Today's training included the following:
- A morning hike that included practice on both dogs' whistle sit (WS)
- Series A, three marks (Laddie)
- Series B, blind-mark-blind (Lumi)
The purpose of random WSs on our hikes continues to be two-fold: First, since I reinforce each correct response, responses are improving. This is especially true with Laddie, since Lumi's responses were already excellent the first time I tried this on a hike a few days ago. Today, both dogs were near 100% reliability, and in most cases, nearly zero latency. Since the trend is going in the right direction, I hope to continue to see improvement as we continue practicing the WS this way.
The second reason I believe this drill is valuable is that it enables me to calibrate each dogs' evolving responsiveness to the WS at various distances and levels of distraction. The idea of not giving cues I'm not confident will work has become deeply ingrained in me from years of study and correspondence with other dog trainers. Because of my on-going WS practice sessions with Lumi and Laddie, I'll have the confidence to use the WS in particular training and competition situations.
Series A. For today's series of marks for Laddie, I combined my own plans with guidance from Alice and Jody and came up with these objectives:
- To continue our proofing with increasing distances on the first retrieve, in this case increasing the first retrieve from 110 yards in our previous session to 130 yards in today's.
- To fade as much handler feedback as possible from Laddie's returns and deliveries.
- To build the reinforcement value of a wing-clipped pigeon by sending Laddie while holding the bird, rather than leaving the bird in its carrier, and then letting Laddie retrieve the bird after every mark, rather than waiting until after the entire series.
- 130 yards (duck), station marked with a chair
- 80 yards (duck), station marked with a stickman
- 170 yards (duck), station marked with a stickman
As we drove to the training site, I decided, as our initial step toward fading handler feedback, to say "good job" three times per retrieve: once as Laddie started toward me, once at 1/3 of the way back, and once at 2/3 of the way back. So I did that on #1, but watching Laddie's behavior, I didn't feel that I saw it making any difference.
Therefore, I decided on the spot to accelerate the fading process, and on #2, mostly out of habit, I said "good job" when Laddie was halfway back. Again, I didn't see any effect on Laddie's performance.
So on #3, the longest retrieve of the day, I decided with some trepidation not to say a word. I stuck to my guns until Laddie had swung to heel, then in a quiet voice, I said, "nice job"..
The reason for my trepidation was that I was afraid that without feedback, Laddie would either be confused about whether he was performing correctly and vary his behavior in an attempt to elicit a response from me, or he would revert to behavior that he found more entertaining because I wasn't prompting the desired behavior. With relief, I learned that neither of those problems occurred.
On #1, Laddie dropped the bird just as he was sitting down, but that bird was pretty old. Aside from that, he was perfect. He never wavered, never slowed, never snaked or looped, didn't even throw his head. He just went out and did his job.
Perhaps it helped that I was holding a clippie, and let him have a short retrieve with it after each mark. I didn't allow parading or other freelancing, because I didn't want Laddie to rehearse such behavior at this time in his career. But I set the clippie out about 5 yards so Laddie got to run to it, pounce on it, pick it up, carry it back to me, and deliver it. I'm sure he'd've preferred to hold it longer, but I hope that even so he liked it. He seemed excited.
Laddie also got to carry a duck back to the van, cued with "get your bird". That seems to be as valuable to Laddie as it is to Lumi.
Series B. For Lumi's series, I once again wanted her to develop a comfort level with running a blind either before or after running marks while throwers were in the field, but without too much wear and tear. Here's the set-up I came up with:
- 100-yard blind (orange dummy, marked by surveyor's flag)
- 80-yard mark (duck), thrown from station marked by chair and two stickmen
- 100-yard blind (duck, marked by surveyor's flag)
I had planned to let Lumi retrieve the clippie after each of her retrieves, too, but neither of the birds looked too fresh after Laddie was done with them, so I decided not to use them with Lumi. She didn't seem to miss it.
On the blinds, Lumi took a wide line on both send-outs, but was responsive on all WSs and casts. Her performance on the mark was excellent as usual.