Introduction to Marks in the field
One of the most common questions that hunters have is when to transition their puppy from yard work to marks in the field. The general rule of thumb is to make this switch after performing plenty of conditioning retrieves and when the dog is reliably delivering bumpers to hand.
A great first drill that can be performed is the check-down drill. Here, hunters should find a flat field that is approximately 80 yards, and have a gunner shoot a blank pistol or give a hey hey before tossing a bumper with a short, flat throw to the left. Before each subsequent throw, the gunner should move in to the right, continually getting closer.
This drill has a number of benefits. First, it teaches the dog to hunt the proper side of the gun. Second, the check-down drill teaches the dog to hunt the area properly for the downed bird.
To begin this drill, first put your dog in a sitting position. Signal the gunner, who will shoot a blank (or give a hey hey) and toss a bumper. Stick your hand down, then wait 3 counts before sending your dog. Timing here is important. Hunters fall into the habit of immediately sending their dog, which creates bad habits in the field, such as poor steadying.
When your dog returns with the bumper, have your dog continue to hold it in his or her mouth in order to stay focused on the task at hand. Have the gunner repeat the throw, but this time from a closer distance and in the opposite direction. Once the bumper hits the ground, again wait before sending your dog. Be sure to praise your animal for patience.
As your dog gets the hang of this drill, keep an eye on his or her marking behavior. If your dog overruns the mark, continue with the gunner starting farther away and moving in. However, if your dog hunts too sharply, do the opposite and have the gunner move out with each throw. This check-down drill can be performed every day.
Joe Scarpy – Trainer / Bull Valley Retrievers
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