Saturday, December 27, 2008

Land Series and Quickstop Drill

AM: Rolling Ridge

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

The double consisted of a mark to the left, thrown right to left at 100 yards, and a mark to the right, also thrown right to left, at 80 yards. Lumi's blind was on a line to the right of the rightmost mark, at 110 yards. Laddie's blind was on the same line to the right of the rightmost mark, at 240 yards.

Both marks were "thrown" with RLs, weighted streamers, and pre-positioned ducks. Both blinds were pre-positioned unmarked CCDs.

The line to the go-bird was diagonally across a dry ditch, with the throw from the right side of the ditch and the fall on the left side. The line to the memory-bird was straight across a wider section of the dry ditch. The RL was behind the closest of a widely spaced line of trees, so that the streamer appeared from behind the tree. The line to both dogs' blinds was past a stand of large trees on the right. The line to Laddie's blind passed under the bough of the closest of those trees.

SERIES B. Land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Lumi's blind was 150 yards. Laddie's blind was 180 yards. Both blinds were pre-positioned ducks.

SERIES C. Three quickstop drills (Laddie only)

When Laddie is more than 200 yards from the SL, he frequently reacts to a WS with a quick reversal of direction and a hunt instead of sitting, which unfortunately often quickly gets him to the blind and provides positive reinforcement for the maneuver. I've attempted not to blow WS when he's in what I call the "danger zone", meaning close enough to the blind to spot it when I whistle and run to it instead of sitting. But I've found it quite difficult to resist whistling, for example when it appears that he's about to disappear behind cover or over a crest.

Improbable as it sounds, it actually appears that Laddie has learned to use previous casts during the blind to dart the wrong direction when he senses he's gotten close, in order to draw me into blowing WS and confirming that he should to execute his U-turn maneuver.

When that happened on both Series A and Series B today, I decided to run him on what I'll call a "quickstop" drill. Leaving him watching me from the SL, I walk out to place a blind (today I used ducks), then walk out and cue Back. As he runs to the blind, I blow WS, then cast him straight back to continue. I may do that just once or more than once, and at random distances from the blind. The idea is, Even though you know where the blind is, stop when I whistle.

Today's quickstop blinds were at 50, 80, and 100 yards. Laddie only tried to slip the first whistle. Rather than a Walk Out, I called a verbal Sit, to which he instantly responded. For the other quickstops, he responded to every whistle.

Over the next few days, I plan to build up distance on the quickstops and intermix them with cold blinds. Hopefully, they're similar enough that once Laddie understands that even if he knows exactly where the blind is, he still needs to sit on the whistle, that understanding will migrate to his danger-zone whistles as well.

A slight difference may, however, defeat that result. In a quickstop, Laddie knows where the blind is, though today I placed the birds in cover so that he couldn't see them till close. In a cold blind, Laddie either does not yet know where the blind is, or only suspects where it is. His rule may become, "If I don't have a clue where the blind is, or if I know for sure where it is, I'll sit, but if I'm only suspicious, I'll satisfy my curiosity first, then sit." Hopefully that won't happen, but if it does, I'll need to find a way to address that.

It's not as unlikely as it sounds. Laddie readily responded to a verbal Sit cue on his first quickstop today, but he tends to ignore a verbal Sit cue when he slips a whistle in the danger zone.

Perhaps I can modify the quickstop drill so that it more closely approximates the danger zone state of mind — I'm not sure how yet — or perhaps that will happen automatically as we build distance on the drill. Another possibility is that after he's achieved some fluency on the quickstop, he'll still try to slip an occasional danger zone whistle but will then respond to a verbal Sit. If that happens, I would expect that if I'm consistent for awhile in always following up the whistle with the verbal cue, he'll start sitting on the whistle.

Given Laddie's level of experience and comparing it to well-bred traditionally-trained dogs at similar level of experience, my impression is that this shouldn't be so hard. I don't know how much of it is Laddie's personality, how much of it is the fact that I'm training without aversives, how much of it is the particular training methods I've chosen within that constraint, and how much of it is poor execution of those methods.

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