Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Marks and Blinds

This morning, we trained with Barbara and Deuce, her yellow Lab, at Fair Hill Area 1 (Series A). In the afternoon, we trained with Nate at Oaks (Series B), with Bryan videotaping. Summary:
  • Series A. Blind-mark-blind (both dogs)
  • Series B. Blind-mark-blind-mark-blind-mark (both dogs)
Series A. The set-up:
  1. 100-yard blind (orange dummy at lining pole)
  2. 80-yard mark (duck, thrown toward the line of #3)
  3. 100-yard blind (orange dummy at lining pole)
#2 was 22° to the right of #1. #3 was 15° to the right of #2.

LUMI

Lumi has not been running blinds in private training for awhile, and had no-gos on both #1 and #3.

On #1, even when she went out, she was tentative and required several WSs and casts. Unfortunately, she also slipped 2-3 of the early whistles.

On #3, she was much better. Once she went out, she went fast, then responded immediately when I blew a WS and took a single cast to the blind.

LADDIE

Laddie line #1. On #2, he responded instantly to a WS, but my cast accidentally took him out of sight (I didn't realize the land dropped off behind a ridge). He returned on a whistle recall and found the dummy on the way back.

Although I didn't bring clippies to this session, Laddie's performance was full of energy and purpose, and his pick-up, return, and delivery with the bird as well as the dummies were fabulous.

Series B. Series B was run at the Oaks field, the most distracting of our local venues. The set-up:
  1. 100-yard blind (orange dummy at lining pole)
  2. 50-yard mark (duck) thrown away from line for #3, position marked with a chair
  3. 120-yard blind (orange dummy at lining pole)
  4. 80-yard mark (duck) thrown toward line for #5, position marked with a stickman
  5. 120-yard blind (orange dummy at lining pole)
LADDIE

Laddie ran the course first. Although I was pleased with his overall performance — good enthusiasm, pinpoint marking, no drops of either bird — there was, of course, room for improvement:
  • On #1, Laddie temporarily diverted toward something during his return.
  • He then dropped the dummy before completing his delivery.
  • On #3, he slipped a whistle as he approached Nate.
  • On #5, he took a line wide to the left, apparently diverted by a white pole in the distance.
Nonetheless, considering that this was only the second series he's ever run combining marks and blinds — the first was this morning — I thought he did reasonably well.

Here's a video of Laddie running Series B:

video

LUMI

I thought Lumi ran Series B pretty nicely. I saw two flaws:
  • On #1, she slipped a whistle, and I responded with tweet-tweet-tweet-sit, which Lumi doesn't like. As it turns out, we didn't need another whistle sit today, but from previous experience using tweet-tweet-tweet-sit, I would guess that she would not have slipped the next one.
  • On the send-out for #5, Lumi had an initial no-go. It seems that Lumi does not yet fully grasp the concept of mixing marks and blinds, nor our cue for blinds ("dead bird") in that context, and she was waiting for Nate to throw another mark. She seemed to figure out what was called for when I took a few steps forward and then called her to join me, a sequence we've often used after a wrong initial line and no-here on drills that involved lining such as the double-T.
On the positive side, I was pleased by Lumi's response when, based on a suggestion from Alice some time back, I called "back" as Lumi was trotting with what looked like some uncertainty on her send out for #5. Lumi immediately broke into a gallop.

Here's a video of Lumi running Series B:

video

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Snapshot: TO DO List/Guidelines for Training Day

TO DO List

  • Daily
    • – Wagon wheels with birds to shape the retrieve using silent handling
    • – Build motivation with dummies and tug
  • Dinner
    • – Multiples: abort retrieve if dog looks away
    • – Backing up at heel
  • Hikes
    • – WS shaping
  • Solo/Land
    • – Salience drill
    • – Holding blind and SL approach
  • Solo/Water
    • – Shore-handling toolkit (no shaking off after picking up dummy)
    • – Swim-by (including left and right back from WS both at shoreline and in water)
    • – Not squaring ditches
  • Study
    • – Obtain, then study “Four Looks at Two Down the Shore” from HTKH
    • – Review Lardy's de-cheating fundamentals
  • Thrower:
    • – DD combination picture (one more session)
    • – Marks and blinds, including returning thru cover and dealing with other factors
    • – Occasional hip-pocket and other picture drills
    • – Looking to long gun
    • – Drills to prepare for triples in group work
    • – Practice walk-ups
    • – Practice with line gun

Guidelines for Training Day

BEFORE OTHER TRAINERS ARRIVE

  • Bring:
    • – Birds for solo training
    • – High-value treats
    • – Clippies
  • White jacket
  • Put collars on dogs if needed
  • Load pockets: pistol, ammo, slip cord if needed
  • Daily TO DO items for each dog

RUNNING THE DOG

  • Key question: What is the best way to run each series in terms of benefit to the dog's training?
  • Do not run the dog unless confident that he will not rehearse any incorrect responses
  • If running:
    • – No multiples until dog completes JH
    • – Cue "sit, mark" before first throw of each series
    • – Occasional bird-in-mouth marking
    • First train that high sit triggers send, then build duration for long count before sending
    • – Require retrieve of dummy(ies) as -P for creeping
    • – In FT series, run long gun last
    • – Auto-whistle early
    • – Run only blinds within dog's capability, and only if dog remains responsive; don't challenge early blinds

RECORD KEEPING PER MARK

  • Creeping?
  • Attempted break?
  • Head swinging, before or after throws? Which throws?
  • Could the dog find the long gun?
  • Did dog return uncued? Auto-whistle? Contingent whistle? Voice? Walk out?
  • On blinds: Slipped whistles? Refused casts? Hunting by scent or sight?

AFTER GROUP TRAINING

  • Pay for flyer if used
  • Purchase birds if available

Hunt Test Training, Diversion Drill, Marks

This morning, we trained with Bob Hux and others at Cheltenham in the morning (Series A and B), then went out with Nate for additional training at Fair Hill Area 1 in the afternoon (Series C and D). Summary:
  • Series A. Group land series, but with a large pool of standing water that effectively made this a land/water series (both dogs)
  • Series B. Group water series (both dogs)
  • Series C. Laddie's final diversion drill session, a combination picture with the marks thrown right to left (Laddie only)
  • Series D. Three land retrieves at Hunt Test distances (both dogs)
Series A.

Series B.

Series C. This was Laddie's final diversion drill session. The course was set up as follows:
  • Three lining poles were placed 80 yards from the SL, at 30° angles from one another, acting as sight-blinds. Two white dummies were placed at the foot of each pole. Ideally, the dummies would have been visible to the dog from the SL, but we were working in knee-high grass so only the lining pole was visible until Laddie was right at the pole.
  • Nate, with his chair, pistol, and three birds (one each duck, pigeon, pheasant), were positioned 60 yards from the SL and midway between the lines to the center and right poles. Each of his throws was right-to-left to the same fall, midway between the lines to the left and center poles.
Laddie was run on the course in the following sequence:
  1. Left sight-blind
  2. Right sight-blind
  3. Center sight-blind
  4. Thrown mark
  5. Left sight-blind
  6. Thrown mark
  7. Right sight-blind
  8. Thrown mark
  9. Center sight-blind
Laddie ran excellent marks, and lined sight-blinds #1, #5, and #7. Laddie went offline on #2, #3, and #9, but had excellent responsiveness to all WSs and casts.

Although I was pleased by Laddie's performance and the fact that we are now ready to move on to marks-and-blinds, including those Laddie will run in group training and events, I was most pleased by the fact that Laddie did not drop a single article during the drill. Given the mixture of articles and the challenging terrain, this was a nice demonstration of Laddie's success in overcoming that flaw.

Series D. Although I generally want to be stretching Laddie's now excellent retrieves out to longer distances, Lumi will be running in a Hunt Test next Saturday, so this week I'm focusing on shorter distances. I could have had the dogs run separate courses, but I think a few more easy sessions for Laddie won't hurt. Here's the set-up I used for this series:
  1. 60-yard mark (duck), position marked with a chair
  2. 80-yard mark (duck), position marked with a stickman
  3. 120-yard mark (duck), position marked with a stickman
#2 was 30° to the right of #1. #3 was 30° to the right of #2.

LUMI

For Lumi, I had the throws angled in, to prepare Lumi for the possibility that she will tend to overrun the marks in the test because of elevated excitement level. I gave Lumi a bite of food after #1, had her pick up bird ("get your bird") after #3 for the walk to the van.

Lumi showed good motivation during the session, and had excellent pick ups, the area we've recently been focusing her retrieve shaping on.

LADDIE

For Laddie, the falls were the same distance from the SL as the thrower, as in our usual training.

Laddie's performance was over-the-top exuberant as is normal for him, and most importantly, he didn't drop any of the birds. I had a carrier of clippies near the SL, and after #3, I tossed a clippie for him to retrieve and we ran around together for a few moments with him carrying it in his mouth.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Alternation Drill

I had to work at my client's office today, so the dogs and I only had time for a morning session. I decided that the highest priority was retrieve shaping for both dogs, using an alternation drill.

We went to a section of the Fair Hill new home construction site that we haven't used much before, one with extensive grading, including several foundation depressions and large mounds. Fair Hill is where we also had our double-T course and, across the road, a smaller area with several large patches of high cover we've used for retrieve shaping with that terrain factor. In future blog entries, I will refer to these areas as:
  • Fair Hill Area 1 (the area where we had our double-T course)
  • Fair Hill Area 2 (the area with the high cover)
  • Fair Hill Area 3 (the area with all the grading)
All the Fair Hill sites are covered in grass that has not been mowed this year, and with all the rain we've been getting the last few weeks, it is now knee high and thick.

