Tuesday, September 30, 2008


AM: Oaks Area 2

With limited time, I decided to set up a drill to help the dogs get comfortable with straight Back cues, an area that seems to have confused both of them at times lately. I set up a pinball drill in the shape of a crankshaft, with five SFs and an OD at the last one, which was 130 yards from the SL. Both dogs did fine.

The advantage to drills like this is that no matter how well the dog lines, the dog still needs to handle well to complete the retrieve.

One possible disadvantage is that it might be demotivating to be sent the wrong direction, but I haven't seen that with either dog. In fact, I think it's a valuable lesson, because sometimes the dog thinks the direction chosen is the correct one even if it's not the one I intend, so the dogs need to learn to stay in control even if they're certain they know where they're going.

The other disadvantage is more certain, and that is that the dogs always spot the target that I'm handling them to almost immediately, which presumably teaches them only to handle toward a visible target. It's unfortunate that the SFs are not less visible to them. I think I can address that problem by stretching out the distances and plan to do that next time we work on this.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Blinds, Water Retrieves

AM: Twin Ponds

Series A. Triple land blind, 40-150-190 yards. Laddie, running first, did great. Lumi did fine on the short blind, but had considerable trouble on #2, and a great deal of trouble on #3.

It's difficult to know what to do. After two frustrating sessions of land blinds recently, Lumi needs an opportunity to rebuild her motivation for this skill. Somehow I need to find a way to make the set-ups easy enough for her to do well and have fun, but not so easy that she can line every blind.

Maybe it's also time to start running Lumi and Laddie differently on blinds, with Laddie running longer distances and then moving up the start line for Lumi.

Series B. This was a dozen or so water retrieves run from different points around the lower pond. Since we were training alone, none were marks thrown by a thrower, but none were strictly blinds either, since all were reasonably visible from each start line. They exercised a number of elements in various combinations:
  • A number of the retrieves were LWL or LWLWL, giving Laddie an opportunity to work on his weakness of retrieving both ducks and dummies in which he needs to make the transition from land into wide spans of water on his returns. Though his pick-ups and impulse to return were not as crisp as I want them to be, he didn't maroon on any of these retrieves, nor even delay any significant amount of time. Since Lumi was also a bit slow on her pick-ups and turns back toward the water, both dogs need work on that.
  • A number of retrieves required going between outcroppings of deadwood or vegetation in the stickpond, and also thru a cluster of decoys. A few retrieves required climbing over a floating log to get to the dummy and climbing back over on the return. Lumi has never climbed over a floating log before, always negotiating around them in the past, so I think it was good training for her, hopefully helping her feel more in control of them and more comfortable around them in the future. Laddie seemed to enjoy these retrieves, and in some cases intentionally detouring a little so that he could navigate thru tighter spaces.
  • Several of the retrieves were "cheaters", requiring the dog to swim straight and stay in the water rather than veer left or right a few yards to reach land and run the bank. Both dogs performed well without handling on some of those, and both dogs responded to handling when needed to handle them away from shore and keep them swimming in the channel. However, neither dog is yet consistent enough responding to WSs in water, so that's something we need to work on.
PM: Oaks Area 2

Series C. Double blind, 110-140 yards, OD, no markers. Both dogs did well. I guess the best thing for Lumi is to try it at the original distance first, be quick to move up if she has trouble.

Series D. Pick-up speed drill with ducks. Both dogs did well. I'm not sure I can expect this drill on land to carry over to water series, but I don't think it hurts.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Water and Land Retrieves

AM: Cheltenham

In a soaking rain, the dogs ran a dozen or so retrieves designed to develop their comfort level with trouble spots. For Laddie, the focus was on LWL retrieves with relatively long swims, 70 and 90 yards. For Lumi, the focus was on swimming thru various segments of the property's stickpond. Both dogs also ran a triple land blind of 60-180-210 yards.

Midday: Oaks Area 2

With the sun out, the dogs ran another triple land blind, this time of 60-90-130 yards. I anticipated that they'd have difficulty with the terrain since they had trouble in this same location yesterday, but at these shorter distances, both dogs did reasonably well. Laddie slipped one whistle, resulting in a walk-out, but handled well the rest of the time. Lumi, in addition to handling well on the first two blinds, lined the long one.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Marks and Blinds

AM: Oaks Area 2

[Fortunately, the three Oaks areas have been mowed. The terrain is now low cover, uneven footing covered in the cut grass. Apparently this field is occupied by an unusual amount of wildlife, because both dogs have always acted highly distracted when we train here, including today.]

