Saturday, August 30, 2008

Laddie's Third Junior Ribbon

Summary. On way from motel to Hunt Test venue:
  • 120-yard blind (Laddie)
  • 160-120-yard double-blind (Lumi)
  • Fetch game with canvas dummy since I didn't bring ducks (Laddie)
At Greater Pittsburgh Labrador Retriever Club Hunt Test, in Grove City, PA:
  • Senior land series (Lumi)
  • Senior land blind (Lumi)
  • Senior land honor (Lumi)
  • Junior land series (Laddie)
  • Junior water series (Laddie)
Senior Land Series. A land double that one of the other competitors called tight, not as tight as some Lumi has practiced on. Left to right within 30°:
  • #2 (go bird): 60 yards, thrown right to left, into thick cover, with a small pond and the blind planter's holding blind to the left, small trees and the thrower's holding blind to the right, the fall for #1 further to the right, and a large pond behind
  • #1 (memory bird): 40 yards, thrown right to left into thick cover, with the #2 thrower's blind to the left, woods and the #1 thrower's holding blind to the right, and a large pond behind
On #2, Lumi had a big hunt. She ranged left, back, and right, including crossing the mid-line between #2 and #1. I did not call to her or whistle, and eventually she picked #2 up. I learned later that when she crossed to mid-line between the two marks, that was considered a "switch" and she was disqualified, but we were not told immediately, and I didn't understand that rule at the time, so we went ahead and ran #1.

On #1, Lumi ran past the fall to the pond, so I handled her. She did not handle well at first, slipping a couple of whistles and refusing casts (going the wrong way), but soon she did come under control and handled the last WSCs well, finding the bird and delivering it nicely.

I virtually never handle Lumi on marks, first because she is an outstanding marker and rarely needs help, and second because in those rare instances, I'd rather have the thrower help her to reinforce the ideas that the gun station provides a useful clue to where the fall is and that the thrower is her friend. Because running the memory bird in this series bore little resemblance to the handling situations we have practiced so much, I was not surprised that Lumi did not handle well at first, and was pleased when, after a few refusals, did begin to respond well.

Lumi Hunting on the Double. Given Lumi's skillful marking, including her excellent marking at last weekend's tests, it's somewhat surprising that she had difficulty on today's land double. Although it had quite a few distracting factors, I attribute at least some of her difficulty to our high concentration on handling work the last few weeks. Alice explained to me that often, when you concentrate on handling with a dog, her marking deteriorates. Alice attributes this to the dog losing some of her focus, as she's also thinking, "Will Daddy blow the whistle?" When I've discussed this with others, they've also said that the dog loses some confidence, or becomes somewhat dependent on the handling. Since Lumi didn't pop or even respond at first when help was offered, I'd say Alice's explanation explains the data points better in this case.

Senior Land Blind. Although Lumi did not pass the land series, the judges were kind enough to allow Lumi to run the blind:
  • 60-yard blind (duck), 30° to the left of #2 of the land series, through open area at first, then into lightly wooded area
Lumi went out nicely, started to veer left at a fork in the wooded area, responded well to a WS and angle-back cast, and broke into a run that took her past the duck, which was behind a clump of cover accessible only on the left. As she ran past it, I blew a WS as what Alice calls a "safety whistle", then a few tweets as what I now consider a "find-it-pick-it-up-come-in" whistle. Lumi spun around, found the bird, and brought it back. I considered it an excellent job of handling.

Senior Land Honor. Since Lumi had not passed the land series, the judges requested that Lumi honor the next dog on lead. Lumi watched with interest but made no attempt to break. I attribute that to some combination of three reasons:
  • No flyers at this Hunt Test.
  • Lumi was on lead.
  • We had practiced honoring flyers with a clipwing duck twice last week.
Next weekend, Lumi is entered in a WCX, where she'll have to honor a flyer off-lead to pass. If she's successful, then perhaps reason (3) was the operative one in today's test.

Junior Land Series. Two singles, left to right within 90°:
  • #1: 60 yards, thrown left to right into thick cover, a large cluster of goose decoys mid-way on the line to the fall
  • #2: 70 yards, thrown right to left into thick cover, same cluster of goose decoys to get thru
Running as #11, Laddie had no problem with this series, nailing both marks. However, only 4 of the first 14 dogs passed this series, and only 24 of 38 overall, so apparently it caused problems for some of the junior dogs.

