Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wetfoot Drill with Videos

Stadler's Pond

SERIES A. Wetfoot Drill (Lumi and Laddie alternating)

With an hour available for training, I took Lumi and Laddie to the pond behind Stadler's Nursery for our third session of the Wetfoot Drill. I had time for each dog to get two retrieves.

With the four ducks planted at water's edge, I alternately sent each dog on the 40-yard swim to the now familiar location. As each dog arrived at the duck, I cued "Shake", then blew CIW, and almost immediately followed up with "Here".

Both dogs performed well on all their retrieves, with grades in the range of B+ to A.

SERIES B. Wetfoot Drill (Lumi and Laddie alternating)

Later the same day, I brought the dogs back to Stadler's pond, this time with Austin along to videotape for us.

Series B was another session of the early stage of the Wetfoot Drill, with ducks planted at water's edge and with me using both a CIW and verbal recall ("Here") to elicit the desired speedy pick-up and water re-entry.

In Series B, each dog had three retrieves, but Lumi ended up being sent five times. On her first and third bird, she dawdled too long over the bird so I called "Sit", then walked out to pick her up. After the first time, I put her on the tie-out and ran Laddie next. After the last time, since Laddie seemed to be struggling a bit with his last swim, I simply walked Lumi back to the SL and ran her again. In both cases, after my Walk Outs, Lumi performed well the next time she had a chance.

Except for Lumi's two interrupted retrieves, I was pleased with both dogs' performances, all of which I'd grade in the range of B to A. Each dog had at least one pick-up and water re-entry that I would guess is near the best that dog is capable of at this behavior.

In the dog-training paradigm as I understand it, the first step is "get the behavior". Once you find a way to do that, the next step is to build reinforcement history for that behavior. As the behavior becomes well established, you can then raise criteria (gradually move the birds a few feet further inland), proof for distractions, and generalize for location until at last the behavior has become fluent.

The Wetfoot Drill still has some question marks:
  • Are the dogs finding their correct performances sufficiently rewarding that the desired version of their LWL retrieves is becoming increasingly more probable?
  • Will the behavior hold up as we increase criteria, proof for distractions, and generalize for loation, or will we find that no matter how gradual the process, one or both dogs revert to an undesirable version of the behavior when certain conditions are present?
  • Will some form of instinctive drift come into play, so that instead of the dogs getting continuously better, exposure to competing reinforcers turns the learning curve around and their behavior begins to deteriorate the more we practice?
Only time will give us the answers to those questions. But for now, I can take pleasure in watching my dogs embark on what I hope will be a long string of high quality LWL retrieves.

Here's a video of Lumi's first attempt on Series B, when her slow pick-up, including some shopping, resulted in a Walk Out and me switching dogs before Lumi had another chance to retrieve:

Here's a video of Laddie's first retrieve on Series B:

Now it's Lumi's turn again:

I had additional video footage, but did not have time to edit it. For videos from a later session, showing significant progress on the Wetfoot Drill, click here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Experiments with Wetfoot and Dryfoot Drills

Stadler's Pond

This afternoon, I took Lumi and Laddie to the pond behind Stadler's Nursery to experiment with the Wetfoot and Dryfoot Drills I described in Saturday's blog entry.

First, I tried minimizing my verbal cueing, in the hope that the dog might delay a few moments, but in reasonably short order would pick the bird up and get back in the water. I was not happy with the results. Perhaps I was too impatient, but my perception was that neither dog would get back in the water unless I called "Here", but that the dogs would respond quite well once I did.

It's not ideal long term if I have to use a verbal cue to bring them back. In fact, I'd say it's not ideal if I have to use any cue to bring them back. The desired behavior is that the dog picks up the bird and can hardly wait to spin around and charge back into the water.

And maybe we'll eventually get to that point. But I don't think we'll get to if I just stand there watching them dawdle over the bird time after time. We have to get the desired behavior, and we have to do everything possible to make that behavior rewarding to the dog, while giving the dog an opportunity also to discover that that version of the behavior is intrinsically rewarding. If we're successful in accomplishing both those goals, we'll eventually be able to fade the cueing.

