Sunday, March 30, 2008

FCR Training Day

When the dogs and I arrived at Cheltenham to train with the field trial group, we discovered that a Flat Coat Retriever club was using the property this morning. I knew several of the participants and was given permission to join their training day activities.

The club had divided into three groups: puppies, junior dogs, and senior dogs. Since neither of my dogs has a JH title, I decided to try both Lumi and Laddie out in the junior group. I ran them in the first series, but the set-up was so easy for Lumi that I decided on a change for the second series: I took my turn throwing for the juniors, ran Laddie with the juniors again, and then we moved over to the seniors to run Lumi.

As a result, we ran the following series:
  • Series A. Three junior marks (both dogs)
  • Series B. Three junior marks (Laddie)
  • Series C. Two senior marks and a blind (Lumi)
Conditions. With temps in the 50s and a stiff wind, it was chilly, mostly cloudy day.

Series A.
Run with all dummies, this series was set up as follows:
  1. 30 yards
  2. 70 yards
  3. 90 yards
Notes on the configuration (pyramid):
  • #1 was 30° to the right of #3.
  • #2 was 60° to the left of #3.
  • The SL was on high ground.
  • The line to #2 and #3 crossed a strip of high grass.
  • All falls were on open ground.
  • The series was run as a JH, with duck calls, pistol shots while the dummy was in the air, throwers wearing dark clothing, and camo holding blinds at all stations.

For Lumi, I asked to run this set-up as a single to #1, followed by a double, with #3 as the memory-bird and #2 as the go-bird.

I ran Lumi without a slip cord. She was a little antsy at the SL but didn't creep or break.

Her only problem was that, when it was time to run #3 as the memory-bird, Lumi took an initial line to #1 instead. I called her back with "here", then lined her up and sent her again. This time, she seemed to remember the mark and pinned it, as she had #1 and #2.

Lumi made no effort to cheat around either strip of high cover in either direction.


For Laddie, we ran this as three singles: #1, #2, #3.

Laddie was high as a kite for this series. I ran him on a slip cord, and he attempted to break on every mark, though he practices constantly without a slip cord and almost never breaks.

Laddie pinned every mark, but after picking up the dummy on #2, he ran behind the throwers station and then turned to home, despite my automatic recall whistle and calls of "here". He then did the same thing again on #3.

Laddie made no effort to cheat around either strip of high cover in either direction.

Laddie swung to heel and sat immediately on every return, and did not drop a dummy.

Series B. This was Laddie's second series with the junior group, again run with dummies:
  1. 50 yards
  2. 100 yards
  3. 120 yards
Notes on the configuration (another pyramid):
  • #1 was 90° to the leftof #3.
  • #2 was 60° to the right of #3.
  • All falls were on open ground.
  • The series was again run as a JH.
Because Laddie had not come straight back on two of the marks in Series A, I decided that for Series B, I would use a shadowing strategy once suggested by Alice.

The shadowing strategy worked as follows. On each mark, I walked Laddie from the SL to a point halfway to the throwers station, then called for the throw. As Laddie sprinted to the fall, I ran after him and whistled recall. In each case, he completed his pick-up, then spun around and came dashing back, and together we raced to the SL.

For Series B, I again ran Laddie on a slip cord. This time he crept on two of the marks but it looked like he would not have broken.

Laddie had good deliveries on every mark, again with no drops. Concerned that Laddie might start anticipating my taking the dummy and dropping dummies again in the future, I used two walk-offs.

Series C.
When Lumi and I joined the senior group for Lumi's second series, the set-up was as follows:
  1. 70 yards (white dummy)
  2. 110 yards, 90° to the left of #1 (white dummy)
  • An 80-yard blind, orange lining pole and orange dummy, 5 yards inside the treeline to the right of mark #1
Although Lumi could have done the short, easy double, we haven't practiced the combination of doubles and blinds, so I had Lumi run the course as two singles followed by the blind.

The singles were easy for Lumi.

On the other hand, the short blind turned out to be extremely difficult. Lumi meandered from the SL when first sent, then immediately became almost out of control, requiring repeated cueing on nearly every whistle and voice.

I'm not certain why Lumi's responsiveness fell apart on this blind. Granted, the blind ended in the woods, something we have not practiced and now know to, but Lumi actually wanted to go into those woods when running the blind, just not at the point where I intended to cast her.

Perhaps the problem was that Lumi hasn't run blinds with groups of people and dogs for several months, only marks. The context of group training was sufficiently different from private training that she no longer understood how to respond to handling in a group setting. If that's the case, the cure will hopefully be nothing more complicated than continuing to run easy blinds in a group setting until Lumi becomes comfortable with them.

Shadowing. Although the shadowing strategy I used for running Laddie on Series B is hard on my legs and feet, it seems to be a good way to run Laddie on group marks, where without the shadowing the excitement level seems to lead Laddie to turn toward the thrower on marks longer than about 30 yards. Hopefully, after we've run a few marks that way, he'll be able to run longer and longer marks without shadowing, until eventually shadowing is no longer needed at all.

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