Saturday, February 28, 2009

Land Blinds with Farm Animals Watching

Power Line Right-of-way Near Fieldcrest

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

Series A consisted of three blinds in a field of poorly maintained, clumpy grass with uneven footing and rolling hills.

The first blind was to the right at 60 yards. The blind was place five yards inside the treeline of a section of woods in that direction, so that the dog needed to go thru an opening in the trees to get to the blind. The second blind was in the center at 100 yards, at the edge of the line of trees that converged with the line to the blind. The third blind was on the left at 280 yards, and ran parallel with the treeline on the right and a different line of trees on the left, with a road on the other side of those trees. The 280-yard blind ended on an uphill slope.

One of the challenges for Series A was that the SL was ten yards from a wire fence, and from the other side of that fence, we were being watched by two cows, two calves, and a donkey. Laddie seemed especially distracted by the cows and wanted to keep turning around to look at them when I was lining him up at the SL for the first blind, but the animals did not seem to affect his performance once I sent him, and he ignored them for the rest of the series. Lumi did not seem to be affected by the presence of the animals at all.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Land Blinds

[Note: Now that I've taken on a second consulting assignment, and a 60-hour work week, my time is even more limited than usual. While I hope to continue training Lumi and Laddie, and plan to continue maintaining hand-written notes of our training sessions, I expect to fall behind at times in keeping this blog up-to-date. What has been happening recently, and what will probably continue to happen, is that I'll add the entries for several days at a time when I do get a break in my schedule.]

Zion Road

SERIES A. Triple blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The first blind was on the right at 80 yards. The second blind was on the left at 120 yards. The third blind was down the center at 230 yards. All blinds were unmarked ODs.

The line to the 80-yard blind on the right converged toward the treeline of the woods adjoining the field on the right, and passing close to a pile of brush on the right at 60 yards. The line to the 120-yard blind on the left ran diagonally thru a keyhole formed by two trees, with the dummy in a section of high cover. The line to the 230-yard blind in the center went thru a section of about a dozen trees, both deciduous and conifer, across a dip on the terrain filled with rough cover, and for the final 70 yards up a hill. Difficulty on the 230-yard blind was increased because the line to that blind was on a narrow 15° angle to the line to the preceding 120-yard blind. Difficulty for all the blinds was increased because of a white pole at 100 yards on a line between the 80-yard blind and the 230-yard blind, which acted as a significant diversion, especially for the closer 80-yard blind.

By running the dogs on the old orchard adjacent to Zion Road, I was able to set up a challenging course that called for several whistles on every retrieve. In addition, as I started doing after our last group training on February 14, I've been keeping the dogs on a tight line to the blind, having them sit and recasting them as soon as they veer off the line. Despite all the additional handling, and despite my mindset of having the WO on a hair trigger, both dogs responded correctly to every WS and every cast, requiring no WOs during today's session.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Land Blinds

Zion Road

CONDITIONS: Partly cloudy, temps in high 20s, northwest winds 20 to 25 mph with gusts up to 35 mph, wind chill in the low to mid teens.

SERIES A. Double blind with poison bird (Laddie, then Lumi)

To start, I walked out 30 yards and threw a duck from near a tree in the center of the course, throwing it right to left so that from the dog's point of view, the duck disappeared behind a tree and then reappeared on the other side. After throwing the duck, I returned to the SL and ran the dog on a blind on the left at 110 yards. Then I ran the dog on a blind on the right at 180 yards, on a line 90° to the right of the line to shorter blind. Finally I sent the dog to pick up the duck. Both of the blinds were ODs.

I would guess that both of these would be considered difficult blinds, especially the longer one. The most difficult part of the series, at least for me, was the bitterly cold wind, which was a headwind for the 180-yard blind. A second difficulty was the poison bird that was thrown down the center before the blinds were run and not picked up until both blinds had been completed. Other factors:

The line to the 110-yard blind went past a pelt lying in the grass and, near that, a skeleton, the remains from some animal about the size of a fox. The line then passed close to a section of woods that jutted out from the woods on the left. Finally, the line dropped into a low-lying area filled with clumps of knee-high grass. The dummy was not visible until the dog was close.

The line to 180-yard blind crossed over a low crest, then thru a keyhole formed by a hole in a line of trees, then thru a second keyhole formed by a hole in a second line of trees, then diagonally across a dirt road, and finally halfway up a steep hill on an angle.

I ran the dogs within as narrow a corridor for both blinds as I could.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Blinds, Pick-up Speed Drills

Oaks Area 2

CONDITIONS: Temps in 30s, light snowfall, northwest winds 15 to 20 mph.

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

The first blind, a CCD, was to the left at 110 yards, with the line to the blind requiring the dog to flare around a tree at 80 yards and blind placed between two trees twenty feet from one another. The second blind, an OD, was to the right at 160 yards, with the line to the blind through a narrow keyhole formed by two trees.

My mindset running the dogs was a hair-trigger WO, but neither dog required it.

SERIES B. Speed pick-up drills

For Series B, we did pile work with ducks at 50, 100, and 120 yards. Both dogs performed well, including accurate outruns, speedy pick-ups, enthusiastic returns, and solid deliveries.

I discovered that when Laddie had a choice between ducks and ODs in the pile, he chose an OD about 70% of the time. Given the same choice, Lumi chose a duck 100% of the time. I was under the impression that Laddie used to be the same way. I don't know why he changed.

Oaks Area 1

After a break when we went for a short drive, we returned and resumed training back at the Oaks fields.