Before leaving the pond, I was also curious to try out the Dryfoot Drill, described at the end of the same blog entry. The terrain was not ideal for the Dryfoot Drill as I had envisioned it, but I chose a location to place the birds ten yards from water's edge, had each dog make a short land retrieve from that location, and then tried running both dogs across the pond as with the Wetfoot Drill. Once again, both dogs required verbal cueing in order to get headed back on their returns. Perhaps if the birds had been fifty yards from water's edge rather than ten yards, the concept might have worked better, but that set-up isn't available at this location.

Based on today's experiments, I plan to go back to the original design of the Wetfoot Drill. In this early stage, that means with the birds planted at water's edge, and with whistle and verbal cueing to get the dog quickly turned around and back into the water after the pick-up.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Steadiness Training, Cheating Singles

Clevenger's Corner

Today we again trained with Carol and her dog, Dyna, and Carol's instructor, Dave.

Before we started Series A, I told Dave I was considering two approaches, and asked for his advice which I should follow. The choices were:
  • Run short marks, say at 30 yards, and run my dogs with their tabs, so that they could learn that a break wasn't an option if they did attempt a break.
  • Run longer marks as are more likely in a Senior Hunt Test, say at 60 yards, and run my dogs without collars as they'll need to run in the test in a week.
Dave seemed to feel strongly that I should run them with no collars, so I set up Series A and B with 60 yard marks, and left the dogs' collars in the van.

SERIES A. Land single (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series A was a rehearsal for Series B. For Series A, Dave threw a dead duck at 60 yards, using live ammo in his shotgun for the gunfire. I ran Lumi, then honored her as Carol ran Laddie. Finally, I honored Laddie as Carol ran Dyna.

Lumi was rock steady when I ran her, but she flinched on the honor and seemed on the verge of breaking when I called "Here" and we ran back to the van to play. That was worrisome, considering that these were dead birds at pretty good distance.

Carol told me that Laddie was on the verge of breaking when she sent him, and Laddie did break honoring. Dave picked up the bird so Laddie didn't get to retrieve it, and Laddie did come running right back at that point, which he might not have done a few weeks ago, so perhaps there's been some progress. But obviously, Laddie's steadiness was even more of a concern than Lumi's.

I'm not entirely sure why both dogs seemed to be weaker on steadiness today, even with dead birds, than they have been for some time. The only theory I have is that the set-up I came up with had an unusual feature: because we were working in an area of rolling hills, the birds were falling behind a crest and out of sight from the start line. Both Lumi and Laddie craned their necks in an attempt to catch sight of the fallen bird, and that may have interfered with their steadiness. One more thing to work on, I guess.

SERIES B. Land single (Lumi, then Laddie)

Carol was concerned that some of Laddie's problem was that I wasn't running him, so for Series B, I ran and honored both my dogs. To give us an opportunity to honor, Carol ran Dyna twice, once after each of my dogs.

Although I understand that it is risky to put a dog's collar on as a result of a break, because it gives the dog an opportunity to discriminate the difference in outcome from a break between wearing a collar and not wearing one, I felt I had no choice now to put the dogs' collars on for Series B, so that I could use their tabs.

Therefore, I ran and honored both my dogs on tabs for Series B, and both seemed rock steady. I have no way of knowing whether that means they have learned to discern the collar, or whether that means they had improved between the two series.

SERIES C. Cheating single (Lumi, then Laddie)

With temps in the high 80s, we wanted to stop land work as soon as possible and get in a little swimming at the large pond on the property. Dave proposed an open-water 60-yard retrieve. From my point of view, that had little to do with preparation for a Senior Hunt Test, but the dogs did have to swim parallel to the shoreline.

Both of my dogs had solid outruns (outswims) to the mark, and required no handling to keep them on line. But both of my dogs displayed suction toward the shoreline on the return, which I believe represents a decline from where they were in their skills last fall. At the same time, both were responsive to verbal and visual cueing to stay on line and not swim to the side bank.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wetfoot and Dryfoot Drills


I've been struggling the last few weeks trying to find a way to train my dogs to run land-water-land (LWL) retrieves without long delays at the pick-up.

This morning, we practiced at Cheltenham and I'd give the dogs a D- on every retrieve, of which each dog had four. The only way they'd have done worse would be if they didn't come back at all.

This afternoon, instead of making another the two-hour round trip to Cheltenham, I decided to work with them on some additional LWL retrieves at the pond behind nearby Stadler's Nursery.

