Monday, January 26, 2009

Steadiness Training: Dummies

Oaks Area 2

After yesterday's difficulties with steadiness, I brought out Nate to throw for us, trying to reproduce the first parts of yesterday's session.

Of course today's session had several differences from yesterday's:
  • A well-known person throwing, rather than a stranger
  • Only Lumi and Laddie running, no other dog
  • Also no other handler
  • A well-known location, rather than one we'd never been to before
The conditions may have had other differences as well, that I'm not aware of.

In addition, I handled the dogs somewhat differently:
  • Yesterday, I had one dog sit on either side of me and held the tabs (short cords) attached to their collars, as loosely as possible in the hope that they would not be able to tell I was holding them unless they tried to break.
  • Today, I had them sit side by side at the SL as the throw or throws were being made, while I stood beside them, either in the center or to the right of both of them. Then, when the throws were down, I walked around both of them, in circles or figure eights, then chose one of them to send.
We ran a total of seven series that way, as follows:
  1. Series A. A single at 20 yards, with Nate calling "hey, hey" and then throwing (similar to how Dave threw his marks yesterday)
  2. Series B. A double at 20 and 15 yards, again with Nate calling "hey hey" before each throw
  3. Series C. A single at 20 yards with Nate blowing a duck call before throwing
  4. Series D. A double at 20 and 15 yards, again with Nate blowing a duck call before each throw
  5. Series E. A single at 20 yards with Nate blowing a duck call, then firing a starter pistol
  6. Series F. A double at 20 and 15 yards, again with Nate blowing a duck call, then firing a pistol, before each throw
  7. Series G. A double at 40 and 30 yards, with Nate blowing a duck call, then firing a pistol, before each throw; followed by 160-blind with the line between the two marks
Neither dog broke, nor seemed on the verge of breaking, in any of these series.

I admit it is a mystery to me why the dogs were so steady today after their difficulties yesterday.

I intend to repeat today's drills with birds in our next session, and perhaps we'll see some breaks, but I'm not expecting it. Perhaps we'll have a number of additional sessions in this format.

It will be interesting to see whether practice with this picture will help if we set up the same picture as yesterday again in a week or two.

It would be nice if today's work advanced the dogs' steadiness, but to me they didn't seem to make progress, because they were steady from the beginning.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Steadiness Training: Dummies and Pheasants

Clevenger's Corner

Lumi, Laddie, and I trained with a Pro we haven't worked with before, Dave, and our holistic vet, Carol, for about two hours. Carol has been working with Dave for some time training her own dog, and besides making the introduction, came along to train with us. The focus of the session, however, was on a particular weakness in my own dogs' training, steadiness, especially honoring fliers. The session showed that especially for Laddie, overall steadiness requires a good bit of work.

Although I had come to the session with a particular training plan in mind, Dave suggested something much simpler: All three dogs at the line, Dave throws something, Dave then calls out for one of the dogs (using a code, not the dog's name), and of course that dog is the only one who gets sent.

Though that format has little to do with event format, it had the advantage of simplicity and I saw no problem with it. We ended up doing it in three set-ups, all in a hilly corn field:

(1) Throwing dummies and Dokkens as singles at 25 yards, with the dog crossing a deep, bramble-filled ditch and then climbing back up among decoys to complete the retrieve.

(2) Throwing dummies and Dokkens as doubles at 20 and 25 yards, one mark on our side of the ditch, the other among the decoys.

(3) Shooting live Pheasants as singles at 100 yards at the top of a steep hill.

In addition to those steadiness drills, we also ran one 40-30 yard momma-poppa double (that is, with Dave throwing both marks) plus a 100-yard blind. For this one, we were at the top of a hill and all retrieves were downhill. The marks were Pheasants and the blind was a Mallard. There was no steadiness element to this. One handler held two dogs while the other ran a dog.

Addressing the last segment first, it seemed to present minimal challenge but hopefully it was fun for the dogs. On the blind, Laddie needed one WSC, Lumi lined it.

There was one unexpected and unfortunate event: after picking up dummies, then a pheasant flier, then fresh killed pheasants, Laddie blinked the barely thawed duck when he first found it and wandered away, apparently in search of a tastier article to retrieve. I had to send him back to it. Then he picked it up and brought it back. ("Blinked" means he saw it but didn't pick it up.)

In the segment with shot pheasants, neither dog was steady on the flier, and Lumi was even worse than not steady, breaking as soon as I let go of her tab, without waiting for me to call her name. At least Laddie didn't do that.

On the other hand, to my surprise, neither dog was steady even with the very first drill, dummies as singles. I wish I could say they got better as we proceeded, since of course that's the goal when we go out to train, but I can't really say that happened. However, Dave made some excellent suggestions for private training this week, and if Nate is available at times, I'll also try to set up situations similar to the ones Dave used for the very short singles and doubles with both dogs waiting at the line.