Today, we worked in a driving rain. We ran off a large mound, with the lines to the falls thru small pools of standing water and mud.

While the dogs aired and played, I set up a series of throwing targets, placing lining poles at 40, 80, and 120 yards from our SL in a zig-zag pattern in front of the mound.

LUMI

With Laddie back in the van, I ran Lumi first, using the following "alternation drill" sequence:
  1. Short throw(s) with pigeon
  2. 40-yard poorman mark with pheasant and gunshot
  3. Short throw(s) with pigeon
  4. 80-yard poorman mark with pheasant and gunshot
  5. Short throw(s) with pigeon
  6. 120-yard poorman mark with pheasant and gunshot
I reinforced each correct response, which in Lumi's case was focused on an instant pick up.

I reinforced with food and, at the end, "get your bird" with the pigeon I'd been using for the short throws. "Get your bird" seems to have become quite important to Lumi, judging by her body language as she searches for a bird on the ground and pounces on it as soon as she perceives her series is over, even before I say, "Get your bird."

If Lumi was slow on one of the short throws — I required instant pick-up — I said gently "no no no" and went out to take the pigeon away, then ran with Lumi back to the SL. This only happened once or twice, and the subsequent short pick-up, plus the pheasant pick-ups, were all fast.

LADDIE

With Lumi dried and back in the van, I ran the same drill for Lumi with minor differences. Laddie's retrieves were all letter perfect and filled with exuberance, like the old Laddie (see below), so I didn't need to mark any incorrect responses or re-throw any of the short throws.

The minor differences in Laddie's version of the alternation drill versus Lumi's:
  • I used a different pigeon for the short throws, and a duck instead of the pheasant for the poorman marks, because Lumi's birds were soaked.
  • In addition to food and "get your bird", I reinforced with a wing-clipped pigeon for the last mark:
    • I kept the clippie carrier sitting next to the SL lining pole, and after the last short throw, I took a clippie out of the carrier and walked with the clippie, the duck I was going to throw, and the pistol out to the 120-yard pole while Laddie waited at the SL.
    • I fired and threw the duck, then ran back to Laddie still carrying the white, highly visible clippie in my hand.
    • I sent Laddie for another of his exceptional retrieves, ending with an equally fine delivery.
    • I put down the duck and walked to a back area of our mound to toss the clippie for Laddie.
    • As Laddie ran to the clippie, I was confident enough in his behavior that I didn't stay to watch him pick it up but darted down the mound, and in a flash Laddie was at my heels.
    • We ran back and forth a few times, then charged back up the mound.
    • Finally, I reached out and Laddie put the clippie in my hands. It seems that Laddie enjoys carrying the clippie, but he also seems glad to give it up. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe it's my imagination.
We ended the series with "get your bird" with the pigeon I'd been using for the short throws and a triumphant walk back to the van together.

I dried Laddie with our chamois, and when he jumped into his crate, as is our ritual at the end of our morning training sessions, I gave both dogs their breakfast, raw buffalo mix in metal bowls, and we drove home.

The "Old" Laddie. For the last few days, Laddie has not been his old self. Most of the differences were subtle — running up the stairs rather than sprinting, a distracted expression when I'd expect intense concentration, tentative taking of food rather than his usual shark attack. The most discrete change was that Laddie has recently begun to drop birds during his retrieval returns on marks thru long or difficult terrain. The drops have seemed intentional, and may be a behavioral phenomenon unrelated to the other changes.

In any case, I interpreted these changes as to some extent an inevitable, if surprisingly precipitous, mellowing from puppihood, the exchange of wild instinct for a more deliberate comprehension of our activities.

But Laddie has not been eating for more than a week, apparently because Sophie, a BC who lives with one of our kids in the house, has been in heat. Considering that Laddie is now back on his feed, maybe Sophie is going out of heat and it was affecting Laddie more than I realized.

Today, as mentioned above, I saw none of the "mellowness", nor dropped birds, either. It is difficult to put my happiness into words, but if I could transfer what I saw today to event conditions, I think I'd have the finest retriever on the planet.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lab Club Training Day

When we arrived at Cheltenham this morning planning to train with the FT group, I learned that the property had been leased to a Lab club for a training day with about 30 dogs, mostly Labs but a few other breeds including our holistic vet's Bernese Mountain Dog. I knew several of the club members and we were able to join the training. On a dreary, drizzly day in the 50s, the group ran two land series and a water series. In addition, I interspersed several private series with my dogs. The result was a long day of training — we left home at 7:30 AM and returned ten hours later. Summary:
  • Series A. Retrieve shaping (both dogs)
  • Series B. Group land series (both dogs)
  • Series C. Retrieve shaping (both dogs)
  • Series D. Group land series (both dogs)
  • Series E. Retrieve shaping with Carole Lundquist, our holistic vet, throwing birds for us (Laddie)
  • Series F. Group water series (Lumi)
The two group land series, which I'm calling Series B and D, were actually set up simultaneously, with people breaking up into two groups. When each group finished its series, we swapped set-ups and ran the other one. Most people left at that point, but a few of us remained from both groups and ran a group water series (herein called Series F).

For all group series, marks were thrown as ducks, while blinds were orange dummies. Lining poles were used for all blinds except the water blind in Series F, where the blind was unmarked.

Series A. Poorman single and double with dummies, happy throws.

Series B. Set-up as run by Lumi:
  1. 100-yard blind in open terrain except for a tree on the left of the line to the blind
  2. 80-yard mark thrown across a road into standing water
  3. 90-yard mark thrown into thick, unmowed grass
  4. 90-yard blind set 10 yards inside a treeline, thru a strip of cover near the SL and another strip of cover inside the treeline just in front of the dummies, past a tree at the midpoint on the left with the blind inside a triangle of closely-spaced trees
  5. 120-yard mark thru a large pool of standing water
#5 was 90° to the right of #1. #2 was 45° to the right of #5. #4 was 30° to the right of #2. #3 was 15° to the right of #4.

#4 was referred to by the guy who set the series up as a Master blind. Besides the factors listed above with the description of #4, the line passed only a few yards to the left of the holding blind for #3. The factor that proved most distracting for several dogs, including Lumi, was a string of trees stumps at the treeline still white from fresh felling of the trees, stumps which apparently looked like articles to be retrieved to the dogs.

With Lumi running the three marks as singles, we were the only team to run this series in the order I chose. Several other sequences were used by various trainers. For Laddie, we just ran the three marks, #2-3-5, as singles.

Once Lumi got close to the treeline, I realized from her loss of responsiveness that #4 was too hard for her. But one of the leaders was adamant that once we started it, we needed to finish it, so I ended up getting quite close to her to complete the retrieve. In addition, Lumi's pick-ups on every blind and mark were too slow and deliberate. Aside from that, she ran an excellent series and we received many compliments on Lumi's progress from trainers we have trained with in the past.

Laddie's performance on #2 and #3 was excellent except that he dropped the bird midway back on #2. His performance on #5 was poor, as he dropped the bird in the standing water and was unresponsive to verbal and whistle recall. I ran out, put Laddie on a lead and picked up the bird, walked Laddie clear of the water, and threw the bird for Laddie to pick up and retrieve as we raced back to the SL together. I realized immediately that I should not have thrown a bird in the middle of the field that way, but no one said anything, perhaps because they were left speechless by my making such a huge mistake.

I ran both dogs without slipcords. Lumi was completely steady, while Laddie crept but did not break. Actually, Lumi did break on #5, when a male voice simulating a judge called a number, but it was not an illegal break. Lumi also honored the next dog, as a triple was thrown and the dog was sent to the go-bird. Lumi was edgy, but she did not break.

When I took Laddie from the van, I placed the carrier of wing-clipped pigeons on the walk between the van and the group training area. When we returned, I picked up the carrier as we walked, and when we arrived at the van, I let Laddie retrieve a clippie from more distance than in the past, 10 yards. He raced excitedly to the bird, picked it up, and brought it directly to me when I called "here", making no attempt to resource guard it. I felt that represented progress in his ability to deal with clippies and used it as the foundation for more exciting experiences with clippies later in the day.

Series C. After Series B, I took the dogs to an isolated area for a short retrieve-shaping session.

In Lumi's case, I focused on a fast pick-up. I used food, happy throws, and tug for reinforcement.

In Laddie's case, I focused on completing the retrieve without dropping the article. I held a clippie in my hand while throwing three ducks, which Laddie retrieved perfectly. After the last, I put the clippie down for Laddie at a distance of 10 yards, and when he got to it, called "here". He brought it straight to me, and I rewarded that by running back in the direction of the throw, then back again, with Laddie chasing me. At last, back at the carrier, I took delivery of the clippie and returned it to its carrier.

Series D. This was the second group series we ran. The set-up was:
  1. 40-yard mark, with the fall at the end of a large patch of cover that the dog, if on a straight line, entered at the other end
  2. 60-yard mark, with line thru cover and over a small ridge
  3. 80-yard mark, with line thru several patches of cover and over a small ridge
  4. 80-yard blind
  5. 80-yard blind, with line thru patch of cover with fall from #1, then across road and up onto a hillside beside the property's barn
The lines to the various marks and blinds were separated by 30° angles. Left to right, the order was #4-2-3-1-5.