Series A. Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #1: 130-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2 (memory-bird of double): 100-yard poorman mark, duck thrown left to right from a stickman
  • #5: 250-yard blind, OD in front of large boulder; line to blind had a stand of trees on the left, and a fenced parking area plus a stand of trees on the right
  • #4: 210-yard blind, OD in front of a tree set back from trees flanking both sides
  • #3 (go-bird of double): 60-yard poorman mark, duck thrown right to left from a stickman over the line to #4
Both dogs did fine on the #1 and the marks.

Laddie fell apart on #4. On the first send out, after much handling, he spotted #5 and retrieved it. When I sent him back out, it took dozens of WSCs to direct him to #4. He was nearly 100% reliable on his WSs, with two walk-outs when he didn't sit. But he repeatedly interpreted left and right backs as left and right overs or angle backs. I tried many variations but never found one that he would cast him correctly. Eventually, I walked up 100 yards and was able to handle him to the blind from there.

Lumi did fine on #1 and the two marks. On #4, she was responsive on every WS and required only 3-4 angle-backs which she interpreted correctly though a little off on the angles. Lumi fell apart on #5 as Laddie had on #4, again requiring dozens of WSCs before she got on the correct line. In Lumi's case, she was also nearly 100% reliable on her WSs, but she had her mind set on a target to the left. Every time I'd cast, she'd start in the direction I cast her, then veer around toward the left. I used quick whistles the moment she'd veered, and I tried partial come-ins, complete come-ins, using Over instead of an angle-back, and so forth, but she made little headway on the correct line before she'd veer again. It took many casts before she finally got on the correct line and stayed there.

Series B. Because both dogs had had problems with blinds in this highly distracting field, I placed another OD for each of them in front of one tree in a line of them, and ran the dogs to that blind from 180 yards away on the other side of the field. The dogs were running approximately the opposite direction as they had for #5 in Series A.

I tried Laddie first and again he fell apart. After about three poor WILs each accompanied by poor responses to my casts (though good WSs), I put him in the van and ran Lumi.

Lumi did fine on this blind, taking two WSCs responsively and accurately.

I then took Laddie back out of the van and walked up 80 yards toward the blind. When I sent him, he lined it. While that's always nice to see, we still didn't get any high-quality practice casting at distance in this particular session.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Drills, Marks and Blinds

AM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

Series A. Pinball drill, with five SFs in the shape of a backwards question mark, an OD at the last one. Course was in a 150x150 yard square. Both dogs did well, with great enthusiasm.

Series B. Pick-up speed drill with ducks. Lumi was a little slow on first pick-up, resulting on me walking out. Excellent performance on next two pick-ups. Laddie had fast, enthusiastic pick-ups on all three throws

PM: Nearby Estate

[Owners have generously given permission for me to train the dogs on their property.]

Series C.
Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #3 (go-bird of double): 40-yard mark, duck thrown right to left from line to #1, with pistol shot
  • #1: 80-yard blind to tree line of woods, OD, no marker
  • #2: (memory-bird of double): 80-yard mark, duck thrown right to left from line to #5, with pistol shot
  • #5: 170-yard blind down steep hill to tree line of woods, OD, no marker
  • #4: 130-yard down side of steep hill to tree line of woods, OD, no marker
I ran Laddie first, then Lumi. Both dogs had solid performances. For example, Lumi had speedy pick-ups on the marks and was responsive on all WSCs. Her casts are not always as accurate as Laddie's, but they're serviceable and improving.

The woods behind #5 have a creek where Laddie likes to cool off. During his series, he picked up #5 and turned toward the creek, but came running when I called "here". As soon as he came to heel and delivered the dummy, I ran with him toward the creek and called "Yay! Go play!", and off he went for a swim. I sat on the hillside listening to him splashing, and soon saw him running out of the woods and back up the hill to me uncued. That was good to see.


AM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

Series . Pinball drill, with five SFs in the shape of a backwards question mark, an OD at the last one. Course was in a 150x150 yard square. Both dogs did well, with great enthusiasm.

Series B. Pick-up speed drill with ducks. Lumi was a little slow on first pick-up, resulting on me walking out. Excellent performance on next two pick-ups. Laddie had fast, enthusiastic pick-ups on all three throws.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Land-water-land Marks, Blinds

Park Heights

Often on Thursdays, the dogs and I train with Bob Hux and one of his Hunt Test groups on a field training property near Baltimore. Today, we went to that property planning to train with the group, but as it turned out, we were the only ones there. I used the time to focus on areas of particular concern with Lumi and Laddie.