Other points about the session:
  • Retrieving dummies in a corn field turned out to be quite difficult for Lume and Laddie. From what Dave said, the shininess of the old corn husks confuses the dog. Both dogs had trouble finding the dummies among the decoys. Carol's dog, who has practiced in these conditions before apparently, had less trouble, so I guess dogs get used to it. I'm glad my dogs are getting this experience: another photo for the picture album, as Jody Baker has described it.
  • I felt Lumi and Laddie handled well at these short distances, when they got lost on the singles during the steadiness practice.
  • Lumi's pick-ups were unacceptably slow with the pheasants. I brought all four of the birds home with us so we can work on it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Land Blinds: Flare, Trees, Keyhole

Oaks Area 1

CONDITIONS: 34°F, mostly cloudy, wind N at 9 mph

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

The first blind was in the center at 70 yards. The second blind was on the right at 160 yards. The third blind was on the left at 260 yards. All blinds were ODs, and the last one, in a large open field, was marked with an SF.

The line to the first blind was through a bramble patch at 40 yards, forcing the dogs to flare around it. In both cases, they did not get back on the correct line themselves and required a WS and angle-in cast. Both dogs performed well on this blind.

The line to the second blind was open field for the first 140 yards, then entered a stand of trees spaced about 20 yards apart. Laddie required several casts to enter the trees, repeatedly flaring around and having to be called back, but he remained responsive on every WS. Lumi handled the blind easily, taking a single WSC into the woods when she started to flare as she got close.

The line to the third blind was open field for the first 110 yards, then thru a keyhole of two trees spaced 20 yards apart, then another 150 yards of open field. Each dog seemed a little confused by and attracted to the presence of other trees further out from the corridor to the blind. Laddie required a good bit of handling but remained responsive and enthusiastic. Lumi had one slow response to a WS, resulting in a WO, but was otherwise responsive the entire day.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Land Blinds: High Cover, Keyhole, Road

Zion Road

CONDITIONS: A much milder day today, mostly sunny with temps in the low 50s and a light wind.

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

With Nate unable to work with us today, I took the opportunity for the dogs and I to practice handling. We once again used the nearby property at Zion Road, a group of fields with unusually varied terrain.

Running from a single SL, Laddie ran three blinds while Lumi waited off lead behind us. Then Lumi ran the same three blinds with Laddie waiting off lead behind us.

The first blind was to the right at 100 yards, across a road and in the midst of a large area of high cover and sparse trees. The second blind was to the right at 140 yards, with large trees first on the left, then on the right of the line to the blind, and the blind itself between two high trees. The third blind was in the center at 250 yards, with the line to the blind running across a ditch and roughly parallel to a dirt road the first 100 yards, then crossing the road as the road curved around and across an adjacent field dotted with more trees. All blinds were unmarked ODs.

Laddie had one delayed response to a WS on the first blind and I used a WO to prevent him from completing that retrieve. Aside from that, both dogs performed well.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Land Series: Trees and Thrower Distraction-Proofing

Oaks Area 3

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

With Nate throwing, we started today's session with the SL in a sparse stand of trees, so that tree trunks and branches partially obscured the throws. I positioned Nate so that both throws were thrown left to right onto the side of an embankment.

The first mark was on the right at 100 yards. The second mark was on the left at 60 yards. Both marks were ducks thrown as singles, with Nate using a duck call and starter pistol.

After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran a blind at 120 yards to the left of the left mark. The line to the blind was over a ditch and a ridge, past the end of a hedgerow on the right. The blind, a camo dummy, was midway between two stands of trees.

Oaks Area 2

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

With Nate throwing, the marks for Series B were in an open field, while the blind was in front of one tree at the back of a widely spaced stand of trees.

The first mark was on the right at 100 yards, thrown right to left and angled back. I instructed Nate to begin by blowing the duck call, firing the pistol, and throwing the duck. As soon as I released the dog, Nate was instructed to then throw a second duck into the same general area. When the dog picked up one of the ducks, Nate was then to immediately walk to pick up the other duck without waiting for the dog to clear the area.

After last week's practice with Nate throwing two ducks and walking out while the dog was still in the pick up area, which we practiced several days in several locations and at a variety of distances, both dogs now seem proofed for those diversions, and both of them had excellent pick-ups and returns on the first mark.

After the dog returned with the first mark, Nate then threw the mark on the left at 50 yards, another duck thrown right to left, again with duck call and pistol, but this time with no second duck and with Nate remaining in place after throwing.

After the dog returned with the second mark, we ran the blind at 140 yards. As mentioned above, the blind was placed at the back of a stand of trees, so the dog had to run between trees to get to the blind. The line to the blind was thru the area of the fall for the second mark.

Neither dog slipped a whistle running the blinds on either series today.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Land Series: Long and Short

Riggs Road

SERIES A. Two single marks (Laddie, then Lumi)

While we often run series from the high point of a field, I set this course up so that both marks were uphill from the SL. With Nate using a starter pistol and throwing ducks right to left, each dog in turn ran two marks. The first mark was on the right at 220 yards. The second mark was on the left at 170 yards.