I selected a location for a start line (SL), and as the dogs ran around loose, I walked to a point along the shoreline requiring a 40-yard swim. I would have preferred a shorter swim for this work, which would have been available at Cheltenham. But given the debris on the shore and in the water at the pond we were using, the line I chose seemed the shortest available.

Discovering the Wetfoot Drill

As I looked down at the location where I intended to plant the ducks we'd be using to practice with, I had a sudden inspiration. Unlike many of the water locations where we train, this particular spot was on a gradual slope, with only an inch or two of depths next to dry land, and about six feet of wading depth before the swimline where the dog would need to push off and begin swimming.

In previous training, I would have placed the birds well up on the shore. I would have wanted the dog to climb up on dry land, shake off, pick up a bird, spin around 180°, immediately re-enter the water, and swim right back. What I would not have wanted, but what I probably would have gotten, was an endless ritual of shaking off, sniffing or licking the bird, picking it up, maybe carrying it in some random direction, and putting it back down again to start the cycle over again.

Of course, that doesn't happen in an open-water retrieve. If the bird is floating in swim-depth water, the dog grabs it, turns around, and swims back.

What this special terrain at today's pond gave me was a way to split the behavior: I would place the bird, not in open water, and not well up on dry land, but right at the edge of the shore, half in the shallow water, half on the wet beach.

Now the dogs and I returned to the SL, and while Lumi waited beside me, I sent Laddie for his first retrieve. At the moment he was about to reach the bird, I blew come-in whistle (CIW) and then immediately called "Fetch". It worked! Although Laddie was a bit slow in getting turned around and back in the water with the bird, he earned a grade of C, far superior to this morning's four LWL retrieves. As Laddie alligatored into the water and began to swim, I cheered and applauded, and when he returned with a great delivery and a shake-off, I gave him three bites of fried chicken liver.

I slipped on Laddie's lead and sent Lumi for the other bird I'd planted. Her performance was a carbon copy of Laddie's, another grade of C.

I felt almost certain I'd hit upon a solution to the problem that's been plaguing us. I would call this the Wetfoot Drill.

Making Progress

I planted four more ducks at the same location. Now isn't the time for generalizing location, I felt, now is the time for getting the behavior so that we can build reinforcement history for doing it the way we want it done.

I sent Laddie again, then Lumi, then Laddie, and finally Lumi one more time. Laddie's grades were B and A, while Lumi earned two solid Bs.

Laddie had worn himself out chasing a goose in the pond before we began our drill, and I though that his swimming form on the third retrieve showed a little fatigue. Lumi, on the other hand, is an exceptional swimmer and showed no hint of fatigue. So I planted two more ducks and ran her twice more. This time, a B and a B+. On the last retrieve, she was prompt but I felt she took a little more time than necessary getting back into the water.

Looking Ahead

I won't know for some time whether the Wetfoot Drill really is a solution to our problem. It's possible that no matter how much we practice in shallow water, we'll never be able to get a high-quality pick-up and water re-entry from further inland. It depends on various factors the dogs find reinforcing and aversive that I can only guess at.

But at least I have a plan. For now, I'll continue to plant the ducks as today. When the dogs are both consistently offering grade-A pick-ups and re-entries, I'll gradually fade all the cueing, even the CIW. At that stage, we'll have a high-quality LWL retrieve as a default behavior, though of course only in this one location and only when the bird is half-submerged.

Then we can begin to raise criteria. First, I'll move the bird a little further onto the shore, and re-introduce the whistle, and even verbal cueing, if needed. Assuming that we can get back to grade-A pick-ups and water re-entries without cueing, I'll move the bird further inland still. If the dogs are deriving intrinsic reinforcement from their high-quality retrieves, hopefully supplemented by extrinsic reinforcement from the rewards I'm delivering, it's possible that that accumulation of reinforcement will overwhelm any competing self-reinforcement available from incorrect versions of the behavior. That's the goal, in any case.

And if we succeed in stretching the behavior out so that someday we are consistently getting high-quality retrieves when the birds are five and ten yards inland, we'll be ready to begin generalizing the behavior for other locations.

Another Idea: The Dryfoot Drill

Before I close, it occurs to me that the exact opposite of the Wetfoot Drill might also be effective! As I think about it, if I were to plant a bird, say, 50 yards inland, I believe both dogs would swim across, run the 50 yards, pick the bird up, run back the 50 yards, and wade right into the water. It's never occurred to me before, but I believe that at this stage in their development, it's pick-up locations near the water that the dogs have trouble with, not open water at one extreme, and not well inland at the other.

