Sunday, November 30, 2008

Drills, Marks and Blinds


Today's weather was miserable, with temps in the low to mid 40s, a little rain, and continuous rain. For Series A and B, the dogs and I worked alone in one part of the wonderful Rover's Content property. While we finishing Series B, another member of the FT training group we've trained with in the past showed up, and he and I, together with his young black Lab and my two Goldens, trained together for Series C, D, and E. We used the same start lines and lines to our marks and blinds, but different distances and sequences of retrieves. Both the other trainer and I were wearing white jackets, and all our marks for the day were thrown with a blank gunshot and no duck calls.

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

Despite challenging terrain, including trees dotting the course, diagonal strips of high cover, and a diagonal plunge thru a low-lying marshy area with standing water, Laddie required only the minimum single WSC per offline blind (ODs) and lined the non-handling 210-yard duck retrieve.

SERIES B. Offline drill, 80 yard segments (Laddie only)

Series B was also set up in challenging terrain, this time run from a mound with woods on the right, a small stand of trees on the left, and more trees dotting the course, as well as the pervasive strips of high cover. Again, Laddie required only the minimum single WSC per offline blind and lined the non-handling 240-yard retrieve.

SERIES C. Remote casting drill (RCD) (Lumi, then Laddie)

I pre-positioned a pile of ducks 100 yards from the SL, in open terrain with no marker.

For Lumi and Laddie, I walked the dog along the line to the ducks, stopped 30 yards from the SL, and threw two WDs, one to the left, one to the right, both at 45° angles from the line to the ducks. Leaving the dogs there, I returned to the SL and blew a single tweet to get the dog's attention and straighten the dog toward me if necessary. I then cast a straight Back. Both dogs responded correctly on the first Back cue.

SERIES D. Land double and blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

To set up this series, first we placed a stickman at the first mark at 270 yards on the right of the course. The line to the mark was downhill and then back uphill, with a shallow, narrow, water-filled trench at the bottom. The first mark would be thrown right to left, with the light wind. We also placed a blind (ODs) at 90 yards, to the left of what would be the line to the second, lefthand mark, to be thrown right to left from a tree at 80 yards. The SL was atop a mound.

After we set up the course, the other trainer acted as thrower for both marks as I ran each of my dogs. First he threw the right mark, then got in his Jeep, drove to the tree for the second mark, and threw that one. The dog was sent to the second mark on the left, the go-bird, and then the first mark on the right, the memory-bird. Finally, the dog ran the blind to the left of the line to the go-bird.

I kept the dog's attention on the stickman after the first mark was thrown, while the other trainer was moving around on foot and in his Jeep to get to the second throwing station, with the intention of emphasizing the behavior pattern of keeping the dog's eyes on the last bird down until just before the next bird is thrown.

Lumi nailed the go-bird on her series, and Laddie offline a few yards but homed in on it immediately once he was in the area. Both dogs seemed to have a clear picture of the 270-yard memory-bird, but neither dog ran a straight line to the mark, instead cheating left to avoid the water-filled trench. Lumi simply bowed out and back again. Laddie got offline, stayed on his new line till he was about even with the fall, turned sharply right just before clearing a ridge that would have put him out of sight, and ran straight to the mark.

Lumi was responsive running the blind, which ran thru a complex terrain of variable elevations and cover and diagonnally across two roads. Laddie was responsive on an early WSC, but ended up slipping a whistle 30 yards to the left of the blind, then racing straight to it to pick up the OD and race back to the SL. I assume that would be a DQ in the eyes of many or all judges, but it was hard to know what to do, since Laddie clearly knew where the blind was at the instant that I blew the WS.

SERIES E. Two land singles and a blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The other trainer threw both singles, then stayed in position as the dog ran the blind. The SL was atop a mound, and the terrain, soaking from the rain, was downhill from the mound, then uphill to complete each of the retrieves.

The first single was on the right at 240 yards, thrown right to left from in front of a large tree and over a road that the dog would have to cross to complete the retrieve. The second single was on the left at 170 yards, thrown right to left across the same road. The throwing position for the second mark was just to the left and behind a stand of trees, and the line to the fall was thru another small stand of trees just before the road crossing. After the singles, the dog ran a 180-yard blind 15° to the left of the second, leftmost single, between a lone tree on the right and then past the same stand of trees the dog had run thru for the second mark, again on the right of the line to the blind.

Both dogs ran both marks well, Lumi pinning them and Laddie requiring minor hunts. Both dogs also performed reasonably well on the blind, slipping no whistles and responding with fair accuracy to the casts. Lumi's whistle sits were better than Laddie's, since his responses were slower and he had travelled further before he sat.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Drills, Marks and Blinds

AM: Rolling Ridge

[We've rarely trained at Rolling Ridge in the past. For a description of the terrain, see "Training Locations" in the right margin.]

SERIES A. Offline drill, 80-yard segments (Laddie only)

Despite the distances and the unfamiliar and challenging terrain, Laddie needed only the minimum one WSC on both offline blinds.

SERIES B. Remote casting drill (both dogs)

Today I set up versions of the RCD (see yesterday's post) on two orientations. In both cases, I used ducks for the blind at the end of the back line, and WDs as the delayed poorman marks thrown left and right. The ducks were downwind from the dog.

The first RCD was 80 yards, with the dog positioned at 20 yards from the SL and the WDs thrown at 45° angles. Lumi, running first, needed two Back casts to get her turned 180° to the ducks. Laddie, running second, needed the minimum one Back cast.

The second RCD was 100 yards, with the dog positioned 30 yards from the SL and the WDs thrown at 45° angles. Lumi, running first, again needed two Back casts. Laddie, running second, again needed only one Back cast.

SERIES C. Land double (Lumi, then Laddie)

This double was run with RLs, streamers (referred to as "stand-ins" in previous posts), and ducks.

The left mark, the memory-bird at 120 yards, was thrown left to right first. The second mark, the go-bird at 70 yards, was thrown left to right second.

SERIES D. Single land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series D was a 170-yard blind run from the same SL as Series C. The line to the blind was slightly to the right of the left fall of Series C.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Blinds and Drills

AM: Oaks Area 2

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

SERIES B. Triple land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The first blind was an OD at 80 yards on the left, at the back of a stand of four trees in a parallelogram pattern. The dog was to handled on the "judge's blind", so that the dog came into the stand of trees on the right side of the closest tree at 50 yards, went thru the keyhole formed by the two mid-length trees, and picked up the blind in front of the furthest tree.

The second blind was 90° to the right of the first blind, an OD immediately next to the left edge of a woody outcropping, 190 yards from the SL.

The third blind was 15° to the left of the second blind, an OD in open meadow 220 yards from the SL. The OD was marked by a SF pushed well into the ground, visible to the handler at the SF but not prominent, and possibly invisible, to the dogs.

The bad news: Both dogs had considerable trouble with the third blind, interpreting casts as sending them well to the left or well to the right of the intended line.

The good news: Both dogs remained responsive to all WSCs, making it possible for both of them to run the triple without any walk-outs or call-ins.

PM: Oaks Area 2

SERIES C. Remote casting drill (both dogs)

Because of the difficulty both dogs had with Series B in the morning, I returned to the same field to work with both of them on their Back casts. For that work, I invented what I called a Remote Casting Drill (RCD).

The RCD is run as follows:
  1. Choose an SL and an orientation the dog has not run before, or at least not recently.
  2. With the dog not watching, plant an OD some distance from the SL. For today's drills, I used 60 yards. The OD should not be visible until close to it, so note some landmark so that you can walk toward the OD from the SL.
  3. Call the dog to the SL, then walk with the dog toward the OD part of the way. For today's drills, I used 20 yards. Bring along two WDs.
  4. Cue Sit, then throw each WD to one side of the other. For today's drills, my throws were 30 yards and the angle varied from 90° to 45° for Lumi, and varied from 90° or slightly less than that for Laddie. The reason for the difference was that Laddie could not perform the drill correctly when I tried a 45° angle.
  5. With the dog staying in Sit, walk to the SL and use a come-in whistle followed by a quick sit whistle to get the dog facing the SL and alert.
  6. Cast a straight left or right back. Ideally, the dog spins 180° and retrieves the OD. If not, handle the dog to the OD.
  7. Send the dog to each of the WDs for the fun of it and to save yourself having to go out and pick them up.
I ran four RCDs with each dog, and it was surprisingly difficult for both of them even on the fourth set-up. I plan to continue practicing them with RCDs until each can handle reasonably long distances for the OD and reasonably tight angles for the WDs.

