Line Manners, Part II
by Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard
Good Line Manners Help with Marking
In part I of our "Line Manners" series, (October/November'98), we described some techniques to help handlers heel highly excited retrievers to the line without both dog and handler becoming unraveled. Now that you're both at the line, we'll talk about how line manners can improve your chances of success in the marking tests at hunt tests and field trials.
A dog marks what he sees, and your first priority when you bring a dog to the line for marks should be making sure that he really does focus on each bird as it goes down. Good line manners help a lot here. You'll also want to rely on line manners when you line the dog up for each bird, persuading him to disregard distractions. Finally, good line manners (including alignment skills) can even help a dog complete the honor.
Teamwork or a Battle of the Wills--Which Will It Be?
Getting a dog's cooperation at the line in a marking test can become a battle of the wills between the dog and handler, or it can be an expression of smooth teamwork. The dog can be determined to look only at the spot in the field which appears most interesting to him, convinced that his handler is a pest to be ignored, or he can welcome his handler's participation because it furthers his own agenda of getting the birds!
Procedures for Multiple Marking Tests
Procedures at the line depend on whether you are running a hunt test or a field trial, but the goals are generally the same in both sports. They include helping the dog see all the birds thrown, and helping him pick up each bird--especially the difficult memory marks.
Before Sending the Dog
At a licensed trial, the first step is to make sure that your dog has seen each gunning or throwing station before you call for the birds. Since some stations may be much more difficult for the dog to see than others, he may need your help in locating them.
Once the dog locates the throwers, the next step is ensuring that the dog stays solidly focused on the first station to throw. He must maintain that focus long enough for you to signal the judges, the judges to signal the thrower, and the thrower to make the throw. Chances are that the first bird down is a long bird, and there are closer, more attractive throwing stations in the picture. Again, your dog needs to stay calm and focus obediently on the long throw, despite the attraction of the other stations.
As the birds are thrown, the dog, in response to subtle motion from his handler, should obediently move his focus to each station in the order that the birds will go down. He should also watch each throw completed--fighting the temptation to watch only the flier.
At a hunt test, the above picture changes somewhat. First, you are not allowed to identify the gunning stations to the dog ahead of time in the fashion that is allowed at field trials. What's more, the throwing stations may be "hidden guns," which are not at all visible to the dog from the line until the action starts. But you can identify the zones of probability to the dog simply by the way you approach the line.
The hunt test scenario may require that the dog begin marking while walking at heel (a "walk-up"). Or it may require that the dog mark while in a position remote from the handler ("remote marking"). These techniques are permitted in the licensed field trials, but not frequently seen there.
Although these situations add challenge, don't just "throw up your hands" and let nature take its course. You can help the hunt test dog, as well as the field trial dog, benefit from handler input.
Retrieving Multiple Marks
After the marks are down, the techniques you'll use to align the dog to them for each retrieve will often be similar at both licensed trials and hunt tests. (However, occasionally a hunt test scenario will require you to remote-send your dog for the first bird to be retrieved.)
As your dog returns with a retrieved bird, face the direction of the next bird to be retrieved. The dog should line up in the heel position facing the way you are. If he doesn't quite achieve this, quickly align his spine in the correct direction.
Have the dog focus towards his next bird. Settle him on where he's going before you take delivery of the bird he's carrying. Take delivery without disturbing his focus, and confirm his line for him. Then send him.
How do you "confirm a line" for a dog? Once a dog is sitting and looking in the right direction, some dogs benefit from cues confirming that they've got the right line. Depending on how you train, this might be verbal cue ("Good" or "That's it" are often used), or the cue might be the fact that you put your hand over the dog's head just before sending. If you want to use such cues, teach them to your dog in lining drills.
One final tip: Remove the delivered bird from your dog's view by holding it behind you until after he has been sent for his next bird. Once he's left your side, you can give the retrieved bird to the judge or put it in your bird pouch if called for by the scenario. Don't interfere with your dog's concentration by fiddling around with the bird before you send him.
The Basic Skills
Some key basic obedience skills will help your dog watch the marks go down and retrieve them successfully.
Basic Training Foundation
Like all dog training, your dog's reliability in performing such trained-in skills depends on thorough preparation. Certain drills that we've described in our earlier columns (RJ: Feb./Mar., 1997; Apr./May, 1997; and Feb./Mar., 1998) develop some of the skills needed. And there are additional exercises that will strengthen the dog's abilities, particularly those calling for visual focus. In a future column, we'll get into the specifics.
Dobbs Training Center