LADDIE

Laddie ran marks #1-3 as singles. He ran good marks but dropped the bird during the return on #1 and #3.

LUMI

Lumi ran #1-3 as singles, then each blind. She had great pick-ups on #1-2, a little slower on #3. She "lined" #4 in the sense of no casts, but she was the last dog to run, so with all the scent from previous dogs, she put her nose down and hunted. She handled readily to the dummies at #5 but did not pick one up at first, instead looking for something else in the area. Her response to WSs also showed deterioration from recent work together.

One of the leaders of the group commented during Lumi's laser mark on #3 that it was the best mark of the day.

Series E. I had thought that Laddie's basic retrieve pattern was now set and that we could focus, for the remainder of his career, on retrieving concepts like multiples and shore training. It does seem true that several problems — his resource guarding behaviors, running toward the thrower, poor holds during delivery — are solved, at least for now. But Laddie has now developed a new problem: dropping birds during the return. From a rarity in his previous behavior pattern, this behavior has now become common, occurring almost every time he is retrieving a bird from distance or thru difficult terrain.

By observation, Laddie's dropping behavior does not look like the bird is slipping from his mouth, nor do the drops appear to be a side effect of some other phenomenon such as excited head-throwing. Rather, it seems that Laddie is intentionally opening his mouth and dropping the bird.

My theory about why this is happening is that when, in the past, I have reinforced a retrieve that was otherwise of high quality, but in which Laddie happens to have dropped a bird, he accidentally learned that the drop was part of the behavior being rewarded. That theory is consistent with the fact that the problem is worsening, though other theories might also apply. Alice suggested, for example, that Laddie may have an internal need to freelance, and since he's been trained over the last few weeks not to freelance in other ways, dropping the bird could be a new outlet for that need.

In any case, because an incremental approach was successful in addressing the previous issues, I decided to once again work our way thru a graded series of retrieves, in this case focused on eliminating the dropping behavior. So in the interval between the last two group series, I used what I'm calling Series E to start that graded series. With Lumi sitting this series out in the van, I enlisted Carole's help as a thrower, gave her a pistol along with two ducks and a pheasant, and placed a lining pole as a starting line on a slight rise in an isolated field at the property with thick, mid-length, unmowed grass.

We ran two sequences: 20-20-20 yards, with Carole moving along an arc around our SL as she threw, and 40-80 yards, with Carole moving diagonally back. The last throw was from a mound. In all cases the throw was invisible on the ground until Laddie was right on top of it.

For each sequence, I held a clippie in my hand while sending Laddie to all the marks, and at the end of each sequence, I put the clippied down and let Laddie retrieve it, then chase me a bit before I took delivery. After the second sequence, I added a new element to the reward. I asked Carole, whom both my dogs know well and adore, to come toward us while Laddie had the clippie, and then I ran around her, saying "Show Carole your birdie," before we ran back to the carrier. Laddie seemed to delight in holding the bird up for Carole to see, yet did not go out of control, staying with me and bringing the bird right to me when we arrived at the carrier.

Laddie's performance on Series E was gratifying. He pinned every mark, picked up every bird instantly, flew back to me with them on a perfectly straight line without hesitation (and of course without any drops), and delivered every bird with a firm hold.

Laddie didn't have any drops in Series E, but if he had, I would have gone to him and picked up the bird, denying him the opportunity to complete the retrieve. It is my hope that that action on my part, in combination with the availability of the clippie as a reward, in the context of a gradually lengthening sequence of retrieves in difficult terrain, will enable Laddie to develop the appropriate reinforcement history for retrieving without dropping the bird. It is my hope that Laddie's breeding as a retriever, and the resulting self-reinforcing quality of a correct retrieve, will also work in our favor.

Series F. Most of the trainers went home after Series D, but a few stayed to set up and run a group water series. This was the set-up:
  1. 50-yard mark down a channel from the SL
  2. 20-yard mark across a stick pond to an island covered with reeds
  3. 40-yard lind obscured by dead tree trunks in the water, small points of land, reeds, decoys, and trees
I saw no modification to this series that was suitable for Laddie, so he waited in the van while I ran Lumi and then took over one of the stations to throw for the other trainers.

On #1, Lumi ran the bank both ways but had a good pick-up. She had no problem with #2. On #3, she was responsive to WSs in the water, but became unresponsive on land, eventually far over-running the blind. The other trainers seem to believe that once the dog starts a blind, it's essential that she finish it, so I kept working with Lumi to complete #3. But my honest feeling was that it was not good dog training, because she could not be learning a good lesson when I would blow a WS and she'd ignore it. My strong preference after one or two slipped whistles would have been to walk out to her, slip on her lead, and walk her back to the van. She might or might not learn something from that outcome to her slipped whistles, but at least she would not have continued rehearsing incorrect responses.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Holding Focus on Multiples

Although I usually don't record it in these blog entries, I often work with one or both dogs in the evening on various skills. For example, for the last several evenings, I've placed the dogs' dinner (raw buffalo mix) in bowls and taken them, one at a time, into the living room to work on keeping their focus on each mark of a multiple.

The drill I've been using with each dog is as follows:
  1. With dog at heel, I show her an article (typically, a plush toy) and say "sit, mark". Then I throw the toy into the adjoining room.
  2. If the dog looks away from the article before I move, I say "nope" and retrieve the article myself.
  3. If the dog holds her focus for several seconds, I turn to one side or the other and show her a second article, which I then throw at a 45° angle to the first article.
  4. Again, if the dog looks away from the second article, I say "nope" and retrieve both articles.
  5. Finally, I turn to the other side, show the dog a third article, and throw it at a 45° angle to the first article on the other side.
  6. I send the dog to retrieve all three articles in the reverse order that I threw them.
  7. When the dog has delivered the last article, I feed her a portion of her dinner.
That sequence is repeated 2-4 times, depending on factors such as how much other work the dogs have had that day. I alternate sides for both sending and delivering, so that the dog learns both a push and a pull turn.

Although my waiting dog is in the office and so is not present as a distraction to the working dog, other dogs in the household, as well as other people, are often moving around as we're working, so the dogs are also gaining experience keeping their focus in the presence of distractions.

Retrieve Shaping, Shore Training

This morning, we drove to Cheltenham for a brief session of retrieve shaping and then continuation of building our shore training toolkit. Summary:
  • Series A. Retrieve shaping (both dogs)
  • Series B. Continuation of my shore training plan step (2), Here-LTW-W (both dogs)
Series A. Once the dogs had had a few minutes to air, I threw a poorman single and double for each dog, using a pheasant for the single and one of the birds of the double, a duck for the other bird. I also used a gunshot with each throw.

For Lumi, I used food and play as extrinsic reinforcers. For Laddie, I used those as well as the opportunity, at the end of the session, to retrieve a wing-clipped pigeon (clippie), which I brought to the SL in a carrier.

My objectives are pretty broad for our retrieve shaping sessions, which I plan to conduct every morning for the foreseeable future. Initially, I want to build distance for silent handling. As we progress, I'll just watch for any problems in the dogs' retrieve form and try to fix them as they arise.

Series B. Our primary reason for going to Cheltenham this morning was for access to technical ponds. For today's work on Here-LTW-W, I chose a channel with a narrow, 7-yard neck (for Laddie) that opened into a wide, 20-yard pond crossing (for Lumi, and also for Laddie at the end). Clusters of reeds fringed both shores, and duck decoys dotted the surface. No opportunity for cheating around the water was visible.

To practice, I worked with each dog alternately while the other waited in the van. We did a total of three sets with each dog, 2-6 retrieves per set.

LUMI

For Lumi, I only sent her across the wide area, and rewarded retrieves with happy throws on land and in the water, short games of tug, and bites of food.

Since Lumi has been retrieving across water for some months, today's work was primarily practice for her. One thing we did work on is that she sometimes picks up the article, takes a step, drops it, shakes, and then picks it up again. I don't want her putting down the article once she's picked it up. Today, I called "shake" as soon as she got out of the water on the far side, then "here" as soon as she picked up the article. That worked, and if we keep practicing that way, Lumi may develop a habit of shaking off before she picks up.

LADDIE

For Laddie, the first two sets were at the narrow neck, and that's where we started the third set. I sent him sometimes partially across, sometimes to the shoreline, and sometimes all the way across. When Laddie did well on his last land-water-land retrieve at the neck, I brought him over to the wide area and threw a dummy onto the far shore with a 20-yard swim, the same area where Lumi and I had been working.

Laddie did not beach, though he did "cheat": He picked up the dummy and instead of taking a straight route to me, he ran diagonally over to the neck of the pond, swam across there, then ran diagonally over to me. I chalked up that incorrect route to my own mistake for trying Laddie on that configuration prematurely, and reinforced that retrieve, which in terms of not beaching represented remarkable progress for Laddie, just as enthusiastically as the others.