Therefore, a possible alternative to the Wetfoot Drill might be the Dryfoot Drill, in which we would start with retrieves at sufficient distance inland to assure a high quality retrieve, and then gradually shrink that distance. I like the Wetfoot Drill better because it involves less wear-and-tear on the dogs, it reduces the possibility of some other factor coming into play, and it better suits the location we happen to have available.

But if the Wetfoot Drill begins to falter in effectiveness, perhaps we'll look for a location to try out the Dryfoot Drill instead.

Land-water-land Retrieves

AM: Cheltenham

Today, the dogs and I went with Austin and Nate to train at two of the sites at Cheltenham where I've seen series run for dogs at my dogs' approximate level.

For each of the series, I had Nate throw one duck, Austin another duck, as singles. All throws were on land in the range of 3-30 feet from the water, and the swims were in the range 20-40 yards.

Since I also have been working on Lumi's head-swinging, in addition to having all singles, I aimed a lining pole as a "handler's gun" for all throws.

I've tried applying the Walk-Over for slow pick-ups on LWL retrieves a few times the last few days, and have not yet figured out a way to use it effectively. The dog might pick up the bird quickly, but then do something else undesirable, such as turn away from the water, or run the bank, or get in the water out of the thrower's reach but not swim across.

Therefore, I didn't have the boys try Walk-Overs in this morning's training.

Unfortunately, not once in a total of eight retrieves did either dog simply pick up the bird and get back in the water. Both required repeated calls of "Here". On the positive side, it's also true that not once did either dog fail entirely to respond and remain stalled on the far side of the water. Eventually, both dogs came back with every bird.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Water Marks, Steadiness Practice

Mt. Ararat Farm

SERIES A. Two water singles (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series A was intended as a pair of easy water marks, intended to give both of my dogs an opportunity to perform land-water-land retrieves. Both performed poorly. Lumi required considerable verbal cueing to re-enter the pond after picking up each bird. Laddie dropped a chukar at water's edge, had it sink, and then spent the next several minutes trying to retrieve it from underwater. He never did recover it. Perhaps he learned a valuable lesson from the experience. That would be nice.

SERIES B. Water single (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series B was an LWLWL. Both of my dogs made good swims to the mid-point peninsula, both then ran around the second pool of water. In each case, I called for Gaby, who was throwing for us, to pick up the bird, then handled the dog back out onto the peninsula and asked Gaby to put the bird back down. I was then able to cast each dog back over the second pool. After each retrieve, the dog then again ran around that pool, back out onto the peninsula, and then accepted a come-in cue to swim the rest of the way in. No problem with entering the water in this case.

SERIES C. Two land singles and blind, plus honor (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series C, in a different location of the farm near a riding ring, was designed to exercise each dog's steadiness with fliers for both running and honoring. In addition, the 100-yard blind acted as a mild Downwind Drill, since the wind blew from the blind toward the start line. I say mild because we used ODs for the blind rather than birds.

The two singles consisted of a duck thrown left to right from inside a section of woods at 80 yards, and a flier thrown left to right at 30 yards on a line between the 80-yard mark and the blind.

After running both marks and the blind, the dog honored the next dog. In each case, the next dog ran the series as a double and a blind, which benefited my dogs because honoring a double with a flier as the go-bird is more exciting, hence more challenging, than honoring a single flier.

As a precaution against my dogs self-reinforcing on a break, I held each dog's tab for both the flier mark and the honor, but both dogs were rock steady. The disadvantage of that approach is that it's possible their steadiness would decline if they haven't practiced running without collars, as in competition, but for now, based on long-standing guidance from Jody Baker, I'm continuing to use the tabs.

For Series C, I also used a handler's gun (an imitation shotgun) that Gaby brought out. My primary intent was to help Lumi with her head-swinging, but I think it's also good for me as a handler to practice with it, since Senior Hunt Tests often call for the handler to carry a handler's gun.

The Walk-Over


Both of my dogs have had problems the last few weeks with slow pick-ups. The problems seem to be from different causes.

For Lumi, it seems to be bird-possessiveness, wanting to spend as much alone-time with the bird as possible. To stretch the time out, she examines the bird, picks it up and puts it down again in a different position, shakes off if wet, and so forth.