SERIES C. Double land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The first blind was an OD to the right at 150 yards. As each dog took a turn at the double, the other dog waiting in the van, neither dog had any difficulty with the first blind.

The second blind was a duck to the left at 390 yards, with the line thru a wide keyhole formed by two trees at 350 yards. My primary interest with this blind was the long distance pick-up and return with birds, and I thought the distance was within both dogs capability. But it turned out that the line to the long blind was directly into a snowy headwind. Both dogs showed significant resistance to running straight into the wind, both dogs apparently found some sort of diversion to the right at 200 yards (perhaps remains from one of the many animals that occupy that field), and both dogs resisted being cast straight back from any further than about 200 yards.

With Lumi, I walked up and ran her from 290 yards. With Laddie, I walked up twice, with Laddie finally completing the blind from 200 yards.

As for the primary purpose of the series, both dogs had excellent pick-ups and raced me back to the SL, carrying and delivering the duck with no difficulty.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Honoring and Retrieving Drills

Oaks Area 2

On a sunny day with temps in the 40s and light winds, the dogs and I went out with Nate to continue our work from previous sessions.

SERIES A. Land double

I set up two RLs, the one on the right at 90 yards throwing left to right as the memory bird, the one on the left at 60 yards also throwing left to right as the go-bird. Our sequence was as follows:
  1. With me waiting in the van with Lumi, Nate ran Laddie on the double.
  2. As Laddie waited with Nate, I came out of the van and reloaded the RLs. Then I walked to the SL to get Laddie and led him to an honoring position to the right of the SL. Meanwhile, Nate got Lumi out of the van.
  3. With Laddie honoring, Nate ran Lumi on the double. After Lumi had been sent to the go-bird, Laddie and I ran to an area behind the van to play fetch and tug with a dummy. As Lumi was completing her double, I put Laddie in the van.
  4. As Lumi waited with Nate, I came out and again reloaded the RLs. Then I walked to the SL to get Lumi and led her to the same honoring position as I had with Laddie. Meanwhile, Nate got Laddie back out of the van.
  5. We continued alternating in this way until both dogs had honored once on the right and once on the left.
I forgot to put their collars and tabs on for this Series A, but neither dog showed any inclination to break from the line nor while honoring. Hopefully this was good honoring practice for both dogs.

In addition to honoring well, Lumi also marked, returned, and delivered well on each of her retrieves. Her only weakness was a dawdling pick-up on most if not all of them. I'm not sure because I was focusing on playing with Laddie rather than trying to catch sight of Lumi's marks from behind the van.

By contrast, about the only thing Laddie did well was honoring. On his first series, he ran to the memory bird first and then had a long hunt to find the go-bird his second time out. On the first two of his three of series, he dropped a bird during his return. And on several of his returns, he ignored Nate on the returns and tried to bring the bird to me.

Because of Lumi's poor pick-ups, and Laddie's generally poor retrieves, I set up Series B to work on those problems.

SERIES B. Retrieving practice

We tried a number of set-ups, and pile work at 20 yards, with me waiting in the car with the dog who wasn't working, seemed to be the most effective. Nate was instructed to call "no, sit" and to go get the dog if the dog dawdled or shopped. Lumi had at least five excellent retrieves after being picked up once. Laddie had three excellent ones after a number of poor ones. While the third one was an excellent pick-up, return, and delivery, he took a detour on the send-out, which made me think he might be losing interest, so I called the drill off after that, and didn't let him pick up the birds that were still waiting at the pile.

It's uncomfortable watching both dogs showing more difficulties running for Nate than if I were handling them, but hopefully it's a valuable learning experience for them, helping to cement the pattern of a retrieve. Though they haven't achieved fluency as fast as I would have hoped, they have made progress since we began having Nate run them a few days ago, especially Lumi. In any case, it seems to be the only way we have of working on event-style honoring.

Friday, February 20, 2009

British versus American Honoring

Based on private correspondence with Alice Woodyard and Jody Baker, I thought I'd post about some concepts I had not previously understood about the kind of honoring required for British Field Trials versus the kind of honoring required for American Field Trials and Hunt Tests, which I'll contrast with the terms "British honoring" versus "American honoring".

In British honoring, a line of dogs watch a mark thrown and then one of them is released to pick up the mark at the discretion of the judge. Dogs who excel at this skill learn that they can never expect any particular mark to be for them, so they learn to chill and wait to see if their name is called. For retrievers bred for British Field Trials, their breeding makes British honoring easier than for the intense, even hyper-intense, dogs bred for American field events.

British honoring is never required by an American competitor. In an American field event, the dog runs a series, then moves to the side and watches the birds thrown for the next dog. A short time after the running dog is sent to the go-bird, the honoring dog is released to retire from the line, and that dog's series is complete.

As Alice has explained, this difference in honoring requirements has two implications. First, it means that the dog can learn that when it's time to honor, there is no possibility that the dog will be sent. In theory, the unambiguity of the honoring context makes American honoring easier than British honoring, and helps explain why steadiness isn't generally considered as much of a breeding or early training priority for the American event dog.

Secondly, the American format means that when the dog is running her series, she is able to put every ounce of her focus into the marks, because there is no chance some other dog will be sent. Compare that to the British style, where the overwhelming likelihood is that the dog will not be sent. No wonder dogs bred for American field competition can learn to run highly complex series, series that would be difficult or impossible if the dog's focus were diluted by having learned since puppyhood to chill when marks are being thrown. Here again, breeding is a factor. Part of the American event dog's breeding objective is for the dog to be able to bring that intensity to the start line to help solve whatever complexities the judges have dreamed up.

