Your research has been done, a well-bred puppy has been purchased, you have spent countless hours with the puppy socializing, playing, and introducing him to sights sounds and the wonderful world of retriever training. Now that he has reached 6 months of age, you should have done fundamentals for roughly 3-4 months, and you have your "retriever basics" in place. The puppy's training foundation has been laid! To be at this point, you have completed formalized obedience, force fetch, and collar conditioning. You have done plenty of yard work to develop proper delivery to hand and are now ready for some simple field marks.
Remember a young pup should have one yard session and one field session each day if possible.
A systematic yard program will benefit you as you progress with marking drills in the field. As you begin marking drills with your pup you will want to start fairly short. The reason we start short is to develop the proper mechanics of a field retrieve.
1. Seeing the gunner in the field.
2. Going to the area of the fall.
3. Making the retrieve and returning to you.
We normally start field marking on a young dog with "walking singles".
Walking singles are just that. Your bird boy goes out into the field at your specified distance and walks/rides an ATV in a large arc and throws single marks as he completes the arc. After each retrieve, the bird boy walks/rides to the next location and throws a new mark.
Once you start some field marks you will begin to see if your basic obedience program was done properly and remains solid. If basics are not solid, continue judiciously with a systematic yard program.
Now that your pup is getting better at looking out, staying focused, remains steady, and has good depth perception, it's time to move into other marking drills.
There are several progressive drills for marking. Here are a few to look up and try: In-line marking drill, Y drill, the W drill and eventually ABC marking drills.
Remember for young dogs, they must see the gunner! They must see the mark and reach the destination of the mark to be successful. To improve these simple tasks we start out with our gunner wearing white, and we use large 3 inch white bumpers.
If your pup is having trouble reaching the area of the fall, you can use the "feeding technique". Your bird boy will need to be paying attention to the dog as he is en route to the bumper. If he starts to slow down or put his head on the ground before reaching the destination of the Bumper, have the bird boy yell "hey hey" and throw another bumper.This should help get him to the area of the fall!
Confidence is the key to a young retriever's success. Remember we are not testing we are training/teaching in this early phase of fieldwork.
Terry Price of Oakridge Kennels is located in North Carolina and summers in upstate New York. Terry has titled well over 100 retrievers in both AKC and HRC hunt test events. Terry offers gun dog training from basics through Master and Qualifying level performance retrievers.