For Laddie, it seemed to be the opposite problem. Laddie seemed uncomfortable with particular articles, such as hen pheasants, birds that had open wounds, and birds that had been injected with hard foam to preserve shape. An additional complication with Laddie is that once he picked the bird up, he might get distracted by the environment instead of coming straight back for the delivery. This post doesn't address that issue, but I mention it as complicating the picture.

I've worked with both dogs on a long line in the past, and found that it was effective but not at all permanent.

I also made what I now consider a mistake in supposing that the problem would fix itself as the dogs developed increasing confidence and experience with increasingly challenges retrieves, including single marks, multiples, and blinds. In retrospect, I feel that I should have focused on slow pick-ups as soon as they occurred and not worry about making progress in other areas while slow pick-ups persisted.

Recently, I developed a new approach to this problem. It seems to have quickly addressed pick-up speed problems with both dogs, though how general the solution is, and how well the solution will persist, remains to be seen.

The Walk-Over, Stage 1

The solution I came up with was to instruct the kids that I train with in a new procedure, and to follow the same procedure myself when one of them is handling and I'm throwing. I call the procedure a "Walk-Over".

The Walk-Over has two stages.

In Stage 1 of the Walk-Over, the thrower is instructed to raise his hand as the dog is about to pick up the bird. The handler is then to blow a come-in whistle (CIW), that is, a string of quick, strong tweets. As the thrower hears the CIW, he is to begin to walk quickly toward the bird. If the dog picks up the bird, the thrower is to walk back to his station. But if the thrower gets to the bird before the dog picks it up, he is to pick the bird up himself, or at least block the dog from picking up the bird, and the handler is to call the dog back to the SL. Once the dog is on the way back, the thrower is to toss the bird back where it was and return to his station. Then the handler is to send the dog again, and the same procedure is to be followed. Never once in all the times we've used the Walk-Over did either dog ever hesitate to pick the bird up on the second send-out.

I believe that an important element of the Walk-Over is that the dog experience it with as many throwers as possible, so that the dog comes to believe that any thrower out there is competition for the bird.

Another important element is consistency. I've instructed the kids I train with to use the Walk-Over even if I forget to remind them as we're setting up a particular series.

The Walk-Over, Stage 2

Because both dogs have made excellent progress on their pick-up speed with this method, yesterday I added a new stage to the Walk-Over that I think is important, once the basic behavior is under development.

In Stage 2 of the Walk-Over, the thrower is not to begin walking when the handler blows the CIW, but rather is to wait a second or so to see whether the dog is delaying the pick-up. Only if delay occurs should the thrower begin to walk over.

The reason for Stage 1 is that if you start with Stage 2, the dog is actually trained to put off the pick-up, since it's the thrower walking over that triggers the pick-up. Training such a delay is of course undesirable.

But once the behavior is installed, we want it to become a default, uncued behavior, and not depend on the stimulus of the thrower's motion to trigger it. For that, we want to use a behavioral mechanism called anticipatory response. The dog, anticipating from previous experience with the Stage 1 Walk-Over that the thrower is about to walk over, picks up the bird without waiting for the thrower to move. If occasionally he experiments with another delay, he learns that the thrower will indeed start toward him. But in general, he finds that the most enjoyable retrieves are those when he picks the bird up immediately and the thrower never moves.

It remains to be seen whether either or both dogs are ready for Stage 2. For now, they both appear to be, with little testing. But if either one of them begins to repeatedly test whether the walk-over will occur by delaying the pick-up, we'll take that dog back to Stage 1 for a few sessions.


Watching traditional trainers, I've never seen any of them use anything similar to the Walk-Over, nor have I ever seen any of them show any concern for slow pick-ups with their dogs. I believe the reason for this is that they use both the Force Fetch and ecollars in their training, and with those tools available, they can rapidly correct a pick-up speed problem if it begins to occur. It may be that the events happen so subtly that the trainer may not even be aware that much has happened, and may have no idea that without those tools, the problem would have been worse than they ever realized it could get. I think, for example, that that is true with recall problems in the retrieve.

In retrospect, I feel that I should not have waited so long in my dogs' careers to invent the Walk-Over procedure and to have my throwers begin to use it. Instead, we should have used the Walk-Over from the beginning, as one of the ground rules for all our training. It might have prevented the problem from ever getting well-established in the first place.

