What are the reasons for white in the field with respect to stickmen?

Field trials use white coats extensively when testing and training. While hunt tests emphasize “camo” and hidden guns/wingers. The difference is in the visibility of the field marking stations. Many train the way they test. Both emphasize marking. A fair mark generally means the bird's arc and fall is visible to the retriever. Marking is best taught by using setups that enhance marking.

The hunt test sequence of making this possible uses duck calls and/or gunshots (AKC) to attract the dog in the direction of the gunning station. Another aid is marking off the gun (HRC) which pushes or pulls the dog in the direction of each mark. In addition, the noise of wingers often offers another attractant to aid in the dog's “look”. The reason these are necessary is that the rules state you can't show the dog where the birds are coming from ahead of time. These
"routines" work well within the distance parameters of hunt tests.

In contrast, field trials allow the handler to point out gunning stations which are located via white coats (which may retire).

If one were to examine the geometry of field trial vs. hunt test marks, the reasoning for each approach may be clarified.

A hunt test dog at the line is 125 yards (max) away from marks which could be thrown anywhere along 180° arc. The sound of wingers, combined with marking off the gun from the line or an alternative shot in the field (again depending upon which venue is involved) all are intended to aid the dog in locating the full arc and area of the fall of a thrown mark. The handler may be  permitted to give slight, physical cues (at the appropriate time).

In a field trial with a 300 yard mark (see photo), there are usually no winger sounds. There is no marking off the gun. And many times the sound of the shot reaches the dog after the bird has hit the ground. However, to compensate for these factors, the handler can show the dog each station before the run and push or pull a dog to the next station during the presentations. It should be noted, the field trial dog may be asked to scan across an arc of 525 yards while visually searching for the source of each "presentation". However (in many cases), marks may be fairly tight (less arc to scan means easier to locate) and yet more difficult to isolate in terms of large distance variations. 

The primary factor to note is that each venue has its own set of rules and routines to allow a dog to fairly see each mark.

                                                                 geometry photo

The field trial dog must look at each station before the run because scanning across an arc of 525 yards with no previous input would make it more difficult to locate a bird in the air. If the distances vary considerably looking long and short requires an initial focus and awareness. 

In contrast, a hunt test dog would have to scan across an arc of only 125 yards. The "scan" is  enhanced by the previously mentioned routines. In addition, the hunt test dog has more of a chance of finding the target station with less horizon to scan (375 yards less). The length of the arc at field trail distances of 300 yards is not the only difficult factor in seeing a mark. The field trial dog is looking for reflected light off a duck that is reduced to almost one sixth that of a hunt test duck. In addition, marks are usually thrown more quickly. 

The value of stickmen in training is clearly demonstrated by recognizing what they provide for
a dog to be a successful marker. Skills are attained when the learning dog is presented with fair presentations. When you are teaching marking concepts, anything that increases the dog's ability to focus is of value.  My hunt test dogs are trained regularly with visible stickmen in the field. We do hidden stations, too. They understand and gain marking skills using both.

The following photo is a marking setup Daisy ran (at 12 months old) while learning to run marks from a remote line. There were several stickmen in the field and she needed to be looking in the right direction. With no handler at the line, noise and a visible gunner in the field were required to make sure she was focused in the correct direction. The stations were fairly tight. Without this focusing routine in the field, the marks would not have been nearly as fair. 

                           stickmen, remote line marking drill (walking "solo' gunner/handler)

The following photo is Daisy (hunt test retriever) at 19 months old running field trial marks. The only way she is going to see the bird in the air is if she is looking directly at the correct station. There is no help at the line and a fairly large angle of separation between three stickmen in the field. She looked, saw and retrieved each mark because the ATV movement focused her "look". If each station had a hidden winger with a primer load and noise, this would reduce her chances of looking in the precise direction and seeing the mark (speed of light vs. speed of sound). If she wasn't lined up correctly (eyes) or swung late toward the gunshot, the duck would have already been on the ground.

Young, inexperienced dogs rarely go on what appears to be a dry shot. There is little possibility of trying "go as sent" with no handler at the line. A dog must be able to see the marks to react.

                                      stickmen, remote line marking drill (ATV gunner)

On a side note, I've seen really good, finished hunt test dogs be totally confused with a field full of stickmen. They adjust quickly.....if given a chance.

In addition, I have worked many field trials. With stations at various distances, it is rare to see any dog looking at a gunner to gauge where they should be going. To them the station is nothing more than another shrub or terrain factor. The retired gunner concept must be taught to a field trial dog. The acquired skill allows them to see the "picture" minus the normal gunner. The expectation is the "picture" taken earlier can change some ....but it remains almost the same for the AOF.

Looking at it from the dog's perspective....for starters, they simply need to see the mark.

                                                                updated 04/07/15