Of my two field Goldens, Laddie is easily the more intense in everyday life. But when Lumi's at the line with guns firing and birds being thrown, like Laddie she turns into a retrieving machine, all her energies bent on memorizing where each bird fell, every muscle coiled for the chase.

I doubt either of my dogs has the breeding ideal for British Field Trials. More importantly, it appears that practicing British honoring, in which the dog needs to relax because she probably will not be sent when marks are thrown, is actually counterproductive for Lumi's and Laddie's competitive careers. This means that it may have been a mistake to participate in the honoring drills that Dave suggested for us, both during our recent Sunday sessions together and in private sessions on our own, since those drills consisted of British honoring.

Problems Don't Stay Fixed

I thought I might mention something that I've been thinking about lately.

I don't know whether it's true for all field dogs (2Q and 4Q alike), all 2Q dogs only, particular breeds, or just my dogs because of flaws in my training methods. But the fact is that with Lumi and Laddie, some training gets accomplished once and permanently, while other training does not. For some problems, the problem gets fixed and then comes back. For those, we practice some drills to fix the problem, it stays fixed for awhile, then creeps back in.

A case in point is pick-up speed with birds. This is really a complex of problems. The dog may simply not want to pick up the bird for some reason, but other issues may also occur: The dog may be finicky about getting the bird positioned just right in her mouth. Or she may want to "shop" if several birds are in a "pile" (that is, a small grouping), picking up one bird and then putting it down and picking up another. Or the dawdling might be a resource-guarding maneuver, intended to give the dog as much alone-time with the bird as possible. At the extreme, the dog may actually put a paw on the bird. That's a serious matter, it means the dog is getting ready to try to pull the bird apart and eat it. Fortunately, neither of my dogs has tried that in a long time, but I continue to see the other behaviors I mentioned intermittently with both my dogs.

We can discuss specific approaches to addressing these problems if you like, but my main point in this post is that problems like this do not seem to go away permanently. Unlike many other dog sports, field retrievers are subject to enormous natural temptations during performance. As the Kellers described in their seminal 1950s article "Misbehavior of Organisms", situations arise where no amount of operant conditioning seems able to permanently defeat what the authors called "instinctive drift". For a competition field retriever, every series presents those temptations.

To me, it seems that in a sport like obedience or free style, challenging though those sports are, instinctive drift presents a minimal challenge. Even with agility, as enjoyable as the obstacles may be for the dogs, at least the handler is always in fairly close proximity, which significantly increases the handler's influence. But in field work, you have the combination of enormous suction from the dog's instincts, combined with distances measured in tens and hundreds of yards: 120 feet would be an exceptionally short retrieve for a competition retriever. Both my dogs retrieve from 1000 feet away or more several times a month.

The moral of the story is that you're never finished training some behaviors in field work, including some of the most basic building blocks. For a 4Q trainer, this means that the dog probably wears an ecollar during every retrieve except in competition. I'm not a 4Q trainer so I'm not sure about this, but I have the impression that routine -R reminders for slow recalls, sits, and pick-ups occur fairly frequently -- several times a season -- invisible to bystanders who may not even see the dog react to the nick/burn/stim. The bystander just sees what appears to be reliable, enthusiastic behavior.

I think a 2Q trainer needs to be equally vigilant, or even more so because laboratory experiments show that -R is the strongest quadrant, and we don't use that. For my dogs, the most effective solution I've found is what I call a Walk Out. I call "no, sit", walk or run to the dog, gently take away the bird if the dog has picked it up, and walk the dog back to the start line. At that point, I usually re-run the dog, but sometimes I run my other dog to pick up the first dog's bird. In one case training with a group, the group leader asked me to put the dog in the van and not run him again for the rest of the day. I think he believed that the dog would learn more from that than running the dog again, and I've heard others say the same thing. The method doesn't appeal to me, since it doesn't give the dog an opportunity to immediately compare outcomes between correct and incorrect responses, but maybe for something as well-known to the dog as a retrieve, that's not necessary at that point.

The Walk Out makes a powerful short term impression on my dogs, improving their performance dramatically for the remainder of that session and to some extent over the days that follow. But the impression seems to wear off. So far, I haven't found a long term solution to the pick-up speed issue. Since Lumi and Laddie are much better in that regard now than they were, say, a year ago, perhaps it's just a matter of time before such problems go away for good. I'm not going to count on it.

I think as dog trainers, we're used to building one behavior upon others that by then have been trained to fluency. Of course that's true in field training also. But I think you also have to always expect, and be prepared to respond to, breakdowns in the basics.

Land Blinds

Riggs Road

With temps in the low 30s and west winds gusting to 35 mph, each dog run two long blinds, at 330 and 400 yards.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Honoring with Remote Launchers, Pick-up Speed Drills

AM: Zion Road

Today we had no precipitation other than a few flakes of snow at odd moments, but we had cold gusty winds and temps near freezing.

For today's earlier session with just the dogs and me at the field near Zion Road, we ran pick-up speed drills with two piles of birds, three birds of one species in one pile, three of a different species in another pile. As each dog ran, the other dog waited in the van. I sent the dogs randomly to one or the other of the piles until all the birds had been picked up.

We ran similar series in two locations, the first time with both piles at 20 yards, the second time with both piles at 40 yards.

Both dogs did well, neither one dawdled nor shopped on any send-out.