Junior Water Series. Two singles, left to right within 90°:
  • #1: 30 yards, thrown left to right into clear water, with thick bed of lily pads on first 10 yards of swim to the fall
  • #2: 60 yards, thrown right to left into clear water, with same thick bed of lily pads on first 10 yards of swim
Laddie had great send-outs, but played with the bird during one of the returns. Responded after I called "here" several times. I considered using our new "fetch" cue, but we haven't proofed it for this situation and I didn't want to risk rehearsing a refusal.

Test Statistics. The statistics on the Junior test:
  • 40 entries
  • 38 dogs ran
  • 24 dogs passed the land series
  • 22 dogs passed the water series and qualified

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blinds, Fetch Drill, Marks and Blinds

[Note: Lumi, Laddie, and I continue to train on the same sort of schedule as always, about twice a day, and at the same venues. In addition, I've kept training notes on most sessions. But thanks to new responsibilities in my consulting practice, I have had to make choices about what activities to drop from my schedule, and keeping up this blog was one activity I found it necessary to curtail. Perhaps someday I'll have time to go back and update the blog with my old notes.]


In the morning at Oaks Area 3:
  • Series A. Double blind at 100-140 yards, OD with no markers (both dogs)
  • Series B. Fetch drill (Laddie only)
In the afternoon at Sundown Road Park:
  • Series C. Two marks and three blinds (both dogs)
  • Series D. Fetch drill (Laddie only)
Background. Recently, I interpreted a remark from another trainer as the recommendation that I not combine marks and blinds in a single series too often, so that the dogs could focus on one kind of retrieve at a time. I've been following that recommendation for several days, setting up most series for Lumi as single or multiple land blinds.

However, when I mentioned the idea to Alice Woodyard in private correspondence, she wrote back disagreeing, and saying that in fact no single drill was more beneficial to a Hunt Test competitor than marks and blinds combinations.

I had also stopped running Laddie on blinds recently, since he's competing at Junior level and does not require handling at that level. Again, Alice cautioned that his understanding of the concepts we've worked so hard to train would decline. Since Laddie already has the first two ribbons, and could complete his Junior Hunter title as soon as this weekend, he'll need handling again almost immediately.

As a result, I decided to reverse both of those trends immediately, and this afternoon set up a relatively easy combination in Series C to try both dogs out on.

Series C. Left to right within a 120° angle:
  • #4: 100-yard blind, OD and SF
  • #3: 70-yard mark, WD from RL, TTL of #4
  • #5: 150-yard blind, OD and SF
  • #2: 100-yard mark, WD from RL, TAL of #1
  • #1: 120-yard blind, OD and SF
Laddie slipped one sit and I walked out to him. He saw me coming and ran to me, put his head in his slip lead, and we returned to the SL. He didn't slip another whistle. Perhaps the walk-out will work as well on Laddie as it has on Lumi.

Lumi took one WSC on #1. She lined #4 and #5. Apparently this set up was too easy for her, though it may still have benefited her by refreshing her of a common requirement: to drive past the old falls of marks when sent out on a blind slanting at an angle from those old falls.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Land-water-land Marks, Offline Drill

Summary. In morning at Cheltenham, with Ray throwing marks:
  • Series A. LWL mark (Laddie)
  • Series B. Offline drill, 30-yard segments (90 yards total) (Lumi)
  • Series C. Same as A, different location
  • Series D. Same as B, different location
  • Series E. LWL preparation and LWL marks (Laddie)
  • Series F. LWL blind and cheater (Lumi)
  • Series G. LWL preparation and LWL marks (Laddie)
An hour and a half later at Sundown Park:
  • Series H. Offline drill, 35-yard segments (140 yards total) (Lumi only)
  • Series I. Truncated offline drill, 35-yard segments (140 yards total) (Lumi only)
Afternoon session: [to be added]

Series A, B, C, D, E, F, G. With Hunt Tests planned for both dogs in three weeks, I wanted to concentrate n what I think are their weaknesses for the tests.:
  • With Lumi in Senior, I think her primary weakness is slipped whistles and refused casts on land blinds. She may have similar problems on water blinds. Her other weakness is that she tends to look away from the first throw of a double before it's down, especially if the go bird is a flyer. Lumi is uncomfortable with debris in water, too, if that comes up in the tests. And it's possible she might break when marking or honoring a flyer.
  • With Laddie in Junior, I think his primary weakness is his discomfort entering the water on returns with a bird. The worst cases seem to be with relatively big water and when a thrower is involved.
On Series A, Ray threw a duck for Laddie as an LWL. Laddie played with the duck and did not respond to recall. I walked around the pond, put him on lead, and quietly walked him to the van. A terrible way to start the morning.