Land Singles and Blinds, Indoor Retrieves

Afternoon: Stadler's Nursery

SERIES A. Two land singles and a double blind (both dogs)

The first mark was to the right at 60 yards, with Austin throwing right to left. The second mark was 90° to the left at 70 yards, with Nate throwing right to left. The planning was that after the dog had run both singles, I would then send the dog to the first blind at 90 yards, on a line thru the area of the first fall. Finally, I would send the dog to the second blind at 80 yards, on a line to the left of the left mark. The thrown marks were WDs. The right blind was a duck, while the left blind was a chukar. The wind was blowing from the direction of the blind and mark to the right.

I intended to run Laddie on the entire series first, then Lumi.

Laddie made a good outrun to the right mark and an excellent pick-up, but instead of coming straight back to me, he ran to the center area between the two marks. I later realized he needed to go to the bathroom, but because he did not come straight back, I ran to him and called him to me. I slipped on his lead and quietly walked him to an area 80 yards from the SL where he would be able to watch Lumi work.

Next I ran Lumi. When the right mark was thrown, she swung her head to look at Nate before the first mark fell. I used a hand cue to bring her gaze back in the correct direction and sent her. She made a good outrun but overran the dummy. Before I realized what was happening, she had reached the duck that had been planted as the right blind. I had intentionally run from downwind of that blind so that we would be able to run it as a Downwind Drill, but I outsmarted myself, because Lumi's head-swinging resulted in her mixing up the blind with the fall of the mark. Not wanting to discourage a good retrieve, even though it wasn't the one I intended, I simply accepted delivery of the duck, then ran Lumi on Nate's mark and finally the left blind. I had Austin pick up the dummy he had thrown for Lumi.

Finally I ran Laddie on the entire series, and he did a great job on every aspect of it. On his returns, I used a new posture I've only begun to use only for Laddie's returns, in which I crouch down and reach forward with both hands toward Laddie, as welcoming a gesture as I could think of. Hopefully, I'll be able to return to an erect posture for taking delivery in the future.

SERIES B. Downwind drill (Lumi, then Laddie)

Since Lumi hadn't actually run the Downwind Drill in Series A, I set up a new blind at 60 yards from a new SL that was again downwind of the new blind. I blew WS for each dog when the dog was at 45 yards from the SL, then sent the dog on with an angle-back cast. Both dogs responded well to the WS and the cast.

Evening: Home

SERIES C. Indoor retrieves (Laddie, then Lumi, alternating for each article)

Hoping that some indoor retrieval practice with odd-shaped articles might benefit both dogs' pick-up of birds in the field, I ran the dogs on short poorman retrieves of each of the following articles:
  • My keys
  • An antique metal ladle
  • A calf-high rubber boot
  • A 15" diameter straw basket with a high, looping wooden handle
Both dogs performed well on all retrieves. The only time they showed hesitation was when trying to figure out how to pick up the object. Neither dog showed any reluctance to pick any of the objects up, and once they'd picked the article up, they carried it straight back to me. I gave each dog a bite of string cheese to reward each delivery.

When the four retrieves were over, I had Lumi lie down and gave her an old dog bed she likes to chew on, while I played a high-energy game of tug with Laddie.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Notes on Recall Proofing

[Someone on the PositiveGunDogs list wrote about her four-month-old Lab, who is teething. She wrote to ask whether she should just continue training obedience, or whether she it would be OK to work on various aspects of the retrieve, such as the hold, with soft articles. She said she didn't want to encourage chomping.

Here's what I wrote back:]

It's not just chomping. You also don't want to develop a negative association with the pick-up, carrying the article, or the hold.

If we had a way of knowing whether any of those things was causing the dog discomfort, we could say just do things that don't hurt. Maybe soft toys would fall in that category.

But we don't have a way of knowing. Dogs tend to be stoic when they're doing what they love. The teething dog might experience discomfort but not show it, yet that pain might have an undesirable conditioning effect on the dog's behavior at a later time.

So continuing "obedience", that is, useful behaviors that don't involve carrying an article, makes sense to me. Typically, that might include heel, stay, a remote sit (verbal and whistle), and recall.

IMO, of such worthy behaviors, recall is nonetheless a hundred times more important than any of the others. As I've written previously, recall is pervasive across many phases of the retrieve, and 2Q training is substantially more difficult than 2Q+ER, that is, when an ecollar is used to train recall. Since I take it you don't plan to use an ecollar for recall, you might want to place as much emphasis as possible on distraction-proofing your puppy's recall, and building the highest possible reinforcement history for responding correctly to "Here".

