Friday, March 28, 2008

Delivery Shaping, Blinds and a Mark

Today, we had a single session in late afternoon, with my nephew Evan acting as helper. We trained on a field at the Beltsville Agricultural Center, and had time for two series:
  • Series A. A series of 14 marks used for continued shaping of Laddie's delivery
  • Series B. Two blinds and a mark for Lumi
Series A. This was primarily a shaping session to strengthen Laddie's conditioning for a firm hold when delivering the retrieved article. Evan threw four groups of three short marks each, two dummies and one bird in pseudo-random order. We then ended the series with two longer marks of a dummy and a bird. Lumi honored the entire time.

The groupings of Evan's throws were as follows:
  • #1-3 thrown as walking singles in an arc proceeding right to left, 20-yard retrieves, dummy-dummy-bird
  • #4-6 thrown as walking singles in an arc proceeding left to right, 25-yard retrieves, dummy-bird-dummy
  • #7-9 thrown as walking singles in an arc proceeding right to left, 30 yard retrieves, bird-dummy-dummy
  • #10-12 thrown as walking singles in an arc proceeding left to right, 35-yard retrieves, dummy-dummy-bird
  • #13 thrown as a 90-yard single (dummy)
  • #14 thrown as a 130-yard single (bird)
I used the walk-off technique described in yesterday's blog entry 2-4 times per return. As a refinement of the technique, I watched for Laddie to maintain a good hold, and immediately took the bird or dummy when he did so.

This added a Premack effect to the conditioning value of the walk-off, which is to make it impossible for Laddie to predict whether I'm going to take the article after each sit. Once Laddie realized that sometimes I would take the article and sometimes I would not, he would sit and face Evan, wanting another opportunity to retrieve. He was learning, "Want Evan to throw? Then maintain a good hold on your article when you sit down."

I especially watched for Laddie pushing the article forward in his mouth, and if he did so, I'd say "nope!", run a few feet away, and call him. As Laddie caught onto the shaping rules, his demeanor began to say, "Oh, no, Daddy, I don't want to play that game, I want to retrieve," and his holds became increasingly better.

Series B. With Laddie in the van and Evan distracting Lumi from watching me, I set up the following series for Lumi:
  1. 80-yard blind (white dummy marked by surveyor's flag)
  2. 60-yard mark (bird) acting as TTL for #3
  3. 200-yard blind (orange lining pole, bird)
Lumi has become accustomed to running a mark before her first blind in this kind of drill, and seemed confused by being sent out on "back" before any throw. We need to practice that pattern with throwers in the field.

Based on correspondence with Alice and Jody, I again used a partial-come-in (PCI) when Lumi began digging back in today's work, on both #1 (fixating on Evan, who was holding a bird and had not thrown yet) and #3 (fixating on the woods to our right, or perhaps toward my scent line from planting the blind).

Alice had recommended that I use a verbal rather than whistle cue for the PCI, and yesterday I had accidentally whistled instead, and noticed that Lumi showed a distinct drop in motivation.

Today I remembered to use a verbal "here" instead of a recall whistle for the PCIs, and found that this was significantly better for Lumi's morale. In both cases today, Lumi leapt out of her sit and came galloping toward me. When she was in a favorable position, I blew a WS and cast her to the blind. In both case, she then lined the retrieve.

I guess the whistle recall is confusing or demoralizing to Lumi because, at this stage in her development, she thinks a recall whistle during a blind means "bring the article," and she doesn't have an article yet. The cue seems illogical, which is confusing, and also makes her worry that now she won't get to complete the retrieve. "Here" doesn't imply any article, and without that point of confusion, Lumi can respond to the cue with enthusiasm, leading to the opportunity to complete the retrieve.

Eventually, Lumi will learn that a whistle recall without the article is used for an angle-in, and because she'll see that it facilitates the retrieve, it will no longer be demoralizing. But even then, as Alice explained in a thorough discussion of this topic in private correspondence, the verbal "here" is the correct cue for a PCI for a number of reasons. Alice wrote:
The idea is to interrupt the dog’s determination/focus on digging back – which determination is resulting in the cast refusal. You want the partial come-in to make it easier for the dog to succeed on the next cast, thus putting him back on track with YOUR game rather than what’s sloshing around in his head at the moment.

Classically speaking, the verbal HERE takes the handler input out of the “normal mainstream blind” mode better – much better – than a whistle, in a game where the dog is expecting whistles. It gets the dog’s attenion as an “interruptive stimulus” better than the whistle—mainly because it is NOT a whistle, and therefore not “business as usual”. A come in whistle is something that the dog, especially after some experience with cold blinds, is apt to view as just a direction to move slightly toward the handler and pick up a blind. You don’t want him coming in and hunting for something in this circumstance, you want him coming in with his head up and his eyes on you, paying attention to you.

You want him to recognize that he’s going the “wrong” way by digging back and to therefore get ready for a recognizably different set of instructions.

Also, what many don’t realize, is that the come-in whistle comes to take on CR+ properties with experienced cold blind dogs. The longer a dog runs cold blinds, the more he learns that the come-in whistle predicts “something nearby to pick up.” In effect it becomes a conditioned +R predicting the +R of the retrieve. You HARDLY want that association when you use the partial recall to gain better control and better attention on a blind.

Hence using the verbal Here avoids all those traps. It avoids inadvertantly communicating to the dog “+R about to happen near your face” as it does so often when running cold blinds.

Also you can put nuances of authority into a verbal that most trainers have trouble doing with a whistle. You can make the Here loud, soft, neutral, not neutral, suggestive, non-threatening, “impatient” etc.

Lastly, to the extent that a dog finds being called in unpleasant (apparently yours do), you don’t want them making this association with the come-in whistle in general, which you want them to view as neutral and helpful input to direct them ever closer to the retrieve object (typcally it’s given because the dog overran the blind or might do so – being on the upwind side by 10 inches -- but is still close to the blind). You can avoid “polluting” your come-in whistle -- when used for the partial recall purpose to fix a cast refusal -- if you use the verbal for that purpose.

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