For our next RCD series, I think we'll try using a bird for the blind that the dog is being sent to. Since the dogs prefer retrieving birds over dummies, that may act as higher value reinforcement for responding correctly to the Back cue than the ODs I used today, though even retrieving ODs is reinforcing. When I use a bird, I need to make sure that the bird is planted downwind of the dog.

Series D. Poorman double (Lumi, then Laddie)

This was a short drill run with a pheasant and a duck. For Lumi, it was a refresher drill on pick-up speed. For Laddie, it was a refresher drill on Hold during the delivery. For both dogs, it was a fun way to end the evening session.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Offline Drill, Marks and Blind

AM: Oaks Area 1

Getting out earlier on Thanksgiving morning, we had ample time, so I took the dogs out deep into Oaks Area 1 and set up some of the longest series we've run there. Although the dogs had relatively few retrieves, the session ran two hours, giving both dogs plenty of time for exercise, running around exploring while I was moving gear.

Offline drill, 80-yard segments (Laddie only)

We used ODs for the offline blinds, a pheasant for the non-handling blind at 240 yards.

Laddie ran the 80-yard offline blind with the minimum handling, a single WSC.

The 160-yard offline blind proved more challenging:
  • First send-out: slipped whistle, picked up pheasant; I responded with a Walk Out (that is, I walked out to meet him as he ran toward me with the bird, I took the bird, I put on his lead, we walked together back to the LP at the end of the BL, I tossed the bird near the LP, we walked back together to the SL along the BL, I removed the lead, and we set-up to try the send-out again)
  • Second send-out: same as the first send-out
  • Third send-out: almost the same as the first send-out, except Laddie did not pick up the pheasant
  • Fourth send-out: run perfectly, with the minimum of a single WSC
SERIES B. Land double and blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

As in yesterday's Series C, I set up a convergent double using RLs, stand-ins, and pre-positioned ducks. The first stand-in was thrown left to right at 210 yards. The second stand-in was thrown right to left at 80 yards, so that the line to the go-bird was slightly to the right of the line to the memory-bird. For both marks, nothing was visible ater the stand-in was launched until the dog was close because of the uneven terrain and the thick, clumpy cover.

After the double, the dog ran a 240-yard blind, OD/SF, thru a keyhole, two trees at 100 yards.

Notes on the memory-bird of the convergent double:
  • Lumi hunted briefly at the first fall, then seemed to realize her mistake, turned, and ran straight to the memory-bird
  • Laddie continued to hunt the first fall till I blew WS and cast Back; then he seemed to remember and ran straight to the memory bird

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Offline Drill, Blinds, Marks

AM: Oaks Area 1

SERIES A. Offline drill, 80-yard segments (Laddie only)

Laddie needed only the minimum handling, a single WSC for the two offline blinds.

SERIES B. Triple blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

First was the left blind at 120 yards. Second blind was the right blind at 200 yards. Third was the center blind at 240 yards, perhaps the longest we've run at Oaks.

The diversion for Series B was a small herd of deer between the center and right blinds.

Both dogs handled well, requiring no callbacks or pickups.

PM: Oaks Area 3

SERIES C. Land Double (both dogs)

With limited time, I thought the dogs would enjoy running some marks, so I took the opportunity to give them some experience with a convergent picture.

Both marks were stand-ins (streamers attached to carriage bolts) "thrown" by RLs so that they would land near pre-positioned ducks.

The first was thrown left to right at 90 yards. The second was thrown right to left at 50 yards. The line to the go-bird was slightly to the right of the line to the memory-bird. Both launchers and the line to both falls was thru a keyhole formed by two trees at 30 yards.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Blinds


In Bob Hux's last Tuesday HT group for the year, he set up two land series, including a blind in each for Lumi and Laddie, the only dogs in the group running blinds this week. All marks and blinds were ducks. Afterwards, I set up some additional series for my dogs.

SERIES A. Two Singles and a Blind (both dogs)

SERIES B. Two Singles and a Blind (both dogs)

SERIES C. Triple Blind, 100-200-210 yards (concept: blind inside a stand of trees) (both dogs)

SERIES D. Offline Drill, 80-yard Segments (Laddie only)

SERIES E. Single Blind, 210 years (Laddie only)

  • In Series A, the line to the 100-yard blind ran five yards to the left of a mound that was about 50 yards from the SL. I thought I had the dogs lined up to the left of the mound, but both of them veered slightly right, ran over the center of the mound, and then veered left to line the blind. I don't know if that's good or bad but it made me smile. Especially Laddie, who kind of flew over the mound and caught big air as he cleared the top, like a squad car in a San Francisco movie car chase, his back legs flying up behind him.
  • Series C, a triple blind with ODs at 100-200-210 yards, was run from a mound with every line thru strips of high cover and every blind in a small stand of trees on the fringe of the field in various directions. It was sufficiently difficult that Lumi required handling on every series, at least when she got near the stands of trees — we haven't practiced that picture often — and she remained responsive on every WSC even at 200 yards.
  • On the other hand, Laddie repeatedly slipped whistles on Series C, and calling him back in wasn't fixing it. I finally put him on lead and walked him to each blind, picked up the OD, and carried them back to the van myself as he trotted along beside me. I was a bit surprised at his poor behavior, but later I remembered that he wouldn't touch his dinner last night, which in the past occurred when the BC downstairs was in heat. As I recall, another symptom at the time was that his brain stopped working. Maybe we have a bitch in heat in the neighborhood, maybe even that BC again.
  • Be that as it may, I then set up Series D, a difficult offline drill with 70-yard segments. Laddie retrieved both offline blinds (ODs) with the minimum one WSC, and of course picked up the non-handling 210-yard duck lickety-split.
  • Then I set up Series E, one last blind just for Laddie: a 220-yarder on the same field as our most recent videos (to view them, click here and see the videos for Series D), thru a fairly narrow keyhole at 100 yards, and past a shrubby conifer at 200 yards, a few yards to the right of the line to the blind with wrap potential. Laddie handled fine on this one, a good way to end his day's work.
  • I think in the future when I have the time, I should give Laddie an offline drill as a warm-up before running him on blinds for awhile.

Monday, November 24, 2008


AM: Oaks Area 2

LAND SERIES: Triple blind with remote casting starts (Laddie, then Lumi)

I pre-positioned ODs at three locations while the dogs were in the van. I then brought out one dog at a time to run the series.

The first blind was the right blind at 100 yards. It was in front of a tree in a widely spaced line of trees that ran at a diagonal angle to the line to the blind.

The second blind was the left blind at 150 yards. It was also in front of a tree in a line of trees, widely spaced but not as widely as the trees on the right.

The third blind was the center blind at 180 yards. It was in front of a woods.

The field at all three Oaks areas is thick clumps of grass over uneven footing, mowed several months ago, somewhat grown out and now dormant for the winter.

We've run on this field many times, and though the dogs have never run these exact blinds, experience suggests that if I had cast them from heel as normal, they might have lined one or more of the blinds and had little trouble with the others, resulting in little practice handling. To get more benefit from the series, I decided to use a suggestion from Alice called remote casting starts on all three blinds with both dogs.

To accomplish the suggestion, I started each blind by placing the dog in a sit 30 yards from the SL on a line slightly off the line to the center blind. I walked to the SL and used our come-in cue, whistling tweet-tweet-tweet and placing both hands near my knees. As soon as the dog took a few steps, I blew WS, the dog sat, and I called "good job". Then I cast the dog to the blind. For the first and second blinds, I used angle back casts, while for the center blind I used a straight back cast.

I later realized that 30 yards might have been too far away for typical remote casting starts. Re-reading Alice's email where she described this procedure, she suggested 10 yards. In the future, I'll switch to the shorter distance.

The remote casting starts were effective in giving us more practice handling, because the dogs were unable to get on a perfect line to the blind from those casts. In each case, they took an approximately correct line, so I let them run for some distance rather than micro-managing their early lines. When they got closer to the blind, I then used additional handling as necessary to guide them the rest of the way.

Neither dog slipped any whistles, and based on their body language, both seemed to find this an enjoyable game.

Today I experimented with silent casts. Laddie has always responded well to them, and today I found that Lumi also responded well to them. In the past Lumi has sometimes ignored my arm movements unless I also used a verbal cue, but that didn't happen at all today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Training Day, Blinds

AM: Cheltenham

SERIES A. Three Triples with a Flyer Duck (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series A was part of a training day conducted by our local FCR club, preparing for a WC/X to be given at the same property next week. Lumi already has her WC and WCX. Laddie has neither and I'd like him to get them. However, with overnight temps in the teens and twenties, and daytime temps in the thirties and forties, I decided not to risk Laddie having a bad experience with cold water and did not enter him in the test, nor did we participate in today's water series given later in the day.

