Friday, October 31, 2008

Offline Drill, Honoring

AM: Oaks Area 1

SERIES A. Offline drill, 70-yard segments (Lumi only)

SERIES B. "Ready to play?", just Lumi and me. Today I cued RTP to put Lumi into a down, blew a duck call, fired a starters pistol, and threw a duck a few feet from Lumi. Then I took up my position facing the opposite direction from behind Lumi's right flank, cued Here, gave Lumi a chunk of crunchy fried chicken as we ran 50 yards to the van, and finally threw a different duck for her several times at the van.

We repeated that sequence three times.

SERIES C. Offline drill, 70-yard segments (Laddie only)

SERIES D. RTP with Laddie. Similar to earlier sessions, but today I switched from throwing a duck at the van to throwing a dummy and playing tug. That seems to be more fun for Laddie than the duck.

PM: Oaks Area 1

SERIES E. With Renee video-taping, offline drill with 70-yard segments (both dogs).

Neither dog was as sharp as usual, but here are the videos.

Lumi on Series E:

Laddie on Series E:

Similar to Series B, except for Series F, Renee was blowing the duck call, firing the pistol, and throwing a dummy in front of Lumi. We did three reps. The first two times, Lumi started toward the dummy when I called Here but spun around and came to me when I said, "No here". The third time, she didn't even try to run toward the dummy, and immediately chased me when I called Here and ran toward the van.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Offline Drill, Honoring

With long hours at work and less sunlight every day, we had little time for training today. I had Lumi run an offline drill, 70-yard segments, in the morning, and worked with both dogs on honoring, that is, learning the new "Ready to Play?" (RTP) cue.

For Lumi, our next step was to get someone to work with another dog while Lumi was in down. We did this step this morning. First rep, DW Renee simply brought Gabriel to line and gave him a treat, then I called Here and Lumi and I ran off. Second rep, Renee threw a tennis ball for Gabe, then I called Here. Third rep, I asked Renee to run around Lumi in a circle with Gabe, giving him treats and throwing his tennis ball. Lumi did fine on all of that, except that she began whining and barking (unusual for Lumi), not to get to Renee and Gabe, but impatient for me to call Here. I realize that vocalizing could be a problem during a test and even get us dropped, but I told Lumi "shhh" and hopefully she won't continue doing it.

Today was Laddie's second RTP session, and since I wasn't sure he was conditioned to the cue as predicting reinfocement for running away from the direction he was facing, we just worked on that. As before, it was difficult to tell if he interpreted RTP as meaning "sit" because he automatically sits when he senses we're setting up for a retrieve, and unlike Lumi, Laddie is not being trained to down on RTP. But I shortened the time interval between RTP and Here, and stayed close to the van where the bird was waiting, and I think he was starting to anticipate the run back to the van, with a treat en route, as being predicted by RTP.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Offline Drill, Honoring

AM: Oaks Area 1

SERIES A. Offline drill, 70-yard segments (Lumi only)

SERIES B. Continuation of "Ready to play?" honoring game (Lumi only)

In this second session, I moved to 30 yards from the van, and started to add a little delay between "Ready to play?" (RTP) and Here. We did three reps. Lumi remembered RTP from last night and downed the first time I cued it, displaying a high level of excitement and anticipation.

AM (continued): Oaks Area 2

SERIES C. Offline drill, 50-yard segments (Lumi only)

SERIES D. Continuation of "Ready to play?" honoring game (Lumi only)

In this third session, I cued RTP a few yards from the SL for Series C, 50 yards from the van. We did three reps. For the third rep, instead of Lumi having to run all the way to the van to get the bird, I left a bird a few yards from where she was downing, and as soon as I said Here and gave her a treat, I sent her to the bird cueing "Get your bird" (GYB). She then carried the bird to the van, which seems to be of high value to her, though hopefully not as high value as the happy throws we used last night and in Series B today.

I say "hopefully" because GYB was not a sufficiently high-value reward for Lumi to look forward to in yesterday's honoring of a flyer to prevent her from breaking. So my hope is that happy throws will add appreciably to the reinforcement value for not breaking.

AM (continue): Neighborhood

SERIES E. First "Ready to play?" session with Laddie, using a sit rather than a down. In this session, I wanted to establish a clear sequence in Laddie's mind: RTP (cueing "sit") - Here - treat - play.

Laddie already sits so readily that it was hard to tell whether he was taking RTP as a cue for "sit", and his excitement level is always so high that it was hard to tell whether he was learning to anticipate that RTP predicted "Here", high-value treats, and exciting games.

Another difference with Laddie was that when I experimented with throwing a duck for him, versus throwing a dummy and playing tug, he was much more excited with the latter.

It's important in my training plan that Laddie connect up RTP with what it predicts, so that he will be focused on receiving the Here cue and not be looking around for other reinforcers, or even be vulnerable to other reinforcers, in particular, marks being thrown for the dog he's honoring. I don't think he's at that stage where he has learned the associations yet, so I think we need at least one more session of small time intervals between each of the steps RTP - Here - treat - play.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Offline Drill, Honoring

AM: Cheltenham

CONDITIONS. Temps in 40s and 50s, winds gusting to 50 MPH, rainy at first, clearing by late morning. Both dogs seemed highly energized and distracted by the conditions.