SERIES B. Two single marks (Laddie, then Lumi)

After a series of long marks similar in distance to those we run with the Field Trial group, next we ran a series of shorter marks more like those the dogs will run in their next Hunt Test competitions in the spring.

For Series B, Nate used a duck call and a starter pistol, and threw the ducks left to right. The first mark was on the right at 70 yards. The second mark was on the left at 40 yards.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Land Blinds and Play

Riggs Road

CONDITIONS: A bitter cold day for training, as it was for Barack Obama's inauguration in nearby Washington, DC. Subfreezing temps, a light covering of snow still on the ground, wind calm, and bright sunlight.

SERIES A. Triple land blind (both dogs)

The field at Riggs Road is large but nearly featureless. Thru the thin layer of snow, sparse, high grass stood up from the low, clumpy grass that covers the entire field.

Running from a single SL, I ran each dog in turn on a triple blind of 130-170-230 yards. All the blinds were ducks marked with LPs, which were nearly invisible in the high grass.

After the blinds, we had a session of happy throws and chase games with the ducks before taking refuge from the cold back in the van.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Land Blinds, Pick-up Drills

Oaks Area 2

CONDITIONS: Subfreezing temps, a thin cover of snow, wind calm, overcast skies.

SERIES A. Triple land blind (both dogs)

Each dog ran three blinds of 70-140-210 yards. All blinds were unmarked ducks.

SERIES B. Pick-up speed drills (both dogs)

Using a "pile" of ducks — that is, ducks placed near one another but not touching — I sent each dog in turn to the pile. If the dog instantly picked up the duck and returned, I cheered and sometimes gave the dog a bite of string cheese after delivery. If the dog dawdled or shopped, I called "no, stop" and ran to the dog, used a hand target to lead the dog away from the birds, brought the dog back to the SL at heel, and sent the dog again.

We ran this drill at varying distances, 15-25-35-50 yards. Laddie's pick-ups are generally fast anyway, so this was primarily practice dealing with these particular ducks, which he was apparently having some discomfort carrying. Lumi's pick-ups improve with practice, then gradually slow down over a period of weeks when we don't work on the skill. Both dogs made good progress.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Distraction from Thrower, Fast Pick-up, Creeping

Riggs Road

Because of Laddie's problems with the Sunday Field Trial group the last two weekends, I arranged with neighbor Nate to train with us for awhile again. Our first session in several months was this afternoon.

I didn't have the dogs run structured series, but rather tried each of them out on particular retrieves. I watched how they did on each one, and used that information to decide what to do next.

We had time to focus on three issues: distraction from the thrower for both dogs, fast pick-ups with both dogs, and Laddie creeping.

Here are the drills we ran:

Distraction from Thrower (Laddie, then Lumi)

The set-up consisted of four LPs at 30° angles. The first was on the right at 40 yards. The next one to the left was also at 40 yards. The next one further to the left was at 60 yards. And the last and leftmost one was at 90 yards. In each case, Nate was throwing right to left, and in each case he was throwing ducks.

For the first mark at 40 yards, Nate blew a duck call, fired a gunshot, and threw the duck, then stood quietly while the dog completed the retrieve.

For all the remaining marks at 40-60-90 yards, Nate blew a duck call, fired a gunshot, and threw a duck. When the dog was halfway to the fall, Nate then threw a WD to the same approximate fall. The dummies attracted both dogs, but in every case the dog then veered back to pick up the duck. At the moment the dog picked up the duck, Nate walked quickly to the dummy, picked it up, and returned to his throwing position.

Laddie was somewhat more distracted by Nate's movement than Lumi, but neither dog had much trouble with this drill. My intent is to repeat the drill over the next few sessions with Nate, building distance to 250 yards. At that point, I feel the dogs will be proofed for the situation that occurred two Sundays ago, and to some extent more generally proofed for retrieving in the presence of distractions even at distance.

Although the dogs had little difficulty dealing with Nate's movement, both dogs dawdled some when they arrived at the ducks. This is a problem we've worked on and made improvement on in the past, but it seems that for my dogs, certain problems come back and need to be repeatedly addressed. Dawdling over ducks seems to be one of those problems, so instead of continuing with the Distraction from Thrower drill, I switched to a Fast Pick-up drill next.

Fast Pick-up (Laddie, then Lumi)

For this simple drill, I started Nate out at 20 yards from the SL with a bag of ducks. For the first throw, he used no noise, just threw a bird when I signaled. I sent the dog and ran out behind the dog. As the dog arrived at the duck, I blew CIW.

If the dog made a fast pick-up, we raced back to the SL together.

If the dog dawdled at all, I used a Walk Out (WO): I called, "Nope, leave it, sit" and walked quickly to the dog. I took the dog by the tab on the dog's collar and walked the dog back to the SL, then sent the dog back to the bird still lying there. That procedure was repeated until the dog made a fast pick-up.

For Laddie, a single WO on his first retrieve cured him of dawdling for the remainder of the day. After success at 20 yards, I had Nate begin using the duck call and pistol, and had him throw additional ducks at 40-60-80 yards. After that single WO, Laddie was back to his trademark tumbling pick-ups.

