Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Double-T, Marks, Marks and Blinds

Today's schedule was the same as yesterday, both in terms of locations (Fair Hill in the morning, Oaks in the afternoon) and in terms of the sequence of activities:
  • Series A. Both dogs, double-T drill
  • Series B. Laddie, marks (60-80-100)
  • Series C. Lumi, marks and blinds (100-120-140-160)
  • Series D. Laddie, marks (100-120-140)
Series A. Based on a suggestion from Alice, I brought along some birds for use as reinforcers for the whistle-stop-on-return (WSOR) maneuver (known as disciplined casting transition, or DCT, in previous journal entries). I had originally planned only 2-3 WSORs, but when I saw their effect on Laddie and later Lumi, I changed the sequence on the fly to incorporate more of them.

The WSORs were run as follows:
  1. Dog is returning toward SL with a dummy.
  2. I blow WS. This could be at P, at Q, or as close as 20 feet from SL.
  3. I throw a bird toward one side or the other of the SL.
  4. I whistle recall.
  5. As the dog approaches, I turn to face the thrown bird.
  6. The dog delivers at heel.
  7. I send the dog to the bird.
I also ran two variations of the WSOR. The first was WSOR-throw-WSOR-no-throw, in which I blew WS twice during the dog's return, and threw a bird while the dog was in the first sit. The second was double-WSOR, in which I blew WS twice and threw a bird to a different location each time the dog was in the sit. When the dog delivered the original dummy, the dog was then sent to each of the birds.

We did not run a third variation, WSOR-no-throw-WSOR-throw. I realized later that Alice had said that variation would be easier than the other two, but it turns out neither dog has had a problem with any WSOR (or, previously, DCT) variation that we have tried.

The double-WSOR was so exciting that both dogs took at least two WILs on the following send-out before getting the line right. The bird scent on the ground may also have been a factor, though blown minds seemed to be the main issue. While double-WSOR wasn't great for their accuracy, it seemed to crank up their motivation level higher than ever on the double-T drill.

Overall, the WSORs with birds and their variations seemed to improve nearly every phase of the dogs' performance: focus at the SL (especially on the later send-outs), speed on send-out (more noticeable with Lumi, since Laddie had showed only microscopic slowdown anyway), and speed of pick-up (more noticeable with Laddie, who likes to shop but did almost none of it today, whereas Lumi stopped shopping some weeks ago). It almost seemed that the dogs were disappointed when I did not cue a WSOR on a few of the returns.

The sequence both dogs ran today was as follows:
  1. Thru to P2, WSOR
  2. Thru to P2, WSOR
  3. Thru to P2
  4. WS at Q, over to Q3, WSOR
  5. WS at Q, over to Q1
  6. Thru to P2, WSOR
  7. Thru to P2, WSOR-throw-WSOR-no-throw
  8. Thru to P2
  9. WS at P, over to P1, WSOR
  10. WS at P, over to P3
  11. Thru to P2, double-WSOR
  12. Thru to P2, WSOR
  13. Thru to P2
  14. WS at P, right back to P2, WSOR
  15. WS at P, left back to P2
Series B. Like yesterday, Series B was a sequence of six marks for Laddie, alternating birds and dummies thrown from three stations so that each throw had a different fall. Today's stations were 20 yards longer than yesterday's: 60-80-100 yards. Today's configuration was a pyramid. The stations were marked with a chair and two stickmen. Throws were angled back requiring Laddie to run past the thrower on the way out and on the way back.

After seeing the effect on WSORs on the dogs' double-T performance, I decided to try it on each of Laddie's marks this afternoon. After two retrieves — one bird and one dummy, each interrupted on the return with a WS, a throw of a bird, a recall for delivering the original mark, and a send-out to the thrown bird — Laddie was like a new dog. The remainder of the day, every return was a laser.

Series C. Like yesterday, Series C was a combination of three marks and four blinds for Lumi. The marks were all birds, the blinds were all orange dummies positioned at orange lining poles. I used WSORs with some of Lumi's returns, and may have seen some improvement in picking up birds, but it's hard to tell because Lumi was already getting pretty good.

The distances of the four blinds were 100-120-140-160 yards, in a fairly tight overall angle (less than 90°) in random order. The marks were thrown as various combinations of TTL, TAL, and TOL with respect to the lines to the blinds from positions marked with a chair and two stickmen. The sequence was:
  1. Mark
  2. Blind
  3. Mark
  4. Blind
  5. Mark
  6. Blind
  7. Blind
Lumi was a bit confused on some of the send-outs on blinds, and in one case scalloped rather than holding the line she had been cast on, requiring a series of several casts to the same side to get her moving that direction. But those seemed like minor and normal problems given Lumi's inexperience with mixed marks and blinds, and I'd expect both of them to improve as Lumi gains confidence in our communication with one another.

Series D. Like yesterday, I ran one last series for Laddie with three marks thrown from the shortest of the four blind poles from Series C. A chair and two stickmen were placed where those three blind poles had been. The distances were 100-120-140 yards, with the shortest to the right and the longest to the left. The articles were bird-dummy-bird, and the throws were angled back.

The WSORs from Series B had seemed to work a miracle. Every return in Series D was a laser run at full gallop, never stopping to play, yet screeching to a halt when I would blow a WS. I did so on #1 and #2. On #3, I let Laddie come all the way to me, then threw a bird I had waiting as soon as he completed his delivery. I think throwing a bird with the WSOR is more reinforcing for Laddie — I'm not sure why that would be — but I also think it's important that he not be able to predict what specific reinforcer I have in store for him, since we won't be able to use a WSOR with a thrown bird in competition.

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