To Repeat or Not to Repeat

Training Tip #7
To Repeat or Not To Repeat
From Total Retriever Marking with Mike Lardy

To Repeat or Not to Repeat

There's no doubt that repetition is a basis for learning. The question is, "Does repeating failed marks help a dog learn about marking"

In general I do not repeat failed marks. One basic reason for this is that I believe it contributes to going back to old falls-- a natural tendency that retrievers often revert to when they become uncertain.Repeating only contributes to the expectation that a bird can be found where you found one before.

For example, suppose a dog fails a triple by going back to the old flyer fall when sent for a long retired gun and you handled him out of the flyer and to the long retired gun. Now, if you repeat the entire triple you are sending him back to the flyer where he does find a bird. So what does he learn? He certainly doesn't learn that he is never going to find a flyer in the same area twice!

It is more productive to run a similar set-up in a new place rather than to repeat a failed mark. For example, in the above scenario, I might move over in the field and set up another test with a long retired gun. By setting up the same situation, but in a different place, and perhaps under slightly easier circumstances, I believe I will soon develop an understanding of the long retired gun concept. By not repeating, you will work harder to build marking concepts.

I do repeat certain kinds of marks under specific circumstances:

  1. Any drill-like mark like a cheating single or other singles that are set up to teach a dog to hold a line in spite of a very strong factor.

  2. A failed secondary selection bird -- the tendency to miss these kinds of marks is so strong that any potential tendency to go back to an old fall on a short mark is worth it.

  3. Any unique mark that you might not have the luxury of finding the time or place to create a similar circumstance. For example, a bird thrown on to an island, a bird thrown across a hidden channel, or a bird thrown across a river with a current. Even under these circumstances I will repeat just a particular mark as a single.--- I do not run the entire test over.

Some trainers do repeat a lot. For their dogs repeating is a concept itself! My experience is that when you repeat a test with a dog that you have generally not repeated with, the dog can get very confused and often repeats the failures of the first attempt!