For Lumi, we needed several WOs. She did make progress, getting in several nearly instant pick-ups before we ran out of time, but we didn't have time to build any more distance. I think that's what I'll work on with Lumi while I'm working on Distraction from Thrower with Laddie.


While running both of the above drills, I noticed that Laddie was creeping a bit on the throws that involved a gunshot. This is another example of a problem we worked on and at the time solved, but as with dawdling pick-ups, this is apparently a problem that for Laddie was not solved permanently.

As a result, the Fast Pick-up drill mentioned above also turned into a Creeping drill for Laddie (Lumi doesn't creep). That is, if Laddie crept forward at all, I immediately stepped backwards, called "Here" to Laddie, and called, "Pick it up, please" to Nate. Laddie and I watched Nate walk to the bird, pick it up, and walk back to his throwing position. Then I again called Here and walked with Laddie back to the SL, cued "Sit, mark," and called for another throw.

Laddie crept a total of three times, resulting in three pick-ups. After that, he was visibly coiled but he didn't creep again.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Land Series

Riggs Road

I've been able to arrange my new job to allow for training most afternoons before it gets dark. After Laddie's difficulty with a long mark yesterday, I did the best I could practicing alone to set up some work on marks and blinds of similar length to the longer ones we generally see in the Sunday Field Trial group.

SERIES A. Land double and blind (Laddie only)

Lumi refused a recall from about 150 yards when I called her to me after setting this series up, so I put her in the van to watch Laddie work and didn't let her run this series.

For the double, I used RLs, weighted streamers, and ducks. The left mark, the memory-bird, was at 240 yards, thrown right to left. The right mark, the go-bird, was at 210 yards, also thrown right to left. After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran a 300-yard blind, an OD marked with an LP, on a line just to the left of the left mark.

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

This blind was 290 yards, a duck marked by a lining pole. Despite the distance, the featureless field presented little challenge. Both dogs veered a bit left as they ran, responded well to WSs at 150 yards, and took a single angle-back cast to the bird.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blinds, Training with Field Trial Group


SERIES A. Double blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

We arrived early at the Cheltenham property so that we could practice a little before the FT group arrived.

We started with a double land blind. The first blind was on the left at 110 yards. The second blind was on the right at 190 yards, on an uphill slope thru a keyhole formed by a tree on the left and a mound on the right. Both blinds were unmarked ODs.

Neither dog slipped any whistles.

SERIES B. Single blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Continuing to train alone, we moved to another location and ran one more blind. The blind was at 240 years. The SL was on a mound, and the dogs passed a large patch of high cover on the right at 1000 yards. The blind was to the right of another clump of high cover, in front of a section of woods. This blind, too, was an unmarked OD.

Again, neither dog slipped any whistles.

SERIES C. Three singles (Lumi, then Laddie)

First, I'll describe the series as it was run by most of the FT dogs:
Delayed triple with retired gun, followed by blind

At "guns up", all three guns stood up. The center bird was thrown left to right at 210 yards. Then the right bird was thrown right to left at 230 yards. As the dog was sent to the right bird, the center gun retired. When the dog returned with the first bird, the left bird was thrown left to right at 70 yards. The dog picked up that bird, and was then sent to the center bird. After the dog had picked up all three birds, the dog was sent to the blind at 270 yards, which was on a line to the right of the rightmost mark.

All three marks were ducks. The blind was an OD marked with an LP.

The three marks were run from on top of a mound. The line to the go-bird on the right was across one-foot deep and icy-cold standing water, past a large tree on the right, and on an uphill slope. The 70-yard bird on the left was thrown from a stand of trees into standing water, with the fall on the same line as the line to the center bird. The last memory bird, in the center, was thrown from another stand of trees with a holding blind for the retired gun. The line to the center bird was past several trees and tree groups on both sides. Although on inspection the center bird was a little shorter than the right bird, the center bird seemed to be the "long mark" because the narrow corridor made it appear longer than the right mark, which had open space in front of it.

The combination of a delayed mark in line with the center bird, and the center bird's retired gun, seemed to make that a difficult bird for some of the dogs to remember.

The SL for the blind was off the mound, and for at least one dog, was actually behind the mound, so that after sending the dog, the handler had to climb up the mound to handle the dog. The line to the blind was along a section of woods for 150 yards, then blind was through the same area of standing water as the right mark, and on the right side of the same large tree. The blind was at the top of the same slope as the right mark was on.
Charlie, the group leader, was kind enough to advise me on how I should run my dog on the series. At his advice, I ran both dogs the same way: three singles, left/right/center, that is, 230-70-210 yards, with no retired gun.

After the group training was over, I also ran both dogs on the blind, but walked up so that we were running it at 170 yards and didn't have such a long section of woods tight on the right side.

Lumi's marks. Lumi needed help spotting both of the long runs, and she ran around the water on the right mark. She also overran the center bird, then got past it coming toward the SL and began hunting too short. A single hey-hey was all the help she needed. Aside from those issues, she ran her marks well. Not the best dog out there this day, but a reasonable series, especially considering how little she has trained at these distances.