Nonetheless, we still came to training day for the opportunity to practice with a friendly group, and for the opportunity to have flyers as marks. Although a WCX does not involve the dog honoring a flyer, I also asked for permission to have my dogs honor on lead the following dog after they ran their series.

The land series of a WCX is run as a triple, and that's how many of the handlers ran their dogs. My dogs both had multiples yesterday, and since I've been told that running 90% singles is best for improving or maintaining a dog's marking skills, I had both dogs run today's course as three singles.

For the first bird, a duck thrown right to left from the right station, I used line mechanics as if it were a triple, showing the dog the flyer station on the left, then the center station, and finally cueing "sit, mark" as the dog turned with me to face the right station. For the second bird, a duck thrown right to left from the center station, I used line mechanics as if it were a double, showing the dog the flyer station on the left, then cueing "sit, mark" as the dog turned with me to face the center station. For the third bird, a flyer thrown right to left from the left station, I cued "sit, mark" as the dog faced the station.

All three marks were designed to land in open space. Except for steadiness, these were relatively easy marks for both dogs, and both dogs pinned all three.

Lumi: Lumi was steady on #1 and #2, broke on #3. Thinking quickly, our "judge" called out for the gunners to pick up the bird before Lumi could reach it, and they did. I called Lumi back to heel and said that if they had enough flyers, I'd like to purchase another one and try it again.

They had plenty of flyers and we did try it again, and again Lumi broke. Again the gunners picked the bird up.

Next we tried it with a dead bird, Lumi still off-lead. I didn't think she'd break for a dead bird, but she did, and again the gunners picked the bird up. From this experience, I realized that Lumi doesn't break on flyers per se, she breaks if a bird is thrown from a station where flyers are kept in a crate. That may come in as useful information in developing a training plan to work on Lumi's steadiness, since it's apparently unnecessary to throw a live bird every time in order to tempt her into breaking.

Finally, we ran the third mark with Lumi on-lead. Again she tried to break, but of course was unable to go until I removed the leash and sent her.

After that, I had Lumi honor on lead, using our new "just watch" cue. Lumi was steady for the two dead birds but tried to break when the last bird of the triple, the flyer, was thrown.

After the running dog was sent, I ran with Lumi to pick up a duck I had pre-positioned for her on the way back to the van, and gave her several happy throws and games of chase with the bird before having her get back in the van.

Laddie: Laddie ran #1 and #2 off lead. He crept a little, but did not break.

He ran #3 on-lead, and then honored the next dog on-lead. He was steady on one of them, tried to break on the other, but I can't remember which was which.

After the running dog was sent, I ran with Laddie to the van to get a 2" dummy out of the trunk, and gave him several happy throws and games of tug before having him get back in the van.

SERIES B. Offline Drill, 70-yard Segments (Laddie only)

Taking advantage of the fact that we'd driven out to Cheltenham, I set up an offline drill for Laddie on a field dotted with trees, surrounded by woods on three sides, with patches of high cover and some half-frozen standing water on the BL. Laddie required more than the minimum of one WSC for each offline blind, but was responsive on every handling cue despite the difficulty of the terrain and the length of the retrieves.

Since Laddie is still slipping whistles on blinds run at Cheltenham (for example, see Series C), I feel we need to continue running offline drills at this location. In future sessions over the next few days and weeks, I'll look for challenging locations to set the drills up, and may also increase the distances.

SERIES C. Triple Blind with Poison Bird (Lumi, then Laddie)

For Series C, we worked in the same field as Series B but with a different SL. With the dogs in the van, I put out two ODs at each of three locations. To run each dog, I brought the dog to the SL, cued Sit, went out to fire a pistol and throw a duck left to right at 40 yards, and returned to the SL. That duck acted as the poison bird (PB) for the series. A tree was two yards to the left of the line to the PB. Back at the SL, I ran the dog on the three blinds, then released the dog to retrieve the PB.

The first blind was the center blind, placed just in front of a woods at 100 yards. The line to the first blind was past the PB and a tree on the left, and another tree on the right.

The second blind was the right blind, placed at 130 yards just past an outcropping of the woods on the left of the line to the blind. The line to the blind was between a tree, the PB, and the line to the first blind on the left, and another tree on the right.

The third blind was the left blind, placed at 140 yards just in front of the woods. The line to the third blind was between an outcropping of woods on the left, and on the right, two trees and the PB.

Series C was at the edge of both dogs' capability. The PB and trees formed keyholes, the PB also acted as suction for all three blinds, and the outcropping of woods on the second and third blinds acted as potential wraps. Neither dog lined any of the blinds except for Laddie on #2 (but he had found that while running #1), and both were drawn around to the left and out of sight by the wrap on the left of #3.

Lumi, running first, slipped two whistles. The first was after several good WSCs that brought her to the treeline too far left of #1, where she started to hunt instead of sitting when whistled. The other was when she disappeared left behind the wrap on #3. She came in when called after both incidents.

Laddie had four slipped whistles. On the first, he went OOC while running #1 and found #2. I walked out, put him on lead, put the OD back at the #2 blind position, walked with him back to the SL, and reran him on #1. On the others, he came in when called.

Besides those slipped whistles, both dogs had many successful WSs, but their casts were plagued by repeated digging back in various situations. In most cases, I used a quick whistle and re-cast. In a few, I used an exaggerated cast — Over instead of what I wanted, an angle Back — and in a couple, I called the dog in, blew WS, then re-cast, a procedure called attrition.

Based on those problems, it seems that the Cheltenham terrain is significantly more difficult than local areas we use for practicing blinds, even when the Cheltenham blinds were shorter than those we sometimes run locally. During the winter, we'll get to Cheltenham as often as possible, until the dogs are able to handle as reliably with Cheltenham's challenges as they've learned to at the easier locations (for example, see Series D below).

PM: Oaks Area 3

SERIES D. Triple Blind with Poison Bird (Lumi, then Laddie)

ODs were pre-positioned at each blind. I brought a dog from the van to the SL and cued Sit. I walked out, fired a pistol, and threw a duck angling back left to right. That duck acted as the PB for the series. My line for throwing the duck took me under the bough of a tree so that the bird seemed to come from behind the tree out into the open, landing on an embankment facing the SL at 90 yards. I walked back to the SL and ran the dog on the three blinds, then released the dog to pick up the duck.

The first blind was the right blind at 170 yards. Although it was longer than the second blind, I ran the longer blind first to maximize the challenge of the PB, which was closer to the longer blind and required handling the dog at greater distance. The line to the first blind was at a slight angle out from a fence on the right and passing the PB at a distance of 20 yards to the left. The line to the blind was also potentially influenced by the tree I mentioned above, and also by a hedgerow at the top of the embankment, 100 yards from the SL and a potential wrap. Thus the suction on this blind, consisting of the tree, the duck, and the hedgerow, seemed additive primarily to the left.

The second blind was the center blind at 100 yards. The line to the second blind was flanked by a tree on the right and three trees on the left, and the blind was planted just beyond another hedgerow, again on the left. So for this blind, also, the primary suction was on the left.

The third blind was the left blind at 170 yards. The third blind was on the embankment for a road and facing the SL, so that the OD was visible from the SL. The line to the blind crossed a dry ditch, with a raised embankment beside the ditch, at a diagonal. The line to the blind passed a tree and a boulder that may have acted as suction to the left, but it also passed several trees, a hedgerow, and a stand of trees and undergrowth acting as a possible wrap on the right, so the predominant suction seemed to be to the right.

Lumi, running first, lined the first blind and remained responsive for all handling on the other two blinds, then excitedly picked up the PB.

Laddie, running second, veered toward the PB when sent to the first blind but easily handled off it to the blind. Laddie remained responsive for handling to the second blind, and lined the third blind. Like Lumi, Laddie shot off like a rocket when I finally turned him toward the PB and called his name.

I think this course was too easy for either dog to have learned much, and mostly they were just practicing skills they already had. However, the fact that a course with blinds at these distances, dotted with numerous trees and hedgerows as well as a PB, was too easy, was an encouraging sign that we're making progress.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Training Day


Today we participated in a training day with our local Golden club. The weather was frigid enough to have everyone bundled up, but at least we had no precipitation.

One of the trainers, who sometimes judges HTs, set up four land series for us: a triple mark, a double blind, another triple mark, and another double blind. Each trainer selected a particular way of running the triples courses, for example as singles around the horn, or as a remote triple with the handler standing in the holding blind while the birds were being thrown. In this journal entry, I'll describe the series the way my dogs ran them, though none of the other handlers used the courses the same way we did.

SERIES A. Single Mark Followed by Hip Pocket Double (Laddie, then Lumi)

For Series A, all three birds were ducks, and all three birds were thrown from behind holding blinds.

