If the dog does break or creep forward in marking drills, return it to the original spot where you first commanded "Sit" and firmly push its rear to the ground. Do not repeat the verbal command. Some handlers use a riding crop, quirt or heeling stick at this point to reinforce steadiness. I prefer the electronic collar for correction. However, this is not an option unless the dog has been thoroughly collar-conditioned. When the dog breaks, I administer the previously determined minimal level of stimulation and leave it on until I have returned the dog to the place of the infraction.
Employing an assistant or two to do the throwing will help teach a dog to focus out front and to retrieve from a variety of distances.
If you do not have assistants to help you with marking drills, electronic bird launchers-though expensive-are a marvelous training tool. You can position them at various distances in the field, just as you would helpers. Once you're back with the dog, fire the gun, trigger one of the launchers and send the dog for the retrieve.
As long as your dog was born with excellent marking abilities, the more drills you do, the more its skills will improve. Initially, however, limit each session to two marks. As the dog progresses, you can give it more. For the average dog, I think a half-dozen marks per session is more than enough in the advanced stages of training. The key is to keep these exercises fun, thereby creating a stylish and enthusiastic retriever.
You can also use a hand-held launcher to hone your pup's retrieving abilities. This device fires a canvas or PVC dummy by way of a powerload charge (essentially a .22 blank). Depending on the load, you can achieve distances of up to two hundred feet, which are impossible if you're throwing the dummy by hand. Again, however, the primary disadvantage of the hand-held launcher is that the mark originates at your side, whereas in actual hunting situations the bird will be shot out in front of the dog.
Electronic bird launchers allow you to more closely duplicate reality. There are no assistants for your dog to key on, so it will have to learn to mark more efficiently. Also, the action does not originate at your side; it is always out in front. You fire the gun and then launch the bird. At the shot, the dog looks for a mark, sees it and concentrates on the area of the fall.
Remember, dogs are creatures of habit. If you always give your dog 40yard retrieves, it will more often than not come up short on 60-yard marks. By varying the distance of the falls, you will give the dog valuable marking experiences and teach it not to expect a specific distance for retrieving work.
Before you move on to the next stage in training blind retrieves, your flusher should be absolutely proficient at marking falls in a variety of cover and at distances from 10 to 100 yards. Moreover, the dog must consistently sit immediately on a single voice or whistle command. Once you are sure of the dog in both respects, you can begin work on blind retrieves. However, this will be a stressful transition for your dog, and you may want to occasionally mix in some straightforward marking drills to maintain the dog's enthusiasm and confidence.