For our next session, we'll find a channel that's wider across the neck, but that doesn't offer a nearby narrow crossing. When both dogs are fluent with that, we have two more objectives for Here-LTW-W:
  • To send the dog repeatedly to a pile on the far shore, with no shopping or other delays in their pick-up and return.
  • To stop the dog after the pick-up, then use "here" or a recall whistle to bring the dogs into the water and across.
Training with the Clippie. For most of Laddie's retrieves, I rewarded with play and food, but for the last retrieve across the wide section of water, I carried the clippie while throwing, and when Laddie returned with the dummy, I gave him the most playful reward with a clippie we've used yet:
  • With Laddie in a sit, I placed the clippie ten yards away, a bit further than we've used in the past.
  • I returned to Laddie and sent him, then waited until he'd picked the pigeon up.
  • As soon as he started toward me with the bird, I then ran away from him, and together we ran to the carrier, giving Laddie a longer time to carry the clippie than he's had in the past.
  • As we arrived, I kneeled down in front of Laddie and he placed the bird in my hands.
  • We then returned to the van and Laddie received a treat for crating up.
While Laddie is not cautious with how he bends the clippies' wings when he's picking them up and could no doubt injure one, he seems to be reasonably gentle in how he carries them and has not yet caused an internal injury.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Retrieve Shaping, Shore Training, Hunt Test Training

In the morning, we drove to Park Heights for training with Bob Hux's Thursday group. We arrived early so that we could do some private training before the rest of the group arrived. In the afternoon, we went for a hike at Brink, practicing whistle sits and recalls as well as continuing to work on step (2) of our shore training plan, Here-LTW-W. Summary of the day's field work:
  • Series A. Retrieve shaping (both dogs)
  • Series B. Shore training, continued work on Here-LTW-W (Laddie)
  • Series C. Bob Hux's land series for the day (both dogs)
  • Series D. Bob Hux's water series for the day (both dogs)
  • Series E. Practicing WS and whistle recall, retrieves across creek (both dogs)
Series A. I threw each dog a poorman single and a poorman double, using a pigeon for the single, a pigeon and a duck for the double.

On Laddie's first retrieve of the pigeon, he reverted to his playful head-throwing and bird-tossing behavior, which he has stopped doing during the last several weeks as we've focused on re-training his field retrieve. I called out "Nope, that's not the way retrieve," and shaking my head, I walked out to Laddie, took away the bird, and we walked back to the SL together. He didn't do that again all day, with any of the birds retrieved, including pheasants during Bob's series.

Series B. Using a small area of the technical pond at the Park Heights property, I worked with Laddie for 20 minutes on retrieving across a channel without beaching, the initial goal of training Here-LTW-W. He was not able to perform perfectly, but made continued progress from yesterday's session.

Series C. This was Bob's land series:
  1. 40-yard mark (pheasant), hand thrown from under a tree
  2. 70-yard mark (pheasant), launched by a winger into low, thick cover
  3. 100-yard blind (duck), marked by a camo lining pole with a line to the blind between two trees diagonally offset
#2 was 45° to the right of #1. #3 was 90° to the right of #2.

LUMI

I ran this with Lumi as singles and a blind, and she had no serious problem. She took several casts to get thru the keyhole formed by the trees but was responsive on all WSs and casts. Unfortunately, she put her nose down and hunted the last half of the line to the blind. I wasn't sure if I should be doing something to stop that and did not take any action.

LADDIE

I had Laddie run the two marks as singles, and did not try him on the blind.

On #1, Laddie dropped the pheasant at about the halfway point. Pheasants are larger birds than either dog usually trains with, and these pheasants were partially frozen, heavy, and stiff. As a result, I believe that the drop occurred because Laddie did not have a solid grip on the bird, not as some kind of freelancing. As soon as he dropped it, I called "nope" and walked out to him. I slipped on his lead, picked up the pheasant, walked back to the thrower with the bird, then walked to the SL. We then re-ran #1, followed by #2, and Laddie didn't drop the pheasant on either of those marks.

I didn't use a slipcord on #1 and Laddie crept slightly but did not break. Because of the winger, I did use a slipcord on #2, and Laddie crept a foot or two before I gently held him back with the cord. I'm not sure whether he would have broken without the cord or not.

I kept several clippies in a carrier at the SL, but did not take them out during Laddie's series. When the series was over, I tossed a duck that one of the other dogs had retrieved and said "get your bird", and we returned to the van with me carrying the clippies. When we arrived at the van, I cued "sit", took delivery of the duck, and put down a clippie at a distance of 7 yards for Laddie to retrieve.

My goal in mixing up when Laddie sees the carrier, when he sees the clippies taken out, and when he actually gets to retrieve one, is to prepare him for events when I might have clippies in a carrier in the van but would not be able to bring them to the SL with us.

Hopefully he's learning that as long as I have a carrier with pigeons in the van, he has a reasonable chance of getting to play with one when his turn at the line is over. The idea is for the availability of the clippies to provide additional motivation for smooth, efficient retrieves.

Series D. This was Bob's water series:
  1. 70-yard mark (dummy) into a cove, requiring the dog to cross two other coves, and the points separating them, going both directions. The shoreline was in the shape of a W, requiring angled water entries and inviting the dog to run the bank.
  2. 30-yard mark (dummy) into a cove, requiring the dog to cross another cover and the point separating them.
#2 was 120° to the right of #1.

LUMI

Lumi began to run the bank after coming out of the water on the first point, angled so as to strongly invite bank running. I stopped her with a WS, then cued "over". It took 2-3 casts, but at last she entered the water. She then crossed the second point, retrieved the dummy, and crossed the far point coming back.

Once again Lumi started to run the bank after crossing the second point. Again I blew a WS and cued "over", and this time she entered the water after a single cast. She had no difficulty with #2 and did not require handling.

We were training with about 10 other trainers, and nearly all of them called out compliments to Lumi on her performance. Since this is rare in our training groups, I think Lumi's work made a good impression on them.

LADDIE

This series was way too difficult for Laddie, so I requested open water throws.

On #1, even though the dummy was well away from any of the points, Laddie still angled offline on his return and swam to a point. He ignored me when I tried to turn him back to me with "here" and "this way", which might have worked on a shorter swim, but this was a long one for Laddie. As soon as he climbed onto the point, I blew a WS and he immediately turned toward me and sat. I then called out to the thrower to please go to Laddie and throw the dummy back in the water. The thrower did so and Laddie completed his swim back. He was a good boy and did not drop the dummy during his nice delivery.

On #2, the thrower for some reason did not carry out my request to throw the dummy into open water, and instead threw it into the cove. After staring at the situation for a few seconds, I turned away with the intent of walking Laddie back to the van without attempting the retrieve, but the thrower called out a suggestion that I run Laddie from a different location where it would not be necessary to cross the point. I took the suggestion and Laddie swam directly to the dummy, but diverted to the point coming back. Again he responded well to a WS and again the thrower threw the dummy back in the water, so that Laddie could complete his retrieve.

Water Entries. I don't usually mention it, but Lumi and Laddie enter the water completely differently, not only on this day but in all our water work.

Lumi exercises great caution, testing the water and her footing every step until she is buoyant and can begin her powerful swimming stroke.

By contrast, Laddie races to water's edge and leaps far out, starting his stroke the instant he lands. His wild water entries nearly always make me laugh while winning my deep admiration. Laddie is solid, and his endurance and swimming skill are increasing, he's not yet as strong a swimmer as Lumi.

Series E. This wasn't really a series, but a hike in which we practiced WS and whistle recall as we walked out and back, with retrieves across the creek when opportunities arose. I had one opportunity for a WS when both dogs were distracted 60 yards from me and both sat as soon as I whistled. They're rarely even that far away on hikes, so it's difficult getting opportunities to increase our distance-proofing. But both dogs' responsiveness to the whistle on hikes, as well as improved responsiveness to the whistle in training situations recently, gives me increased confidence that it would be worth trying a WS if Laddie ever went out of control on a mark in group training or an event.

This particular hike had a low point and a high point.

The low point of the hike was when I slipped while climbing up an embankment at one point and fell into a patch of nettle or some other stinging plant. I received painful pricks on both hands as well as along my right arm, shoulder, and back. A day later I could still feel the burning. Adding injury to insult, I also twisted my left knee on the fall, though it seemed to recover more quickly than I had expected it would.

The high point of the hike was at the furthest distance from the van, where I found a section of the creek featuring a position to set up our SL, a 10-yards-wide channel of water at swimming depth with little current, and a sandbar for landing a dummy on the far side.

An overhanging tree prevented throwing the dummy from the SL, so with the dogs in a sit, I moved to a location 20 feet down the embankment and to the right side, then threw a dummy across the creek onto the sandbar.

I had planned to return to the SL before sending a dog, but out of curiosity, I thought I'd try sending one from where I was, and called "Lumi". Laddie held steady and Lumi broke for the dummy, and I took the opportunity to climb back to the SL to take delivery. I gave Laddie a treat as soon as I got to the SL for staying so well, and gave one to Lumi when she delivered.

I then repeated the sequence but called "Laddie". For some reason, both dogs were initially confused, Laddie freezing and Lumi creeping. I called "sit" to stop Lumi, then gestured toward Laddie with my hand and again called "Laddie". This time he broke for the dummy and I again climbed to the SL, gave Lumi a treat immediately for holding her sit, and Laddie one when he arrived.

I was pleased that Laddie didn't beach on the sandbar, which is the primary goal of our shore training at this time. But I was also pleased by their ability to work together.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Return Shaping, Shore Handling, Marks, Diversion Drill

This morning, we drove to Fair Hill to work with both dogs on their retrieval returns, then out to Cheltenham to work on shoretraining. In the afternoon, we went out with Nate to work on marks with both dogs, and for Laddie's first session of combination-picture in the diversion drill (DD). A summary:
  • Series A. Return shaping (both dogs)
  • Series B. Shoretraining Step 2, Here-LTW-W (both dogs)
  • Series C. Marks (both dogs)
  • Series D. Diversion drill, combination picture (Laddie)
Series A. Both dogs have shown some deterioration in their return form. Lumi has begun dawdling on her pick-ups, and Laddie has dropped the bird every once in a while during his return. In both case, difficult terrain makes the problem more likely.