After Lumi's series, we honored the next dog, with the cue Just Watch. Although I was holding Lumi's tab, she made no attempt to break when the running dog was sent. I stepped back and called Here, and she became highly excited, anxious to get to the pile of ducks behind the line. I picked one up for her, and when we got near the van, I threw several happy throws for her with the bird, and we also played a chase game with her carrying the bird. Hopefully this experience served to reinforce her steadiness while honoring.

Laddie's marks. Laddie took a WIL on the go-bird and needed help from the thrower to get going the correct direction. He did OK on the extremely easy left bird. He needed help spotting the middle bird, but pinned it on his outrun. Unfortunately, at that point he then fell apart.

He picked the bird up, began running toward the water to the right and disappeared behind an area of high cover. One of the throwers told me that he had dropped the bird and was rolling on it, and I immediately began to run toward him. I later learned that while I was running toward him, he picked the bird back up, carried it a few yards, dropped it and rolled on it again, and finally started running toward me leaving the bird behind.

When I got close enough to see Laddie, I called Sit and he complied, waiting for me till I arrived. I slipped on his lead and walked him to the bird. I started to walk him toward the SL with me carrying the bird, when I heard Charlie advising me on the radio to put the bird down and have Laddie pick it up and carry it. I did so, until we got to 25 yards from the line. Then, again at Charlie's suggestion, I left Laddie and the bird and walked alone to the SL on the mound, turned and called Fetch. Laddie picked up the bird and ran it back to me.

I then had him honor the next dog with me holding his tab. He made some effort to break when the running dog was sent, and I don't know whether he was only creeping, or would have had a controlled break, or would have made a full break if not for the tab.

Next I picked up a duck and walked with Laddie back to the van. There I threw several happy throws with the bird, hopefully building an association in his mind that after running a series and watching another dog sent for another series, fun was waiting back at the van.

While making the happy throws, I noticed that this duck, which was the same duck Laddie had gotten for the middle mark that he'd done so poorly on, was different from most of the other ducks in that it apparently had been filled with a block of some sort, possibly styrofoam. The block was not visible but made the duck's torso unusually large and stiff. We've seen something similar with pheasants in the past, but never with a duck before.

To give Laddie a little more experience with this duck, I put him in a Sit/Stay near the van and walked to a field 170 yards away, threw the duck, walked back, and sent Laddie. This time he picked the bird up and raced all the way back with it. How unfortunate that he hadn't run the third mark that way.

The blind. Both dogs ran the blind well, especially Laddie, who took three good-looking WSCs. Both dogs were drawn to the old fall of the right mark, but neither dog slipped a whistle.

SERIES D. Two singles (Lumi)

First, I'll describe the series as it was run by most of the FT dogs:
Land double with retired gun

The first mark, the memory bird on the right, was thrown left to right from beside a mound at 250 yards. The second mark, the go-bird on the left, was thrown left to right at 120 yards on a fairly steep diagonal uphill climb. After the dog was sent to the left bird, the right thrower retired behind the mound.

The area of the fall for the memory bird was closely surrounded by several trees, while the area behind the mound was open. As a result, several of the dogs took a good line toward the memory-bird but then veered left behind the mound, some needing help to get back over to the fall on the right.
Charlie advised that I not run Laddie on Series D because of poor performance on Series C. He felt that Lumi had done fine on Series C and suggested that she run Series D as singles, with the short bird on the left first. She had no difficulty with either mark.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blinds, Poorman Marks

Riggs Road

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

The first blind was to the right at 150 yards. The second blind was to the left at 210 yards. The third blind was in the middle at 240 yards. All blinds were ODs with LPs as marker. The terrain at our Riggs Road field is such that an LP is barely visible unless you're close to it. Markers are necessary here for most blind locations because the field is huge (60 acres) and virtually featureless. Even with the LPs in place, I need to memorize the configuration of the background, such as a tree top pattern, a shed, or an old tractor at the edge of the field another several hundred yards past the blind.

Neither dog lined any of the blinds, and we had plenty of WS and casting practice. With me setting minimum latency for "correct response", Lumi slipped a total of three whistles at the longer distances, in each case resulting in a walk out. Her performance improved after each WO and was excellent by the time we ran Series C.

Laddie slipped no whistles. His latency was usually excellent. On one WS, his latency was merely good, but for Laddie, that means he can cover quite a bit of ground. I didn't use a WO for that instance, but plan to tighten up criteria for Laddie as well as for Lumi going forward.

SERIES B. Land double (Lumi, then Laddie)

When I walked back out to get the LPs from Series A, I left both dogs at the SL and brought along two ducks with me for poorman marks. For each dog, I threw one duck at a longer distance left to right and a second duck at a shorter distance left to right. I then returned to the SL and sent the dog to the shorter bird, then the longer one.

For Lumi, the memory-bird was on the left at 150 yards, while the go-bird was on the right at 90 yards. Despite the featureless terrain, she nailed both marks.