On Series B, Lumi ran a 120-yard offline drill in rough terrain, with mounds, trees, and high cover, to perfection.

Series C was a carbon copy of Series A in a different location. I began to wonder if we'll have to forget about running Laddie in Junior this month.

Series D was another 120-yard offline drill for Lumi, in a different and similarly difficult location. She slipped a whistle and refused 2-3 casts at 90 yards, was intent on getting to the bird at the end of the BL.

For Series E, I worked with Laddie on building up to LWL marks, with the following sequence on a 20-yard channel crossing:
  1. WD thrown in water.
  2. WD thrown to water at opposite shoreline.
  3. WD thrown onto far shore.
  4. Duck thrown in water.
  5. Duck thrown to water at opposite shoreline.
  6. Duck thrown onto far shore.
  7. Duck thrown by Ray with gunshot for LWL.
Laddie retrieved every mark nicely. Yay!

For Series F, to give Lumi some water work, I set up a pair of retrieves from the same SL:
  • #1: An LWL blind (pigeon) in a channel's S-curve. Score: A
  • #2: A long open water retrieve swimming along a shoreline and past a point. Score: A
For Series G, I again ran some preparation and then a practice LWL with Laddie:
  1. I threw a WD across a 30-yard channel for an LWL.
  2. Ray threw a WD with gunshot for an LWL.
  3. Ray threw a pigeon with gunshot for an LWL.
Again Laddie retrieved well on every throw. Great progress.

Series H, I. I wanted to focus a bit more on the concept of handling rather than challenging terrain with Lumi, so the dogs and I went to Sundown Park after I dropped Ray off at home. Since we were working on mowed lawn, we used slightly longer, 35-yard segments rather than the 30-yard segments we used a Cheltenham.

In the first drill, Lumi did great on the first two retrieves, needed a voice cue on the third.

In the second drill, which I set up in a new location and direction, I skipped the first two retrieves and only had Lumi run the 105-yard handling retrieve and the 140-yard non-handling retrieve. On the handling retrieve, she refused the first cast but responded to both WSs and took the second cast nicely.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Offline Drill

Summary. Morning session at Sundown Park:
  • Series A. Offline drill, 15-yard segments (60 yards total) (both dogs)
  • Series B. Offline drill, 20-yard segments (80 yards total) (both dogs)
  • Series C. Offline drill, 25-yard segments (100 yards total) (Lumi)
  • Series D. Offline drill, 30-yard segments (120 yards total) (Lumi)
Afternoon session at neighborhood lacrosse field:
  • Series E. Offline drill, 30-yard segments (120 yards total) (Lumi)
  • The offline drill is so easy for Laddie that I felt his training benefited more from waiting in the car, building motivation, than from running Series C and D with us.
  • Scores on the morning sessions: Laddie: A, A. Lumi: A, A, A, C. She was slow on her last whistle at 90 yards.
  • Based on Alice's reply to my post on the offline drill, I modified the drill for Series E: I did not scent the BL, and I placed the ODs 15 yards from the BL. The extra spacing eliminated Lumi running to the ODs when not cast there. Her grade on Series E: C. On the third retrieve, she sat when whistled, but refused the cast to the OD and turned back to retrieve the duck at the end of the BL. I whistled again but she ignored it. I decided that her performance was reasonable for a dog at her level and said "good girl" when she got back with the bird. Then I sent her again, and this time she handled well to the last OD, knowing that a bird at the end of the BL was no longer available.

Alice's Reply to "Offline Drill"

[Alice Woodyard's reply on the PositiveGunDogs list to my post on the Offline Drill:]

I also have seen what you describe, "many times."