SERIES A. Bob Hux's first land series: Two marks and a blind (both dogs)

Lumi again honored from a down, but handler she was honoring for ran the two marks as singles, and was using a very long delay before sending his dog, as well as calling the dog back from creeping. Lumi held honoring the dead bird but broke on the flyer. I chased her down, took the bird away, walked her back on lead, and had her honor on lead for the next try. She again tried to break, but couldn't because of the lead.

From this, I learned (a) that Lumi is not yet reliable honoring a flyer, even on lead, and (b) that Lumi does not appear to be lead-wise. The value of (b) is that if I have her honor on lead in the future and she doesn't attempt to break, I can take that to mean that she was really exercising self-control, rather than that she was steady only because of the lead.

SERIES B. Bob's second land series: Different orientation and placements, again two marks and a blind (both dogs)

SERIES C. Offline drill, 50-yard segments, thru several diagonal strips of high cover, with OD/LP at each offline blind, and LP/duck for the non-handling blind at the end of the 150-yard BL (both dogs)

SERIES D. Same dimensions as Series C, but different orientation and placements (both dogs)

PM: Neighborhood

Lumi only: Began a new training plan I've come up with to work on Lumi's honoring.

We drove to an area of the neighborhood with a lawn that belongs to the community, and worked 15 yards from the van. Conditions were dark, windy, temps in the 40s.

The goals of this first session:
  • "Ready to play?" to become a cue to lie down.
  • Lumi learning that RTP predicts "Here" followed by high-value rewards.
I placed a duck on the hood of the van, set up with Lumi a few yards away facing away from the van, cued RTP followed immediately by a hand cue for "down". When she was down, I stepped behind her right hip, facing away from her, then immediately cued Here and sprinted toward the van. As she leapt up and quickly caught me, I lowered my hand beside my leg to feed her a chunk of chicken, while we continued to run to the van. At the van, I grabbed the bird and threw it and Lumi chased it and brought it straight to me. I threw it a total of 3-4 times, each time running around and playing chase games with her. Then I put the bird back on the hood and we went back to the same place and repeated the game.

Lumi took about five reps before she figured out that RTP meant "down", but judging by her body language, she seemed to learn after the first rep that once she was down, good things were in store.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Offline Drill, Blinds

AM: Oaks Area 1

SERIES A. Offline drill, same course dimensions as previous days.

Lumi: One Over at 70 yards, one Over at 140 yards.

Laddie: One Over at 70 yards, one Over at 140 yards.

SERIES B. Double blind, 70 yards (OD/SF) and 130 yards (OD/no marker). 90° angle between the blinds, with a 20-yard DM (duck) between the two, thrown first, retrieved last.

PM: Brook Knoll

SERIES C. Offline drill, same course dimensions as Series A, but Brook Knoll has shorter cover and better footing.

Lumi: One Over at 70 yards, one Over at 140 yards.

Laddie: One Over at 70 yards, four casts at 140 yards. No slipped whistles. Casts were reasonably accurate but Lumi had difficulty spotting the flag, possibly because she was looking into the sun low on the horizon. I'm not sure why she would have had more trouble with it than Laddie. Possibly because she had a problem with her eye-sight, possibly because the sun was a bit lower in the sky for her, or possibly because she was distracted by something.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Offline Drill

This morning, we trained at Oaks Area 1 with temps in the 40s and a steady rain:
  • Offline drill, same course dimensions as previous days.
Laddie: Needed only one Over for the 70-yard cast, one Over for the 140-yard cast.

Lumi: As usual, needed only one Over for the 70-yard cast. On the 140-yard cast, she took the Over correctly, but not spotting the SF, she required additional handling to the blind. She did not seem to have difficulty with the presence of the bird waiting at the LP, she was just having difficulty getting the correct angle to the SF.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Series A. Oaks Area 2

Offline drill, same course design as described in Wednesday's post.

Lumi: One Over for the 70-yard retrieve, two Overs for the 140-yard retrieve.

Laddie: One Over for the 70-yard retrieve. The first time sent on the 140-yard retrieve, he sat when whistled, but refused Over and retrieved the bird. He then sat and waited when I came to pick him up (Walk Out). Next send-out, one Over.

Series B. Oaks Area 2

Same course as Series A, but run in the opposite direction.

Laddie: Two Overs for the 70-yard retrieve, one Over for the 140-yard retrieve.

Lumi: One Over for the 70-yard retrieve, one Over for the 140-yard retrieve.

I was pleased with this afternoon's work. Both dogs stopped on whistle and accepted a single Over cast to an SF 30 yards to the side, where the OD waited. That means that the WS and cast were more powerful than:
  • The fact that the dog had seen the bird thrown and had not seen the OD placed
  • The fact that the dog was running at an all-out sprint toward the bird
  • The fact that the dog was 140 yards from me and only 70 yards from the bird
  • The scent of the bird
  • The sight of the lining pole where the bird had been thrown
  • The fact that the dog had been sent toward the bird and I was now cueing the dog to go in a different direction than I had lined the dog up on
  • The fact that the scent trail to the bird was stronger than one to the OD
That's a good many factors for the dogs to overcome, and I think it might be helpful preparation for an event. For example, I could imagine even in a Senior-level Hunt Test that the dog might pick up a diversionary scent or sight, or might misconstrue my original send-out, or might veer off line and require a course correction when the dog was certain, though wrong, about which way to go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Offline Drill, Blinds

Series A. Oaks Area 1

Offline drill, same course design as described in yesterday's post. Today, I set up two separate courses with the same SL, one for Laddie running first, one for Lumi running second.