First the thrower on the left, using a winger, threw at 80 yards , throwing right to left from in front of a tree toward a road that ran on the left of the course, and the dog was sent for that mark. Next, the thrower on the right, using a winger, threw at 100 yards, throwing left to right so that the bird crossed in front of a tree with the fall in heavy cover. Then the center thrower hand-threw at 60 yards, throwing left to right from in front of a tree so that that fall was also in heavy cover. After those two birds were thrown, the dog was sent to the center as the go-bird, and to the right as the memory-bird.

The angle from the left station, where the single was thrown, to the center station was 30°. The angle from the center, the go-bird of the double, to the right station, the memory-bird of the double, was tighter, so that the line to the center fall if extended passed near the throwing station for the right bird, making the combination of the center and right birds a "hip pocket" double.

In addition to the cover that the right and center falls were in, the dog ran threw several diagonal strips of high cover, at various lengths and angles, to each of the falls. The terrain went downhill as the dog left the SL, with the center fall at the lowest point. The terrain then went uphill again, with the right and left falls on the uphill slope.

Laddie had no difficulty with the left bird thrown as a single. When the double was thrown, the center go-bird's gun didn't fire. With the bird hand-thrown on a low trajectory, from between a tree and a holding blind and into high cover, apparently Laddie didn't see the go-bird thrown and when I sent him, he ran straight to the right bird and picked it up. When I sent him again, he headed on the same line and again ran past the center bird. As soon as I saw that he had overshot the center fall, I called for help, and when the thrower called "hey-hey", Laddie came back and found the center bird. I think he benefited from being reminded that there is a geometric relationship between throwers and falls, but because the center gun didn't fire and Laddie apparently didn't see the throw, the hip-pocket configuration was wasted.

When Lumi ran the same configuration two dogs later, all three guns fired, and she seemed to have no difficulty with either the single or the hip-pocket double, pinning all three marks.

SERIES B. Double Blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series B, a double blind, was run from the same SL as Series A and with the holding blinds from Series A still in place. Dummies were placed on a mound at 70 yards to the left of the leftmost station from Series A, so that the line to the blind ran diagonally across a road and slightly uphill. Ducks were placed in front of a tree at 90 yards to the right of the rightmost station from Series B, on a slope that ran downhill away from the SL and toward the right and thru several diagonal strips of high cover. After the blinds were planted, the six dogs running blinds took their turns, all dogs being sent first to the left and then to the right blind.

Though the visibility of the dummies on the mound to the left, and the placement of the ducks on the right in front of a tree, made both blinds look relatively easy, none of the dogs lined either of them. Both Lumi and Laddie were responsive on all WSCs when they took their turns.

SERIES C. Three Singles (Lumi), Triple (Laddie), Indent Configuration

In Series C, all throws were ducks thrown from behind holding blinds, and a winger was used for the right and left birds, while the center bird was hand thrown. The right bird was at 100 yards, the left bird was at 80 yards, and the center bird was at 40 yards. The right bird was thrown from in front of a tree, right to left into high cover. The left bird was thrown from next to a tree, left to right over a strip of high cover so that it landed in the open just past the cover but hidden from view until the dog ran thru or around the cover. The center bird was thrown from in front of a tree, left to right into high cover.

Because I've heard that running singles is better for improving and/or maintaining a dog's marking skill, I ran Series C as three singles for Lumi. An additional reason for running a multiple as singles in Lumi's case is that she has had a tendency to look away from throws too soon, which I believe is called head-swinging. For Lumi, I therefore sometimes, as in this series, use the same line mechanics as if a multiple were being thrown, showing her the would-be go-bird and intermediate memory-bird before showing her the longest bird last, and cueing "sit, mark". Then I have the longest bird thrown first so that the picture is the same as the memory bird of a multiple. But I send her to that bird immediately instead of calling for another throw, so that she learns to keep her focus on that bird rather than turning to look for another throw. In this series, I used the same strategy for the second bird, presenting it as though it would be a double of the left and center birds, but sending her to the longer right bird immediately rather than calling for the center bird to be thrown. That seems to have been an effective strategy in nearly eliminating Lumi's head-swinging over the last few weeks. The center bird was thrown as a final single mark. Lumi pinned all three marks.

Because Laddie had not run a good multiple in Series A, I decided to have him run Series C as a triple. I had the birds thrown right, left, center. Laddie has not developed a head-swinging problem, and showed good focus and steadiness as the marks were thrown and a number was called by one of the other handlers acting as "judge". He pinned the go-bird and the second mark to the left, but needed a short hunt for the last memory-bird bird on the right.

SERIES D. Double Blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series D consisted of a double blind, run from the same SL as Series C and with the holding blinds from Series C still in place. For the left blind, ducks were planted in front of the same tree that had been used as the second blind in Series B, though now the tree was approached from a different angle. The line to the left blind ran between the left and center stations from Series C. For the right blind, ducks were planted in front of a gun rack used as lining pole to the right of the tree from which ducks had been thrown right to left at the rightmost station from Series C. Again none of the six dogs running the blinds lined either one of them, and again Laddie and Lumi were responsive on all their WSCs.

SERIES E. Offline Drill (Laddie only)

After group training, I decided to take advantage of the outstanding training property to run Laddie on an offline drill with 50-yard segments, in hilly terrain, across several roads, and thru multiple diagonal strips of high cover.

I set the SL on a mound. The first, 50-yard offline blind (OD) was to the left, across an intersection of dirt roads and just in front of the treeline to the woods, with a nearby stand of trees further to the right that Laddie got into when he overran the blind. The second, 100-yard offline blind (OD) was to the left, diagonally across a road and on a slope that dropped off from the BL.

On the 50-yard offline blind, Laddie responded well to every whistle and cast, but it took several WSCs to direct him to the blind. On the 100-yard offline blind, he stopped on the WS and took one Over cast to the blind. He then lined the 150-yard retrieve of the canvas dummy at the end of the BL.

Although this offline drill was not as easy for Laddie as those we run close to home because of the cover, trees, and rolling hills, I think it was easy enough for him that next time we run an offline drill on this property, possibly tomorrow, we can try lengthening the segments.

Steadiness on Today's Series

Both dogs ran off-lead from the line all day at today's group training, and both dogs honored on-lead for Series A and C. I've been using the new cue "just watch" for honoring with both dogs for several days, and have been having both dogs honor from a sit.

Because of the two dog's different preferences, I used two different approaches to reinforcing the honor. For Lumi, I threw a duck on the ground midway between the SL and the van before we started each honor, and when I cued "just watch", she took little interest in the ducks being thrown for the running dog and was anxious only to be released so that she could run to "her" bird. We then ran together to the van, and I made several happy throws for her with the duck. Since Laddie seems to like dummies somewhat better than birds, we ran to the van when I called "here" after each honor, where I grabbed a 2" dummy out of the van and we played a high-energy game of happy throws and tug.

Neither dog attempted a break today, though Laddie did stand up when a bird was thrown for the running dog while he was honoring on Series C.
, and might have broken if not on lead.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marks and Blinds, Offline Drill

AM: Sundown Park Road

Weather: Freezing temps, snow flurries. Both dogs seemed energized by the brisk conditions.

SERIES A. Offline drill, 60-yard segments, followed immediately by a land double interrupted by a blind (Laddie only)

I set up the course while both dogs aired and played, then ran Laddie on the entire course as Series A. Later, I ran Lumi on a part of the course for Series B (see below).

Laddie's work on Series A proceeded as follows.

For the first retrieve, I sent him down the 180-yard BL of the offline drill, blew WS at 60 yards, and cast him left to the first offline blind, an OD. For the second retrieve, I sent him down the same BL, blew WS at 120 yards, and cast him right to the second offline blind. For this series, I modified the offline drill and did not finish by sending Laddie to the end of the BL for a non-handling retrieve.

Instead, using the same SL, we turned to the right and ran the double interrupted by a blind. The two marks were "thrown" using RLs and stand-ins (carriage bolts with streamers attached), with the stand-ins landing near a pre-positioned retrieval object. The first stand-in was launched by the left RL at 170 yards, right to left to land near a pre-positioned duck. The second stand-in was launched by the right RL at 100 yards, right to left to land near a pre-positioned pheasant. The angle between the two marks was 60°. The angle between the left mark and the BL of the offline drill was also 60°

As soon as the right mark was down, I sent Laddie to retrieve the pheasant. I then ran him on the pre-positioned blind, a duck just in front of the woods at 150 yards from the SL, on a line midway between the two marks. After Laddie returned from the blind with the duck, I sent him to retrieve the memory bird, the duck to the left at 170 yards.

The lines to both marks and the blind between them all passed thru keyholes formed by a widely spaced line of trees that ran diagonally across the course.