Examples of distraction-proofing you might want to work on would include coming to you thru cover changes such as strips of waist-high grass; coming to you diagonally across a dirt road or along the side of a hill; coming to you away from children and past children; coming to you away from other dogs and past other dogs, especially one or more dogs playing with one another or playing a game such as fetch or tug with some human; coming to you over a crest or into a depression, where you are out of sight momentarily; coming to you across standing water, running water, and swim-depth water; coming to you past anything that acts as suction, including food, shade trees on a hot day, and puddles. Proof all distractions for as much distance as you can train to, at the minimum 100 yards, and as much as three times that far if you can do it. Of course many variations are possible. For example, if the dog is coming from 100 yards, he might not find a puddle along the route too tempting if it's only 20 yards from you, while he might decide to play in it if its 70 yards from you.

You might also take this opportunity to get your dog comfortable with other handlers. That is, once he can heel or recall with you, get him responding equally well no matter who is walking with him or calling him. That extra step of generalization will pay dividends when new factor

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Land and Water Retrieves

Stadler's Nursery

SERIES A. Land singles (Lumi, then Laddie)

Returning to the area where Laddie went OOC yesterday, I had Austin throw two ducks as singles at 50 and 40 yards. Lumi ran both singles first, then Laddie. The line to both marks was filled with potential distractions, including high cover, puddles, a diagonal road crossing, and a fallen tree that the 50-yard mark was thrown behind.

Lumi was a little slow picking up the bird that was thrown behind a fallen tree, but Austin remembered to walk toward her when I blew CIW, and as soon as she saw him coming, she picked the bird up and ran back to me with it. She had no such delay on her second retrieve.

Laddie's retrieves were both superb. As he came running toward me, I crouched down and extended my arms toward him as a sign of playfulness and welcome — not a professional-looking job of handling, but perhaps appropriate to build reinforcement history for such great returns for Laddie.

The temptation will be to stretch the distances of marks in the coming days to Field Trial distances, but I hope I am able to resist that temptation. Now, I think, is the time in Laddie's career to experience one great retrieve after another and to feel great about every one of them, and not worry about resuming the kinds of challenges that Laddie can handle on the outrun, but may lead to problems, possibly even going OOC, on the returns.

SERIES B. Water singles (Lumi and Laddie alternating)

Because I'm not yet sure what the best way is to improve both dogs' pick-ups and water re-entries, I asked Austin to handle the dogs while I threw short water marks for each dog in turn. First each of the dogs retrieved a duck, then each retrieved a chukar. As each dog arrived at the fall, I immediately began to walk toward the dog, saying gently but firmly, "Back in the water, get back in the water," and using a shooing motion with my hands and arms.

This is a far cry from the kind of behavior shaping I've devoted so much effort to with both of my dogs over the years, but I see no way to clicker-train this particular behavior.

It's possible both dogs will learn the desired behavior, that it will become habitual, and that they will begin to exhibit it before I as the thrower say or do anything. But it's also possible it won't work at all. One way it might fail is that the dogs might begin to depend on my verbal and visual stimuli to cue the desired response. Another is that the dogs might begin to respond as desired when I'm the thrower, but might not generalize it for other throwers.

If it doesn't work, I'll have to try something else. Hopefully it won't do any harm for the dogs to practice getting immediately back in the water, whether they learn it as an uncued behavior as needed for an event, or not.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Land Blinds, Pivotal Return Failure

Stadler's Nursery

With limited time this morning, I took Lumi and Laddie out to run a triple blind with ODs on a field behind Stadler's nursery we hadn't previously used. With the dogs in the van, I placed an LP at the SL and planted two ODs at each of three blind locations, all in the range 170-220 yards.

I ran Laddie first, then Lumi, keeping both dogs in narrow corridors. Both were responsive on all WSs, and generally responsive on casts. Lumi tends to dig back more than Laddie, meaning that I'll cast her one direction and she'll spin that way and take a step or two that way, but will then quickly scallop back the direction she'd been going, and she'll do that on one cast after another. I don't know whether it's something I should try to fix or not. My assumption has been that Lumi would eventually realize that, once she's responded to the WS, it's more efficient to simply take my casts as given, and would eventually stop digging back on her own. Perhaps that's an incorrect assumption.

