Group Series: Three singles:
- 80 yards across ditch and into high cover (dead pigeon)
- 250+ yards thru standing water and several strips of high cover, across ditch, past trees, with fall against backdrop of dense woods (dead duck)
- 100 yards (dead pigeon)
- #2 thrown 30° to the right of #1
- #3 thrown 45° to the right of #2
Overcast, wind 3 MPH, 37°F
Location: Rover's Content, Cheltenham, MD
Blind: 230 yard cold blind, orange dummy, 15° left of mark #3, with line thru several strips of high cover. Because the station for #3 included a crate of live pigeons, I felt this blind was too difficult to attempt during the group training, so I returned to the start line with each dog after the group training was over to run this blind.
Private Series: After group training was over, at my request one of the other trainers was kind enough to throw three additional marks for each of my dogs. All three marks were throw to the same area behind a strip of high cover. The dogs and I set up at three start lines, making the marks 40-70-100 yards thru increasing amounts of high cover. Each mark was a dead pigeon, thrown after a gunshot.
Notes: I had planned to have the dogs retrieve dummies at group training until I had more confidence in their ability to train with the group, but the stations didn't have dummies out there and it would have taken too much time to bring dummies out to them, so I took a chance on having both dogs retrieve birds instead. For Lumi, that was a dead pigeon, a dead duck, and a pigeon flyer. For Laddie, the last mark was a dead pigeon instead of a flyer.
On #1, Laddie stalled on his return 30 yards from me and began to chew the bird. Following Alice Woodyard's guidance — and to the annoyance of one of the other trainers who was offering advice from over my shoulder as we ran — I went out to Laddie as soon as he stopped. When he saw me coming, he picked up the bird and started toward me, but I cued "sit" and he did. When I arrived in front of him, I took the bird and slipped a lead around his neck, then walked him back to the start line.
We then ran mark #2, the longest and most difficult mark Laddie has ever run with a training group. He ran straight to it without difficulty, and did not attempt to chew it, but he stood over it looking at me until I called out "give it". Perhaps he remains somewhat confused by the cued/uncued drill we've been practicing this week and in this case thought he was supposed to wait until I cued the pick-up. This was only a minor flaw, and probably not even a problem in the minds of the other trainers, many of whom routinely whistle recall to their dogs when they pick up a retrieval article. Except for not picking up the bird uncued, Laddie ran this difficult mark superbly, racing straight out to the fall and racing back with the bird without stalling on the return.
He also ran mark #3 beautifully, this time not requiring a cue for the pick-up and return.
On the private series, Laddie also ran all three marks perfectly, with the exception that he again waited to be cued when he arrived at the bird on the last, longest mark before he would pick it up. I'm not sure why he is only confused about this on certain marks, but hopefully the problem will be resolved by continuing pile work as we've been doing.
The first time I sent Laddie out on the blind, he handled correctly 2-3 times but then suddenly took off running. He ran straight to the edge of the woods about 300 yards from the start line, circled around to the left along the tree line until he got to the dirt road, then turned back in and ran straight back to me. When he arrived, I sent him back out and this time he handled to the blind reasonably well.
Laddie was not steady on the marks in the group series, when he was on a slip cord, but he was steady in the private series, when he was not on a slip cord. It might appear that the slip cord was responsible for his not being steady, but I think it's more likely that it was the excitement of the group training. I felt confident that he would be steady when we were training with a single thrower, and he was.
The other trainer was annoyed with how I handled the stall on mark #1 during the group series because he felt the procedure I used would train the dog that that's the correct way to run a mark. My view, based on explanations from Alice, is that being walked back from a retrieve on leash and without the bird is an undesirable outcome to a motivated retriever, negatively punishing the stall. Of course, what matters is how the training procedure affects the dog's behavior: Does the stalling increase or decline? In this case, as in every other instance where I've used this procedure, Laddie ran the following marks without stalling, so it would appear that for Laddie, the procedure punishes the stall rather than reinforcing it. Hopefully a time will come where Laddie will stop stalling entirely.
Despite Laddie's problems today, he has improved dramatically since we resumed group training two weeks ago.