Laddie's performance on Series A was quite good. He required only a single WSC on each of the offline blinds, pinned the right mark, lined the interrupting blind, and finally pinned the left mark. He performed at all times with his usual exuberance, did not seem confused by being sent to the interrupting blind even though he had not yet picked up the memory bird, and took a good line to the memory bird when finally sent to it. My only concern was that his WS on the 120-yard offline blind was slow, requiring a sustained tweet before Laddie finally stopped running straight and turned to face me and sit. For that reason, I decided to give him additional offline drill work after Lumi had her turn to do some retrieving.

SERIES B. Land double interrupted by a blind (Lumi only)

Because Lumi is currently showing fine responsiveness to handling, because she does not seem to enjoy the offline drill, and because I want to preserve her soundness as much as possible, I only ran her on the double, interrupted by a blind, that Laddie had run in Series A. Lumi required four WSCs on the blind (compared to Laddie, who lined the blind), but she responded immediately to each WS and took a reasonable line on each cast. She seemed to have a clear picture of the line to the memory bird when sent, had excellent pick-ups of all birds, and remained in high spirits throughout her performance.

SERIES C. Offline drill, 60-yard segments (Laddie only)

We used the same poles and flags as the offline drill in Series A, but ran the BL in the opposite direction. For Series C, I started by dropping a duck at the BL end point with Laddie watching, then walked with him (and Lumi) to the SL. I put Lumi into a down behind the SL and ran Laddie on the drill.

In Series C, Laddie anticipated the first offline blind at 60 yards and veered toward it without being directed after I sent him down the BL. I called "no, here" and he raced back to heel. He then performed reasonably well on both offline blinds and the non-handling retrieve of the duck, staying on the BL unless I cast him off it and requiring only a single WSC for each offline blind. The only remaining problem was that his response to the WS on the second offline blind at 120 yards was not crisp.

AM (continued): Oaks Area 1

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

As with previous work today, Laddie did not slip a whistle, and required only a single cast for both offline blinds. But as with Series C, he anticipated the first offline blind and had to be called back to be sent down the BL a second time. In addition, although he did stop when whistled on the 140-yard offline blind, it was not a crisp response, and he might not have stopped at all if I had not used a sustained tweet that I held until he began to respond.

Although Laddie is only using a single WSC per offline blind, a rate that can't be improved upon, I plan to continue working with Laddie on the offline drill until he shows an immediate response to every WS, even short tweets.

In order to try to defeat Laddie's anticipation of the short blind, I plan to increase both the length of the BL segments, and also the horizontal distance from the BL to the offline blinds.

I'm glad that I'm not seeing any drop in Laddie's enthusiasm level for the offline drill the way I did with Lumi after we'd practiced it for some time. I guess that Laddie, at least for now, sees the drill as an opportunity to run, to retrieve, and to participate in the close social cooperation required by our "hunt".

PM: Oaks Area 1

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

For Series E in the late afternoon, we used the same course as Series D, but ran the BL in the opposite direction. Conditions were frigid, with a strong headwind as I sent Laddie out on each of the three retrieves.

Laddie did not seem affected by the headwind, and performed beautifully, again requiring only one WSC for each of the two offline blinds. For Series E, I used a short tweet for both WSs, and that was enough for Laddie to stop, although on the second, 140-yard WS, he took more steps that I'd like before he turned and sat. Since he showed improvement in this area between Series D and Series E, it's possible that simply with more practice, his responses to the WS will continue to improve.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Marks and Blinds

AM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

Short on time and having forgotten our "stand-in" streamers for the launchers at home, I still wanted to introduce both dogs to the concept of an interrupted multiple.

To make the concept as easy as possible, I chose a ball field with easy terrain, and what I hoped would be an easy configuration. Here's what I came up with:


I began by pre-positioning two birds as blinds, then setting up three RLs for the marks, each loaded with a 2" WD. Once the test was set up, I brought Laddie to the line to run it. After that, I set the test up again and ran Lumi. As each dog ran, the other waited in the van.

The first mark was launched by the right RL at 110 yards. The second was launched by the middle RL at 80 yards. The third was launched by the left RL at 70 yards. After launching all three marks, I sent the dog to the left RL. Next, I had the dog pick up the two blinds, and finally I had the dog pick up the middle mark and then the right mark.

The first blind was a pheasant planted to the left of the left mark at a distance of 90 yards, with a drop-off of the terrain to the left and behind the blind, so that if the dog got too far out or too far to the left, the dog would go out of sight. The second blind was a duck planted between the left and middle marks at a distance of 100 yards. Both blinds were where the terrain began to drop off so that they were invisible as the dog ran toward them until the dog was within 20 yards.

The overall test was within a 180° angle, with the lines to the various retrieves approximately equally distributed.

Although the wind was calm, both dogs seemed to be aware of the bird scent from the blinds as soon as they ran the first mark, if not sooner.

LADDIE: Laddie's WS has deteriorated significantly the last few weeks, and in this test, he picked up the middle mark when I tried to send him to the second blind, which was between the left and middle marks. Aside from that, his lining was excellent and his motivation was as high as ever.

LUMI: Lumi picked up the scent of the second blind when I sent her for the first mark, and when she saw that the mark was a WD, she blinked it and tried to go for the duck instead. But she responded to a couple of WSCs until she understood to pick up the WD, and after that, she ran the rest of the test enthusiastically and well, responsive to all handling on the blinds. Great pick-ups of both the birds and the dummies.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Purpose-bred Hunting Dogs

My van was broken into a couple of nights ago, and when the thieves took my toolbox, they also took some key dog training equipment, such as my whistles and remote-launcher transmitter.

After coming out of shock, I've ordered replacement equipment that might arrive as early as today, but as of this morning, our training options were limited, as was my time before work for that matter.

So instead of our usual morning field work, I decided to go for a two-mile jog at a nearby woodland trail, taking Lumi and Laddie along as my running mates.

I always forget how much Goldens like the cold weather. With temps in the teens, I was bundled up, but L&L, wearing nothing but their fur coats, were in their element. If you'd didn't know that Lumi was bred for hunting and Laddie for field competition, you'd swear that these dogs were always meant to be hiking companions. Up and down the trails they ran, even taking brief swims in the frigid creek that runs along the trail. Away they'd dash on some doggie mission, I'd call Here, and watch as the two of them spun around on a dime and raced back in formation, like a Blue Angels air show.

I just thought I'd write a post to the blog and share this observation, which many readers of course already know: If you can't train that day, a morning jog in the woods with your dogs makes a doggone nice second choice.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Marks and Blinds

AM: Cheltenham

[Today, the dogs and I went to Cheltenham to train alone. But as we were running Series B, several trainers from the FT group we used to train with showed up in another part of the property and began training together. After we finished Series B, I drove the dogs over to the group and asked if we could possibly run with them. They were kind enough to consent, so we than ran their three series, which I've called Series C, D, and E below.]

Temps in 40s, wind at 15 MPH with stronger gusts. The lines to every retrieve today were thru several strips of high cover, usually at a diagonal, and in most cases also included running thru standing water in low-lying segments of the run. Most blinds and falls were also inside a strip of cover.

Two blinds and a mark, left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #1: 100-yard blind, OD with no marker
  • #2: 150-yard mark, RL/stand-in/duck
  • #3: 180-yard blind, OD with no marker, almost into a headwind
SERIES B. Three blinds and two marks, left to right within a 135° angle:
  • #2 (first launch, memory-bird of a double): 170-yard mark, RL/stand-in/duck, diagonally across a road
  • #4: 200-yard blind, OD/SF, with a tree 20 yards to the right of the blind and a road meandering along the left of the line to the blind
  • #5: 200-yard blind, OD/SF, thru a keyhole formed by a tree on the left and a mound on the right
  • #1: 120-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #3 (second launch, go-bird of a double): 100-yard mark, RL/stand-in/duck
Both marks were in open field with no markers, so #2 functioned as a retired gun.

I usually use blinds for the outer retrieves on marks-and-blinds set-ups, so today's setup, with all three blinds inside the two marks, was unusual. Given the scale I wanted to run and the particular terrain at the SL I selected, that seemed a good arrangement, and I'm assuming it's good for the dogs to get the variety even if today's setup was unusual.