For Laddie, the memory-bird was on the right at 240 yards, while the go-bird was on the left at 210 yards. Laddie was offline a little to the left on the go-bird, though he apparently had no difficulty spotting it as he got close. He nailed the memory-bird.

SERIES C. Land blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

Since the dogs prefer retrieving ducks to dummies, I thought we'd end the day with a single blind using a duck at as the retrieval article. The blind was at 270 yards, marked with an LP.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Land Blinds

Zion Road

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

Since we haven't been able to practice much because of the short days in combination with my work schedule, since Lumi seems to be in excellent health, since our only opportunity for group training at this time with the Field Trial group, and since Lumi seems to be enjoying running long marks and blinds at this time, I've decided for now to resume running her on the same series that I'm running Laddie on in our recent practices.

For this afternoon's triple blind, the first blind was to the right at 60 yards. The line to the blind was between stands of trees on both sides, at the left corner of a large shrub in the 30 yard space between the two stands of trees. The second blind was to the left at 160 yards, though a keyhole formed by a pair of trees on the left and a line of trees on the right, with the blind placed in front of a large tree just past another large tree on the left. The third blind was in the middle at 230 yards, thru a gap in a line of trees and just in front of the woods on the back edge of the course.

Lumi has had some difficulty with the longer blinds the last few days, tending to act as though she couldn't understand why I'd send her so far away from me. Today for the first time, she seemed comfortable continuing to be cast back as necessary, all the way to the longer blinds.

Laddie has already been thru a similar aclimation to longer distances in previous training, when I was running Lumi on shorter distances more like Hunt Tests.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Land Series and Practice with Obstacle and Keyholes

Zion Road

SERIES A. Hip-pocket double with blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

In a hip-pocket double, both birds are thrown the same direction. The go-bird, that is, the short bird that is thrown second, almost reaches the line between the SL and the thrower for the memory-bird.

For today's series, I used RLs, weighted streamers, and ducks for the two marks, and an OD for the blind.

The first mark was thrown left to right at 140 yards. The second mark was thrown left to right at 90 yards, so that the fall was just to the left of the line between the SL and the launcher for the first mark.

After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran a 250-yard blind thru two keyholes formed by trees.

PRACTICE: Obstacles and Keyholes

I chose a location in which the line from the SL to a poorman mark (duck) included the following factors:
  • Thru a narrow keyhole formed by two trees
  • Over a small frozen puddle
  • Over a dirt mound
  • Into high cover
I placed the SL at three different distances from the fall of my throws: 15 yards, 25 yards, and 50 yards. At each distance, I sent the dog repeatedly, calling the dog back if the dog veered around any of the factors. If the dog took a direct route, but then veered coming back, I stopped the dog, walked to the dog, led the dog with the bird in the dog's mouth back to the fall, went back to the SL, and called the dog to me. I also repeated that if the dog veered again.

At each distance, I also used three throwing positions:
  1. Almost straight away from the dog, so that I was almost on the line the dog would be running on
  2. Left to right
  3. Right to left
As a result of those combinations, by the end of the practice, each dog had had nine successful retrieves, maintaining a direct path both going out and returning, thru all of the factors.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Land Blinds

Zion Road

Despite my new working hours, I managed to get Lumi and Laddie out for a little training today. With a steady freezing rain, temps in the low 30s, and my gloves back at home, I had to quit before my fingers got frostbite, but we did have time for one nice series.

SERIES A. Triple Land Blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

The first blind was to the right at 80 yards. The line to the first blind was past a hedgerow on the right at 50 yards. The second blind was to the left at 120 yards. A large tree was almost in line with the blind at 150 yards. The third blind was in the center at 230 yards. The line to the third blind was thru several narrow keyholes and also thru several strips of high cover, and because of the cover, the dog was not visible from the SL the last 20 yards. All blinds were unmarked ODs.

Laddie lined the first blind and almost lined the second one, but overran it, reaching and getting past the tree. I managed to resist blowing a WS too soon, which he probably would have responded to by turning and running to the dummy instead of sitting. When I finally did whistle, he sat nicely, then responded perfectly to a CIW, found and picked up the dummy, and delivered it with his invariable exuberance. He then had little difficulty with the third blind, apparently comfortable with the distance, keyholes, and cover changes.

Lumi started by lining both of the first two blinds. She then went into a zig-zagging behavior at 120 yards as I repeatedly used WSs and Back casts to direct her back thru the cover changes and keyholes. Though it may have been frustrating for her, she remained responsive to the whistles and maintained an enthusiastic demeanor. Eventually, she stopped using shallow angles and took a deep angle back, which carried her close to the blind. Though I couldn't see her, I blew a CIW, and within a few seconds, she came running into view with the dummy.

Despite the difficult weather conditions, both dogs' motivation and demonstrations of skill made this an enjoyable session.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Field Trial Training


Both dogs ran with the FT group today. The group only ran one series on this occasion. With overnight temps in the low 20s, of course it was a land series. First, I'll describe it as run by the advanced dogs:

SERIES A. Triple mark followed by double blind

The first mark was in the center, thrown right to left, over a strip of cover and into the open, at 170 yards. The strip of cover was long and narrow, running parallel to the dog's line to the mark, and nearly every dog ran the mark by running toward the gun, then around the end of the cover and back to the fall.

