Monday, January 28, 2008

Private Training

Today I began to work Lumi and Laddie on a drill I call the "alternation drill", focused on helping them to return immediately with a dummy they've been sent to even if they believe that ducks may also be out there somewhere.

I'd have preferred to run the drill at the same facility where we train on Sundays, and with throwers to help me, but since neither of those were possible today, I came up with the following solo drill:
  1. I set out six surveyors flags as targets for thrown retrieval articles, at varying distances from the start line and on angles of 30° from one another. #1-3 were 100 feet from the start line, #4 was 50 yards from the start line, #5 was 100 yards, and #6 was 150 yards. Note that contrary to other posts I've written, the numbering of these flags does not reflect the order that the marks were thrown/placed.
  2. To start the first series of four marks, I put the dog into a stay at the start line and walked out to #4. There, I fired a starter pistol and threw a canvas streamer dummy on a high, exciting trajectory to the #4 flag. I then walked to #3 and calmly dropped a duck, to #2 and dropped another dummy, and to #1 and dropped another duck.
  3. I walked back to the dog, attached a 100' long line, and sent the dog to #1, prepared to use the line to guide the dog back if the dog did not immediately return with the duck.
  4. With the line still attached, I sent the dog #2 and then #3.
  5. Then I detached the line and sent the dog to #4. When the dog returned and delivered the last dummy, I reinforced with a high value treat. That completed the first series of four marks.
  6. For the second series of four marks, I repeated steps 2-5, but used flag #5 instead of #4.
  7. For the third and last series, I again repeated steps 2-5, but used flag #6 instead of #4. For that last mark, instead of feeding the dog at the start line when the delivery was accomplished, I ran toward the van with the dog and tossed the food to the dog as we ran.
This adds up to a total of three series, four retrieves each, most of them quite short. Besides simply practicing the desired retrieval pattern, the drill is also set up so that the dummy retrieves at the end of each series, when the dog is not on the long line, are the most fun for the dog. Those are the ones thrown with a gunshot, the ones thrown high, and the ones where delivery earns a chunk of food. As an aside, this drill also provides practice for long stays, lining, remembering multiple marks, and returning with ducks as well as dummies.

The reason for delivering the last treat while running back to the van is to help the dog begin to learn that even if the treat doesn't come on the start line, as will be the case in competition, delivering the dummy still predicts a fun outcome, in this case, first running together, than a treat.

After setting up the course, I ran Lumi first, then Laddie. Here's how it went.


Lumi had almost no difficulty with this drill. The only exception was that, after running the first series of four marks, Lumi had learned that #1 and #3 both had ducks while #2 had a dummy. Therefore, when we ran the second series and I sent her to #2, she started in the right direction but then swerved toward #3.

Nice try, Puppy. As soon as she swerved, I called "here" and she turned on a dime and returned to me without my needing to use the long line. She didn't try swerving off line again on that series of four marks, nor on the next and last one either.


Laddie's performance was higher energy than Lumi's as usual, but not as accurate.

First of all, he swerved from #2 to #3 on both the second series of four marks and the third. Secondly, he didn't respond to "here" or a whistle so I had to use the line to stop him. Thirdly, his returns with the ducks were unreliable. And fourthly, on the long marks run without the long line, he did not return promptly, requiring repeated whistles and calls to get him to stop running around with the dummy in his mouth.


While it is disappointing that a dog who has been in training for seven months cannot execute this simple drill, Laddie's performance was actually good news. Previously, it was difficult to create a situation in which Laddie would predictably display his running around behavior in private training, making it difficult to predict whether the week's training would have any effect on Laddie's performance the following Sunday.

Now that we have seen this behavior early in the week, we can continue to practice this drill each day and watch to see whether the behavior persists or declines. If we are fortunate and the behavior declines, extinguishing by the end of the week, we can have reasonable hope that the behavior will also not occur in group training, though of course it's not guaranteed. On the other hand, if the behavior persists throughout the week, that will tell us that this training plan does not successfully extinguish the behavior, and we can expect the problem to be just as bad next Sunday.

Furthermore, if that's the case, we'll have good reason not to run Laddie again in group training until we find a training plan that repairs the problem, and we'll have an objective litmus test to determine whether the plan is working.

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