PM: Riggs Road

At the large, featureless field near Riggs Road for the afternoon session, Nate and I worked on basic skills with Nate as the handler, and the dogs also had some event-style honoring practice.

SERIES A. Honoring practice with remote launchers

For Series A, I set out two RLs at 70 and 50 yards, using weighted streamers and pre-positioned ducks. We ran this series with Nate handling each dog on the marks, and me handling the honoring dog. The procedure was as follows:
  1. With Lumi in the van and me behind the van holding the RL transmitter, Nate set-up Laddie to run and signalled me for the "throws". I fired the 70-yard RL, then the 50-yard RL. Nate sent Laddie to the 50-yard mark, called Here, took delivery from a sit, and gave Laddie a treat. Then Nate sent Laddie to the 70-yard mark, called Here, took delivery from a sit, and gave Laddie another treat.
  2. I came out, picked the birds up from the ground, and brought them out to position them for the next series, at the same time reloading the RLs with the weighted streamers. Then I returned to the SL, called Laddie to me, and had him sit five yards to the left of the SL. I stood at his right flank facing mostly away from the field and cued, "Just watch", our honoring cue.
  3. Nate brought Lumi out of the van, set her up to run the series, and signalled me again for the "throws". I again fired the 70-yard RL, then the 50-yard RL. Nate sent Lumi to the 50-yard mark, and when she was halfway there, I called Here quietly but enthusiastically to Laddie and together we ran to the trunk of the van, where I grabbed a 2" white dummy and Laddie and I played high-energy fetch and tug games for several moments. Meanwhile, Nate continued to run Lumi on the series as he had run Laddie earlier.
  4. As Lumi was completing her second mark, I put Laddie in the van. When Lumi had delivered the second bird and gotten her second treat, I came out to reload the RLs as I had when Laddie was waiting earlier.
  5. We continued in that way, with each dog running, honoring, and playing until each dog had run the series three times.
Both of the dogs are getting increasingly accustomed to bringing the bird back to Nate instead of trying to bring it to me, and also getting increasingly accustomed to running marks for Nate. Laddie is further along in both of those skills than Lumi, but both are getting there.

Our primary interest in having Nate run the dogs is to give the other dog an opportunity to practice event-style honoring. As in previous sessions, both dogs seemed to enjoy the honoring and play sequence tremendously, and as in previous sessions, neither dog seemed at all interested in breaking from the honor position, even with the added excitement of the RLs. Though the dogs were wearing their tabs (9" cords attached to their flat collars), I didn't hold the tabs as the dogs honored because it was clearly unnecessary.

SERIES B. Pick-up speed drills (Laddie, then Lumi)

Because each dog had at least one slow pick-up during Series A, I thought it would be good to have a pick-up speed drill with Nate handling. With one dog in the van, Nate and I worked with the other dog as follows:
  1. I placed a pile of eight ducks near an LP.
  2. With me carrying the empty bird sack, Nate ran the dog from 10 yards. The rule was that if the dog dawdled or shopped, Nate was to call "no, sit" and run to the dog. If the dog had picked up a bird by then, he was to take it gently away and throw it back with the others. Then he was to walk the dog back to where I was waiting and send the dog again.
  3. Once the dog had a successful retrieve at 10 yards, we walked further from the pile and repeated the send-out at 20 yards.
  4. We continued in this way until the dog had run six good-quality retrieves for Nate, the last one from 60 yards.
We ran Series B with Laddie first, then Lumi. Both dogs did quite well, needing only one or two pick-ups.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blinds, Honoring

AM: Zion Road

Today's weather was uncomfortable, with temps in the 30s, light rain, and a light layer of wet snow on the ground.

SERIES A. Double land blind

Series A was a fairly short, but interesting because of the varied terrain and need for whistles on both blinds.

The first blind was to the right at 110 yards. The line to the blind was on an angle over a dirt road, through a wide keyhole formed by trees, and into an area of sparse high cover. The second blind was to the left at 130 yards, through a narrow keyhole formed by trees and also through an area of sparse high cover and relatively dense underbrush. Both blinds were unmarked ODs.

Because I've recently learned that Master-level Hunt Tests require the dog to maintain a narrow corridor on all retrieves, I kept each dog as close to the line as possible.

In addition, I ran the blinds with the mind-set of a hair-trigger WO, meaning that if the dog was at all hesitant in responding to a whistle, I immediately called "no, sit" and went out to pick the dog up. This resulted in one WO for Laddie during the short blind. Aside from that, both dogs showed excellent responsiveness on their WSs and nice accuracy on their casts.

PM: Oaks Area 2

SERIES B, C, and D. Honoring practice

Because of the bad weather and the likelihood that birds would deteriorate rapidly getting wet, we trained with dummies. But we continued to have Nate run each dog while I handled the other dog for honoring.

Each of the three series was run to a pile of 12 dummies. Sometimes the dogs switched after three retrieves, sometimes after two, sometimes after one. My intent was that they not be able to anticipate when the next switch between handlers would be.

Because Lumi is lagging Laddie a bit in understanding that the running dog is to return to the handler who sent the dog, which in today's case was always Nate, I had Nate give Lumi treats after each delivery. Lumi showed quick improvement in her returns to Nate once we started that procedure.