The second mark was on the left, thrown from behind a tree and angling back, left to right at 80 yards. The third mark, the go-bird, was on the right, thrown right to left into cover at 150 yards. All marks were WDs.

After the dog picked up all three marks, the first blind was to the right at 170 yards. The line to that blind was just behind the right gun and on a diagonally sloping hill, such that if the dog squared the hillside, that took the dog further to the right. An additional factor pulling the dog to the right was a lining pole used by trainers for private practice and not part of this series, but clearly visible only 20 yards to the right and further uphill from the blind. The blind itself was also marked by a lining pole, but the other lining pole was at the top of the hill and visible against the sky, while the blind's lining pole was barely visible with wintry hillside behind it.

The second blind was to the left at 190 yards, between the left and center guns. A group of trees was on the left side of the line to the blind, and the blind itself, an OD, was at the foot of one of those trees.

LUMI: Although the distances were a bit long for Lumi, I felt she'd be fine at those distances and she was. I had her run the long single first, then a double with the 150-yard mark on the right, then the 80-yard mark on the left. She did fine with the single and the go-bird, but I made a mistake and sent her before she was lined up properly on the memory-bird, and she went too far right and needed help.

For the blinds, which my dogs ran after all the other dogs were finished and the throwers had left the field, I decided to walk up about 60 yards for Lumi. She then ran both blinds well.

LADDIE: I ran Laddie on the same sequence as Lumi. For the single, only one dog all day of the dogs I watched ran on a straight line from the SL to the fall, staying to the left of the cover the entire way, and that was Laddie. He also ran the go-bird well. Unfortunately, I then made the identical mistake with him that I'd made with Lumi, but that led to an unfortunate event.

When I called for help, the thrower decided to throw another dummy. I know that's what people often do to help dogs, but I've never asked people to do that with Laddie, because when he was younger he'd try to retrieve both of them. At first he did that today, and then he gave up on that and just tried to deliver one of the dummies -- but not to me, to the thrower. I don't know what his deal was, maybe because he hasn't seen a real mark in a month, but he's had zillions of happy throws.

After group training was over, I asked the same trainer to throw two more marks for me, one for each of my dogs. These were uphill marks thrown from beside a tree into cover, with the dog running beside, and then over, a meandering road ad then thru several strips of high cover. Lumi's was 160 yards, Laddie's was 210 yards. Both dogs did a nice job, both in their marking and with their deliveries and returns.

I need to take my time with FT series to line both my dogs up before sending them on a memory-bird. It's never been an issue with HT training days, events, or private practice, they always seemed anxious to give up one bird and go out to get the next one, and never seemed to need any help from me lining up. I see now that it's different on these FT setups.

As for Laddie not coming back, I just have to see over a period of weeks. I'd bet anything that if we could train with a group several times a week, he'd be coming back in no time, just as he was all this last year on land series when we were training with Bob Hux's groups. How long it will take the novelty of real live throwers to wear off for him training just once a week, I don't know.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Land Blinds, Sighting, Turning at Heel

Land Blinds at Zion Road

Note: Today while exploring with the dogs, I found another new training area, which I'll refer to as "Zion Road". See the section "Training Properties" in the right margin for a description.

Today I didn't have time to set up any marks, but I did run both dogs on several blinds. Among a total of approximately ten blinds for each dog as we tried out various locations, Lumi's longest was 160 yards, while Laddie's longest was 230 yards. Those two blinds were with ducks. Lumi's was inside a wooded area, while Laddie's required him to run thru the wooded area and then into the clear before finding the duck in a second wooded section. Those blinds were paired with a 70-yard blind in high cover and beside some other trees, with a fairly narrow angle, less than 30 degrees, between the two blinds. I thought it was a good challenge, and both blinds did require several WSCs, meaning they were not so easy that the dogs could line them. For example, both dogs got too deep on the short blind, giving us a chance to practice come-ins.

Both dogs performed quite prettily today. Not having a group to train with since November has been wearing on my emotions lately. Watching my dogs out there happily running their blinds, Lumi with her rocking-horse lope and Laddie as irrepressible blur, was a nice antidote.


For some reason, yesterday I started doing something new with both dogs, and I continued today. As the dog lined up on a blind or a memory-bird, I leaned over and used my entire forearm, with fingers outstretched, to point in the right direction, placing my arm so that the dog could use it as a sight. Once the dog's gaze was locked in the correct direction, I stood up and sent the dog with my hand over the dog's forehead as I usually do.

This procedure seemed to give both dogs tremendous confidence in their alignment on take-off, and seemed to make the retrieves easier than ever. The improvement in the dogs' confidence in the accuracy of the line was so high, it felt like cheating.