This situation came up in our (4Q) training group a few days ago, for example. I asked the pro leading the group if he corrects the dog for just picking up the bird in this situation rather than answering the whistle and sitting there in the presence of the bird, awaiting further casting. He said "Mostly, No."

That pro has trained multiple National Open and National Amateur-qualified retrievers.

I am an 8-point AKC judge for both the major and minor stakes, and I can tell you that I would not ever score that pick-up as a cast refusal. Or score it down in any way. There are too many other things to score in a blind and retriever field work is not like the AKC obedience ring where the "obedience" requirements are that cut and dried.

I believe if you query a group of experienced judges of the championship stakes as to whether they agree with your friend's conclusion that it should be scored down as a cast refusal, you will not find all that many takers. I.e., most judges do not care if a dog does not sit on the final "safety" whistle that happens when the dog is adjacent to the bird, and just goes over and scoops the bird. IMO if a judge feels he needs to be taking points off for something so minor, they have not set enough blind and need to work on that side of their judging skill set.

I agree with you that every trainer, including 2Q trainers, should work to maintain the reliability of their retrieves' responses to the Sit Whistle. However a whistle (both the Sit and the Come-In types) that happens on top of a known bird takes on the meaning to the dog "you're there, pick it up" 999 times out of 1000. IOW, every time we hit a safety whistle at the end of the blind and the dog picks up the bird (which is what we want to have happen) we are "undoing" any training to the contrary. Big time. To be so obsessed with control as to try to over ride that natural response in a retriever -- assuming he's a normally compliant dog who does not take advantage (with a confirmed rogue you might want to make a big deal about a tiny infraction as an "attitude adjuster") -- is, IMO, well, to sort of forget why we train these dogs. This isn't the same set of precision values as we train on for, say, the obedience ring.

Also remember that probably 8 out of 10 times when running cold blinds, the WS means "don't go there." Often it co-means "don't do what you're thinking about" (e.g., succumb to a factor or diversion). That is because it is blown when the dog is heading somewhere we find not to be optimum. We blow the WS and subsequently ask for a different heading. So do you really want to train your dogs to be so obedient to a WS when the dog is on top of a bird that they put the non-natural "Sit" ahead of the natural "Pick it up." One risk you run is that you'll blow the WS when they are at the bird (and they know it) and because of the emphasis on "sit no matter what," they figure WS meant "don't go there," so they then interpret your next cast as "leave it alone" and they run off somewhere else, requiring multiple WS's and casts to straighten things out (often dog-visibility is dicey at the end of a blind, and it is the last place you want to be needing a bunch of extra casts--you can lose!
sight of the dog and then it can be curtains for the team). I don't see Laddie voting this way -- LOL -- but it is a risk for a highly compliant dog like Lumi who often "takes Daddy literally" (this tendency in her might be why she seemed to fall apart in your "unnatural act" drill whereas Laddie took it in stride).

If it bothers you while running the blind if your dog slips the final safety whistle to pick up the obvious bird, then you can "cover" the event with a quick toot toot (come-in whistle) right after the sit whistle. This quick come-in whistle obsoletes the prior direction to sit so the dog has not "disobeyed" anything.

To answer the question you ask in your final paragraph, quoted above, the change I'd make is that I would NOT scent the back line by dragging a bird to the blind, because it trains in an unwanted behavior that is very difficult to train out, even for the 4Q trainer. That is the behavior of dropping the nose while running a blind and trying to trail to the blind. Dogs which learn to succeed doing this learn that they do not need their handlers' casts or whistles to help them find the bird on a blind. They are all genetically programmed to prefer "nose data" to other data anyway, and your drill rewards them for this, in the context of a BLIND where they should be thinking any way BUT "nose data." Retrievers who "go into hunt mode" on blinds are quick to ignore the control input from the handler. It is a short step from "hunting your way to the blind" to slipping all whistles when at a distance from the handler, because they believe "they can do it more efficiently with their Goo!
d Ol' Nose. Also, Katie Bar The Door if you ever need to handle this dog off the blind planter's trail!! Fergeddit. Such a dog will believe that "trail scent is the way to the bird." So, as a trainer, I would NOT be looking to ever intentionally scent the way to a blind. I think you can get good results from your drill without this element and in any event, it presents far more negatives than it contributes positives to the drill.

