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.

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