We used a number of versions of the series as the dogs became more proficient. The version we ran for the last series was as follows:
  1. While I stood with Laddie behind the van, Nate ran Lumi on a couple of retrieves from the pile.
  2. I left Laddie in a sit behind the van, went to Nate and Lumi, and took Lumi to an honoring position, where I cued "Just watch", our honoring cue.
  3. Nate went to pick up Laddie behind the van, brought him to the SL, and ran him on a couple of retrieves to the pile.
  4. As Laddie headed to the pile on his first send-out, I stepped back from Lumi and cued Here, her release from the honor. Together, we ran behind the van for a high-energy game of happy throws and tug.
  5. When Laddie completed his second retrieve under Nate's handling, I had Lumi sit behind the van and went out to pick up Laddie for his turn to honor.
  6. Nate went to pick up Lumi behind the van to run her, and we practiced the same pattern as above but with the dogs reversed.
  7. We continued to switch dogs in that way for a total of six series, three per dog.
As in previous sessions recently, both dogs apparently continue to enjoy the honoring component of this sequence, with its end game of happy throws and tug, at least as much as the retrieves. As in previous sessions, neither dog showed any inclination to break from the honoring position.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recall Practice

Riggs Road

Today we worked on one component of our recent practices with Nate handling the dogs: We practiced having the dogs come to Nate when he called Here.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Honoring, Land Series

AM: Oaks Area 3

Today I began teaching Nate to handle one dog while I kept the other with me to honor. For our first practice session, I set up four RLs, launching weighted streamers toward a pile (small grouping) of four ducks. Nate ran one of the dogs from 20 yards, while the other dog stayed with me and honored on the left or right of the SL. I used our honoring cue, "Just watch", and when Nate released the dog he was running, the other dog and I ran to the van for happy throws with a duck.

This was a good first session, but both dogs need more practice learning to run for someone other than myself.

PM: Oaks Areas 1 and 3

Lumi, Laddie, and I trained with another trainer and his black Lab. The other trainer had a Bumper Boy (remote bumper launcher) that we used to "throw" marks.

SERIES A. Land double with double blind

With a thrower in the field to the left, and the Bumper Boy set up on the right with a stickman, the dog began the series by running a blind at 130 yards between the thrower and the Bumper Boy. The line to the blind was past several trees on both sides, across a ditch, thru a narrow keyhole formed by a break in a hedgerow, and up onto an embankment. Next the Bumper Boy on the right "threw" a bumper right to left at 110 yards, and the thrower on the left, firing a gunshot, threw a duck right to left at 80 yards. After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran another blind to the left of the thrower at 150 yards, over a crest and a ditch, past a tree on the left and a hedgerow on the right, to the blind on the right of another tree 20 yards further.

SERIES B. Land single and blind

Series B consisted of the Bumber Boy throwing a mark left to right at 150 yards, followed by the dog running a blind at 210 yards, with the blind placed inside a group of trees. In order to give my dogs an opportunity to honor, our running order was Laddie, the other trainer's dog, Lumi, and then the other trainer's dog again.

I used this series to give Lumi and Laddie each an opportunity to practice honoring. After the honors, we ran toward the van for happy throws and chase games with a bird. Neither dog showed any inclination to break.

While the other trainer was setting up Series C, Lumi ran another blind in open meadow at 160 yards.

SERIES C. Land single

Series C consisted of a single at 130 yards across a trench and past a hedgerow on the right. After Lumi ran the mark, she honored while the other dog ran it. She showed no inclination to break. After the honor, she and I ran back away from the SL for some happy throws and chasing with a bird.

With the sun almost down, I didn't have time to go back to the van to have Laddie run again.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pick-up Speed Drills

Oaks Area 2

Today, I decided to focus entirely on pick-up speed for ducks with both dogs.

I set up four RLs next to a tree, and a pile (small grouping) of four ducks where the weighted streamer would fall.

With one dog in the van, I ran the other dog to all four marks. If the dog dawdled over a bird or did any shopping (putting one bird down to switch to another), I called "no, sit" and ran pick the dog up, leaving the bird behind, and re-sent the dog without another launch from the RLs.

We started at 20 yards. Lumi had one slow pick-up at that distance, resulting in me picking her up, so Lumi also ran her second series at 20 yards.

Laddie had one excellent series at 20 yards, so I ran him at 30 yards the next time. On the second series, he shopped once, resulting in me picking him up.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Picnic Trial

Rebel Ridge Farms

SERIES A. Land series: four singles and two blinds

First, mark #1, a single on the left, was thrown left to right at 30 yards and retrieved. Next, mark #2, a single at center left, with the line 15 degrees to the right of the line to mark #1, was thrown left to right at 100 yards and retrieved. Next mark #3, a single on the right, was thrown by a winger right to left at 130 yards. After the dog saw mark #3 thrown, the dog ran blind B1 at 70 yards, on a line 15° to the right of the line to mark #3, then the dog retrieved mark #3. Next mark #4, a single at center right, was thrown right to left at 150 yards and retrieved. Finally, the dog ran blind B2 at 180 yards, on a line 15° to the left of the line to mark #4.

All marks were pheasants, all blinds were dummies, and many decoys of various types were deployed on the field so that the lines on all retrieves included running thru or past a group of decoys.

All throwers threw from blinds and remained retired. The thrower, winger, and blind for #3 were inside the tree line on the right and were never visible.

The field had many elevation changes. For example, the line to blind B1 was on an angle up a steep hill the last 30 yards, with the blind 2/3 of the way to the top of the hill. If a dog were to run the blind too far to the right, it would be possible to crest the hill and go out of sight. As another example, the line to blind B2 included a trench on a downward angle to the right 20 yards before the blind. One low-lying area near the line to mark #4 apparently included knee-deep standing water, since Laddie came back wet from one of his detours in that area.