Both dogs were responsive to every WS.

Lumi refused some Overs on the 140-yard offline retrieve but did not try to retrieve the bird, so I did not use a Walk Out.

Laddie was worse on the 140-yard retrieve than Lumi but continued to sit on the WS, so I didn't use a Walk Out with him either.

Series B. Oaks Area 3

Double blind, 50-120 yards, OD with no markers, with 40-yard DM thrown first, retrieved last.

Series C. Oaks Area 1

Same course as Series A, but dogs switched courses and Lumi ran first.

Lumi slipped on whistle on the 140-yard retrieve and I picked her up (Walk Out). Aside from that, excellent work.

Laddie did not slip any whistle, and needed only two Overs on the 140-yard retrieve. Great job.

Series D. Oaks Area 1

Double blind, 70-120 yards, OD/SF, 50-yard DM thrown first, retrieved last.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Offline Drill

Since both dogs seem to be slipping some whistles, I decided to resume work on the Offline Drill, originally described on August 2, with a reply from Alice Woodyard as the following post.

In the current version, the Offline Drill is performed as follows:
  1. Choose a segment size. When we started this drill in August, we started with 15-yard segments. For today's drill, we used 70-yard segments.
  2. Choose a number of handling retrieves and non-handling retrieves. We've used as many as three handling retrieves and four non-handling retrieves, interspersed with one another. For today's drill, we used two handling retrieves (70 and 140 yards) followed by a single non-handling retrieve (210 yards).
  3. Choose an offset distance. For today's course, I chose an offset distance of 30 yards, meaning that each handling blind would be placed 30 yards to the left or right of the 210-yard BL.
  4. Lay out the course. Beginning with an LP at the SL, walk in a rectangle. Given today's chosen dimensions, I walked 30 yards to the left, 70 yards parallel with the imaginary BL, placed an SF and two ODs (one per dog), continued to walk another 140 yards, turned right and walked 30 yards, placed an LP marking the end of the BL, continued another 30 yards, turned right again and walked 70 yards, placed the other SF and another two ODs, walked another 140 yards bringing me even with the SL, and finally turned right one last time to walk the final 30 yards back to the SL's LP. By laying out the course in this way, I didn't leave a scent for the dogs to follow on either of the handling retrieves.
  5. Place both dogs in a Sit (with implied Stay) at the SL and walk to the end of the BL, where I call "hey-hey" and throw the bird so that the dogs can see it fall near the LP. A 210-yard walk takes a long time, so to make it more interesting for the dogs and get in some extra training, I made the walk as follows. After cueing Sit, I began to walk, and occasionally glanced back over my shoulder. If one of the dogs had stood up without moving, I called Sit. If one of the dogs had moved, I walked all the way back, repositioned the dog, and started walking again. After I'd walked some distance, perhaps 80 yards, and looked back several times, I called Here. I was careful to do this with the same physical gesture as the look backs where I didn't call Here so that the dogs wouldn't cue off my body language. Of course the dogs came running. I tossed them each a high value treat, again cued Sit, and repeated the process. In some sessions over the next few days, I'd call them only once, in others more than once. Finally, I'd get to the end of the BL, throw the bird, and repeat the same process for the trip back. As I approached the SL, I called Here and raced them to the SL before giving treats. This seemed to be a much more enjoyable approach for the dogs than just leaving them at the SL while I went out to throw the bird.
  6. Run one of the dogs thru all three retrieves: the 70-yard handling retrieve, the 140-yard handling retrieve, and the 210-yard handling retrieve. Which dog I run first is arbitrary, and I try to alternate from session to session.
  7. For each retrieve, use "blind" line mechanics: Line up the dog's spine, "dead bird", "that's it" if the dog is looking the correct direction, "nope" if not, hand over the dog's forehead once the dog is looking the right direction, "back". Of course, since we've just walked the BL, the dog has no difficulty finding the right direction in this drill.
  8. For every retrieve, send the dog straight toward the bird at the end of the BL.
  9. For the first retrieve, blow WS when the dog has gone 70 yards, then cue Over to the 70-yard OD/SF. Handle as necessary.
  10. For the second retrieve, blow WS when the dog has gone 140 yards, then cue Over to the 140-yard OD/SF. Again handle as necessary.
  11. If dog slips whistle or refuses casts, perhaps actually retrieving the bird at the LP, use Walk Out as -P: stop the dog verbally as soon as possible; walk up to the dog, take the bird if the dog has it, and gently slip on the dog's lead; if the dog has retrieved the bird, walk back to the LP and toss the bird back on the ground; walk the dog back to the SL, remove the lead, and start over with the same line mechanics. As an aside, I find it astounding what a powerful training tool the Walk Out is.
  12. After one dog has completed all three retrieves, go back to Step 5 to throw a second bird and run the other dog.
Although my dogs often behave dramatically different on the same courses, today they were carbon copies of one another. I ran Lumi first, then Laddie. In these notes, I'll refer to both as "Dog":
  • Today's course happened to have a sustained headwind as Dog was being sent out. That may have acted as a factor because dogs often do not like to run into the wind, and also because the duck's scent was being carried on that wind.
  • Dog was responsive on #1, retrieving the 70-yard OD with a single Over cast.
  • Dog sat when I blew WS for the 140-yard retrieve, but interpreted the Over as a Back.
  • Dog was unresponsive to verbal and whistle cues while running to retrieve the bird at the end of the BL.
  • Once Dog had the bird, Dog responded to a WS and waited while I walked out as described above.
  • On next send out, Dog again stopped at 140 yards. When I cued Over, Dog appeared quite confused, but accepted a series of WSCs to the 140-yard SF.
  • Dog's body language perked up noticeably upon discovering the 140-yard OD at the SF. Dog picked up the OD and raced back with it.
  • Dog showed great excitement for the non-handling 210-yard retrieve to the duck.