Series A. 80-yard poorman mark with a 70-yard swim across a pond. I set up a stickman, left both the dogs at a lining pole marking our start line, walked around the pond to the stickman to fire a pistol and throw a duck, and walked back to run one of the dogs. I ran Lumi first, then Laddie. In Lumi's case, I was concerned with pick-up speed, and she did nicely. In Laddie's case, I was concerned with his not marooning, and he didn't maroon.

Series B. Triple blind, 80-80-140 yards, OD/SF. The line to #1 passed close to a tree on the right, then across a ditch filled with thick, prickly cover. #2 was through medium cover, and #3 was through medium cover and up a hill. All three were in open meadow with no nearby landmarks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Drills, Marks and Blinds

AM: Sundown Road Park

Series A. Pinball drill, six SFs in question mark pattern in rectangle 120x80 yards, OD at last SF. Both dogs handled well.

Series B. Speed drill for Lumi picking up birds. Progress during session, but Lumi apparently needs more sessions before she will perform well on first pick-up of session.

PM: Glenwood Middle School

Series C. With new training partner Chris throwing, left to right within 120°:
  • #4: 140-yard blind, SF/OD, with line to blind passing close to a building and trees on the right, and across a road-width strip of land covered in straw that dogs were reluctant to cross
  • #2: 120-yard mark, RL/SM/WD
  • #5: 180-yard blind, SF/OD, very tight to #2 on left, past chain-link fence on right
  • #3: 40-yard mark, duck thrown by Chris, location marked by chair and whichever dog wasn't running on lead with Chris
  • #1: 60-yard blind, SF/OD
For both dogs, we proceeded as follows:
  1. Dog ran #1.
  2. I showed dog #3 with Chris standing to wave, then sitting.
  3. I lined dog up on #2, launched the dummy, and sent dog. The goal was for dog to stay focused on #2 even though dog was aware of Chris, other dog, and ducks at #3.
  4. Chris threw duck for #3 and dog ran that mark.
  5. Dog ran #4.
  6. Dog ran #5.
Laddie put on a clinic. He lined #1, did not swing his head on #2, nailed both marks with huge enthusiasm from beginning to end, took one perfect left angle-back at diagonal across straw path to #4, and lined #5.

Lumi needed more handling on the blinds, but she handled well on her WSs and her casts. She swung her head on #2, then veered toward #3 even though it hadn't been thrown when I sent her to pick up #2. I called her back to heel and sent her again, and this time she nailed #2. On #3, she had a slow pick-up so I walked out to bring her back to the SL without the bird, then sent her again and she had an excellent pick-up.

I didn't feel Laddie needed more work and it was almost dark, but I wanted to work on Lumi's head-swinging and pick-up speed a bit more. I moved the chair to the other side of the line to #2 and repeated the singles, again having Chris stand and wave, then sit, then sent the dog to the long mark, and finally had Chris throw so the dog could run the short mark. We did that sequence twice, and both times, Lumi kept her focus on #2 rather than swinging her head.

I also gave Lumi a few short poorman marks with a duck to work on her pick-up speed, walking out and not letting her retrieve if she played with the bird instead of picking it up immediately. When she was performing well on those short throws, we ran the marks and she had excellent pick-ups on those as well.

Lumi makes progress on her pick-up speed each session, but reverts by the next session. We'll know we're making real progress when even her first pick-up of the session is fast repeatedly, especially in group training and hopefully, eventually in events.

Hunt Test Training

Today the dogs and I trained, as we usually do on Tuesdays, with Bob Hux's Hunt Test training group at Cheltenham morning. We had a land series, a water series, and then a difficult water blind to try.

Land Series. The land series, left to right within 180°:
  • #3 (go-bird of a double): 100-yard mark, flyer duck, with fall in high cover
  • #2 (memory-bird of a double): 40-yard mark, duck, with fall in open area inside of high cover
  • #4: 100-yard blind, LP/duck, diagonally thru several strips of high cover
  • #1: 150-yard blind, LP/OD, over a road and thru variable cover
#2 and #3 were within a 30° angle;. #4 was 60° further to the right. #1 was another 90° to the right, the opposite direction of the flyer.


Lumi was the first dog to run. The first time I sent her on #1, she kept veering to her left, apparently convinced that I was sending her the wrong direction since all the action, especially the flyers, were to our left. I finally called her back to heel and re-sent her. This time she handled the blind easily.

