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Gundog training – marking a dummy

A reader writes: I am having a few issues in getting my 10 month old springer to mark the fall of a training dummy. He has very good eye focus and is reluctant to take his eyes off me, but as a result he does not watch the dummy's flight when I throw it. Have you any suggestions?

gundog training with dummy

Getting a young dog to focus on both the handler and the exercise is the key to success

The causes for problems marking a dummy

Some young dogs can develop this quirk and, although it tends to disappear as time passes and they get experience of the real thing, it can be frustrating for the trainer.

Eye contact is something that, as gundog trainers, we work hard to develop in a dog and it is a positive thing, especially when you start to work the dog. However, if the dog is so focused on you above all else it can cause issues.

A good marking dog is worth its weight in gold, whether you plan to use it for picking-up or to shoot over, and it is 
a skill that can be taught and developed with careful gundog training.

gundog with dummy

A sensitive dog may prefer to watch the handler instead of the dummy

  • A common cause of a dog not marking can be that during the steadying process the dog has run in and the handler has gone after it and disciplined it. If the dog is of a sensitive nature it could develop the behaviour where it would rather keep its eye on the handler in case something “bad” happens, instead of watching 
a thrown dummy.
  • Another common issue is when you train on your own and you always throw the retrieve from the side of the dog, consequently the dog gets conditioned to seeing the dummy always going away from it and it doesn’t learn to watch out in front.
  • Reward-based training (using treats) is becoming more popular in gundog training, but in some cases a young dog can become so focused on what the handler has in their pocket or hand that it can ignore what is going on elsewhere.
  • Getting a young gundog to focus on not only the handler but also the exercise is key to successful training. In the early days, if there are too many distractions, such as other dogs running around, it can be very off putting for a young dog.
  • Over-steadying a young dog in the early stages can result in a lack of confidence when retrieving and can lead to the dog losing a mark on the dummy, which can then develop into it relying on the handler to help it out rather than finding the retrieve itself.