Monday, October 13, 2008


AM: Oaks Area 3

SERIES A. Triple land blind with DM, left to right within 120° angle:
  • #3: 130-yard blind, OD, no marker
  • #2: 100-yard blind, OD, no marker
  • #1: 50-yard blind, OD, no marker
  • Thrown before #1, picked up after #3: 40-yard poorman mark, duck
Like all three Oaks areas, the terrain here is thick, clumpy grass and uneven footing, with many distracting scents from resident wildlife. In addition, Area 3 has several stands of trees, unmaintained hedges, and ridges dotting and crisscrossing the field.

For Series A, I ran Lumi first, then Laddie.

AM continued: Oaks Area 2

SERIES B. Triple land blind with DMs, left to right within 120° angle:
  • Thrown before #1, picked up after #1: 40-yard poorman mark, duck
  • #1: 100-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #3: 170-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2: 120-yard blind, OD/SF
  • Thrown before #2, picked up after #3: 50-yard poorman mark, duck
Oaks Area 2 has similar terrain to the area we used for Series A, but it's flatter and has no trees in the main area of the field. An additional difficulty factor in Oaks Area 2 is the mowing tractor's tracks, which tend to suck the dogs along those tracks. I always try to set up blinds at diagonals to the tracks, neither in line with them nor straight across them.

For Series B, I ran Laddie first, then Lumi.

PM: Fair Hill

Triple land blind, 60-130-130 yards. ODs, no markers. I ran Laddie first, then Lumi.

Running Two Dogs on Same Course. Although running two dogs on the same course gives the second dog the advantage of being able to scent the first dog's tracks, and possibly even see them in the disturbed grass, I've decided that it's appropriate to run both dogs on the same course, at least at times, for these reasons:
  • In an event , the probability is low that a particular dog will be the first dog to run. Therefore, dogs need to be able to run blinds that other dogs have already run.
  • With multiple blinds down, the dog has several scent trails in front of her. One training challenge is being able to pull the dog off one of those trails, when the dog veers to the wrong one, and get the dog going in the correct direction, even though no scent trail may exist from that position.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Water and Land Blinds

AM: Cheltenham

[To be completed later]

PM: Sundown Road Park

SERIES H. Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • 40-yard DM, duck, thrown before #1 and retrieved after #3
  • #1: 80-yard blind, OD at edge of woods
  • #2: 150-yard blind, OD at edge of woods, distracting bird houses on white poles to the right
  • #3: 180-yard blind, OD at edge of woods
The well-maintained lawn and open ball field provide few challenges at this venue, but for this series, we used a DM and relatively long distances compared to the land blinds we're likely to encounter in Senior tests. In addition, a creek and scents in the adjoining woods do seem to create some suction.

With Renee videotaping and Gabriel, her Golden, watching beside her, I ran Laddie first, then Lumi.

Click here for Laddie's video of Series H and Lumi's video of Series H.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blinds, Drills

AM: Brooke Knoll

SERIES A. Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #1: 70-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #3: 180-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2: 120-yard blind, OD/SF
Both dogs waited in van while I set up the course, and each dog waited in the van while the other dog ran.

After setting the dogs up on each blind, I threw a duck 15 yards out, on a line 30° to the left of the line to #1. I then ran the dog on the blind, and when the dog returned, I sent the dog to retrieve the duck. I used a different duck for each dog.

As further reinforcement for the dogs' performance, and to encourage fast pick-ups and returns, I tossed each dog a high-value treat (a bite of fried chicken) after each blind.

Laddie. A little distracted by bird, but handled well.

Lumi. More stubbornly distracted by the bird, but remained responsive.

SERIES B. Pick-up speed drill: a short poorman double with ducks.

Laddie. Great on short bird, but dawdled a bit on the long bird. I wasn't expecting that from Laddie and didn't react quickly enough. next time, I'll use a walk-out and then resend him.

Lumi. Great job on both birds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Water Retrieves, Blinds

AM to Afternoon: Cheltenham

SERIES A. Bob Hux's land series: Three marks that I ran as singles for both dogs, the flyer last, then a blind tight to the right of the rightmost mark. Lines were thru diagonal strips of cover.

I ran both dogs on slip cords for the flyer mark and to honor. Lumi, who honored from a down, did not attempt to break at the line or honoring. Laddie tried to break on both his own flyer and when honoring.

I've followed the practice with Lumi for some time of giving her a duck to carry as we returned to the van, and that seems to have become increasingly valuable to her. I've started doing it with Laddie as well, and he also seems to be looking forward to it more and more.