So today I worked with each dog on an unmowed lawn, not high cover but getting there. The other dog stayed in the van.

The shaping consisted of poorman singles and doubles, selected according to how the dog was doing as we proceeded. In Lumi's case, she had one slow pick-up. After a second of her being positioned at the duck but not picking it up, I said gently "Nope", shook my head, and walked out to her. By the time I got to her, she'd picked up the duck. I gently took the duck from her and we walked back to the start line together. From that time on, all her pick-ups were significantly faster. She is no doubt physically capable of a faster pick-up, but I was satisfied with her prompt, if not overly stylish, pick-ups for the remainder of the day.

I didn't use any walk-outs with Laddie, but I did feel based on experience that by building distance gradually, his performance was more likely to be better than if I'd gone right out and thrown a long mark.

I was so happy with this quick and easy drill that I've added it to our TO DO list as a new, daily exercise for both dogs.

Series B. Today we resumed work on the swim-by, except that now I consider it as building a shore-handling toolkit. The full toolkit, as I currently plan it, is as follows:
  1. Here-WTL-W
  2. Here-LTW-W
  3. Back-LTW-W/O
  4. Back-WTL-W/O
  5. Over-WTL-W/O
  6. Over-LTW-W/O
  7. Over-LTW-W
  8. Over-WTL-W
where:
  • The behavior is Here, Back, or Over.
  • The behavior is performed land-to-water (LTW) or water-to-land (WTL)
  • The behavior is performed with (W) or without (WO) carrying a dummy
Tool #1 is an open water retrieve (diagram added to this blog entry later):



Since both dogs are fluent on (1), yesterday and today were focused on the next shore handling tool, Here-LTW-W (diagram added to this blog entry, and not consistent with early understanding of this tool):



Here were the steps I used today for working on that behavior (all work was solo, so by singles and doubles, I mean poorman singles and doubles):
  1. Singles and doubles on land (Series A).
  2. At shallow water's edge, single on land along shoreline, then single into water.
  3. Single across water to shoreline.
  4. Single across water and inland on other side.
  5. Into middle of swimming-depth water.
  6. Onto far shoreline of swimming water.
  7. Onto land at other side of swimming water.
Lumi has been able to perform Here-LTW-W for months, so this exercise was just practice for Lumi.

Laddie, on the other hand, initially beached at steps (3), (4), (6), and (7).

I used two kinds of negative punishment to solve the beaching problems:
  • In shallow water, I waded across, took the dummy, put Laddie in the van, and took Lumi out to train with her.
  • In deep water, I got in the van and drove 200 yards away. When Laddie arrived at the van with the dummy, I took the dummy, put Laddie in the van, drove back to the training location, and took Lumi out to train with her.
After starting the day beaching at every opportunity, by the end of our morning work, Laddie had performed a Here-LTW-W across both shallow and deep water with the dummy thrown well onto the bank on the other side. That was a good place to stop. Tomorrow, we'll try to replicate that progress and begin toward fluency. Perhaps within another few days, we'll be able to go onto the next steps of the toolkit, some of which I believe the dogs can already do.

Series C. First Laddie, then Lumi, ran the following set-up, with Nate throwing:
  1. 150-yard mark (duck)
  2. 60-yard mark (duck)
  3. 110-yard mark (duck)
#2 was 30° to the right of #1. #3 was 30° to the right of #3.

Series D. This was Laddie's first of two session on the combination picture as the last stage of the diversion drill. The set-up was as follows:
  • #1 and #5: 80-yard sight blind to lining pole and pile of white dummies
  • #2 and #7: 80-yard sight blind to lining pole and pile of white dummies
  • #3 and #9: 80-yard sight blind to lining pole and pile of white dummies
  • #4, #6, and #8: 60-yard mark with Nate throwing a duck
#2 was 30° to the right of #1. #3 was 30° to the right of #2.

#4, #6, and #8 were all thrown to the same fall, with Nate standing between #1 and #2, and throwing to a fall between #2 and #3.

Notes on Series C and D. Here are my notes from the afternoon session:
  • Series C completes Laddie's "final exam" for returns and deliveries. Laddie did not drop a single bird or dummy the entire day, nor exhibit any of his old freelancing behaviors (snaking, running toward the thrower, etc.).
  • Laddie has been off his feed for about five days, eating little during that time. I learned from the vet today that that is being caused by the fact that we have a bitch in heat in the house, namely Sophie, Heather's Border Collie.
  • The ducks I was using today were on their last legs. That makes Lumi's improved pick-ups from Series A, Laddie's success at not dropping any of the ducks all day, all the more satisfactory. After Series D, I discarded the ducks and we'll begin using fresher birds at our next session.
  • Laddie exhibited a new behavior today: He popped twice, once in Series C and once in Series D. In both cases, he responded to a Back cue. I don't know why this is happening, and whether I should do anything more than cue Back, preferably when I see him getting ready to pop rather than waiting for him to turn around, sit, and look at me.
  • I carried clippies when Laddie was running Series C, and I let Laddie retrieve one from a distance of seven yards after each of three excellent retrieves.
  • As usual, I cued "Get your bird" and had the dog carry a duck back to the van after each series. This seems to be desirable for both dogs, and has a significant effect on their behavior during those walks: For both dogs, they're calmer and also more tuned into me.
  • I used no auto-whistles on Series C and D, along with mostly silent handling. Lumi had good pick-ups and Laddie had great ones, and both dogs had good though not highly enthusiastic returns. It's possible they were slowed by the fact that it was a sunny day with temps in the 70s.
  • Laddie injured the wing of another clippie today. During Lumi's turn at Series C, and Laddie's performance in Series D, I used intermittent bites of food for reinforcement and motivation for Laddie to complete the returns and deliveries.
  • In Series D, Laddie required handling on #1, #2, and #7. His whistle sits and casts were stunning.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Shore Training

Today was Laddie's birthday, and Bob Hux planned his Hunt Test training group to begin at Cheltenham at 8:00 AM. But I had a meeting at work at 9:00 AM, so I wasn't able to get the dogs to Cheltenham until 11:00 AM.

When I arrived, Bob and the others were setting up a water series, so we had missed the land series. I let the dogs out to air, then threw a single and double for each dog, and loaded them back in the van to take a turn throwing. When I came in from throwing, I ran Lumi first and Laddie a little later. Afterwards, we attempted some shore training on our own.

Series A. The water series Bob set up was quite difficult:
  1. 100-yard land-water-land-water-land mark (duck), thru a stick pond, decoys, and large patches of reeds
  2. 30-yard water mark (duck), the fall in a marshy pool on the far side of a sandy strip of land and reeds
#2 was 90° to the right of #1.

Bob said that this water series was part of a Master test he had seen a year earlier at that location, though in the Master test they were running a triple, and we were running Bob's set-up as just two of the legs from the Master test, and as singles. Bob also said that several of the Master dogs had been eliminated by the long leg, our #1, because they got offline and ended up lost, hunting the wooded area well to the right of the fall.

LUMI

Lumi had little difficulty with Bob's water series, performing the best all of the dogs that day, several of whom have SH titles and are working at Master level. I felt it was one of Lumi's most impressive performances.

LADDIE

I modified the series heavily for Laddie, asking both throwers to throw their birds into open water.

On #1, Laddie had no trouble with the stick pond or decoys, but when he picked up the bird, instead of turning back to me, he continued onto the shoreline in front of him. He beached there until the thrower threw the bird back in the water, and as Laddie picked it up, I swung another bird and threw it a little ways to the side. That drew him back thru the decoys and stick pond and he completed his delivery without dropping the bird.

On #2, instead of throwing into open water, the thrower threw the duck into a pool on the far side of a little island, and Laddie picked up the bird and then beached on the island. Nothing I could think of persuaded him to fetch the bird, and eventually he swam back to me without it. Another dog retrieved the bird later.

Water Training. After the group training was done, I tried to take advantage of a couple of channels near the area we'd run Series A for some shore training. I soon discovered that in each of those locations, Laddie would swim readily across the channel and then beach. Eventually he would swim back without the dummy, and I would have to send Lumi to get the dummy Laddie had left on the other side.

After watching Laddie's problem beaching during group training, Bob had commented that he liked to use a long line to address that issue. I had a 100' line in the van and tried it with Laddie, but it was not effective, and may have even been counterproductive. I say that because the drag from the weight of the line both annoyed and confused Laddie, and if he were to continue the behavior that the line was "teaching" him, the behavior he was learning was to turn frequently while swimming across, thinking he was being pulled back. In addition, the experience could not have added to his positive training associations.

Thinking back, the same thing had happened with Lumi when I tried to repair her beaching behavior with a long line. I think a long line can be used effectively and non-aversively, but with both dogs now, I haven't found it to be effective for water training.