The other response I would make is that one strong reason dogs slip the safety whistle when they are on top of the bird is that they SEE a bird. This is a huge cue to retrieve it. LOL. If you want to train your dogs that Whistle Sit Means Sit No Matter What, then you want to incorporate the cue of the visual at some point. IOW, can you sit your dog 2 yards from a visible white bumper and cast it away from the bumper?

Can you set a blind in a cross wind and handle the dog off a "poison" (= not intended to be retrieved) bird placed off to the side, upwind, that is 50% of the way to the blind, after he winds the side bird?

A final comment: I think the observation you make in the final paragraph I pasted above is terrific. It is totally logical. For some reason it doesn't happen as much as logic would predict, in the real world. I suspect experienced blind running retrievers tend to somehow grok when they are "nearing the end of the blind." So a gawk at this time (which is often rewarded by seeing a bird or the cues related to a bird like a blind marker or mashed cover) does NOT have the general effect of degrading all responsiveness to sit whistles. The mystery of how these dogs knwo they're nearing the end of blinds eludes me, but is one more example of how trained dogs learn to think like dog tyrainers (maybe the trainer subtly changes how he blows his whistle, the cadence of casts, or something...)

Just a few thoughts,

Alice Woodyard

The Offline Drill

[Posted to PositiveGunDogs list]

A couple of weeks ago, one of the advanced Labs we train with was a couple of yards offline as he came even with a blind. The handler whistled sit, but as the dog was turning, he spotted the bird, so instead of sitting, he ran to it, picked it up, and headed back to the handler. The handler didn't seem to be concerned about it.

I've seen other dogs do that exact same thing, including my own. This time, I decided to ask about it.

I got on the walkie-talkie and asked no one in particular, "When that dog didn't sit on the whistle, would that count against you in an event?"

A voice on the radio came back, "If I was judging it would. That's a refused cast."

That's what I was thinking, too.

I think it's especially bad with my 2Q dogs, because unlike the other trainers in the group, I don't don't use an ecollar to counter the self-reinforcing effect of learning that the whistle means, "Oh, I don't have to sit, I can just look around and see if the bird is nearby."

Not only that, but the whistle sit (WS) in general is also compromised, because as far as the dog knows, any time you whistle, the bird might be nearby.

One idea would be to refrain from whistling if you figured the bird was close enough that the dog was likely to find it without the whistle, but you can't do that. The dog might keep on going, disappear over a crest, and you've had it.

When the dog is offline, you've got to whistle, and the dog has got to sit, no matter how close the bird is.

I'm not sure why the 4Q trainers I train with often don't seem to be worried about it, but I decided I needed to address this situation with my dogs. So I designed a drill specifically to train the WS when the bird is nearby. I call it the Offline Drill:

1. Choose a segment distance. So far, I've used 15-, 20-, 25-, and 30-yard segments with my dogs.
2. Place a lining pole at the startline (SL), and another lining pole four (4) segments away. The line between the two poles is your backline (BL), since that's the line the dog will run on each time you cue "back". Our BLs so far have been 60, 80, 100, and 120 yards.
3. With the dog not watching you, walk from the SL down the BL. At the end of the first segment, turn 90 degrees right, walk 5 yards, and place a surveyors flag (SF) (or use flagging tape) and an orange dummy (OD).
4. Go back to the BL, walk another segment, and this time turn left, walk 10 yards, and place another SF and OD.
5. Go back to the BL, walk one more segment, and this time turn right again, walk 15 yards, and place a third SF and OD.
6. Bring the dog to the SL and put her in a sit/stay.
7. With the dog watching, walk down the BL with a bird, dragging the bird along the grass to scent the BL. Walk all four segments until you get to the lining pole at the end of the BL, check to make sure the dog is still watching you, and toss the bird in the air so that it lands at the base of the pole.
8. Walk back to the dog, line her up down the BL, and send her on "back". Everything you've done should keep her running straight on the BL. When she gets to the end of the first segment, blow WS, cue "over" to the right. Dog retrieves first OD.
9. Send the dog down the BL again. When she gets to the end of the second segment, blow WS, cue "over" to the left. Dog retrieves second OD.
10. Send the dog down the BL a third time. When she gets to the end of the third segment, blow WS, cue "over" to the right. Dog retrieves third OD.
11. Finally send the dog down the BL one last time and let her retrieve the bird without stopping her.
12. Next session, reverse the directions of the three ODs.