SERIES B. Bob's water series, two retrieves across an inlet of the property's large pond, each with a 25-yard swim.

Rather than running Lumi from water's edge as most of the other dogs had run, I ran her from a mound 80 yards from water's edge, creating diagonal swims to both marks, and positioned so that a tree obstructed Lumi's view of the short mark. Lumi had no difficulty with this series.

For Laddie, I asked for an LWL where I could quickly get to him if he dawdled on the return. He did, and I immediately ran to him and picked him up, then asked for the throw again. Again I had to pick him up.

SERIES D. After group training, one of the other trainers threw four LWLs for Laddie across a 10-yard channel next to a footbridge:
  1. Canvas dummy: After picking up the dummy, Laddie entered the water quickly, hugged the shore for a few feet, then pushed out and swam back.
  2. Duck: Laddie stalled. I picked him up.
  3. Canvas dummy: Same as (1).
  4. Duck: Laddie picked up the duck and returned with little delay.
It seems clear that Laddie still has great problems on LWLs with throwers, despite how much progress he's made on LWLs when we train alone.

SERIES E. LWL sight blind with 70-yard swim. Laddie only. He picked up the bird and returned with minimal delay.

SERIES F. LWL sight blind with 90-yard swim. Laddie only. Best LWL I ever remember Laddie running. He didn't even shake off, just picked up the dummy and came straight back into the water.

SERIES G. A series of land blinds from the same SL, all blinds thru rolling terrain dotted with trees and crisscrossed with strips of high cover:
  • #1: 160-yard blind, OD with no marker (Lumi)
  • #2: 180-yard blind, OD with no marker (Lumi)
  • #3: 270-yard blind, duck with no marker (Laddie)
  • #4: 270-yard blind, duck with no marker (Lumi)
Lumi did a good job on her three blinds.

Laddie ran with his usual exuberance, but slipped the first whistle on his blind. I called him back and re-sent him. This time he ran it with a single WSC, on which he was responsive and accurate.

PM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

I set up four blinds in a 150° angle:
  • A: 30-yard
  • B: 70-yard
  • C: 70-yard
  • D: 30-yard
All blinds were OD, with no markers nor prominent landscape features.

I placed a bag of birds 60 yards from the SL, midway between the lines to B and C.

Laddie: A, then C. Laddie lined A, then handled easily to C. He seemed to pay no attention to the bag of birds.

Lumi: D, then B. Lumi lined D, then took a line toward the bag of birds but handled easily to B.

Since the bag of birds did not seem to be much of a problem, next session I'll try using a poison bird.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Land-water-land Retrieves, Drills, Blinds

AM: Twin Ponds

Series A. LWLWL blind with duck (Laddie, then Lumi), along a bank and with an L-shaped peninsula also inviting bank running on the other side. Both dogs required some handling and did fine.

Log-climbing drill. Laddie had no difficulty climbing the log both directions on a short water retrieve. Lumi reluctantly climbed over on the way out, but ignored my cues and swam around the log on the way back. I tried twice more and she did the same thing. After the third time, I silently and gently slipped on her lead and walked her to the van. Lumi is almost never on lead, so this unusual procedure hopefully helped serve as a n0-reward-marker. Lumi then spent about 15 minutes in the van while I worked alone with Laddie.

Series B. LWL poorman mark with duck thrown onto small island, the SL on a mound (Laddie only)

Series C. LWL blind with 70-yard swim (Laddie only)

Series D. LWL blind with 70-yard swim (Lumi, then Laddie)

Log-climbing drill. This time Lumi climbed over the log both on the swim out and again on the return. Yay!

Series E. LWL blind with 110-yard swim (Laddie, then Lumi). The longest LWL that Laddie has ever run. After picking up the bird, Laddie tried three times to run the bank, but each time responded to a WS and cast back toward the blind. Finally, he responded to a come-in whistle by coming down the steep embankment and entering the water with the duck, then swam back.

Lumi has swum much longer distances and seems to have little or no trouble entering the water after a return (though she did when she was younger), but she had a different problem on Series E that Laddie didn't have. The line to the blind crossed two logs, and Lumi would not take a cast over either one in either direction, whereas Laddie had climbed over both logs in both directions. I decided not to call her back in this case and let her skirt the logs, with the intention of continuing to work with her on the shorter log-climbing drill for several sessions as habituation before again trying her out on a repeat of today's Series E.

Log-climbing drill. Lumi again climbed over the log in both directions like a good girl.

Midday: Laytonsville Park

I often let the dogs run around outside while I'm setting up courses, and I often have one dog honor while the other dog runs. For today's blinds, I decided to keep both dogs in the van while I set up, and then to keep each dog in the van while the other ran.

Series F. Triple blind, 160-60-220 yards, ODs with no markers (Lumi only)

Series G. Triple blind, 150-70-220 yards, ODs with no markers (Laddie only)

Series F and G were run from the same SL and the lines to the blinds were interspersed, left to right as F1-G1-F2-G2-F3-G3.