After several attempts to find an effective way to address Laddie's beaching, I decided to quit for the day and try something new the next day. While Laddie hadn't learned anything about retrieving across a channel, we had made progress: We had eliminated a training method that was not going to work for us.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Swim-by, Return and Delivery Shaping, Marks, Diversion Drill

Today we went to Twin Ponds for a swim-by session in the morning (Series A). Nate wasn't available in the afternoon, so we took Bryan with us to Fair Hill for some work on both sides of the road (Series B, C, and D). Here's a summary:
  • Series A. Swim-by (both dogs)
  • Series B. Return and delivery shaping (Laddie)
  • Series C. Marks (Lumi)
  • Series D. Diversion drill (DD), throws over line (TOL), right to left (Laddie)
Series A. After a couple of false starts at spots at Twin Ponds that looked promising but didn't work out well, we finally found a corner of the upper pond that closely resembled Alice's open-water diagram for the swim-by. We did several send-outs to a pile of dummies floating, then practiced stopping on land and a left or right back into water. After each stopped retrieve, we followed with two non-stops.

Six Canadas showed up and started swimming on the upper pond while I was working, and one was making a racket, but both dogs kept their focus and performed well. With Laddie, I was able to use "leave it" to stop him from shopping when he would start to (Lumi didn't try shopping), and both dogs did a nice job of coming 10 yards in from the shoreline to deliver without dropping their dummies.

As I was leaving, Sue Armstrong (with Rodger, the owners of the property) told me we wouldn't be able to train there for some time, so we'll need to find yet another location. Renee and I looked at a possible spot at Black Hills, but it turned out to be unsuitable. For now, I'm thinking we'll have to go to Park Heights for our swim-by training.

Series B. Working on the side of the road at Fair Hill with large patches of high cover, I set up a 20-40-60 yard sequence of marks for Bryan to throw for Laddie with birds and me using silent handling (except for the auto-whistle). However, Laddie dropped the bird at my feet on the return from the 40-yarder, so we started over and this time ran a 20-20-20-40-60 yard sequence. Laddie had no drops on that series.

Series C. Continuing to work on the same side of the road, I set up a 60-70-90 yard sequence of marks for Bryan to throw for Lumi. She was not only flawless in her performance, but showed a stronger commitment than ever to not cheating around cover. On at least two occasions, she ran between blades of high grass that she could have run around just by taking half a step to the side. Yet she split both pairs right down the middle.

Series D. I finally decided that Laddie was ready to resume the DD with the second and last TOL sequence, this time with Bryan throwing ducks right to left over the line to the pile of dummies. Laddie didn't swerve in the slightest in any of four send-outs to the pile, and was flawless on all three of his marks at 30-45-60 yards with one exception: He dropped the bird at my feet on the 60-yarder. I had Bryan throw another 60-yarder from a different position to a different fall, and Laddie returned and delivered perfectly on that one.

We need to practice silent handling at shorter distances (up to 60 yards) some more before Laddie is ready for longer marks with silent handling, so if we get any longer marks tomorrow with the Hunt Test group, I think I'll try saying "here" once or twice as Laddie gets close on those marks.

Alternatively, I may bring some clippies for Laddie and hold one in my hand while sending him, then let him have a short retrieve of it when the series is over.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Swim-by, Casting thru Cover, Return Shaping

I didn't feel it would be productive today for either dog to go to FT training, so for four hours this morning, we trained locally. In steady rain, at times heavy, and temps in the mid-50's, we went first to Brink for the next stage of our swim-by drill, then to both sides of the road at Fair Hill for practice casting thru cover and, for Laddie, some return shaping with ducks.

Swim-by. Because I had decided on a more complex training sequence for our swim-by than we've been using, I took Lumi out first while leaving Laddie in the van, then switched dogs.

As usual, I had planned to also work on each dog's WS while hiking between the van and our swim-by location, a 12-minute hike in each direction. However, both dogs rarely wandered further than 20 yards from me, and never further than 40, so we were unable to raise criteria from yesterday. Both dogs were immediately responsive on every WS.

My plan for each dog was to run the following sequence on land, starting at the same SL as we use for our swim-by but off to the side:
  1. With Dog waiting at the SL, place a pile of three dummies 40 yards away.
  2. Send Dog from heel with "back" to pick up one of the dummies.
  3. Send Dog to pick up another dummy.
  4. Send Dog again. As Dog nears the halfway point, WS. When Dog sits, cast a left or right back.
Immediately after Dog ran that sequence, I threw the three dummies across the creek and ran the identical sequence: two backs with no stopping, then a back-WS-back retrieve.

Actually, with Laddie, I only used two dummies for these land and water sequences. When Laddie had retrieved the first one, I threw it back with the one that hadn't been retrieved yet.

Lumi did both sequences with such ease that I then decided to begin working on "over", as follows:
  1. I threw two dummies across the creek.
  2. Back from heel to retrieve the first one.
  3. Back from heel, WS when Lumi was halfway across.
  4. I threw a dummy off to the right.
  5. "Over" to the right.
  6. When Lumi retrieved that, I sent her back from heel to pick up the last one.
Again, Lumi had no difficulty with that, so the next time, I did the same thing, except that this time I cued "over" before throwing the dummy to the right. Lumi interpreted this as a back, so I again cued "over". As soon as she turned away from the dummy at the other side of the creek and started in the direction I had cast her, I threw a dummy to the right in the direction she was swimming.

We repeated that sequence twice more. On the third try, Lumi took the "over" cast without attempting to turn back to the waiting dummy. After completing that sequence, we then went on to this sequence:
  1. I threw two dummies across the creek.
  2. Back from heel to retrieve one of them.
  3. I now threw the dummy just retrieved well over to the right.
  4. With some effort, I got Lumi focused back on the dummy that was immediately opposite us and cued "back".
  5. When Lumi was halfway across, I cued WS-over and she retrieved the dummy to the right.
  6. Finally, back from heel to retrieve the last dummy.
At that point I realized that even though each sequence had three retrieves, I only needed two dummies, so when I brought Laddie out later, I only brought two dummies for him.

Lumi had little difficulty with any of the sequences to that point, so before quitting, I was curious to see if she'd cast to the left. I ran a mirror sequence and Lumi had no difficulty with it.

I suspect that Lumi could actually perform the final goal of the swim-by drill right now. That is, I could cast her in one direction to pick up a dummy, then cast her in the opposite direction to swim past me and exit to land in that direction before returning to me. However, our present swim-by location doesn't have a good exit location, so Lumi would have to swim past me without a target, then turn back to me when I called. I think she could do that also, but I'd rather practice at the current level a little longer before attempting it.

Laddie's turn was similar to Lumi's except for higher latency on responding to the early WSs, so more practice to the right and no practice to the left. One thing Laddie did better than Lumi was that when I cast "over" without a target the first time, he immediately began swimming in the indicated direction, whereas the first two times, Lumi tried to interpret "over" as a "back".

Gestalt Effect. Alice has described the gestalt effect that occurs when training a retriever to retrieve, in which some flaws automatically disappear, without any training specifically focused on those flaws, as the dog falls into the rhythm of the retrieval behavior chain.

I seem to be seeing an example of this effect with the swim-by. I had previously noted to myself that I needed to work with Laddie on beaching at the far side of a land-water-land retrieve, and also to work with him on completing his delivery after exiting the water without first dropping the article to shake off. During our swim-by practice, our SL is ten yards up a muddy embankment from the near shoreline, and when I throw the dummy across the creek, it sometimes lands on the far embankment rather than at water's edge. Though Laddie has previously had difficulty with those situations, the context of the swim-by drill seems to have a gestalt effect, as Laddie smooths his performance to complete each retrieve, without beaching at the far side nor dropping his dummy during his return.

Casting thru Cover. For this drill, I ran Lumi first, then Laddie.

Before taking Dog out of the van, I set up the following:
  1. 60-yard blind in a large patch of high, dense grass, marked by orange lining pole. For Lumi, the article was an orange dummy. For Laddie, it was a duck, since I wanted to Laddie to get some extra practice on his return and delivery with birds.
  2. 90-yard blind in a patch of high, sparse grass, a duck marked by a surveyors flag. Dog had to cross thru an earlier large patch of high, dense grass on the way (actually, the same patch that #1 was placed in).
The two blinds were separated by a 30&deg: angle.

Both dogs lined #1, and neither made any effort to cheat around the cover.

On #2, Lumi tried to cheat to the left of the thick cover. I stopped her, called her in a few yards, cast her over, and then cast her straight back into the thick cover. She responded to all WSs and all casts nicely and took the back cast right into the cover, then lined the blind from there.

On #2, Laddie became fixated on a target to the left at the SL and would not keep his gaze in the correct direction. I left him in a sit/stay, walked forward 20 yards, called him to heel, and then was able to send him. He did not attempt to veer off from entering the cover so I didn't stop him, but while in the cover, he veered right toward #1. At that point, I blew WS and cast him on an angle back to the correct target. "Oh, that one, Daddy!" He raced the rest of the way directly to the duck, returned thru all the cover, and delivered the bird without difficulty.

I believe that both dogs are now reasonably comfortable entering cover, both uncued or on a cast, and will remove "casting thru cover" from our TO DO lists.

Return Shaping. After picking up the gear from our casting drill, I took Laddie to the other side of the road, our old double-T area, for two poorman singles with birds, 50 and 100 yards. Laddie didn't drop the duck either time, but I didn't have the confidence to remain silent until the delivery was complete, because as he approached he became somewhat hesitant and I was afraid he'd drop the bird unless I cued "here".

Next time we go out, we'll work our way up from shorter distances and with smaller increments, but maintaining silent handling except for the auto-whistle as Laddie is pouncing on the duck. I'll try to build distance slowly enough that every return is smooth and confident the entire way.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Whistle Sit, Swim-by

This morning, we went to Brink for our next swim-by session.

