Friday, April 25, 2008

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.


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.


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.

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