The terrain was well-maintained lawn and the wind was calm, but a few factors were in play:
  • The lines to F1/G1 threaded among a softball fence, spectator benches, picnic tables and grills, and a dozen shade trees.
  • The line to F2 crossed the visual barrier of the softball infield and skirted the other end of the softball fence.
  • The lines to F3/G3 included a 10' elevation drop down a grassy embankment, and ran past a variety of poles and goal posts.
Both dogs handled well. Laddie showed zero suction toward the lines Lumi had run, showing good progress from yesterday morning's blinds at Cheltenham when I first began experimenting with running Laddie on a different but nearby triple blind from one that Lumi had just run. Today's was the first time I interspersed the lines, which I expected to be more difficult for the second dog (Laddie in this case), but he had no apparent difficulty with it.

PM: Oaks Area 2

Series H. Triple blind: 80-150-170 yards, ODs with no markers (Laddie only)

Series I. Triple blind: 80-140-170 yards, ODs with no markers (Lumi only)

Series H and I were run from the same SL and the lines to the blinds were interspersed, left to right as H1-I1-H3-I3-H2-I2.

Laddie lined H1 and handled well on the others.

Lumi had difficulty with all three blinds. Before taking the dogs out of the van, I had discarded two ducks in the woods to the left of the field we were running on. Although the wind was calm, Lumi apparently found the scent irresistible and repeatedly veered toward it, at times turning nearly 180°. However, she was responsive on her WSs and took at least a few steps in the direction cast each time before once again veering.

Seeing Lumi's difficulty with this situation reminds me of her unsatisfactory handling in the land blind she ran on the last Senior test she took. The line to the blind went past a mound, and the blind setter was positioned behind that mound. Lumi exhibited similar body language that day, trying to veer around toward the mound, though on that occasion she became unresponsive to cues, unlike today. Today's responsiveness may represent improvement, or it may be that the event conditions raised Lumi's general distraction level too high to cope with the added distraction of scenting the blind setter's cache of birds.

I guess it's time to begin running blinds with poison birds planted in the field on our blinds, meaning that the birds are there as distractions and are not to be retrieved. I believe dealing with poison birds is considered an advanced skill not required for a Senior-level dog, but given the difficulty Lumi had in that test, it may be that in Lumi's case we can't wait to begin that distraction-proofing, and if I do it with Lumi, I'll do it with Laddie as well.

However, I want to rely only on handling to keep the dog away from the bird. I don't want to train the dogs not to pick up a bird they've arrived at, even if I didn't intend for them to get to it, so if the dog does manage to get to a poison bird, even though it's by refusing casts, I think I should let the dog retrieve that bird. Of course, in follow-up sessions, I'd place the poison bird further out of the way. Or perhaps I'll place the birds in bags.

In addition, if the bird is not in a bag, I think that I'll follow the practice of sending the dog to pick up the bird after completing the blinds, although I don't think that happens in competition when a poison bird is used.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Land-water-land Marks, Blinds


Laddie: No marooning today.
Both dogs: No slipped whistles, no refused casts.

AM: Cheltenham

Series A. LWL, 70-yard swim, duck. Laddie ran first, then Lumi.

Series B. LWL, 30-yard swim thru stick pond, duck. Lumi ran first, then Laddie.

Series C.
LWL, 40-yard swim thru narrow channel between island and clump of reeds, duck. Laddie ran first, then Lumi.

Series D. LWL, 90-yard swim, duck. Lumi ran first, then Laddie.

Series E. Triple blind, 50-70-200 yards, OD, no markers (I noted placement with respect to nearby trees). Lumi only.

Series F. Triple blind, 40-140-190 yards, OD, no markers (again I noted placement with respect to nearby trees), same SL as Series E. Laddie only. Laddie seemed to be sucked toward the lines that Lumi had run in Series E, but responded to my WSs and casts.

Series G. LWL, 60-yard water blind including 20-yard swim. Laddie ran first, then Lumi.

Midday: Oaks Area 3

Series H. Triple blind, 80-60-60 yards, OD with no markers, the course dotted with trees and unmaintained shrubbery (Lumi only)

Series I. Triple blind, 40-60-60 yards, OD with no markers, same SL and same general area but all Series I blinds to the right of the Series H blinds (Laddie only)

Both dogs performed well. Laddie seemed drawn to the left, where Lumi had run, but responded well to every WS and every cast. Lumi's motivation was 6 on a scale of 10, Laddie was his usual over-the-top exuberant self.

Midday: Oaks Area 2

Series J. 180-yard blind, duck with no marker (Lumi only)

Series K. 160-yard blind, duck with no marker, same SL as Series J but line to the left of the Series J blind (Laddie only)

The course was mostly open field, but both ducks were placed in parts of the field where trees grow, though not in front of any tree. I placed the birds at least 20 yards off to the side of the closest tree because I don't want the dogs learning they'll always find blinds in front of a tree whenever they're running in the general direction of that tree.

The fields at Oaks are considerably more difficult than the ball fields we sometimes train at. The grass here is thick and inconsistently maintained, it's covered in thick cuttings from previous mowings, prominent tracks from the mowing tractor tend to draw the dogs in the direction of the tracks, the footing is uneven and includes shallow standing water in places, and perhaps most significantly, the field is home to deer, birds, groundhogs, rodents, and other wildlife, resulting in what is apparently a highly distracting environment for the dogs.