I should have run this series as singles, since Lumi isn't likely ever to have trouble turning to a flyer when it's thrown as the go-bird in a double. As has happened before, the problem she has instead is taking her eye off the memory-bird too soon. In this case, the flyer circled around Bob before he could take a good shot at it, and when it went soaring off, Lumi broke and went after it. I'm afraid I don't remember what happened at that point, other than eventually we got back to the SL to try the series again.

The second time we ran it, Lumi turned her head after #2 was thrown, so even though I planned to run it as a double, I sent her immediately. With some confusion — I may have had to call her to heel and send her again — she got going the right direction and pinned the mark. Then she finally got to retrieve the flyer.

Her only problem on the marks was taking too long to pick up the birds. Considering the work we've been putting in on that skill, that was disappointing.

She had no trouble handling on #4.

Next came the honor, the one weakness in Lumi's skill set that I've felt is preventing us from having any chance of Lumi qualifying in a Senior test. I'd prearranged for the team behind us to be one that was getting a flyer. After Lumi completed #4, we took a position to the side of the new team's SL and, following a recent suggestion from Alice Woodyard, I had Lumi down as soon we took our place.

This was one of the most remarkable turn-arounds in Lumi's training history. It was as if a switch had been thrown. I didn't want to rely on having to talk to Lumi while she was honoring, even though it's permitted in Hunt Tests, and there was no need to. I simply stood at her flank as she lay there and watched her. Completely relaxed, she watched the birds thrown and the other dog sent as though from a gallery. She showed no hint of breaking.

The contrast from her previous efforts at honoring, when I asked her to honor from a sit and she was always on the verge of breaking when honoring a flyer and usually did, was dramatic. If honoring from a down always works this well, Lumi is now ready to honor in competition.

[Although Laddie also ran the land series, and both dogs ran a subsequent water series that Bob set up for the group, I didn't have time to record the details at the time and was unable to remember them later. I do recall that, despite the excellent practice LWL retrieves Laddie has performed lately, he marooned on the long mark in today's water series.]

Monday, September 22, 2008

Marks and Blinds, Marks

AM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field. Left to right within a tight, 60° angle:
  • #4: 120-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2: 100-yard mark, memory-bird of double, SM/RL/WD
  • #5: 150-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #3: 60-yard mark, go-bird of double, SM/RL/WD
  • #1: 80-yard blind, OD/SF
Laddie: Great job.

Lumi: Good job, but low energy and seemed to forget memory-bird #2, required handling.

PM: Oaks Area 3.
Three poorman doubles with ducks, ranging 10 to 80 yards, in cover varying from ankle to waist high with uneven footing.

Excellent, high-spirited work by both dogs, including Lumi's new, speedy pick-ups. Both dogs worked well without whistle or "here" cues.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Land and Water Marks and Blinds, Drills

AM: Cheltenham

General notes
  • Laddie: Great progress on LWL, no marooning, only a slight stall one time, on the relatively big water Series B (see below)
  • Lumi: Great progress on speedy pick-ups
  • Both dogs: Excellent session
Series A. While the dogs aired in the pre-dawn light, I set up the following series, left to right within a 45° angle:
  • #2: 250-yard poorman mark, to a duck thrown from a stickman; the line to the fall consisted of a long run thru variable cover includes several strips of chest high grass, over a road and a ditch, ending with a 35-yard swim across a pond edged with high cover and climbing onto the peninsula where the stickman and duck awaited
  • #1: 40-yard blind, OD/SF
We ran Series A from a mound. Laddie ran first, then Lumi. Both dogs lined #1, then did great on #2. On #2, both dogs veered left, since that's the way I had walked and returned when throwing their ducks, and both dogs responded well to a WS at 170 yards and a right angle back toward the correct entry to the pond.

Series B. A 90-yard swim to a duck and LP. Again, Laddie ran (swam) first, then Lumi. I had intended this as a sight blind, primarily to exercise Laddie's LWL return across big water, but the line across the pond was unintentionally directed into the sun, so both dogs needed one WSC to get them re-directed toward the point.

Series C. Offline drill with 40-yard segments:
  • #1: 40 yards Back, WS, left Over 30 yards to SF/OD
  • #2: 80 yards Back, WS, right Over 30 yards to OD behind a tree
  • #3: 120 yards Back, WS, left Over 30 yards to SF/OD
A tree was 160 yards away at the end of the backline, but because of the thick, high cover, I decided not to run any non-handling retrieves with either dog.