The field also included a large, boomerang-shaped area of high cover in a depression, which the dog had to traverse for mark #2 and #4 and for blind B2. In addition, the field had a large tree to the right of blind B2, and a line of widely spaced trees and underbrush that ran between the lines to mark #3 and blind B1.

Blind B2 was described by the group leader as a "Qualifying blind" because of its length and difficulty.

Notes on Series A. What I described above was how my dogs ran Series A. Other trainers used the available marks and blinds in other ways, most of the dogs not running the blinds at all. The sequence I decided on lacked a couple of the challenges some of the other dogs were given — multiples, bulldogs — but contained the difficult element of having mark #3 delayed by blind B1, which none of the other dogs had, and running the difficult blind B2 immediately after the nearby mark #4. In addition, my dogs had to drive past the short old fall for mark #1 to run the longer mark #2, a sequence one of the other trainers suggested we not try if my dogs weren't trained for it.

Lumi: Lumi had some head-swinging, and needed the thrower to wave before throwing mark #2. Aside from that, she had excellent marks, including #3 after the delay to run blind B1. Because of suction from the trees on the right, an elevation change that blocked the dog's line of sight during the outrun, a large fallen tree near the fall, and the fact that the thrower and equipment were hidden inside the tree line, mark #3 was difficult enough that several of the dogs had difficulty with it even running it as a single immediately after it was thrown. In addition to her excellent marking, Lumi had excellent returns on straight lines, including through the large patch of high cover for three of the retrieves, and excellent pick-ups on all the retrieves except mark #4, where she responded when I called out "quit playing". Lumi was responsive on all WSs and all casts, and showed no inclination to break while marking or honoring. When honoring, she had to honor three no-birds for a dog who was being disciplined for barking at the line.

Laddie: Laddie had great marks, including #3 described for Lumi above. He also handled well on the blinds. Hee had terrible returns, including a swim on mark #4, but solid deliveries once he completed his returns. He also had good pick-ups except on mark #4, where his pick-up was way too slow. He showed no inclination to break while marking or honoring.

SERIES B. Land series: triple and two blinds

First, mark #1 on the left was thrown right to left into high cover at 120 yards. Next, mark #2 in the center was thrown left to right into a section of woods and underbrush at 80 yards. Finally, mark #3 on the right was thrown right to left into high cover in front of a section of woods at 60 yards. After the dog picked up the three marks, the dog ran blind B1 at 50 yards on a line to the right of mark #3, and then blind B2 at 120 yards on a line slightly to the right of the line to mark #2. I requested that the throwers stay visible while the dog was running the series. All marks and blind B1 were pheasants, while blind B2 was a dummy.

The lines to every retrieve were difficult. The line to mark #3, the go-bird, flared around an area containing a fallen tree and other obstructions. The line to mark #2, the first memory-bird, was thru a section of woods and underbrush, with the fall behind a shrub and not visible from the SL. The line to mark #1, the last memory-bird, went into a large patch of cover, and also ran along side a pond. The line to blind B1 skirted the same obstruction as the line to mark #1, then ended just inside an area of thick, brushy cover so that the dog had to be sent to the left of the cover, then cast right to enter it, with a stream running to the right of the line to blind B1. The line to blind B2 required the dog to run thru the same section of woods and underbrush that mark #2 had been thrown into, then uphill to complete the outrun to the blind.

As with Series A, I've described how my dogs ran Series B. Other trainers ran the same marks and blinds in other ways. As with Series A, many of the dogs did not run the blinds for Series B, and some were run on blind B1 but not blind B2.

Lumi: I was prepared to send Lumi early for head-swinging while the triple was being thrown, but she showed excellent focus on each throw and I didn't need to do so. She ran mark #3, the go-bird well, then self-selected mark #3 and ran it well. She seemed to have forgotten mark #2, the center mark in the woods, when she returned from mark #3, but I had thrower #2 wave his arms and then sent Lumi, and she ran with good purpose and accuracy, apparently remembering the mark. Her performance on the blinds seemed good to me, but when I asked the group leader about blind B2, she said that you'd never see a blind that difficult in a Senior test, and that Lumi "would have failed" if she'd run it that way for a Master test because I let her run too wide a corridor. I'll start working on that issue in our practices.

Laddie: Laddie marked well on all three of the marks. He seemed confused on his second send-out whether to pick up mark #2 in the center or mark #1 to the left, but settled on mark #2, which had been my intent when I lined him up, without ever starting a hunt in the area of mark #1. Laddie was again terrible on his returns, needing repeated calls to bring him back on every retrieve. Because he'd had that difficulty in Series A and I wanted to build some positive reinforcement for his returns in Series B, I followed him out about twenty yards on each retrieve, called him repeatedly as needed, then raced him back to the SL. In addition to other detours, he went swimming in the creek during his return from blind B1 and seemed inclined to swim in the pond on his return from B2 as well.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pick-up Speed Drills, Blinds

Riggs Road

SERIES A. Pick-up speed drill

Using RLs, weighted streamers, and pre-positioned ducks, and with me blowing a duck call for each mark, Lumi and Laddie both ran singles at 20, 40, 50, and 60 yards. My focus was on fast pick-ups with no dawdling or shopping.

SERIES B. Land blind

Each dog ran a 350-yard blind in open meadow. The blind was an OD marked with an LP.