Both dogs performed well. Laddie, again running after Lumi, seemed to experience some suction toward Lumi's line, but noticeably less than he had in Series F or I.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


AM: Oaks Area 2

Triple blind, 160-170-180 yards, ODs, no markers. #1 and #3 were in front of trees that were set back from other nearby trees, and #2 was midway between two trees that were separated by 40 yards. The terrain was low, dense cover with uneven footing, had a thick, dry layer of high mowed grass from maintenance several days ago, and was prominently channeled by tracks from the mowing tractor that had been used. All of the lines to the blinds were at diagonals to the channels, #3 being at the smallest angle, creating the most suction to stay in the channel rather than run diagonally traversing the channels. #3 was identical to a blind that Laddie had fallen apart on several days ago, possibly because of the tracks that I hadn't recognized as a factor at the time. Lumi had run that blind well that day. We've never set up either of today's other blinds before.

Today, Laddie ran first, then Lumi, while the other dog honored, lying in the shade of a tree near our SL.

Because of factors such as distance, trees, a fenced parking area to the right of the line to #3, and tractor tracks, neither dog was able to line any of today's blinds, which is what I wanted, since I wanted the dogs to practice handling. Both dogs performed well. They lined well on their send-outs, they were responsive to WSs at both shorter and longer distances, their casting accuracy varied from OK to excellent, they generally maintained the line of their casts well, and their motivation remained high the entire time.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Summary of Recent Blinds

Wondering if some pattern might emerge, I prepared this summary of both dogs performance on blinds over the last week:

SAT 9-27:
  • 130-210-250 (with marks): Both dogs did fine on the 130, and Lumi did fine on the 210. Laddie did poorly on the 210, Lumi did poorly on the 250.
  • 180: Laddie did poorly, Lumi did fine.
  • 100: I only ran Laddie on this one, and he lined it.
SUN 9-28:
  • 60-180-210: Both dogs did fine.
  • 60-90-130: Laddie did well, though he slipped one whistle. Lumi did well and lined the 130.
MON 9-29:
  • 40-150-190: Laddie did great. Lumi did fine on the 40, but did poorly on the 150 and very poorly on the 190.
  • 110-140: Both dogs did fine.
TUE 9-30:
  • Pinball drill (crankshaft): 130x50. Both dogs did fine.
WED 10-1:
  • 80-yard (at end of land series): Lumi lined it. Laddie handled well to it but after picking up the bird headed for the pond behind him at first instead of returning to me immediately.
  • Difficult 100-yard water blind: Lumi did well.
  • 100-yard water blind with 20 yard swim: Laddie lined the blind but marooned on the return.
  • 90-130-150: Both dogs did fine. Laddie lined the 90, Lumi lined the 90 and the 150.
THU 10-2:
  • Pinball drill (crankshaft): 210x100. Both dogs did fine.
  • 140-160-170 (with marks): Laddie either lined or needed only one cast for all three blinds, same for Lumi on the 140 and 160. On the 170, Lumi went into zigzag pattern, repeatedly interpreting Back casts as angle-backs.
FRI 10-3:
  • 60-160-230: Both dogs handled well, except that Lumi slipped a whistle on the 230 the first time I sent her. I walked out, then resent her, and she handled well the second time out.
  • Pinball drill (crankshaft): 200x60. Lumi did fine. Laddie fell apart.
  • Pinball drill (crankshaft): 100-30. This was just for Laddie, who again fell apart.
  • Lumi: 29 blinds, three breakdowns, one long zigzag, good job on other 25
  • Laddie: 30 blinds, four breakdowns plus one poor return and one maroon, good job on other 24

Blinds, Drills

AM: Oaks Areas 1 and 3

Series A. Triple blind with OD, no markers. Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #2: 160-yard blind, concealed until close in low, thick cover atop a ridge, with a tree 10 yards to the left and a hedge 10 yards to the right
  • #3: 230-yard blind, with a fence line along the left angling slightly in toward the line to the blind, and a tree 10 yards to the left
  • #1: 60-yard blind, concealed until close in low, thick cover in an open field
I managed to make these blinds sufficiently difficult that neither dog was able to line any of them, giving both dogs an opportunity to practice handling.

Laddie handled well on all three blinds.

Lumi handled well on #1 and #2, then started well on #3 but slipped a whistle at 170 yards, resulting in me walking out. When I then sent her again, she handled well all the way to the blind.

Series B. Pick-up speed drill: short poorman double with ducks. Laddie was excellent on both birds. Lumi was slow on first pick-up, resulting in me walking out. She was then excellent on both birds.

PM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

Series C. Pinball drill in the shape of a crankshaft, 200x60 yards, five SFs with an OD on the last one. Lumi, running first, did fine. Laddie, however, was uncharacteristically and inexplicably erratic. His motivation seemed high, but he overran his WSs repeatedly, then took inaccurate casts. When his casting didn't improve after 4-5 WSCs, I called him in, put him on lead, and walked him around the field to pick up the flags and dummy, and then to the van. I left him there while running Lumi on Series D.

Series D. Pick-up speed drill, a short poorman double with ducks. Lumi's pick-up on both was excellent.

Series E. I set-up a second crankshaft shape on a different part of the field, this time shorter, and tried Laddie on it again. He heeled well as we approached the SL and seemed anxious to perform, but he overran the first flag before sitting, then refused a cast (that is, went a different direction). I called him back to give him one last chance, and he immediately took a WIL. I called him back, slipped on his leash, walked him around the field to pick up the flags and dummy, and terminated the session.