Laddie slipped one whistle, I responded with a walk-out. He had great responses after that.

Lumi did excellent work on Series C with no need for any walk-outs.

Series D. Short poorman double:
  • #1: a duck thrown across a ditch
  • #2: a duck thrown right in front of the mound we were running from
For Laddie, this was an LWL test and he did great. For Lumi, this was pick-up speed test and she did great.

Series E. Somewhat longer poorman double:
  • #1: a duck thrown across a ditch, the line to the fall between a tree on the right and a mound on the left
  • #2: a duck thrown 20 yards in front of the dog
Series E had the same objectives as Series D for both dogs, and both dogs did as well, except that on Lumi's go-bird, I raised the bar on acceptable delay and stopped her after just a moment of fidgeting. I walked out, took the bird, placed it back at the fall, brought her to heel at the SL and reran her. Great pick-ups after that on both birds.

PM: Sundown Park

Series F. On a sunny day with no wind and temps in the 80s, I wanted to give each dog a little more work without exerting them too much. I set up a pin-ball drill in the shape of a backwards question mark, with five markers (two LPs, three SFs) and an OD at the last marker. The set-up required the following casts:
  • 70 yards back from heel
  • 30 yards left angle-in
  • 60 yards right angle-back
  • 50 yards right over
  • 60 yards right angle-in
  • 40 yards come-in with OD
Both dogs did great.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blinds, Marks, Marks and Blinds

AM: Sundown Park Road

Series A. Triple blind, 120-160-180 yards, all OD, no markers. Blinds at a ball field are too easy for both dogs.

Series B. Poorman double, 120-80 yards, birds thrown from stickmen.

After that, I worked on Lumi's bird pick-up speed with poorman doubles of increasing distances, starting at just 20-15 feet. I had Laddie run them, too, but his pick-ups were already excellent.

Lumi's pick-up speed would improve in one context, but revert to being too slow when I changed location and distance, so we need more work on that.

PM: Brook Knoll

Series C: Planned as follows, left to right within 75°:
  • #4: 130-yard blind, SF/OD
  • #2 (memory-bird of poorman double): 80-yard mark, duck, thrown left to right from stickman
  • #1: 90-yard blind, SF/OD
  • #3 (go-bird of poorman double): 40-yard mark, duck, thrown right to left from stickman
  • #5: 230-yard blind, SF/OD
I ran Lumi first, but modified the sequence:
  • After #1, I threw a short poorman mark with a duck to the side, giving Lumi an opportunity to rehearse a fast pick-up. I call this an alternation drill.
  • I threw #3 as a single. When Lumi picked the bird up and then put it down again to start rearranging it in her mouth, I called out "nope" and walked out to slip on her lead. I tossed the duck back where it had been and walked Lumi back to the SL.
  • I took off Lumi's lead and sent her again. This time she picked the duck up and brought it straight back, to great celebration.
  • I threw #2 as a single, and she brought it straight back.
  • I sent her to #4, and she handled well to it.
  • Finally, rather than running her on #5, I threw #2-#3 as a double. She picked up and returned promptly with each bird. Good progress.
I ran Laddie next in the original planned sequence. He did great. I wasn't perfectly happy on #5 with the last WS at 230 yards, when he was 20 yards to the left of the blind. I'd have preferred that he sat and waited for me to cast him to the right. Instead, he swerved right as soon as I whistled and ran straight to the blind. But I guess I need to accept either dog slipping a whistle if the dog is able to go straight to the blind when it happens.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Offline Drill

AM: Oaks Area 3

Offline drill, with dog sent along same backline on every send-out:

#1: Back 120 yards to LP, WD
#2: Back 30 yards, WS, left Over 25 yards to LP, OD
#3: Back 60 yards, WS, right Over 30 yards to LP, OD
#4: Back 90 yards, WS, left Over 30 yards to LP, OD
#5: Back 120 yards to LP, WD

Conditions: Thick, waist-high cover, dogs barely visible, uneven footing, tough going. Only the LP for #1/#5, at the end of the backline, was outside the area of high cover and in low cover.

Laddie: Great send-out but a little hesitant returning on #1, spectacular handling on #2/#3/#4, he popped once on first send-out to #5, I called him to heel and sent him again, he ran to #5, then would not re-enter high cover to return and deliver. I put him in the van.

