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Marking for Gundogs
By Jeff Griffiths

24 Feb 2010

In Gundog Retrieving Ability Tests and Retrieving Trials, one of the most important skills for your dog to develop is the ability to mark. Marking is when your dog sees an object that has been thrown and watches it down to the ground. He should be able to judge the distance the retrieve has been thrown and take as straight a line as possible to find it.

Some handlers who are starting out in these Gundog trials find it difficult to get their dog to look forward and watch the retrieve when it is thrown. Some dogs want to look up at their handler rather than look forward, or they may be a dog that wants to look around, left and right, rather than focus out in front.

marking labTo start a dog on accurate marking, keep the distances short. This applies whether you’re starting with a young dog or an adult. Ideally get someone to throw the mark for you. Get them to stand 10 – 20 metres in front and throw the mark. If your dog has difficulty with this distance reduce the length of the retrieve until he is having success. A retrieving dummy is ideal for this. The person throwing the dummy may call or make a noise to get the dog’s attention, but you should reduce, and then stop this as soon as possible, when the dog is reliably looking forward. You, the handler, may use your hand or arm to point or indicate to the dog where the mark will be thrown. Eventually you should stop using your hand or arm as giving a line for a mark is penalised in competition. A command to look to the front may be used, such as mark or watch. Like any other command the dog will soon learn that this command means to look ahead as something is about to be thrown and the dog will get to fetch.

Try to stay upbeat with your voice and commands, especially in the training phase so that your dog gets excited. You may even say something like “hup, hup” or “hey, hey” in an excited voice to get your dog really interested. Then throw the mark straight away.

If you can’t get anyone to help you by throwing the mark, you’ll have to do it yourself. Just follow the above procedure, but throw the dummy from beside your dog.  The mark needs to be thrown high enough to be easily seen by the dog. Not too high though, and not along the ground.

Once your dog is handling 10 - 20 metre marks its time to start to increase the distance. In Gundog Retrieving Ability Tests a mark retrieve may be 50 - 70 metres. In retrieving trials a mark may be 100 metres or more. After you have thrown a mark at the distance the dog is comfortable at, start moving further back to increase the distance but throw the dummy in the same place as before. This is where it becomes really useful to have someone out in front throwing the retrieve for you. Gradually increase the distance over a number of training sessions. The idea of you moving back with the dog to increase the distance rather than your helper moving further away is that a dog finds it easier to go back to retrieve from a place it has just been to.

In the early stages your dog will find it easier to train on flat ground with short grass, such as a sports oval. You will need to introduce cover, such as longer grass or tussocks, at some stage as the retrieves in the competitions will normally involve use of cover. This is done to make the dog use its nose to scent the retrieve and find it. Of course, the dog needs to mark the area of the fall of the retrieve to get there efficiently to sniff it out.

Photo by Lara Sedgman

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the May 2010 issue of Dogs NSW magazine.


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