SERIES C. Pick-up speed drill

I set up a pile (small grouping) of three ducks. With Lumi and Laddie standing on either side of me, I blew a duck call, then sent one dog to retrieve a duck from the pile. I then blew the duck call again and sent the other dog. My focus was on pick-up speed, with no dawdling or shopping. After each set of two retrieves, I changed the location and distance. We ran this drill at 10, 20, 30, and 40 yards.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pick-up Speed Drills

Sundown Road Park

Today, Lumi, Laddie, and I went out with Nate primarily to work on pick-up speed, also with an eye on steadiness.

Temps were in the 50s, winds were high and gusty.

Nate threw singles right to left, using a duck call and pistol. I stood with one dog on each side of me, sometimes holding their tabs, sometimes dropping the tab during the throw, sometimes dropping it after the throw, sometimes not holding the tab at all. My intent was to neutralize the tab as a stimulus, habituating the dogs to the sensation so that they would not notice whether I was holding their tabs or not, not even be aware whether they were wearing tabs. Neither dog attempted a break.

Each dog got one retrieve at each of four distances: 30, 60, 90, and 120 yards. If the dog had a slow pick-up, I called "no, sit" while running out to pick the dog up, leaving the bird behind. In today's drill, we had only one slow pick-up, Lumi at 90 yards. In that case, I picked Lumi up, ran Laddie at the same distance, then ran Lumi again. The second time she did great.

The two retrieves at 120 yards were fabulous. Both dogs had racing outruns, running pick-ups, running all the way back, and excited, confident deliveries. I think the wind added some excitement to today's training for them.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pick-up Speed Drills

Nearby Powerline Right-of-way

Today I had Lumi and Laddie run pick-up speed drills with ducks, on a rolling field with thick, clumpy grass and uneven footing. The drill was a series of poorman doubles at distances varying from 10 to 100 yards, followed by a poorman single at 120 yards.

Each dog had one slow pick-up today. When that happened, I called "no, sit", picked the dog up leaving the bird behind, and sent the other dog to that bird. Aside from that one slow pick-up by each dog, both dogs had a dozen or so excellent pick-ups.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Honoring Drills, Blinds

Today's training was a near carbon-copy of yesterday's four series, except:
  • We used birds instead of dummies in Series A
  • I was able to get Lumi to attempt a break, which I was able to control by calling Here, by throwing from behind the dogs at one point during Series A
  • All series were run at Oaks Area 2
  • Series C was a double blind at 70 and 150 yards, CCDs with no markers
  • Laddie broke once on Series D, a controlled break since he stopped and came back to me when I called Here

Monday, February 9, 2009

Honoring Drills, Blinds

AM: Oaks Area 3

SERIES A. British-style honoring

This is a drill that Dave, the guy we trained with yesterday, asked us to work on.

Both the dogs and I lined up at the SL, me on the far left or right. Nine times, I fired the starter pistol and threw a dummy, then sent myself or one of the dogs to pick the dummy up. As Dave requested, I picked the dummy up the majority of the times: I sent each of the dogs twice, and I picked it up the other five times.

PM: Riggs Road

SERIES B. British-style honoring drill

Same as Series A, but this time Nate joined us. The four of us stood in a line, and Nate blew a duck call, fired the pistol, and threw a dummy. I then called for one of the four of us to pick up the dummy. Lumi and Laddie each got two retrieves, Nate and I split the other five.

SERIES C. Double land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

First the dog ran the right blind at 140 yards, an unmarked OD in high cover with the line just to the left of an area where the treeline jutted out from a section of woods. Next the dog ran the left blind at 380 yards, an OD marked with an LP in open meadow.

SERIES D. Bristish-style honoring drill

With the dogs on each side of me, and me holding their tabs hopefully imperceptibly, Nate threw dummies from in front of us to the left or right at 30 yards, using a duck call and gunfire. I would then randomly send one dog or the other, sometimes the dog on the same side as the throw, sometimes the dog on the opposite side.

Despite the excitement of the short distances, neither dog broke, nor seemed close to breaking, on any of today's drills.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Land Series, Pick-up Drills

Sundown Road Park

CONDITIONS: Sunny, temps in mid-50s, south wind at 3 MPH.

SERIES A. Delayed double mark with two blinds (Laddie, then Lumi)

Since no one was at the park when we arrived, we ran Series A from inside the picnic area, surrounded by trees, shelters, tables, playground equipment, ball field fences, and a basketball court. The lines to all retrieves were thru and past those features, except for the last 170 yards of the long blind, which was in the open field.

Both blinds were pre-positioned CCDs with no markers. Both marks were RLs throwing weighted streamers, landing near a pre-positioned bird.

The first mark, on the left at 100 yards, was thrown left to right. The second mark, on the right at 60 yard, was also thrown left to right. The angle between the two marks was 90°. After the two marks were down, the dog ran a 100-yard blind on a line mid-way between the two marks, making the marks a "delayed" double. After the blind, the dog picked up the 60-yard mark, then the 100-yard mark. After picking up the marks, the dog ran a 270-yard blind on a line slightly to the left of the leftmost RL, with the treeline for adjoining woods running on the left and parallel to the line to the blind, then curving around behind the blind. Both falls and the short blind were in open areas, while the long blind was planted in front of a large tree stump.

Each dog ran with the other on a tie-out behind us.

With one exception, great performance by both dogs. Both dogs did especially well accepting handling on the 100-yard blind having just watched two marks thrown and still down, one on either side of the line to the blind. Only flaw in fine performance by both dogs was that Laddie dropped the duck returning from the 100-yard mark, and needed to be cued Fetch to pick it up and complete the delivery.