Lumi: I decided to skip #1 with Lumi. She did great on #2-#5.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Blinds, Marks and Blinds

AM: Sundown Road Park

Series A: Triple blind, 40-160-180 yards. OD, no markers. Too easy for both dogs.

Series B: Target drill: Back 60 yards to SF, Right Back 30 yards to SF, Left Over 50 yards to SF, OD. Both dogs were responsive on all WS and casts, though Laddie tended to overrun the targets.

PM: Fair Hill

Series C: Left to right within a 90∠:

#1: 60-yard blind, SF/OD on small, steep hill rising right to left
#2: 50-yard mark, RL/WD/SM
#5: 160-yard blind, SF/OD on small, steep hill rising front to back at edge of woods; line to the blind passed closely to the right of a grassy mound that acted as suction for both dogs
#3: 120-yard mark, RL/WD/SM
#4: 180-yard blind, SF/OD; line to the blind passed closely to the right of the #3 RLs

We ran from the top of a dirt mound. The area in front of us for the first 100 yards was calf-high cover with prickly weeds that significantly disturbed and slowed Lumi, though Laddie ran right thru it. Beyond that area was dusty, packed dirt with short, thin grass, virtually no weeds. The hill where #5 was planted was covered in thick grass.

Laddie did extremely well, lining #1, running #4 with one cast, and running #5 with two casts. He was slow sitting on one cast for #5 so I did a walk-out even though he sat by the time I'd taken a couple of steps. He then ran the identical path but this time sat promptly.

Although Laddie made it look easy, and Lumi had no trouble with the marks, her performance on #1 was poor, and completely unsatisfactory on #4 and #5. She had at least 20 WSs, and while she only slipped one of those, resulting in a walk-out, her casting was dreadful.

Lumi's WSs and casts were excellent as of 2-3 weeks ago, but now her casts seem to have deteriorated for some reason. I had hoped that running cold blinds would tend to correct the problem, since taking a wrong cast would not seem to be self-reinforcing. However, it seems that running cold blinds is not resulting in returning Lumi to her previous form, and that we need to run some drills that focus on casting. I think we'll go back to the offline drill for a few sessions to get some improvement, and then see if that carries over to cold blinds.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pinball Drill

I remember that Alice Woodyard suggested we never return to the double-T, and I seem to recall that Mike Lardy says the same thing on his video. I don't remember the rationale any more, possibly that that drill involves returning to old marks, something a more advanced dog should not be encouraged to do.

However, this morning I had a very small time window and I wanted to give both dogs some handling practice, focusing what little time we had on handling rather than retrieving. So I used a variation of the pinball drill, but not just angle-backs. I placed a surveyors flag (SF) 50 yards from a start line, and then surrounded that SF with four more SFs about 20 yards distant at the diagonals for angle-in and angle-back casts.

I then sent each dog from heel to the center flag, and then handled the dog to each of the other four flags, making a square. That let us practice several different kinds of casts in a short amount of time, and the dogs both seemed to be motivated, though confused that they could never find anything to retrieve.

I'm thinking that if we always use a different location and/or orientation, we run a variety of patterns, we increase the distances to the point that the SFs aren't visible until the dog gets close (so that they don't think the lesson is "look for the flag"), and if the dogs keep up their motivation even though they don't get to retrieve, this could be a good drill when time is too limited to run a multiple blind or mark-and-blind series.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Water Marks, Land Blinds

Twin Ponds. (Daybreak) A variety of LWL retrieves for both dogs, all with cheating challenges, some more difficult than the one Laddie marooned on at yesterday's WC.

Small Park off Norbeck Road. (Later in the morning) A double-blind, 160-210 yards, and a single blind, 240 yards. I seem to find it difficult to set up sufficiently challenging blinds in nearby locations. Laddie lined the 160-yard one, Lumi lined the 210-yard one. Both dogs were responsive to WS and casting even at 200+ yards.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lumi Earns WCX

Today, Lumi earned her Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA) Working Certificate Excellent (WCX).

For those not familiar with the WCX, it consists of a land series and a water series. The dog runs off lead in both, and therefore must be steady at the line for both series, and when honoring on the water series. The land series is a triple mark with upland birds, in this case pheasants. The last bird thrown, the go-bird, is a flyer, a real test for the dog's steadiness. The water series is a double mark with ducks, after which the dog honors the next dog.