As you can see, this drill specifically practices the situation where the dog is headed in the right general direction but passes the blind a little offline. Ideally, you'd have the second and third ODs as close to the BL as the first one, but I've found that my dogs just run to the ODs if I don't keep them further from the BL the further out they are from the SL. Also ideally, the dog would have more non-handling retrieves mixed in, and I wouldn't be surprised if an inexperienced dog became de-motivated by a drill that had such a high ratio of handling to non-handling retrieves. However, the downside of more non-handling retrieves would be more time, and more wear and tear on the dog. With temps in the 90s around here these days, I look for ways to keep our sessions as short as possible.

In any case, my dogs seem to like this drill, and it's been a real education for me. The first time I set it up, I tried 30-yard segments (120 yards total) and Laddie (the 15-month old) aced it. Then I tried Lumi (the 4-year-old) and she fell apart. So I tried reducing the segment lengths, and had to get down to 15 yards before she was confident on the third WS (at 45 yards). Now, as we've continued to play this game, she's starting to gain more confidence in those "over" cues, and we're back up to 30-yard segments, and reliable WSs at 90 yards even with a bird nearby. I plan to take it up to at least 60-yard segments (240 yards total). For all I know, Laddie could do it right now, but I'll have to take my time with Lumi.

To me, the Offline Drill is a general WS and casting drill, but heavily tilts toward that situation that so many dogs don't do well, which is to sit even when the bird turns out to be just off to the side. Another feature of the drill is that it teaches the dog that your directions may NOT be consistent with what her nose is telling her, in this case the scent trail along the BL. I also like it because as you increase segment length from session to session, instead of the WSs getting steadily further and further away, every session begins with a couple of WSs that are closer than the furthest one from the previous session. I'd think it would be a good drill for some of those advanced dogs, though I guess the 4Q trainer, if he decides to train for the offline situation, is more likely to address the issue simply with the ecollar, as in, "Sit means sit."

Sometimes you design a drill intending to train one lesson, and you inadvertently also train a different lesson that runs counter to your goals. For all I know, this is one of those cases. If any of you see a flaw in the drill, where I'm inadvertently training my dogs something I don't want to be training them, I'd appreciate the feedback.

Lindsay, with Lumi & Laddie (Goldens)
Laytonsville, Maryland

Friday, August 1, 2008

Land Blinds

Summary. Morning at Brook Knoll (overgrown lawn, rolling terrain):
  • Series A. Quadruple blind (both dogs)
Afternoon at Oaks Area 2 (thick, clumpy cover — high in patches — surrounded by woods, highly distracting with deer scent, birds, groundhogs, etc.), with Nate helping:
  • Series B. Marks and offline drill (both dogs)
  • Series C. Offline drill (Lumi)
  • Series D. Offline drill (Lumi)
  • Series E. Offline drill (Lumi)
The Offline Drill. I described the offline drill in a post the next day.

Series A. A quadruple blind set up as follows:
  • #1: 30-yard blind (WD)
  • #2: 130-yard blind (duck)
  • #3: 30-yard blind (WD)
  • #4: 140-yard blind (duck)
Both dogs completed all blinds, but Lumi slipped several whistles on #4. That led to my designing the offline drill, which we used in the afternoon.

Series B. A combination of marks, thrown by Nate, and the offline drill, within a 135° angle:
  • #1: 100-yard mark (duck)
  • #2-4: offline drill with 30-yard segments
  • #5: 200-yard mark (duck)
Laddie's grade: A

Lumi's grades: B on the marks (she needed a small hunt on #5), F on the offline drill (repeated slipped whistles and refused casts)

Series C. Since Laddie had done so well on Series B and temps were in the high 80s, I put Laddie in the van while I worked with Lumi on a some shorter handling drills. Moving to a different location and direction, I tried Lumi on an offline drill with 20-yard segments. Grade: F

Series D. Using another location and direction, I tried Lumi on an offline drill with 15-yard segments. Grade: F

Series E. Using yet one more location and direction, I tried Lumi on another offline drill with 15-yard segments. Grade: D (still unsatisfactory, but showing improvement on responsiveness to whistles and casts)

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