SERIES C. Group land series with a hip-pocket double opportunity on the right two birds. Since we have not trained with the FT group in several weeks, I thought it better to run the series as three singles, hopefully minimizing difficulty even if not maximizing training benefit in this case. Left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #3: 150-yard mark (pheasant)
  • #1: 50-yard mark (dummy)
  • #2: 100-yard mark (pheasant), with the line to the fall in the narrow angle between the two throwers for #1 and #2
SERIES D. Group double blind, left to right within a 30° angle:
  • #2: 160-yard blind, OD with a nearby tree on the left, with the line to the blind past another tree on the left and across a road
  • #1: 120-yard blind, OD in front of a tree
SERIES E. Group triple, left to right with a 120° angle:
  • #3: 100-yard mark (pheasant), thrown last, retrieved first
  • #1: 130-yard mark (pheasant), thrown first, retrieved last
  • #2: 100-yard mark (pheasant), thrown second, retrieved second
The set-up looked fairly risk-free, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to have the dogs run it as a triple. Both dogs did well, running the memory birds accurately except possibly for Laddie on #1. He ran to the wrong side of the gun, then raced around to the other side to pick up the mark. I'm not sure whether that was because he forgot there was a bird out there and just played it by ear when I sent him, or remembered the bird but forgot the line to the fall.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Marks and Blinds

AM: Oaks Area 2

CONDITIONS: Overcast, gusty winds, intermittent light rain, tornado watch in effect. Terrain was calf-high cover, standing water, with the usual uneven footing and distracting wildlife scents of the Oaks properties.

LAND SERIES: With a holding blind borrowed from Bob Hux at the SL, three blinds and a double, left to right in a 135° angle:
  • #1: 120-yard blind, OD with no marker, with line to blind thru a keyhole made by two trees, the blind just before a road crossing; additional trees flanked the trees that formed the keyhole; I couldn't place the blind on the far side of the road because it carries occasional traffic
  • #2/3 (go-bird of the double): 70-yard mark, RL/stand-in/duck (see "Using RLs with Birds" below)
  • #4: 180-yard blind, OD with no marker, with line to blind thru a keyhole made by two trees; additional trees flanked the trees that formed the keyhole, and additional trees were behind the blind
  • #2/3 (memory-bird of the double): 170-yard mark, RL/stand-in/duck
  • #5: 220-yard blind, OD/SF, with line to blind past a hedgerow on the right that acted as suction from in front and that risked the dogs wrapping around behind after passing it
NOTES ON THE MARKS: Both dogs did great. I was especially pleased with their handling of the 170-yard mark, which simulated a memory bird in an open field with a retired gun. Both dogs pinned both marks, running straight to the launched stand-ins and then executing excellent, running pick-ups of the nearby birds.

NOTES ON THE BLINDS: Laddie slipped one whistle on #1, resulting in me calling him in. After that, he lined #1 and was then responsive running the the other blinds. Lumi did not line well on the blinds, but had no slipped whistles, and displayed reasonable, though not always great, casting accuracy.

Using RLs with Birds

Alice Woodyard suggested a way to use our remote launchers (RLs) and still have the dogs retrieve birds for marks. The four RLs we own are called "LCS (Lion Country Supply) Universal Bird Launchers", with Innotek electronics. As Alice explained, they're designed for tossing a small bird for a pointing dog, not tossing a "mark" for a retriever to be seen from many yards away. They don't throw very far, but they're compact and economical. We have four of them, and until this week, we've only used them with our 2" WDs (with ropes and streamers). They didn't seem useful with anything heavier, and we didn't have any small birds in the freezer.

Alice's suggestion was to launch what I might call a "stand-in" (my term, not Alice's), something small but relatively heavy with streamers attached, so that it would land near a pre-positioned bird. In our case, I used two carriage bolts and two 1-1/2" steel washers for a total of four stand-ins. To those, per Alice's guidance, I attached streamers made of 12"x2" strips of white plastic made from grocery bags. Today, the dogs, having been previously trained with the stand-ins, marked the stand-ins, then left them behind and retrieved the nearby ducks instead.

We did the training with the stand-ins a couple of days ago, when Alice first made the suggestion to use streamers with the RLs. The training went like this for each dog:
  1. Throw a bird 20 yards, throw a stand-in 90° to the side, send dog to the bird.
  2. Throw a bird 20 yards, throw a stand-in 45° to the side, send dog to the bird.
  3. Throw a bird 20 yards, throw a stand-in next to the bird, send dog.
  4. Throw a bird 50 yards, throw a stand-in next to the bird, send dog.
  5. On easy terrain (mowed lawn), set up launchers with the stand-ins and nearby pre-positioned birds, run two singles at 50 and 70 yards.
Based on that preliminary training, both dogs seemed completely ready for today's set-up, which featured the additional elements of a 170-yard mark — longer than they's seen with the stand-ins before — higher cover that hid the launchers, the ducks, and the fallen stand-ins, and a double with go-bird and memory-bird instead of only singles.

Not only did both dogs do well in marking the streamers and yet retrieving the birds, but Lumi had two excellent, running pick-ups of the birds. That's the norm for Laddie but Lumi tends to dawdle over a pick-up. We've been working on her dawdling extensively the last few weeks so that may be the only reason today's pick-ups were so good. But I think the stand-ins may have also been a factor. Lumi ran to the stand-in, perhaps experienced a moment of disappointment that it wasn't a bird, glanced around for a bird, found it and registered excitement, and then ran to pick it up and head toward home. It seems as though that sequence may have in some way triggered better quality pick-ups than usual. It will be interesting to see whether it continues to happen, and whether it carries over when we get thrown birds at training days and events.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Line Mechanics

AM: Neighborhood Lacrosse Field

With heavy rain and little time, I decided to work on line mechanics with the dogs. I used a holding blind (HB) I borrowed from Bob Hux on Tuesday, a canvas dummy for throwing, a 2" white dummy for happy throws and tug, and treats.

The training sequence was as follows:
  1. First throw for Lumi: With Me (heeling) to HB (all heeling intermittently reinforced with treats); With Me to SL; throw CD
  2. Bring Laddie to HB: With Me
  3. Send Lumi, prepare to honor: Send Lumi; receive CD at honor position; "Ready to play?" (RTP), which cues Lumi to down; treat
  4. Throw for Laddie: Treat Laddie for waiting at HB; With Me from HB to SL; throw CD
  5. Reinforce Lumi's honoring: RTP (again), Here, treat, happy throw, tug
  6. Bring Lumi to HB: With Me
  7. Send Laddie, prepare to honor: Send Laddie; receive CD at honor position; RTP, which cues Laddie to sit; treat
  8. Throw for Lumi: Treat Lumi for waiting at HB; With Me from HB to SL; throw CD
  9. Reinforce Laddie's honoring: RTP (again), Here, treat, happy throw, tug
  10. Go back to step (2) above
We repeated the sequence three times, then packed up and went home.

Although the sequence is obviously not identical to event conditions, it enables us to practice some concepts. To summarize the similarities and differences and describe the reinforcers:
  • Heeling to HB is identical to event, other than Event Discount Factors (EDFs) such as excitement level; treats provide reinforcement for heeling.
  • In an event, dog would not be left alone at HB, nor receive treat for waiting alone. Treat provides reinforcement for waiting in HB.
  • Other than EDFs, heeling to SL is identical to event, except that for Field Trials, we'd be setting up on a mat; again, treats provide reinforcement.
  • Sending to "mark" thrown by handler has little resemblance to an event mark.
  • RTP and dog's response (down or sit) before next dog runs is identical to event, but handler would not give a treat. In addition, handler would stay with the honoring dog, so leaving the dog to honor alone has little resemblance to an event honor. Also, EDFs make honoring much more difficult, especially when a flyer is thrown for the other dog.
  • Second RTP after the throw would not be used in an event. Instead, RTP would be used only to cue the down (Lumi) or sit (Laddie), and as soon as the honor dog is released, handler would cue Here. I decided to add a second RTP before Here in this exercise to compensate for the fact that the handler steps away and works with the other dog after the first RTP.
  • On the other hand, reinforcement for the second RTP is identical to an event: excited Here, treat once dog is off the field, run together to van, happy throws, and games of tug.
In summary, this exercise provides opportunities for reinforcing correct responses to all of the following:
  • With Me to HB
  • Waiting at HB
  • With Me to SL
  • RTP to cue down (Lumi) or sit (Laddie)
  • Here instead of breaking after RTP
With limited time, this seemed like a reasonable way to work on heeling to and from the HB. But if we get an opportunity in future sessions, I may change it as follows: Have the dog at the SL wait until the other dog is in the HB, and then send the dog at the SL to a remote-launched mark or a pre-positioned blind.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Land Blinds

AM: Cheltenham

SERIES A. Triple land blind. Left to right within a 175° angle:
  • #1: 60-yard blind, OD with no marker, inside a patch of high cover, with line to blind over a road and a ditch
  • #2: 120-yard blind, OD on a mound, with line to blind over a serpentine road resulting in several terrain transitions on sharp angles; line to blind passes a nearby stand of trees on the left
  • #3: 150-yard blind, OD/SF, over a ditch, thru a diagonal keyhole of two trees, and thru two strips of diagonal cover
Running first, Laddie line all three blinds. Running second, Lumi lined #2 and was responsive to all WSCs on the others. Both dogs stayed on the line to #2 as they crossed road-edge transitions.

