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Stand Alones
How the Lonely Amateur can get excellent training
for marks without any helpers.

by Dennis Voigt

This procedure means that the Amateur can never complain about not giving his dogs marks because he has no help. I, of course, realize that a dog must be exposed to multiple gunners (doubles, triples and quads) and there is little substitute for multiple gunners or multiple remote-control bird throwers. The experience of watching multiple throws, remembering their marks and dealing with their interaction is best addressed with the real thing. However, as I have often hinted in ONLINE, stand alones can be used to advance many marking skills. This article will describe the 2 major types of stand alones (roving stand alones and one-place stand alones or send backs) and how to do them.

General Procedure and How to Teach

A stand-alone mark is one in which the dog sits at the line, alone, while the trainer walks out into the field (stands alone) and throws a mark. The dog is ‘released’ with a ‘name’ while the trainer remains at the mark like a gunner/thrower. When the dog finds the bird he delivers to the trainer.

Stand alones can be taught to young dogs as soon as they are steady. This procedure is taught very quickly in one or two sessions, started in a simple, short cover location. Sit the dog and walk out about 20 yards. Give a sit whistle and throw a bumper slightly angled back, watching to be sure your dog remains steady. Most take responsibility at this distance and watch the bird down. Some dogs will continue to watch the fall but others will shift their focus to look at you. In either case, count 1-1000, 2-1000 and release your dog with his name and a slight angle-in cast motion (the literal cast for this retrieve.) When the dog fetches, simply call him, ‘here’, for the delivery. Young dogs who are going through the yard basics or transition work at this stage will find this procedure very familiar from many casting drills.

When this is cleanly done (often the first time!), increase distance between you and the dog. I have found this procedure, if introduced incrementally, is mastered readily at distances up to 50-100 yards in one or two sessions. Older dogs catch on very quickly.

Although this is the basic procedure, there are 2 fundamental types of stand alones: roving stand alones and one-place stand alones.

Roving Stand Alones

In the Roving Stand Alone, the dog is placed at a starting line as you walk out for your first mark. This may be from 50 to hundreds of yards. You throw the bird, release the dog, await the find, then call the dog to you. Then, you leave the dog at that spot and you move on to the next location and repeat the sequence. With a large field, you might throw 5-6 marks as you move around and end up back near the starting point. Every mark is different and the dog has a different starting point each time. This is the simplest and most basic type of stand alone.

One-Place Stand Alones or Send Backs

This procedure differs from the roving stand alones in that each retrieve made by your dog is from the same place (line) although each mark is different. This means that you must teach your dog to return to the original line after each retrieve. A very valuable aid here is the use of a white marker such as a jug or pail. Long-time ONLINE readers will know that I rarely advocate use of white jugs in teaching blinds except perhaps in establishing some early drills. However, the use of the white marker here is most helpful and since you will still be doing lots of cold blind retrieves at other times, your dog will not become dependent on the marker.

The procedure is to locate the line and to place a white marker prominently. I do this with the dog watching. A simple marker is to take a white pail and invert it over a shrub at a height of 3-4 feet. A white jug (e.g., a plastic bleach bottle) on a pole also works well. When starting a dog, I might even emphasize the marker to the dog by banging it and saying watch. Sit your dog and walk out for the first mark. Throw it and after a pause release your dog. When the dog finds the bird, have him deliver to you while facing back to the white marker (which should be visible from your spot.) Line him up, take the bird and send him back to the marker with a "back." The dog should line to the pail but handle if you must to maintain a reasonable line. When he is close (+/- 2-3 yards) from the marker, stop him with a whistle. With an eye on your dog, walk to the next mark location as your dog sits there. Throw the next mark and repeat the procedure. This can be readily built into a triple or quad very reminiscent of 3-4 walking singles by 1 gunner.

Benefits, Refinements and Embellishments

Stand Alones have the benefits of the dog watching a gunner throw a mark and then retrieving as in a real test or trial situation. For those that train for UKC HRC events, you can step behind a tree to be hidden and then throw the mark. The visible gunner helps the dog to reference the mark and learn the mechanics of hunting the usual fall area near a gunner.

As a general rule, I have found that high-rolling dogs who have a tendency to overrun will more readily check up and establish a hunt with this procedure. I believe that this is because it is you standing there and nothing else. A dog is unlikely to run all over the field because of your "presence." It is also very easy to quietly say "easy, easy" as your dog enters the fall area. This, in fact, may help your dog with gunner awareness. Contrary to what might be expected, stand alones do not encourage dogs to run towards gunners, in my experience. In fact, for reasons I do not quite understand, a steady diet of stand alones helps address this problem of running at gunners. I have found that dogs that regularly (2-3x a week) get stand alones, will run wide of guns or directly at the marks. Part of the explanation may be that as an "adult" thrower, you can ensure that all throws are long. The preferred day-in, day-out throw is a long square one but a huge benefit of stand alones is customized bird placement. Since you are at the fall location, you get an excellent opportunity to study your dog’s marking. You can readily watch your dog’s eyes, ears and posture to determine exactly when he starts his "look." This is when he "thinks" he has entered the fall area. You can also carefully study his hunt pattern. On subsequent throws, you can adjust the bird placement to work on your dog’s weakness and tendencies. For example, you may throw angle-in or angle-back to adjust over-running or hunting short. Dogs who curl under the arc or fade with the wind can be given extra long throws to help counter tendencies.

Stand Alones can employ bumpers, dead birds, shackled birds or even flyers, if you can shoot yourself. Since you always end up with the bird you only need one to do a series.

Another refinement that I regularly do is retire. This can be by lying down in high cover, stepping behind a tree or often using a camouflage umbrella and simply squatting behind it. Locations where you can walk around ponds or down shores allow many water marks and practice on staying in the water. I recommend that the entry of water marks be non-cheaty since it is confusing to try and correct for these cleanly. However, it is reasonable to handle to keep the dog in the water near the end of marks.

For roving, but especially one-place stand alones, you can set up diversions such as white chairs or white stick men in the field before running your dog. If you want to work on a concept such as inclines or indents, set up the locations first with chairs or stick men and use one-place stand alones. As you move from station to station, the experience your dog will get is very similar to that from running singles out of a triple configuration of gunners.

The return to the marker in one-place stand alones has the advantage of getting a dog to run a straight line. If your line to the spot involves factors such as terrain, cover and wind, this can’t help but be beneficial. Another benefit is conditioning. In these set-ups, your dog runs every line twice.

Although many amateurs have not tried these, those that have have been very pleased with their benefits.

Try them!

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