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Advanced Marking Drills

by John and Amy Dahl

From The 10-Minute Retriever, by John & Amy Dahl;
Reprinted by permission of Willow Creek Press, Inc.. 800-850-9453,

Double Marked Retrieves

At some point, when your young dog is doing so well on his singles that you can’t wait to try something more advanced, you are ready for the introduction of doubles. We always start this as a "schooled double," that is, by employing a single, or a mark that the dog has already practiced, and then throw another dummy as a diversion. All of the marks that your pup has learned during earlier training can then be employed as "starter" memory birds. Your dog will catch on more quickly if you keep things familiar in this way. A "diversion" is simply a shorter mark that is thrown after a longer mark. The diversion is retrieved first thereby making the first throw a "memory bird." For these initial doubles, the diversion is thrown "off-line," that is, by the handler or someone standing close by.

If you are involved with AKC or NAHRA hunting tests, you may have heard the term "diversion" used differently. Unfortunately, the organizers of these programs assigned the word "diversion" to refer to a more complicated routine traditionally known as a "bulldog" mark, which is a mark thrown for the dog as he is on his way in with another mark. He must, of course, continue with the bird he has and not switch. As used in this book, however, "diversion" has its traditional meaning of a mark that is picked up first, diverting the dog’s attention from
the memory mark, or first mark thrown. When the dog is doing well with only one thrower in the field and a diversion throw offline, he is ready for two gunners in the field. Keep them wide spread. 180° is not necessary, but 90° or so is advisable. Run each mark as a single and continue to do this for quite a while (a few weeks) until he expects to be sent on the single. This keeps his attention riveted on the first mark thrown and helps to prevent that dread malady — “head-swinging.” Head-swinging is a problem in which the dog does not watch the
first bird fully down but swings his head to look at the second thrower in anticipation of the second mark. It can be especially pronounced when the second mark is to be a shot flier. During the course of your work on doubles, if your dog should begin to swing his head away from the first throw, don’t call for the second throw, but re-heel your dog and send him for the first mark. Some pretty severe cases of head-swinging have been effectively treated in this way. Notice that this treatment works only if you, the handler, cue each of your throwers separately — a good practice in general.

As an additional feature in doubles marking, you can introduce variations in the order of the throws. To start with, the second bird down should be the closer of the two marks, and the first picked up. Gradually, you can introduce throws at about the same distance but still at least 90° apart. Vary the order — right
first, left second on one day, then left first, right second on the next. In different sessions and locations, vary the directions of the throws: both to the right, both to the left, together (pincer), and apart (mama & papa). Do not run different tests in the same area in the same or consecutive sessions, though, as your dog’s memory of the birds he has already retrieved is likely to confuse him. As you vary the directions and distance of throws, your dog will learn to mark the individual mark and remember the memory bird. If marks are thrown according to a rigid pattern, he will become habituated to that pattern and will be easily fooled by change.

Keep in mind that your marking sessions must be kept short. The stress of corrections, repetition, rough going and long swims quickly take their toll on a dog’s enthusiasm. Work progressively and keep your sessions separated by a few hours even on those weekend training days when you want to get a lot done.
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