SERIES B. Triple land blind. Left to right within a 45° angle:
  • #3: 200-yard blind, OD/SF, thru keyhole of two trees at 80 yards, then wide past a tree on the left that acted as suction, and close past a pair of conifers on the right 20 yards before the blind, which also acted as suction and risked the dog disappearing behind the trees by cutting across in front of them or wrapping around them as they went past
  • #1: 80-yard blind, OD with no marker, wide to the left of a tree
  • #2: 180-yard blind, OD on a mound, thru diagonal keyhole of two trees at 150 yards
All three blinds required diagonally traversing a road and also running thru a low-lying area with marshy footing and covered in thick, high cover.

Lumi handled well on all the blinds.

Laddie slipped several whistles, all resulting in a call-back or pick-up, with gradual improvement in his responsiveness. #3 was particularly difficult for him for some reason. I guess he's not as comfortable with keyholes as I had thought he was. Eventually, I followed him for 50 yards to help him get thru it.

Barking in Van. I noticed recently that Laddie doesn't bark or tear anything up if I let him watch Lumi from the van with the door open, so today I did that with him on both series at Cheltenham. I plan to continue doing so, gradually building distance, and hopefully getting to the point that he'll be indifferent whether the door is open or not.

PM: Sundown Road Park

SERIES C. Triple land blind. Left to right within a tight, 30° angle:
  • #1: 150-yard blind, OD with no marker
  • #3: 180-yard blind, OD/SF
  • #2: 160-yard blind, OD with no marker, past ball field backstop fence on the right and across part of the infield diamond to the blind
The lines to all three blinds crossed a paved basketball court with diagonal entries and exits, and all lines went thru keyholes formed by trees at approximately 100 yards, except #2, which was a tree on one side and a fence on the other.

I decided to let Lumi sit this series out.

Laddie handled well and had little difficulty with #1 and #2. On #3, he had considerable difficulty, including two call-backs for slipped whistles. Again, it seems clear that Laddie finds keyholes more confusing than I realized. He seems to veer to the pillars as targets, or flares around outside them, rather than barreling thru the middle as I had visualized him doing and I believe he'll begin to do with more practice.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hunt Test Training, Blinds


Today was our regular Tuesday session with Bob Hux's Hunt Test group, a rather large group today.

Bob Hux's first land series. Both of my dogs ran it as three singles including a flyer, a blind, and honoring the next dog. In both cases, the next dog started by running a single with a dead bird, so neither of my dogs honored a flyer today.

Lumi ran first, and I requested three singles with no duck calls, two dead birds and then the flyer. Lumi pinned the first two marks, and then I decided to run a walk up for the flyer, instead of a mark with no duck call. I tried to call out instructions to the gunner at the flyer station, but apparently he didn't understand what I was saying. Our "judge" blew duck calls repeatedly as I brought Lumi out of the holding blind and walked toward the gunner, and then she'd pause but the gunner wouldn't do anything. Lumi and I kept walking, the "judge" kept trying duck calls and pausing, but the gunner just kept staring at us. Finally, I cued Sit and the "judge" called out for the mark. Then the gunner just released the duck and shot it without blowing a duck call first.

Lumi hesitating a few moments, but broke before the "judge" called "dog", and didn't respond to Here. I decided not to chase her down, because the procedure was so weird that I didn't really know what to do.

I had Lumi honor off-lead from a down, using our "Ready to play?" cue. She was on high alert, made no effort to break on the other dog's mark, and burst from her down when I called Here, whereupon we ran together to the van for an exciting series of happy throws with a duck. I gave her a chunk of chicken as we ran, though I think the happy throws were far more valuable.

When I ran Laddie, I ran him off-lead for the two dead-bird singles, then with a slip cord for the flyer. He made a slight attempt to break for the flyer, I don't know what would have happened without the lead. He might have just crept, he might have had a controlled break, or he might have completed his break.

He was steady honoring from a sit, and like Lumi, savored the happy throws back at the van.

Both dogs lined the blind (ducks) on Series A, the only dogs of the six that ran the blind to do so. The blind was 100 yards into the sun, on a line that passed within five yards of a mound 20 yards in front of the blind. Most of the dogs tried to go around the mound on the wrong side, but for some reasons my dogs held their line and ran straight to the blind.

SERIES B. Bob's second land series (water is too cold for any more water work this season). My dogs both ran this as a triple (no flyer) with a blind, and honoring the next dog. Lumi honored a triple off-lead from a down, while Laddie honored a single on-lead from a sit. Neither dog attempted to break on any of their marks nor on the honor.

On the blind, Lumi took a lot of WSCs but did not slip a whistle, and so I didn't pick her up nor call her back at all. Laddie slipped whistles on his first two send-outs and I called him back immediately each time. After that he handled well on the third send-out.

SERIES C. After the group training was over, I set up a triple land blind, 50-70-110 yards. Since the fields at Cheltenham are much more challenging than those we usually trained on, and since neither dog did too well on last Saturday's blinds on this property, I tried for an easier set-up, one that would require a few WSCs that the dogs would be successful at and learn from. These blinds all ran thru several diagonal strips of high cover. In addition, we ran from a mulch mound, and the lines to all the blinds were down hill on various diagonal slopes. Distractions included the large pond that was 100 yards further beyond the blinds, a number of members from the group milling around, and vehicles moving on the road between the blinds and the pond.

Laddie needed one call-back for a slipped whistle on the first send-out, then handled well after that. He lined the 70-yarder.

Lumi had no slipped whistles and took casts fairly accurately, after lining the first blind.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Land and Water Marks and Blinds

AM: Cheltenham

[My son Eric came along and videotaped for us.]

Note on the weather: Overnight temps have dipped into the thirties at times over the last couple of weeks, and this morning we were also having intermittent rain, making for a gloomy fall day. The water temp of the pond was mid-50s, which seemed warm enough for the dogs to get in some swimming practice. Watching the dogs work at the time, I was pleased by Laddie's water entries with articles in his mouth, which have made excellent progress over the last few months. But reviewing the videos later, I realized that both dogs may have been feeling some resistance to getting in the water when it's that cold. I know I would.

SERIES A. Triple blind with PB, left to right within a 120° angle:
  • #1: 100-yard land blind, OD, no marker
  • 40-yard PB, duck TFRL
  • #2: 100-yard land blind, OD in front of a tree
  • #3: 200-yard LWL blind, 20-yard swim, OD in front of a tree
Field was mostly open meadow, medium cover with diagonal strips of high cover. SL was on a mulch mound.

I ran Lumi first, then Laddie. Both performed more weakly in the Cheltenham conditions than I've been seeing when we train at various properties closer to home. For some reason, it also seems that their performance declines when we're videotaping. That might be an illusion, my mind playing tricks on me.

Since both dogs are two-sided, I had a choice of running them on my left or right side. Normally with blinds, I run the dog on my right side for the leftmost blind and on my left side for the rightmost blind, so that the dog is typically running from the same side as any throwers in the field and is not depending on me to act as a shield of some sort from the diversions. To the contrary, both dogs seem to have learned to use the line of the throwers as a boundary to stay within and clear of, helping the dog to stay on the intended line.

In this case, since I'd throw the delayed mark into the middle of the field, the result was that the dog was also on the same side of me as the PB, and again the line to the PB the dog had seen thrown was intended to act as a boundary. In Series A, the PB appeared to me to also function as suction to some extent, but in other series we've run, that did not occur. In fact, the opposite sometimes occurs and the dog makes a concerted effort to stay well clear of the line to the diversion.

Here's a video of Lumi running Series A:

Here's a video of Laddie running Series A:

At 3:20 in the video above, you can see Laddie picking up the dummy and heading straight into the short water crossing, with no evidence of his difficulties with LWL in previous months, sometimes on this very crossing. In fact, he did better than Lumi, who cheated around the water on her return from this blind, unusual for her.

SERIES B. 190-yard LWL blind with 160-yard swim, to CD under a tree. Points 30 yards to either side of the line to the blind.

Series B is the probably the most difficult water blind the dogs have ever run. They've only swum an LWL that far once before, have had little practice in water for several weeks, and with overnight temps in the 50s these days, were swimming in water colder than any we have trained in since spring.

In addition, the points of land on both sides, despite their distance from the line to the blind, apparently exerted considerable suction. I was pleased to see both dogs responsive to WSs and casts in the middle of a 160-yard swim. I elected not to push the envelope when each dog finally committed to completing the swim all the way across the pond, but squared the far bank.