Typically, some of the dogs entered pass and some do not. In today's test, in a driving rain with winds gusting to 40 MPH, nine dogs were entered and four passed both series. Lumi had outstanding marks on all five throws, never requiring a hunt, and was rock steady at the line for both series. Of the skills required for the WCX, Lumi had the most difficulty with honoring.

In this test, I think I might have helped a little. Our line mechanics involves me showing Lumi each gun station in reverse order of throwing before calling for the first throw, a procedure legal in Field Trials and the WC/WCX though not legal in Hunt Tests. After I showed Lumi the station for the go-bird, I turned toward the middle station but Lumi immediately swung her head to the first station. I patted my leg, put out an open hand to point, and turned my body several times, but she kept swinging her head back and forth between the left and right stations, never glancing at the middle station. I remember a judge once saying about the moment when you come to the line to set the dog up, "This is your time." I didn't want Lumi to have to wait for the gunshot to suddenly realize there was another station, especially given that only a second later they'd throw the flyer, and she'd need to turn her focus to that.

It finally occurred to me to have her switch positions, so I swung her around to heel position on the other side. I wasn't going to run her from there, but I thought it might break her rhythm on that head swinging, and fortunately it did. Immediately she spotted the middle station, her ears pricking up as if to say, "Hey, lookee there, another thrower!" Now she knew about all three of them. I turned to face the first station and called for the throw.

When Lumi ran, I had her pick up the go-bird first, then the first bird, and finally the middle bird. The Pro we train with had explained to me that that sequence minimizes the chances for the dog returning to an old fall on the latter two send-outs. Lumi's never run a competitive triple before and the strategy worked. She nailed all three marks.

Laddie also took a test today, for the Working Certificate (WC). For that test, the dogs are allowed to be on a slip cord until the judge releases them, so they are not required to be steady. They also are not required to honor another dog. The land and water series each consist of two single marks. In today's tests, the WC marks for both land and water were significantly shorter than the WCX marks.

Laddie had no difficulty with the land series, and even managed to return with the bird from the first water mark, which was thrown into light cover on the shoreline. But on the second water mark, which was thrown in the water a yard from shore, he picked up the bird and kept swimming, then marooned on the far shore.

Laddie has run that exact mark, as well as more difficult ones nearby and elsewhere, with me throwing the bird, then walking back to his side to send him. I'm not sure why he marooned in this situation, but clearly LWL retrieves remain a problem for him.

After giving Laddie ample time to respond to my whistles and calls, the judge had the thrower pick up the bird and throw it into the water. Laddie swam out to get the bird, almost turned back, but then responded to my whistle and brought the bird to me.

In retrospect, I handled Laddie all wrong in this situation. First of all, I should not have called him repeatedly. Even worse, I should not have reinforced his refused recall with the opportunity to get the bird. Instead, I should have taken this opportunity for a walk-out, by taking the foot bridge over to Laddie, putting on his leash, and walking him to the van. Not only would that have provided potential negative punishment for his marooning, but it would have done so in the context of a competitive event. A rare opportunity missed.

Nonetheless, Lumi's sterling performance made the difficult weather conditions worth every moment. Given the prevalence of ecollars in field training, especially with the more advanced dogs, I would guess that few 2Q dogs have ever earned a WCX. Lumi may be one of the first.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Marks and Blinds

Sundown Park in Morning

Conditions: Thick mist, #4-5 not visible from SL, #2 barely visible.

Left to right in 90 degree angle:
  • #4: 130-yard blind (OD/SF)
  • #3 (2 of 2): 110-yard mark (WD/RL)
  • #5: 150-yard blind (OD/SF)
  • #2 (1 of 2): 90-yard mark (WD/RL)
  • #1: 110-yard blind (OD/SF)
Both dogs did a great job, nailing marks and handling with excellent responsiveness

Brook Knoll in Afternoon

Triple blind (both dogs): 70-110-150 yards

Laddie had one slipped whistle, which I responded to with a walk-out. Great job before and after.

Lumi did great, including lining #1 and #3.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Offline Drill, Blinds, WC/WCX Prep, Steadiness Drill

Park Heights in Morning
  • Offline drill (Laddie): 20-yard segments, two OD/SF, three WD/LP (great job)
  • Double blind (Lumi): 100-200 yards, OD/SF (great job)
  • Triple blind (Laddie): 60-80-100 yards: He lined all of them, so no opportunity to see how his handling was coming
  • WCX-style land triple (both dogs) set up by Bob Hux
  • WCX-style water double (Lumi) set up by Bob Hux
  • Two LWL singles (Laddie): Good pickup and return on #1; Laddie played with duck as he entered water on #2, but eventually completed return
  • Steadiness drill: Lumi, Laddie, and another trainer's Golden: A third trainer generated excitement and threw while all dogs stood waiting, then one dog was sent
Lacrosse Field in Afternoon
  • Offline drill (Laddie): 30-yard segments, two OD/SF, three WD/LP (another great job)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Offline Drill

Lacrosse Field in Afternoon

Offline drill (Laddie): 15-yard segments, three OD/SF, one WD/LP.