Turning at Heel

In the evening, we had a second clicker-training session on holding heel position when Daddy turns, which we started working on yesterday evening. This was free treats for Lumi, who has had years of practice on this skill from our freestyle days. For Laddie, his tendency was to set up straight but either behind me or too far to the side. I used a target hand, and at times the barrier of a wall or a chair, in addition to the clicker and high-value treats, to work with him on it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Land Series

[Note: I haven't been updating the training journal every day, but we've continued to train as usual. Today is typical of how our recent sessions have gone. As noted in a recent post, I've begun taking each dog out separately, since Lumi seems happier when I take her out alone.]

Riggs Road

When examining the satellite maps from my previous entry a couple of days ago, I noticed several large fields in the vicinity of Oaks and decided to explore. Yesterday, I came across a 60-acre field off Riggs Road, about ten minutes from home, that I'd never noticed before. The field is about 400x700 yards. The terrain is clumpy grass, not as smooth as a lawn but not high. The field is ringed with woods on three sides, and has what appears to be a private tractor graveyard at one end, where a residence is visible beyond the edge of the field. A "For Sale" sign hangs near the road, with an "Under Contract" notice attached. The size of the field lends itself to any number of training set-ups, but it's nearly flat and almost entirely devoid of features, with just an occasional clump of taller grass or a line of tire indentations to break up the monotony.

Click here for a satellite view of the Riggs Road field.

SERIES A. Land triple (Laddie)

My intent for this setup was to get a more precise handle on Laddie's reliability with whistle sits. I set up three blinds (ODs with SFs) within a 30° angle, at 100-150-200 yards. He lined the first one, and took one WSC each for the other two. I didn't feel it was a productive setup for our purposes.

SERIES B. Fan drill (Laddie)

Taking a suggestion from my mentors some time ago, I set up what I'll call a fan drill. I placed three LPs within a 90° angle, all at 180 yards. I placed three dummies (WDs and CCDs) at each LP. I then ran Laddie toward any of the piles, stopped him at a random distance out, and cast him to some other pile.

Laddie handled well during the entire drill, with one exception: He began popping on the last few send-outs, anticipating the WS.

I'm not sure this is a productive drill for our purposes. Laddie does not seem to have a problem responding to a WS when he knows where the blind is, and after the first two send-outs in the fan drill, he knows where all the piles are. It may be that he's still building reinforcement history for the WS and a reflex-like habit, and if so, that's worthwhile. But today, for example, he had a slipped whistle on Series C even though he'd had none on Series B.

I doubt the fan drill is harmful, so I guess we'll continue alternating it with land/blind series and see whether Laddie's WS becomes more reliable over all. Next time, I think I'll only place two dummies in each pile.

SERIES C. Reverse hip-pocket double with blind (Laddie)

For Series C, I used RLs, weighted streamers, and ducks for the two marks and an OD marked with an LP for the blind.

I planted the blind and set up the double while Laddie was in the van, then brought him to the line. The right mark of the double, the memory-bird, was thrown first, right to left at 200 yards. The left mark, the go-bird, was thrown second, right to left at 150 yards. The line to the memory-bird was just to the right of the shorter RL, that is, the line to the longer mark was in back of the shorter gun. As I understand it, that configuration for a double is called a "reverse hip-pocket". I think it's also known as "off the heels".

The blind was at 270 yards, on a line to the left of the shorter mark on the left.

I ran Laddie on the double first. He nailed the go-bird, and seemed to know where the memory-bird was when he came to heel on his first delivery. But as he ran to the memory-bird, he diverted to the shorter RL. He sniffed it for a moment, then completed the retrieve. I think that with more practice on reverse hip-pockets, Laddie will become less likely to divert to the short gun while running the memory-bird.

In retrospect, I think this would have been better practice for the reverse hip-pocket if I'd put out stickmen near the RLs, giving Laddie a better picture of the set-up.

As mentioned above, Laddie slipped a whistle the first time I sent him to the blind. It was his second WS, at 220 yards. I walked out, then resent him. He had good responses on the two WSCs of his second send-out.

Oaks Area 3

SERIES D. Triple land blind (Lumi)

The first blind was to the right at 80 yards, over a hump and a ditch and thru a keyhole formed by two trees. The second blind was to the left at 140 yards, over two humps, a narrow ditch, and a wide ditch. The third blind was at 120 yards in the center, over a hump and a ditch and past a small cluster of trees on the right.

Oaks Area 2

SERIES E. Reverse hip-pocket double with blind (Lumi)

Series E for Lumi was similar to Series C for Laddie, with these differences:
  • The memory-bird was at 90 yards rather than at 200 yards
  • The go-bird was at 60 yards rather than at 150 yards
  • The blind was at 140 yards rather than at 270 yards
  • The blind was to the right of the right RL rather than to the left of the left mark
Unlike Laddie, Lumi did not seem distracted by the shorter RL when running the longer mark, possibly because she's had a little more practice with the reverse hip-pocket picture.

SERIES F. Hike (Lumi)

This wasn't really a series, just something for Lumi's enjoyment. I gave her a duck to carry and we hiked around together in the field at Oaks Area 2 before getting back in the van and returning home.
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