Whistle Sit Practice. As usual, we practiced whistle sit coming and going to our swim-by area, and as usual, I raised the criteria a little. Today's most challenging WS was at 50 yards with both dogs on the run right to left and not focused on me. Both dogs responded instantly to every WS today, including that one.

Swim-by. Today was our second session of a WS in water, with each WS followed immediately by recall. Each dog ran two straight backs from heel for every WS.

Since Lumi has had previous experience with WS in water, she had no difficulty with today's work.

Despite some success yesterday, Laddie seemed to have difficulty understanding what was expected at first today. We solved the problem by sending him out a short way on land and blowing WS-recall, then immediately repeating the sequence on water.

Driving home, it occurred to me that the sequences we were running, with me throwing a dummy across the water immediately before the backs from heel, and not using the dummy for the WSs, was making the dummy too much of a discriminating stimulus. At our next swim-by session, I plan to throw out three dummies at a time. I'll blow WS on the first one, and when the dog turns to me, I'll cast a left or right back. I'll follow that retrieve with two more backs from heel to the remaining dummies. After that, I'll run the other dog on the same sequence.

The first time or two, we'll pattern the sequence on land and then immeiately re-run it on water.

I think that sequence will proof the WS thoroughly, and also proof left and right back.

However, if one of the dogs won't stop on the WS, I'll need to come up with a solution. For Laddie and the double-T, the best solution on land turned out to be working with an oversized course for a few sessions. The equivalent on water may be a large pond or lake, assuming I can throw the three dummies far enough, and also assuming they won't float away. Other possibilities would be to find a location where I can pin a dummy when I don't want it retrieved, or to use a long line. Maybe the dogs will respond correctly from the beginning and I won't need a remedy. We'll see.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Whistle Sit, Swim-by, Marks

This morning, Lumi, Laddie, and I went to Brink to practice WS while hiking, and then to try the next phase of our swim-by training. I had planned for us to train in the afternoon, but it was too hot. A summary of the day's work:
  • WS practice (both dogs)
  • Swim-by, introducing WS in water (both dogs)
  • Series A (Laddie)
Whistle Sit Practice. As we've been doing lately, I blew a WS every few minutes while hiking out and returning from our swiim-by practice. Both dogs were again 100% reliable.

Swim-by. Most of our work on swim-by today was throwing a dummy to the far side of our swim-by area and cueing "back" to one dog while the other dog honored. I alternated back and forth between dogs.

In addition, four times for each dog, I did not throw a dummy, but only cued "back". As soon as the dog was swimming, I then blew a WS, and the dog would turn around and face me. As soon as the dog was facing me, I'd whistle recall and the dog would swim back and come to heel, reinforced by cheers and a small bite of fast-food cheeseburger. After each dog had performed a WS in the water, I gave each dog an uniterrupted retrieve across the pool twice before asking for another WS.

When I first tried this drill in the swim-by location I had previously chosen, both dogs did poorly because they would look for a shallow area of the creek to stop in with their feet on the streambed rather than stopping in place. When I saw that was happening, I moved to another location for this phase of the training, one not well suited to the entire swim-by training but with uniformly deep water in a large area so that the dogs could stop in place. Once we moved, both dogs did well each of the four times I blew a WS.

I believe that ideally, the dogs would not only turn to face me, but would also remain in place treading water until I gave my next cue. That is not the case with Laddie yet. As soon as he has turned, he immediately begins to swim toward me. Although I could try to come up with a way to address that now, I don't think it's a problem, because Laddie does not yet realize that from that "sit", I might cue "over" or "back" rather than recall. I believe that once Laddie understands all of those are possible, he'll automatically hold his position, waiting to see what I do next, as Lumi does.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Whistle Sit, Swim By

On Thursdays, we train with Bob Hux and one of his Hunt Test groups at Park Heights, near Baltimore. Today Bob set up a land series and a water series, and I ran both dogs in each of them, modifying them in an attempt to make it appropriate to the dog. I found that I should have also modified the land series even more for Laddie.

Later, we went for a hike at Brink to practice our WS, and also to get in our next swim-by session.

To summarize:
  • Series A. Land series (both dogs)
  • Series B. Water series (both dogs)
  • Series C. Swim-by
Series A. This was Bob's set-up for the land series:
  1. 70-yard mark (hand-thrown duck)
  2. 110-yard mark (duck thrown by winger), across a shallow end-section of a ditch filled with tangled cover
  3. 100-yard blind (duck at camo lining pole), past trees on the right with the blind set on the right of another tree
#2 was 60° to the right of #1. #3 was 15° to the left of #1.

Lumi had no difficulty with this series, and lined the blind. While some dogs ran this as a double, Lumi ran it as singles, and I used unusually long counts before sending her on the marks. She didn't swing her head on either one.

Laddie only ran the two marks. He had no difficulty with #1, but snaked a little thru the ditch on his way back from #2. In retrospect, I felt that I should have moved up and had him run that as a shorter mark, given the challenge of group training excitement, the winger, the difficult terrain, and the distance. However, Laddie didn't stop, throw his head, or drop the bird, and he delivered with a firm hold, so his performance was still good.

I used a loose slipcord on #1 and bird-in-mouth marking for #2, and Laddie still crept a couple of inches on both marks, that is, resetting himself after the bird was thrown. We need to work on that.

Series B. Bob's set-up for the water series looked like this:
  1. 30-yard mark (duck) thrown by a winger into an alcove between two points, so that the dog had to cross a point to retrieve the bird. A decoy floated near the start line.
  2. 50-yard mark (duck) hand thrown against the shore, with clusters of decoys on either side of the line to the mark, and debris along the shoreline on either side of the duck. Depending on the SL chosen by the handler, a straight line to the duck would bypass both points on the left, but several dogs swerved slightly to the left to touch one or both points, while going out, coming in, or both.
LUMI

Lumi hasn't seen a water decoy in several months and checked out the pair of them on the right as she was swimming out to #2. Aside from that, she had no difficulty with either mark.

Once again, I ran the series as singles and used unusually long counts before sending, and once again, Lumi displayed no head swinging.

For Lumi, I brought the clippies in a carrier to the SL with us, but I didn't take one out either at the SL or later at the van. Instead, when the series was over, I tossed a duck for her and said "get your bird", and when we got to the van, I put the clippies in the trunk, took the duck from Lumi, and tossed it for her again. I felt that that was at least as reinforcing for Lumi as retrieving up a live bird, and a lot easier on the pigeons.

What's more, I'm not sure how much extrinsic reinforcement Lumi needs for performing at her current level. She seems to enjoy the work itself a great deal, and while her performance is neither always perfect nor rarely at Laddie's breakneck pace, it's still superior in quality and enthusiasm to many of the other dogs I see and may be the right balance of speed without undue wear and tear for Lumi.

LADDIE

As we arrived at the SL, Laddie spotted the nearby decoy and jumped in the water to check it out. While that was dismal SL behavior, he came back as soon as I called and apparently got water decoys out of his system, because he ignored all the decoys as he ran his series.

Laddie had no trouble with #1 and did not try to cheat around the water in either direction.

On #2, Laddie swam straight to the fall, not being diverted by the decoys nor the debris near the fall, so that was excellent. He picked up the bird and then climbed ashore to shake off. I suppose that's inappropriate, but I wasn't too worried about it, provided he then re-entered the pond, because I've seen more experienced dogs do something similar many times.

However, instead of re-entering the water, Laddie started to run around to the left, apparently intending to circumvent the entire pond for his return.

Although at 60 yards the distance was longer than we've practiced on hikes, I blew a WS and he instantly turned toward me and sat, without dropping the bird. As he sat there, I called to the thrower to please take the bird from Laddie and throw it in the pond. She called "here", he came to her, she took the bird and threw it in the water, and he dove after it and started swimming toward the closer point.

I assumed that when he reached it he would again try to cheat around, as I had seen one of Bob's dogs do, and I didn't want Laddie rehearsing that. So while he was swimming, I ran around to the other point and waited for him to exit the water onto land. I whistled recall and also called "here", but as might be expected, he nonetheless started to dash sideways so that he could run around the water to get to me.

Again I blew WS, and again he turned to face me and sat instantly. I then called him to me and this time he came down the embankment, leaped into the water, and swam to me. As he was coming up onto the point with me, I took the bird from him and threw it into the water on the other side. As he dove in after it, I ran back to the SL and called him from there, and he completed his swim.

I don't mean to suggest this was good training, just the best I knew to do in the circumstances to avoid having Laddie rehearse cheating around the water. But those WSs were spectacular!

I realize that all Laddie's work on pinball drills, wagon wheels, birdfoot drills, diversion drills, and the double-T have contributed to his WS, but I see the work we've been doing on hikes as also having contributed significantly. Even if it's true that Laddie would have been as responsive without that work on hikes, the fact that I knew from our practicing under those difficult conditions that he probably would respond in this situation gave me the confidence to try it without feeling that I was taking a major risk he'd ignore me.

For Laddie, I carried the clippies in a carrier to the SL, but did not take any out at that location. When Laddie had completed his series, I threw a duck for him, said "get your bird", and together we walked back to the van. There I took the duck, cued "sit" and "your birdie's waiting", took out a clippie, and set it out at a short distance for Laddie to retrieve. The goal is for Laddie to gradually learn that a clippie is waiting for him when he completes his series, even if I don't give it to him immediately.