The contrast between this evening's behavior and this morning's is so stark that I'm mystified. When we returned home, I tethered him to my belt to see if we can get better into sync.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Handling Drill, Marks and Blinds

AM: Oak Area 2

Pinball drill in the shape of a crankshaft (Back from heel, WS-Over, WS-Back, WS-Over, WS-Back). Set-up was within a 210x100 yard rectangle. Both dogs did fine.

PM: Brook Knoll

Left to right within a 60° angle:
  • #4: 160-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #3: 60-yard mark, WD/RL/SM
  • #5: 170-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2: 120-yard mark, WD/RL/SM
  • #1: 140-yard blind, OD/SF
Laddie ran first, Lumi second, the other dog honoring unattended.

After each dog ran #1, I set the dog up as though we were going to run #2 and #3 as a double, showing the dog #3 first, then showing the dog #2, and finally firing #2. Both dogs kept their focus on #2 until sent, as I wanted them to do, rather than turning to #3 in anticipation that we were running a double.

In general, the blinds in this set-up were too easy for both dogs. They seemed able to see or otherwise sense the placements, and either line them or get on line to them after a single cast.

The exception was Lumi on #5, where she interpreted left or right Back as left or right angle-back repeatedly, zigzagging a few yards at a time back and forth over the line to the blind. Each time she crossed the line, I'd whistle so that she wouldn't go too far the wrong direction. Eventually, it dawned on her to do a straight back and then she completed the blind. Even during that sequence, she responded on every WS and made an effort to respond on every cast, and her motivation seemed to remain good.

My hope is that after Lumi has experienced zigzagging some number of times, she'll recognize the pattern and will use that information, in addition to the fact that I'm cueing a straight back, to cast in the correct direction.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Blinds, Marks


In the morning, we trained at Cheltenham with Bob Hux and others in Hunt Test-style set-ups:
  • Series A. Bob's land series (both dogs)
  • Series B. Bob's water series (both dogs)
  • Series C. Bob's water blind (Lumi)
  • Series D. Lindsay's water blind (Laddie)
In the afternoon, we trained at Oaks Area 3:
  • Series E. Triple blind, 90-130-150 yards, OD, no markers (both dogs)
  • Series F. Poorman triple, ducks (both dogs)
Notes on Series A
  • We ran Series A as three singles, duck-duck-flyer, followed by a blind.
  • Lumi's bad news: She swung her head toward the flyer before I sent her on #1, and she broke on the flyer even though she's been steady on her own flyers for several months. She then slipped a whistle on the blind and I brought her back to heel. When I sent her again, she lined the blind, so I don't know whether she would have responded better on a whistle after losing the previous chance to retrieve or not.
  • Lumi's good news: Great marking as usual, and it's always nice to see her line a blind. Her pick-up speed is improving, perhaps because of our private practice on that. She was steady honoring the next dog for all three singles, including a flyer. As Alice suggested a couple of weeks ago, I'm now having Lumi honor from a down. It seems much easier for her.
  • Laddie's bad news: He broke on the flyer. On the blind, when he picked up the duck, he headed backwards toward the pond behind him instead of coming toward me. When I started out toward him, he turned around and came in. He also tried to break honoring the flyer for the next dog, but I had him on a short but hopefully barely perceptible lead.
  • Laddie's good news: Great enthusiasm on every retrieve, great marking, steady on the two dead birds, great handling on the blind.
Based on today's land series alone, I don't plan to run either dog in any Hunt Tests at this time. They'd both be running at Senior level and it's apparent that all sorts of things could go wrong. That means the closing dates will pass for the next two tests this season. It seems unlikely either will progress fast enough to take another Hunt Test this year.

Notes on Series B
  • Each dog ran a different version of this series, varying in difficulty according to the dog's level.
  • Lumi did well on a particularly difficult version.
  • Laddie marooned on both marks. On the first one, he almost left the bird behind but finally responded to "fetch" and brought it. On the second one, he finally came without the bird and another dog had to go out to the island to retrieve it. Neither of these LWL retrieves was as difficult as the ones I've been setting up for Laddie for quite some time. Something about training with other teams around apparently causes a dramatic drop in his ability to perform LWL retrieves.
Notes on Series C and D
  • Bob confirmed that Series C was more difficult than any Senior water blind he'd ever seen. Lumi ran it nicely, lining most of the way across the water, veering off at the end of the swim, then taking two casts nicely to the bird and returning well.
  • I felt that the long swim for Series C created too much risk that Laddie would maroon, even though he might handle well to the blind. So I set up a similarly long blind but with most of it on land and a shorter swim. Unfortunately, he still marooned, and when I started around the pond to pick him up, he swam to me without the bird. I consider it even worse than marooning, if that's possible, that he's willing to come without the bird. In any case, when I got around to the other side, I picked the bird up and threw it a little ways up the hill, then walked Laddie back to the original start line and sent him again. This time he picked the bird up and immediately returned, not hesitating to enter the water with the bird at all.
Notes on Series E and F
  • All three blinds were placed in low, thick cover away from any natural or artificial markers. Neither dog had any difficulty with any of them. Both dogs lined the short one, and Lumi also lined the long one.
  • Both dogs ran the poorman triple with enthusiasm and good, fast pick-ups.
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