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 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.


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.

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