumper flies, swing up on it. The dog's eyes will follow.

To gain perspective on the second mark to follow, simply direct the dog's eyes to the new mark area with the motion of the pointing gun barrel. At first, the thrower may need to provide a bit of noise to attract attention to the second mark, such as a fired cap or blowing a duck call. Again, exaggerate the tracking of the fall as the shot is fired. Dogs quickly grasp the idea that the gun barrel pinpoints the action and that "watch" indicates something important is about to occur.

Phase IV
The dog focuses on the direction of the barrel when the shot is fired. He learns that the shooter's gun will pinpoint the area of the unseen. At this point, bumpers/marks start to come from all directions - behind, overhead and extended distances. You can expand these drills to upland situations while walking the dog at heel in grass fields and woodlands, or for the rough shooter dog working at quarter. In any case, a good marking dog is worth every bit of the training you put into him.

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Related:  retrievers

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