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I won't get into the "absolutely necessary" discussion, but those who say they are counterproductive or not necessary at all for dogs unless planning to run field trials are really missing the boat. Stickmen can, for a good trainer, serve many purposes. 1. When a young dog is learning new marking concepts (which should be done with a gun dog, too), they can be very valuable. Imagine throwing a mark where a dog must cross a road or ditch. Initially, put the stick man on the other side of the ditch and the young dog that knows that throws come from stickmen will benefit from the stickman being where the throw will be. In this case, the stickman will help draw the young pup across the barrier. As the dog gets older, though, a great way to proof whether or not the dog has learned to mark the bird is to put the stickman on the near side of the ditch and throw over it to see if the dog is marking the bird or the stickman. 2. As dogs get better at understanding that stickmen throw birds, but birds are what matters, throwing a long bird that requires a dog to run very near to a short stickman that threw nothing teaches the dog to focus on the bird fall, not the stickman. They learn they must ignore the close white shirt and focus on the actual bird. There are many more ways to use stickmen, but these are a couple of the more nuanced ways that experienced trainers use them - both for gun dogs and competition dogs. I'd consider them a valuable tool for training any retriever!
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