Whistle Sit Practice. Once again as we hiked out to the creek for a swim-by session and then back again, I blew WSs every few minutes, raising the criteria in terms of both distance and distraction level marginally since our previous session. In today's hiking, both dogs were perfect, sitting instantly on every WS.

Swim-By. From a previous non-practice hike with Renee and Gabriel, I thought we might be able to find a better swim-by location than the previous one I chose, so today was mostly about scouting for a new location. I never found one I was entirely satisfied with, but with the sun on the horizon, I took a few minutes just to practice "back" alternating back and forth between both dogs several times, the other one honoring. Both dogs seem to love that game.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Marks, Salience Drill, Whistle Sit, Swim-By

Lumi, Laddie, and I had lots of activities together today. First we trained with Barbara and her Lab, Deuce, at Fair Hill (Series A and B). Then we went for a hike along what Renee and I call the creek at Brink, I don't know its real name. On the hike, we worked on the dogs' whistle sit (WS) while I scouted for a suitable swim-by location, and when I found one, we had our first swim-by session (Series C). Later, we went out with Nate (to throw) and Bryan (to videotape) for our afternoon training at Oaks (Series D).

The days' series were as follows:
  • Series A. Marks at 150-70-190 yards (Laddie)
  • Series B. Salience drill (Lumi)
  • Series C. Swim-by (both dogs)
  • Series D. Marks at 150-60-120 yards (both dogs)
Series A. Series A was the first of three sessions intended as Laddie's final exam for return and delivery shaping, before returning to the sequence of drills for shaping Laddie's handling skills under guidance from Alice. My self-imposed guidelines for the final exam are that Laddie is to have high quality returns and deliveries for three sessions in a row, with the first mark of the session at 150 yards. For this series, the set-up was as follows:
  1. 150-yard mark (duck), position marked by stickman
  2. 70-yard mark (duck), position marked by chair
  3. 190-yard mark (duck), position marked by stickman
As suggested by Alice, I held a wing-clipped pigeon while sending Laddie on each mark, then gave him a short retrieve with the clippie when he completed each mark.

Today, I also continued the practice of waiting at the SL in silence, other than a recall whistle just as Laddie is pouncing on the article being retrieved.

Laddie's performance on all three marks was outstanding, with sprints straight to the fall, immediate and often tumbling pick-ups, energetic run-backs without any sign of Laddie's old resource guarding behaviors, and firm holds on his deliveries. Laddie dropped the first duck 30 yards from the SL on #1, but picked it right back up and completed an excellent delivery. That was his only dropped bird of the day. Overall, I felt that Laddie's performance was well within the bounds of high quality.

Series B.
Lumi has a tendency on blinds to meander out in the general direction sent, apparently waiting for her first cast before she becomes comfortable with a more focused gait. To help her learn to take a line enthusiastically when sent on a blind from heel, I invented what I call the "salience drill". The idea is to teach Lumi the concept of focusing on some target in the direction sent, and to run toward that target until either she encounters the blind, or she receives a WS and cast.

For today's first salience drill, I positioned a lining pole as the SL so that three salient features in the landscape were visible at 45° angles from one another. I then placed a duck and a length of orange flagging approximately halfway between the SL and the landmark. I approached the placements laterally so that there was no scent trail between the SL and the blind. The distances to the blind were 20 yards, 40 yards, and 60 yards.

I then brought Lumi out of the van and ran her toward each landmark in turn.

On all three blinds, Lumi took a good line from heel, but on #1, she veered off three times in a row, apparently considering a sign in the distance to the right to be a more likely target than the one I was lining her toward. Each time she veered off, I called her back with "no here".

After the third time, I left her at the SL in a sit, walked three yards in the direction of the blind, called her to heel, and re-sent her. This time she kept her line. Now apparently focused on the landmark, Lumi ran past the blind without noticing it. I then blew WS, and when she sat, I blew a recall whistle as a straight come-in. Lumi immediately spotted the duck and completed the retrieve on the run.

On the second blind, she again started on the correct line but veered off after a short distance. Again I called her back with "no here". She did not do it again, and on the second send, she noticed the blind as she ran past it. I whistled recall and she completed the retrieve.

On the third blind, Lumi ran straight toward the landmark until she saw the blind and pounced on it. I whistled recall and she completed the retrieve.

The sequence was exactly what I was hoping for, though I would not have minded if she had not veered off the times that she did. But it seemed clear that by the third blind, she had enough confidence to run toward the landmark I had lined her up on.

A NOTE ON LUMI'S CLIPPIES

I held a wingclip for Lumi during each of the blinds and put it out for her to make a 5-yard retrieve of it after completing her deliveries. While she seemed to be excited by retrieving the clippie, I noticed that when she returned from her third blind and I threw the duck next to the lining pole while walking a few feet away preparing to let her run her third short retrieve of the clippie, Lumi ran to the lining pole rather than running up next to me. From this I deduced that Lumi actually finds holding ducks more valuable than retrieving clippies. That's fine with me, since it means less of a chance for injury to the poor pigeons, though I think it's usually Laddie who does the most damage to them. I haven't decided for sure whether to use the wingclips with Lumi any more or not.

Whistle Sit Practice.
As we hiked along the creek at Brink, every few minutes I'd blow a WS, expecting both dogs to sit. We did this both on the way out and on the way back. On the way back, Laddie had a dummy in is mouth most of the times I whistled. The distances today were in the range 20-30 yards, and the maximum distraction level involved being on the move and not paying attention to me, but was not as extreme as sniffing a wildlife carcass or being about to leap into the water.

Both dogs sat every time but once. The exception occurred when on one occasion, I blew a WS, then blew a recall whistle instead of saying "here" to call them to me for treats. The next time I blew a WS, they both interpreted it as a recall and came running. I said, "no, sit" and they did. I think this tells me that sometimes my recall whistle (tweet-tweet) sounds too much like my sit whistle (tweet), something for me to work on.

In any case, I'm pleased with how our WS practice is going, and plan to continue to build distance and distraction-proofing during our hikes.

Series C.
I found a location in the creek that met the following characteristics:
  • No current.
  • Deep enough to require the dogs to swim.
  • A place for me to stand and send the dogs from.
  • A place about 30' away for me to throw a dummy without the dummy immediately floating away.
  • A place to the right where I'll be able to throw or place a dummy and work on "over".
I'm not sure this location will work perfectly for the rest of the swim-by training, which will involve the dog swimming past me from one side to the other, then exiting the water there before coming around to me. The geometry might work at this location, or we might need to find somewhere else when we're ready to work on that phase.

Today's session consisted entirely of swims straight across to retrieve a dummy I'd throw there. I'd throw the dummy, then send one of the dogs while the other dog waited, and then I'd give a treat to the dog who waited. When the sent dog picked up the dummy, I'd whistle recall and the dog would swim back and deliver the dummy at heel.

This was a simple drill for Lumi and I can't say she learned anything from it at this stage. But already I saw significant benefit to it for Laddie:
  • Laddie's honoring skills are not well developed, and this was an opportunity for him to practice honoring. The alternative would have been to take the dogs out separately, which would have been too time consuming.
  • On some of my throws, the dummy ended up on some debris above the water level, and Laddie had to climb up there to get the dummy. Once he had the dummy, he started looking around for some alternative to diving back in to get back to me. No alternative route was readily available, and when I called "here", he just made the plunge. Since Laddie has beached on the other side of channels at times in the past, it seems the swim-by training will erase that behavior along with other benefits.
  • Laddie has had a nice return and delivery in the living room for most of his life, and has recently learned the same behavior on land retrieves. But his habit in open water retrieves has always been to drop the dummy at or near the shoreline, shake off, and then bring me the dummy. As it turns out, the drill we were doing today apparently looked more to Laddie like a living room or land retrieve than an open water retrieve, and he never dropped the dummy once. Every time I sent him, he climbed out of the water, swung to heel, sat, held the dummy till I took it, and then shook off. Good boy!
Series D. Since Lumi will be taking a Junior level test in a couple of weeks, and because she seems to have slowed in some of her pick-ups lately, I decided to have her run the same marks as Laddie this afternoon, and not worry about blinds for this session.

Although I usually have the dogs run the shortest mark of a series first, per Alice's guidance, today's drill was part of Laddie's final exam for return and delivery shaping, which meant starting with a 150-yard retrieve. At the same time, I didn't want to make that the shortest of three retrieves, because temps were in the 70s and we working in thick ground-cover, and I was concerned that several long returns wouldn't be good for Lumi, and also might not be that good for Laddie on top of our other work today.

As a result, I decided on the following configuration:
  1. 150-yard mark (duck) marked by chair
  2. 60-yard mark (duck) marked by stickman, 30° to the right of #1
  3. 120-yard mark (duck) marked by stickman, 30° to the right of #2
As has become our new practice, I used only an auto-whistle just as the dog was pouncing on the bird, making no other sound during the retrieves.

I ran Laddie first, then Lumi. I held a clippie during Laddie's first mark and had him retrieve the clippie (signaled by "Your birdie's waiting") from a short distance after his delivery. But he was so rough on the bird that I decided not to use live birds for the other marks, and instead threw a duck for him when he returned from #2 and #3. Since it appears to me that Lumi likes retrieving ducks at least as much as clippies, maybe more, I also decided to throw ducks for her after each of her marks. I'm not sure what use I'll be making of the wingclips in the future.

Both dogs did fine, with fast pick-ups, straight returns, firm holds, and no dropped birds.

For Laddie, this means he has now completed the first two stages of his final exam for return and delivery shaping.
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