Saturday, March 29, 2008

Delivery Shaping, Blinds and a Mark

This morning, we returned to the Oaks field for continued shaping of Laddie's delivery (Series A and C), and for another series of blinds and marks for Lumi, starting with a blind (Series B). Nate helped as thrower for Series B and C, and a new helper, John, took videos of Series B and part of Series C. In summary:
  • Series A. Delivery shaping (Laddie)
  • Series B. Two blinds and a mark (Lumi)
  • Series C. Delivery shaping (Laddie)
Series A. This series was conducted with no helper, and had little formal structure. It consisted of me throwing poorman marks for Laddie and then shaping his delivery as he returned with each article. We used white dummies and birds, and distances of 20-60 yards.

The training operated primarily on two principles:
  1. Using the walk-off strategy (described previously), so that Laddie could no longer assume that every time he sat to deliver an article, I would necessarily take that article. The purpose was to defeat Laddie's previously learned anticipatory response of loosening his grip and pushing the article forward in his mouth, even before he arrived at the SL with the article, in anticipation that I was about to take it and reward him for the delivery.
  2. Using a kind of Premack differential reinforcement to shape a firm, deep hold of the article: A correct response was rewarded by me taking the article and immediately setting Laddie up for another retrieve; an incorrect response was marked with a verbal such as "nope" and me running away and calling him to come and try his delivery again. Laddie was learning that to get what he wanted — another throw — he needed to give me what I wanted — a high-quality hold.
Series B. This was a mark and blind drill for Lumi, made up of the following series:
  1. 80-yard blind to an orange lining pole and an orange dummy
  2. 100-yard mark to a white dummy, from a station with a stickman and a chair as well as Nate as the thrower, thrown as TTL to #3
  3. 230-yard blind to a surveyor's flag and a bird
This was a pyramid configuration:
  • #1 was 45° to the left of #3.
  • #2 was 30° to the right of #3.
As an additional diversion, a second stickman was positioned 60 yards out between #1 and #3.

Here is a video of Series B:

  • Lumi again seemed confused by being sent out on a blind before the thrower in the field had thrown a mark. I plan to continue running such sequences until she becomes comfortable with them.
  • Our new helper John, acting as videographer, provided good zoom close-ups at times but unfortunately lost Lumi from the frame during most of her lovely run-back on the last return.
  • Lumi becomes less responsive to a whistle sit at longer distances, something that may require remedial training, or may repair itself as she continues to see that sitting is the only way to get to what she wants. For now, I resort to verbal cues when she's too far out and too distracted to respond to the whistle.
  • My amateurish handling is probably evident in many ways. One example is that with Lumi 170 yards out and running thru what appears to be a deer nesting area, I inadvertently whistle recall when I'm trying to whistle an insistent sit. I get neither.
  • In editing the video, I included two instances of reinforcement for Lumi's nice work on the series at the end: a happy throw with a bird, and a couple of bites of meat from my pocket. She seems to enjoy both rewards.
Series C. After shaping Laddie's delivery on short poorman marks in Series A, I took advantage of having Nate available to continue the shaping in a picture more consistent with a competitive setting: longer marks and a real thrower. The sequence was as follows:
  1. 30 yards (white dummy)
  2. 80 yards, with stickman at station (bird)
  3. 100 yards, with chair and stickman at station (white dummy)
  4. 130 yards (bird)
The lines to these marks were each separated by approximately 30°. The physical placement of the stations, left to right, was #4, #2, #3, #1.

Because we were working with a single dummy and a single bird, Series C was actually run as two mini-series: #1 and #2, then #3 and #4 followed by some additional shaping. John captured the second half of the series, beginning with mark #3, in the following video:

  • With regard to mark #3, see also the next section, "Running toward the Thrower."
  • After Laddie returns with #3, I take a few moments for some additional shaping of the delivery. When Laddie disappointingly drops the dummy in his initial delivery, I call him to heel several times and tap on the dummy to confirm that each time, he has a solid grip. His incentive for hanging on while I'm tapping is that he can't get another retrieve until I take the dummy, and he's now learning that I won't take the dummy unless he's holding on tight. When he finally offers a solid grip, I take the dummy at last and set up forthe next throw, the reward Laddie has been craving.
  • The video for #4 shows that, while reasonably steady, Laddie has an occasional creep, especially when a bird is thrown. I would prefer to nip this in the bud, but this is one of those cases where I feel we can only train one thing at a time, and obviously the present focus is on the delivery.
  • Because of Laddie's run toward the thrower on #3, I decided to maintain a steady stream of prompts and praise for his return on #4. I was rewarded by a nice beeline. It's possible that Laddie would have done just as well on his return on #4 without my prompts, but I wanted to minimize the chances that some other problem would sneak in while we were trying to concentrate on Laddie's delivery.
  • In the final shaping sequence, you can tell which holds are solid because those are the ones in which I take the bird. At one point, he has three correct responses in a row. The best measure of his progress, in the short time we've been concentrating on his delivery, is that in that final shaping sequence beginning with the adequate delivery of #4, Laddie never drops the bird a single time.
  • In several places in the video, Laddie appears to be leaning away from me. As you can see by the lining pole at the SL, which was actually sticking straight out of the ground, Laddie's "lean" is actually an optical illusion caused by the camera being held on an angle.
Running toward the Thrower. Today Laddie had an unfortunate backslide: On mark #3 of Series C, Laddie picked up the dummy and then ran toward Nate instead of heading straight home. That was a serious lapse, and I do not mean to marginalize it.

But I think it's worth mentioning that in this situation, Laddie was retrieving a dummy in our most distracting training venue, while nearby, little Nate — who as one of our youngest neighbors has always been a magnet for all the dogs in our family — was at the chair and a stickman holding the bird he would be throwing for mark #4. All of that made Nate a particularly tempting destination. Beyond that, Nate inappropriately began to walk toward station #4, and therefore toward Laddie, while Laddie was right in the middle of his pick-up of #3.

Laddie has not been running toward the thrower for some time, but all that suction was too much for him today.

Additional Delivery Shaping. Laddie has months of previous experience with poor deliveries, so the last few days, I've been taking every opportunity to work on that aspect of Laddie's retrieve. In the evenings, that has included using walk-offs while running little poorman marks in the living room, interspersing the training with bites of his dinner. At outdoor training sessions, it has also included throwing down a pigeon or duck and inviting Laddie to "get your bird" each time we walked back and forth between the van and our training area. As Laddie walks beside me with the bird in his mouth, at random intervals I say "sit", and if he sits with a good hold, I take the bird and throw it for him to bounce over and pick up. If he pushes the duck forward in his mouth or loosens his grip on it, I say "nope, c'mon" and resume walking.

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