DATE: 9-4-2008
TO: DogTrek and PositiveGunDogs
SUBJECT: Not one size fits all

In most of the drills that I've done with Lumi and Laddie, I've pretty much used the same version of the drill for both dogs.

But the last couple of days, I decided to start Laddie on a drill I previously designed and refined for Lumi to address the same problem, which was the dog becoming increasingly inclined to slip whistles and follow his/her own instincts for how to complete the retrieve. In Lumi's case, I later used the near miraculous walk-out technique to put on the finishing touches, but after a couple of sessions with Laddie, I felt that he didn't really understand the game well enough for the walk-out to work. If the dog doesn't know how to make walk-out stop happening, the risk is that he/she will begin to think that the walk-out itself is actually part of the game. Obviously I didn't want that to happen with Laddie.

So for Laddie, I thought I'd run him on the offline drill I described some time ago. Basically, you send the dog toward a well understood target, then stop the dog on the way out and cast him/her left or right to a target he/she hadn't previously noticed. Over a series of sessions, you increase the distances.

With Lumi, I started at 15-yard segments, with three orange dummies placed alternately to the left or right of the back line, and a white dummy placed at a lining pole at the end of the back line. On every send out, I'd send her straight down the back line toward the white dummy, but the first three times, I'd stop her with a whistle and cast her "over" to one of the orange dummies. Thus Lumi ran out 15 yards then one direction to retrieve the first orange dummy, 30 yards then the other direction for the second retrieve, 45 yards and the first direction for the third retrieve, and finally 60 yards without stopping to pick up the white dummy. Over several days, the segments increased 5 yards at a time until we got to 40 yard segments and a 160-yard back line. By that time, Lumi understood the game and its lesson -- stop when I whistle even if you think you know where you're going -- and we were able to go back to running real blinds.

Since that proved to be a useful drill for Lumi, I thought it would be good for Laddie's comprehension at this stage, too. Yesterday afternoon, I tried him with those initial 15-yard segments. It was an eye-opener.

First of all, Laddie's so fast that when I whistled at 15 yards, even though he responded quickly, he was already even with the next orange dummy. To get him to stop at 15 yards, I'd have to whistle almost as soon as I sent him.

But that wasn't the main problem. The main problem was that I have tremendous admiration for this dog's exuberance. When he runs, he runs with all his heart. Do I really want him slowing down because I might whistle him after only 15 or 30 yards? What's that going to do to his 300 yard blinds, and what's that going to do to his marks when I don't want him stopping at all?

Yet I can't just stretch out the drill, because like any dog (I assume), Laddie's responsiveness is best when he's closest, so that's where I need to rehearse him and then add distance gradually.

I had to face the fact that Lumi's version of the offline drill wasn't right for Laddie, and decided I needed a different version for him, though the lesson -- stop when I whistle -- was the same.

That's really all I wanted to say: one size sometimes doesn't fit all.

For curiosity, here's the version I came up with for Laddie:

* One orange dummy to one side, one to the other side, and three white dummies at the lining pole at the end of the back line.
* Send Laddie the same direction every time: to the end first (no stop), then handle him on the short orange dummy, then again all the way to the end, then handle him to the longer orange dummy, and finally all the way to the end again.

We ran the drill this morning with 20-yard segments (60-yards total), and Laddie did great, but still tended to overrun a bit. This evening we ran it with 30-yard segments (90-yards total) and he did even better. Great responsiveness on both the sits and the casts, and at those distances, not too much out of position on his overruns. Both times, the best part might have been watching his joy on those three non-handling blinds, his ears blowing back as he hammered the turf, and feeling that I wasn't inadvertently training him not to give his all.

This would not have been a good version of the drill for Lumi. For her, all those long runs would have been tedious, possibly painful, and pointless. Once she understood the offline drill, I think she appreciated the way it started with short, easy retrieves, and didn't wear her out running her all the way to the end repeatedly.

Yet for Laddie, that's where the fun is.

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