SERIES B. Pick-up drill

A 50-yard (duck) and 30-yard (pheasant) poorman double. Both birds thrown with gunshots while both dogs waited at SL. Lumi ran the double first, then Laddie. Both dogs did a great job.

SERIES C. Pick-up drill

120-yard (duck) poorman single. The bird was thrown with a gunshot while both dogs waited at SL. Lumi ran the single first, then Laddie. For Laddie, I fired a shot and threw a dummy while he was returning with the duck, so that he delivered the duck, then was sent for the dummy. Good work by both dogs.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Blinds and Pick-up Drills

Riggs Road

SERIES A. Double blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

The SL was in low cover with sparse high cover, while a large area of thicker high cover separated us from the woods on our left. While the dogs waited in the van, I pre-positioned one blind at 60 yards in the high cover, another at 220 yards also in the high cover. Both blinds were ODs marked by LPs.

I included the easy 60-yard blind to remind the dogs that sometimes blinds are close, since that's what I've seen in Senior Hunt Tests. The diagonal line where the high-cover area met the low-cover area, in combination with the high cover itself, made the 220-yard blind more difficult.

Each dog ran the double blind while the other waited in the van. Both dogs did fine.

SERIES B. Pick-up drill

The concern with Lumi is slow, dawdling pick-ups, while the concern with Laddie is reluctance to pick up older game combined with tendency to drop the bird during the return or during delivery. For this drill, we worked with a duck and a pheasant, both partially frozen and reasonably fresh, and all throws were accompanied by a gunshot. I threw a couple of poorman doubles at increasing distances, and ended with an 80-yard poorman single. Both dogs waited at the line while I was throwing, not knowing who would be sent when I returned. Both dogs did well.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Land Series and Pick-up/Delivery Drills

AM: Oaks Area 3

CONDITIONS: Low 30s, light snowfall.

SERIES A. Delayed mark (Laddie, then Lumi)

First I threw a 90-yard mark (duck) with a gunshot, the line to the mark crossing four elevation changes and thru a narrow keyhole. Next, the dog ran a 120-yard blind thru an area dotted with trees. Finally the dog picked up the mark, making it a delayed single.

Despite the diversion, both dogs did fine. Laddie would have lined the blind but I asked him for a sit at 70 yards, since he's been lining blinds lately and I wanted to make sure he was still responsive to the whistle. He was.

SERIES B. Pick-up drill

With the dogs taking turns, I threw a number of short poorman doubles with one duck, one WD, using gunfire during the throw and pieces of roast beef as treats for some of the deliveries. I used a variety of sequences, all intended to build reinforcement history for pick-ups (especially Lumi) and solid deliveries (especially Laddie).

PM: Riggs Road

CONDITIONS: Same as morning.

SERIES A. Land blind

This was a 300-yard blind over a featureless section of the field. The blind was an OD marked with an SF. Laddie lined it, and Lumi had little difficulty with it.

SERIES B. Pick-up drill

We trained with ducks and pheasants to a maximum of 50 yards, with bites of cheeseburger as treats for some of the deliveries.

Unusual Nature of Field Training

It's becoming increasingly clear to me that training arbitrary behaviors to dogs, such as the skills needed for agility, freestyle, rally, and obedience, is different from field training. For example:
  • Side-effects from encounters with aversives, whether accidental or being used intentionally by the trainer, are less of an issue because the dog's joy in the sport is so strong that it dwarfs the price being paid to learn correct responses
  • Management is more important because incorrect responses may be more reinforcing than any available extrinsic reinforcer for correct ones
  • Some behaviors regress and require remedial training because the trained behavior is competing with natural alternatives that appeal to the dog's instincts even if they've never been practiced
  • Trying to build performance skills purely sequentially postpones key motivational experiences too long, so the field trainer must expose the dog to experiences the dog isn't yet trained for
  • Extrinsic reinforcement is reduced in usefulness while what I call "discovery training" — that is, training based on intrinsic reinforcement — becomes indispensable
  • Behaviors that are fluent in close proximity are difficult to keep reliable at tens or hundreds of yards distance
  • 2Q field trainers have no model to follow

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pick-up Drills

AM: Oaks Area 3, PM: Riggs Road

CONDITIONS: Bitter, subfreezing temps all day.

TRAINING: Continuing our work from yesterday afternoon, today we had two more session of short, simple poorman doubles, using one WD and one duck in good condition for each series.

In each case, both dogs waited at the SL while I threw the marks using gunfire.

For Lumi, my focus was on speedy pick-ups. Lumi was doing great by the end, but I expect regression so we'll keep working on this this week.

For Laddie, my focus was on building reinforcement history for picking up birds. To accomplish that, I used gunfire with the throws, treats for some of the deliveries, and a WD as the memory-bird since these days, oddly, Laddie seems to enjoy retrieving dummies more than birds. Laddie had some excellent, high-energy, high-speed, solid retrieves of the duck, encouraging me that Laddie is getting back to his old self.

In the afternoon session at the Riggs Road field, we also ran a delayed mark, as follows:

The mark was a duck thrown as a poorman single with a pistol shot at 40 yards. After the mark was down, the dog ran a 310-yard blind. Then the dog picked up the mark.

Laddie, running first, lined the blind. Lumi, running second, needed a WO after slipping a whistle, then did fine.
[Note that entries are displayed from newest to oldest.]