Marking Drills
by George Hickox

Bird Dog & Retriever News

August / September 2017 issue page 7

Click here for the pdf of this page

Go to the previous page

 Go to the next page

Go to the table of contents page

Go to the back issues page

Marking Drills
by George Hickox

There are two fundamental requirements if a dog is to become a fine retriever: exceptional marking ability and an excellent nose. Although there is no substitute for genetics, both of these traits can be honed by experience. The more opportunity your flusher has to mark and retrieve fallen birds, the better it will be at performing these duties.
Most of us would prefer not having to wait until a dog has five or six hunting seasons under its collar before it excels at these jobs. Fortunately, appropriate training will accelerate the dog's development into an outstanding retriever. You started this process early. Your pup got considerable experience with birds during your sessions in the retrieving corridor and received even more while picking up lockwings, clipwings and shot flyers during patterning drills. Indeed, by this point in your dog's training, simply shooting numerous flyers for it will have improved its skills significantly. The dog should now be marking birds well and delivering them to you consistently.
Your dog's ability to mark to pinpoint the location of the fall can be improved with specifically designed marking drills. Initially, you should conduct these exercises in a low-cut field rather than an area of high cover where your pup can't readily find thrown birds and training dummies. Ideally, you should have two helpers to do the throwing, and there is an important reason for this. If you always throw the marks yourself, your pup will think it should always look for the bird or dummy to come from your side. In real hunting situations, of course, the bird will first appear well ahead of the gunner. Thus, the dog must learn to focus out in front and not fixate on the handler.
In addition, there is a limit to how far you can hand-throw a dummy or bird, and your dog will get in the habit of running that distance and no more. Such retrieves are well short of the falls it will encounter in the field. By varying the positions of your helpers when they make their throws, you will help the dog learn to mark long falls as well as short ones.
To set up a marking drill, once again think of a baseball diamond and picture yourself standing on the pitcher's mound. Start by placing one helper in "left field" and another in "right field," both about 30 yards away. With your dog at your side, have one of the helpers call the dog's name (or whistle to get its attention), then toss a dummy. The dummy should be thrown in a high arc to make sure the dog sees it clearly, and it should not land too close to the assistant. Send the dog for the retrieve. When the dog brings the dummy back and is repositioned at your side, have the other helper throw his dummy. Send the dog for that retrieve. As the dog runs out, backpedal toward "home plate," and receive the bumper there. By gradually increasing the distance between you and your assistants, the dog will learn to sharpen its concentration on the mark.
Instead of dummies, you can use clipwinged pigeons in marking drills. These birds will fly 20 to 30 yards, forcing the dog to focus on the mark for a longer time. Of course, live birds will instill more enthusiasm in the dog during these training exercises. So will employing a gunshot to prompt your dog to look for a mark. (Of course, it is imperative that the dog has been properly introduced to gunfire, and it should be line-steady or steady to wing & shot.) With your flusher at your side, fire the gun, whether it is a .22 blank pistol or a shotgun with popper loads. At the shot, your assistant should throw the mark. When it hits the ground, send the dog.
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.
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 40-yard 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.
For more information about George Hickox Training contact him on his website


 Go to our home page

Subscribe to BD&RN 

Advertising Rates 

 Advertise with us

 Send us a message



 American Water Spaniels




 Boxes & Trailers




Chesapeake Bay Retrievers 



Cocker Spaniels 

Curly Coat Retrievers 


Dog Food


 English Setters

English Springer Spaniels 

 French Brittanys

 Flat Coat Retrievers

 German Shorthaired Pointers

 German Wirehaired Pointers

Golden Retrievers

 Gordon Setters

Guns & Gunsmithing 

 Gun Shows

 Hunts & Training Areas

 Irish/Red Setters

 Irish Water Spaniels

Labrador Retrievers 

 Large Munsterlanders 

Llewellin Setters 


 Perdiguero De Burgos


Pointing Labs



 Rare Breeds

Real Estate







WP Griffons

Go to Canine

 Go to

Go to 

 Cool Places on the web

 Go to Hunter

Power State pages

 Power Breed pages

 Power Back issue pages

 Power Board pages

 Power Misc pages

Copyrights Bird Dog & Retriever News September 2017
Do not reproduce or retransmit in any form, and we surf the web, we'll find you.
Maintained by Dennis Guldan e-mail
Bird Dog & Retriever News, PO Box 120089, New Brighton, MN 55112,
Phone 612-868-9169 Adv deadline 1st of the month prior to the issue.