As your pupil progresses in proficiency, by virtue of a gradual and relaxed program, you will reach a point at which variations in the order and proximity of marks, previously avoided, will become beneficial. Until now, your youngster has had a variety of marks thrown in different directions. These marks have been reasonably wide-spread and predominantly thrown in the traditional order, i.e. longer throw first, shorter throw second. What happens when, out of the blue, you throw the short mark first followed by the long one second? Don’t do it. Sure, your dog might run out to the long one, pin it, come back and ace the short one, or he might turn around and go for the short throw first, do a good job there, then go after the long mark (second one down) and do a fine job. More likely, your youngster will take a line for the last mark down, the long one, change his mind and head for the shorter mark ending up between the two, in no-mans land, failing both marks.
There is a way you can train for these "out-of-order" throws and at the same time prepare your trainee for secondary selection (a procedure in which the shorter memory bird in a triple is retrieved second, usually after the flier, which is shot down last and retrieved first). We teach this by first throwing a double in the conventional manner: long first, short second. We then repeat the test, throwing the birds in the reverse order. Most young dogs will automatically turn from the long bird and go for the short bird even though it was not the last one down. If this is practiced without pressure and through gentle repetition, your dog will learn to mark in a relaxed and positive fashion and not be overburdened with an excess of principles as to how a mark "should be done." Bear in mind that marking, even in complex setups, is natural behavior enhanced by training, not arrived at through heavy corrections. Switching and returning to old falls are undesirable in hunting as well as in field trials (in which your dog will be eliminated). When your dog indicates a mark while at your side and you send him in that direction, you want him to go straight to the destination you have both agreed upon, and not to change his mind and head somewhere else. It is important to train in a manner that consistently reinforces this continuity of purpose. When your dog is taking hand signals, these failures can be corrected by stopping your dog and handling, but you will be ahead of the game if you can establish these principles in your puppy. This can be done by helping your youngster to the mark he is failing with a "Hey, hey!" from the thrower, then repeating. Usually the bright student will learn from help and will not develop a fear of marking tests. Punishing these failures, on the other hand, can make your dog a worried and ineffective marker. Tight marks — marks that are close together in either angle or actual distance — must be introduced gradually. If you find that you are falling significantly below the 75 percent success level, ease up on the difficulty. Increase the angle and when you reestablish your dog’s confidence, begin to tighten them up again. Remember, you can never go wrong by giving your dog a break. If he has the necessary desire, he wants to mark and retrieve. It is up to you to present him with a series of marks that are challenging enough to build improvement, but not so stiff as to wipe out his enthusiasm. A final note on early marking is in order. When a dog misses a mark, switches, returns to old falls, or wanders aimlessly in the wrong area, he is generally less happy with his work than you are. He may act confused, dejected, and lost. You will compound the problem by giving him a good shaking-up for his apparent lack of diligence. This will harm your dogs attitude toward marking, and his proficiency. We have seen cases of such training take a severe toll in a good dog. We have also witnessed cases of dogs so tough and resilient that no amount of abusive training seemed to dampen their enthusiasm for marking, or to interfere with their increasing skill at coming up with the bird. Such cases are extremely rare, though, so avoid the angry blow-up. There are many factors, some of which we have discussed, which can contribute to the difficulty of a marking test. If you throw a set of marks that you expect your dog to do easily but he fails, chances are some unperceived difficulty made it a harder test than you realized. You will never do your dog any harm by assuming this is the case, and by simplifying the test to ensure success.