Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Multiple Target Drill (MTD)

[Note: See ARCHIVE: The Multiple Target Drill (MTD) for the original design of this drill. Based on feedback from Alice Woodyard, in the present write-up I've removed the salience element from the drill. Alice explained that training a dog the salience concept, while possibly improving speed on the send-out and as well as lining ability, can lead to a long-term reduction in the dog's responsiveness to whistle sits and casts.]

Here are the problems I was trying to address:
  • Because Lumi and Laddie have been handling, both on land and water, for some months, I knew from my reading that it would be inappropriate to return to some of our old drills, such as the Double-T.
  • Yet continued training on cold blinds alone was running into a snag. If the blind was too easy, the dog would simply line it and we'd get no practice handling. But if the blind was too hard, because of distance or "factors" (such as diversions, obstacles, uneven terrain) the dog would become frustrated and unresponsive to whistle sits and/or directional cues (casts). Of course, the goal was to create set-ups that were between those two extremes, but I found it nearly impossible to calibrate or predict which tier a particular set-up would be in, and portions of our training sessions were often wasted because the blinds were either too easy or too difficult.
For a traditional trainer, the ecollar is an excellent tool for solving the responsiveness problem so you can err on the side of making the blind too difficult. But as a 2Q trainer, I found that criteria must be raised with greater precision to make progress.

While we continue to run cold blinds as part of our water training, we have also begun training this new land drill, which I believe is helping. I call the new drill the "multiple target drill" (MTD).

The MTD is similar to the traditional double-T drill, but with these differences that I think are appropriate for more advanced handling dogs:
  • We use a different location and/or direction for each MTD session, rather than using the identical set-up day after day as in the traditional double-T.
  • As in a traditional double-T, the MTD includes both handling and non-handling targets. But unlike the double-T, the dogs are not intended to know where the handling blinds are in advance, and are not intended to be able to see or scent them until they have gotten close by responding correctly to handling.
  • The distances for the handling blinds are steadily growing from session to session, and will eventually increase to 200 yards and more, compared to 110 yards for the version of the double-T that I used with my dogs.
  • The set-ups include diversions intended to exert significant lateral suction that the dogs must overcome to complete the long retrieves. High distraction factors include throwing the diversions while the dog is watching from the start line, and using birds as the diversions.
Here, then, is the design for the MTD that I've come up with:
  1. Place a lining pole or mat at the start line (SL), where the dogs will be sent from heel on each retrieve.
  2. Choose a direction the dog will be sent out for each long retrieve. That direction is called the backline (BL), since the send-out cue is Back.
  3. Walk some distance such as 50 yards along the BL for the NON-HANDLING long blind and place a lining pole at that point, which I designate P2. For each dog that will run, place two white dummies at P2, and also place a single additional dummy that will not be retrieved so that the dogs will not be able to assume that P2 is no longer a possible target. As with any training pile, the dummies should not touch one another.
  4. Walk to the right of P2 some distance, such as 25 yards, and place another surveyors flag for one of the HANDLING blinds, which I designate P1. For each dog that will run, place a single orange dummy at P1, and also place an additional dummy that will not be retrieved.
  5. Walk to the left of P2 and place P3 as the other HANDLING blind in the same way as P1 was placed.
  6. With the dog watching from a sit at the SL, walk some distance such as 20 yards from the SL along the BL, then stop and throw DIVERSION articles some distance, such as 35 yards, to right (Q1) and left (Q3) of the BL. I've used white dummies and B&W canvas dummies as diversions. I intend to use birds as diversions when I want to crank up difficulty level further.
For a two-way dog like Lumi and Laddie, randomize whether you're sending from left or right heel. Send the dogs in the following sequence: P2-P1-P2-P3-Q1-Q3. For the handling retrieves to P1 and P3, send the dogs toward P2, then stop the dog as he/she approaches P2 and handle to P1 or P3. Line the dog up on Q1 and Q3 for the retrieves of the diversions, which my dogs seem to consider dessert. Randomly switch P1 with P3 and Q1 with Q3 from session to session. If the dog begins to pop on P1 and/or P3 after running the drill a few times, randomly add additional non-handling retrieves to P2. Since that increases wear and tear on the dog, especially at longer distances, I don't plan to use additional non-handling retrieves unless we run into a good reason to.

After the dog has a little experience with the MTD, here's what I'd hope to see:
  • Fast, confident, well-motivated send-outs, maintained by the non-handling retrieves to P2, Q1, and Q3 as well as maintained confidence on the handling retrieves to P1 and P3
  • Easily calibrated set-ups to establish just the right difficulty level for the handling retrieves to P1 and P3
  • Continued reliability in the dog's responsiveness to whistle sits and casts as MTD criteria are gradually raised to greater and greater levels of difficulty
  • Improvement in the dog's ability to run cold blinds of increasing difficulty in other training sessions
Ideas for raising MTD criteria from session to session:
  • Increase the distance from the SL to P1-P2-P3.
  • Make the distances to P1-P2-P3 all different.
  • Introduce more difficult terrain, such as hills and higher cover.
  • Add additional diversions such as stickmen to the course.
  • Increase the suction of the diversions at Q1 and Q3 by throwing them from a point on the BL further out from the SL, and/or by using birds.
  • Drag a bird across the line to the blinds, either straight across or for additional difficulty on increasing angles.

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