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

Here's a video of Laddie running Series B:

At 5:27 in the video above, Laddie finishes airing himself, picks up the dummy, bounces along the bank a short distance, and trots into the water, again showing little of his prior reluctance to make a water entry while carrying a retrieval article. As Laddie enters the water on his return, I fire a gunshot and throw a white dummy into the water off to the side, continuing to use the gunshot as reinforcement for his water entry, though perhaps no longer necessary.

Here's a video of Lumi running Series B, with the straight return swim-back edited out:

SERIES C. Water double, left to right within a 90° angle:
  • #1 (memory-bird): 30-yard LWL, WD, gunshot when thrown
  • #2 (go-bird): 20-yard LWL, WD, gunshot when thrown
I ran Lumi first, then Laddie. One of my throws for Lumi and both of my throws for Laddie were a little short and ended up in the water next to shore. In each case, the dog swam to the dummy, carried it up onto shore, dropped it, shook off, picked it back up, and completed the retrieve.

Here's a video of Lumi running Series C:

Here's a video of Laddie running Series C:

Triple land blind with PB, left to right within a 180° angle:
  • #2: 90-yard blind, OD, no marker
  • 40-yard PB, duck TFRL
  • #1: 40-yard blind passing between two trees, OD, no marker
  • #3: 110-yard blind, OD, in front of tree at treeline of adjacent woods
Based on what I've seen and heard in Bob Hux's groups and the Senior tests Lumi and I have been to, the Series D blinds were between Senior and Master level in difficulty. Although the distances were short compared to many of the blinds we've practiced on closer to home, the terrain was at least as uneven as any we train on at home, and the cover variations were considerably more challenging.

I ran Laddie first, then Lumi.

Here's a video of Laddie running Series D:

Here's a video of Lumi running Series D:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Retrieve Shaping, Blinds

AM: Oaks Area 2

First we ran a retrieve shaping session similar to those we've been doing the last few days, but using orange dummies instead of ducks.

Once both dogs were performing well, I sent first Lumi, then Laddie, to a 210-yard blind I had set up while they were airing. Both dogs nearly lined the blind, and both responded well to a WS and angle-back cast at 180 yards.

Laddie's hold on ducks continues to improve, and is nearly as solid as Lumi's now.

PM: Sundown Park

Although it was dark out, Sundown has lighted basketball and tennis courts that lent a glimmer of light on the surrounding lawns. I thought I might be able to set up a reasonably challenging 160 yard blind with an OD and LP in the shadows, but both dogs lined it.

After the blind, we worked again on retrieve shaping with three birds, similar to yesterday's work but at 50 yards. Both dogs rarely try to shop any more, and Lumi's dawdling on pick-ups has also continued to improve.

Laddie always works at full speed, but it's nice to see Lumi's spirits lifting on these bursts of short, high energy retrieves. Both dogs are improving steadily in their form and seem to be having a great time with the game.

After the shaping drill, Laddie and I worked some more on holds with a 2" dummy. His understanding of the game continues to improve, and he also seems to find it great fun.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Retrieve Shaping

Today's training was almost identical to yesterday's, except for location and the number of consecutive retrieves for each dog. This morning we trained at a nearby power line right-of-way, and this evening, once again in the dark, we trained at the neighborhood lacrosse field. For the drills, I used three ducks instead of two, and sent each dog three times (for ducks #2 and #3 of one set-up, and #1 of the next set-up), giving the dogs a 67% rate of reinforcement for correct versions of the retrieve.

Neither dog was 100% perfect all day on shopping, though aside from shopping, neither dog dawdled on a single retrieve, and both dogs were quite good on shopping, shopping just once or twice the whole day. In addition, Laddie's hold on deliveries continues to become firmer each session.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Retrieve Shaping

Because Lumi seems to be having some physical discomfort, because she went OOC during a land blind in yesterday's training with Bob Hux's Hunt Test group, and because she broke on one of our attempts to honor a flyer in the same session, I've decided to skip the Senior test I had her signed up for next Sunday. As a result, our competition season is now over for both dogs, so I plan to take a more easy-going approach to our training for the next few weeks.

That is, rather than trying to strengthen a critical skill in an intense series of sessions, I plan to work on building motivation and refining various details of the retrieve as issues come up from day to day. In addition, when opportunities present themselves, we'll train with groups and work on steadiness, honoring, and other skills that we can't work on when training by ourselves.

This morning, we trained at the neighborhood lacrosse field, as follows:
  • While the dogs played together, I placed an LP as an SL and then walked out 50 yards to place two ducks as one "blind", and 100 yards to place two other ducks as a second, a 30° angle between them.
  • With no whistle, I ran Lumi, then Laddie, to the short blind, then the long one, watching for things I might want to see each dog do better.
  • Lumi seemed motivated but slow, not limping but taking her time. Her retrieves were solid except that she did some shopping at both blinds. Because she had run first, she had a choice of two ducks each time.
  • Laddie raced with his usual exuberance and had great, tumbling pick-ups and excellent returns. On his deliveries, he didn't come close to dropping either bird, but he did loosen his grip a little on each bird as I reached for it, rather than holding tight till I cued Out.
  • I put Laddie in the van and played for awhile with Lumi. For Lumi's game, I thought we'd work on her shopping and her pick-ups. I repeatedly placed the two ducks near one another about 15 yards from our SL, then quickly sent Lumi on her name. The first rep, she started shopping, and as soon as she put down the first bird she'd selected with the idea of switching to the other one, I called "nope" and ran to her, then cued "leave it" and led her away from the birds with a hand target. We then ran back to the SL, spun around, and I sent her again. This time she picked one of the birds right up and came straight back with it. I sent her to get the second bird, and she dawdled a bit picking it up so I again terminated the rep as described above. When I re-sent her, she picked the second bird and instantly came back with it. We did a total of half a dozen reps, great fun for Lumi with lots of action, slowed down only when she dawdled, and by the end, she was picking both birds up and returning without hesitation. That's the progress I was hoping for, but I realize that she's likely to revert to her old form the next time. We'll just keep working on it until a day comes when we don't have to worry about shopping or dawdling pick-ups any more.
  • Next I put Lumi in the van and took Laddie out. Just once I ran the same drill with him that I'd run with Lumi, but he had no problem shopping or dawdling, so I decided to work on his Hold instead. I put away the ducks and brought out a 2" dummy and we began a game that went like this: I throw the dummy and send Laddie. He races to it, picks it up, and brings it to me. As he approaches, instead of swinging him to heel, I reach out with both hands to grasp either end of the dummy, which he positions between my hands. I cue Sit, then Hold, and start to lift the dummy, carrying Laddie up with it. If Laddie lets go, I drop the dummy on the ground and he picks it back up and puts between my hands again. If he gets out of his sit, I do the same thing. But if he stays in his sit and lets me stretch him upward, then I cheerfully cue Out, he instantly releases, and I send the dummy flying again. This is an exciting game for Laddie, not only because of the chase but also because of the "battle" for the dummy. It may be my imagination, but he also seems to thirst for rules that he can absorb. Learning exactly what he needs to do to earn Out and another throw seems to add to his pleasure in the game. After a dozen or so short, high energy reps, I threw the dummy in the trunk, Laddie jumped up into the shotgun seat, and we headed for home. When he's solid on this game, I'll have him swing to heel instead of sitting in front of me. Hopefully, I'll see that solid Hold transfer to the way he holds birds as well. We started this game yesterday and even today I saw some improvement.
In the evening, we went to another neighborhood ball field. It was too dark for any distance, but again we worked on shaping both dogs' retrieves. Using two ducks and a short backline between two lining poles, I ran the dogs as follows:
  • With both dogs in sit/stay at the SL, I strode to the other LP and tossed down both ducks.
  • I strode back, put my hand over the head of one of the dogs, and called the dog's name.
  • If the dog started to shop or dawdle, I called Nope while going to draw the dog away from the ducks and back to the SL, then sent that dog again.
  • Then I sent the other dog to pick up the second duck.
  • After putting the ducks back, I sent the same dog who had picked up the last duck.
This sequence repeatedly tested each dog for shopping as well as for picking up a lone duck without dawdling, and rewarded 50% of the high-quality retrieves with an immediate next retrieve.

After we'd done several reps, I let Lumi into the van and worked on Laddie's hold at delivery with the 2" dummy and games of sitting tug. I'd already noticed that his holds on the ducks seemed firmer than ever in the earlier part of the session, and felt that we should continue the game with the dummy to see if the improvement with ducks also continued. At the minimum, his hold on delivering dummies is improving, and he seems to love the game, so I think it adds to his positive associations for going out to train.

Not that that was lacking, mind you.
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