In any case, I don't expect to be a problem in Lumi's Senior-level tests because the blinds are so short compared to most of those we practice on. So I wasn't too concerned about it.

On the other hand, Laddie's performance was disastrous. He did fine on his first two blinds and on handling on he outrun of his last blind, but he then went OOC on the return. The field was dotted with holes from where trees had been dug up in the past, and many of them were filled with water. Laddie decided to lie down in one of them, and did not respond to whistle or verbal recall. I began to walk out to him, calling him the whole way, and he did not respond until I got within 40 yards.

Since Laddie had run the series before Lumi, I quietly brought him back on lead and attached him to a tie-out so I could run Lumi. I then loaded him into the van without praise or recriminations.

Time for a Change

I have given much thought to this incident, especially in the context of previous similar incidents that seem to be occuring with increasing frequency. I have concluded that at this time, Laddie is ruined for competition, and practically ruined for group training as well. It is a deeply unhappy state of affairs, and with his second birthday coming up tomorrow.

The unanswered question is whether he is permanently ruined, and if not, what action is now appropriate.

One possibility I considered was to get professional guidance and re-train Laddie's recall with an ecollar. Although that would end his role in our 2Q experiment, it might enable Laddie to continue his career, and possibly go farther than he'd ever be able to go as a 2Q dog. In considering that scenario, another advantage I saw is that I might gain experience running a dog in Field Trial events, and that might better prepare me for training my next dog.

However, at this time I have my doubts as to whether I'll ever have another dog. The costs in time, money, and family conflict might create more strain than I can afford. So switching Laddie to 2Q+ER (meaning 2Q plus ecollar-for-recall) might well produce no value in attempts to test the limits of 2Q retriever training.

There are also significant other questions: whether I could handle the spiritual transition to using an ecollar on Laddie, whether even with high-quality guidance I could do a competent job of collar-conditioning Laddie, and whether it might not be too late in Laddie's development to overcome this serious flaw in his behavior even with the use of an ecollar for training.

For better or worse, I've decided instead to go a different route. Despite the fact that Laddie is capable of advanced work on his outruns, for both marks and blinds, he is severely crippled in his ability to execute even simple returns. Every time I run him in a situation where he blows up, he has an opportunity to self-reinforce on errant behavior, and the hole is dug even deeper. I don't think it's an illusion that these incidents are becoming more frequent.

Therefore, I think it is time to stop running him on retrieves where I cannot feel 100% certain that he will execute a high-quality return. For now, I think that means that I need to keep all retrieves at 40 yards or less, and I have to intentionally introduce diversions such as puddles and build reinforcement history for Laddie successfully resisting those temptations. Somehow, despite all the other training objectives that will come to mind, I need to keep his potential problems with returns uppermost in my mind. No more development of Laddie's other skills except on miniature courses where I can maintain control of his returns.

Ideally over time, I'll be able to find venues that enable us to proof Laddie for a sufficiently wide range of diversions that we'll either cover all the ones needed for competition, or he'll generalize to those we don't specifically train for. Ideally, too, I'll be able to gradually build his distance up for various levels of competition.

In reality, I recognize that a practical limit may exist. It may be that no amount of proofing, no matter how gradual, will ever enable him to resist particular temptations at competition distances. Or it may be that by the time he is able to perform at those distances, it will be too late to develop the other skills he needs for success.

Obviously, I'm not entirely confident with the path I've chosen for Laddie. But at least for now, it seems to be the best I can come up with.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pick-up Speed Drills, Blinds

Afternoon: Sundown Road Park

With both Nate and Austin along, at the end of a day of steady rain, I decided to work on generalizing the dogs' pick-up speed by having all three of us take turns in the field so that the dogs could learn that, no matter who is out there, pick up the bird or lose it.

We were using soggy chukars and ducks, so I knew that Lumi would tend to slow down on her pickups to spend alone-time with the birds, while Laddie would tend to slow down because he doesn't like picking birds up if they're not fresh.

My instructions were as follows:
  1. When the dog is about to reach the bird, the thrower is to raise his hand.
  2. When the handler sees the hand raised, he is to blow a good, solid come-in whistle.
  3. When the thrower hears the CIW, he is to begin walking toward the bird.
  4. If he reaches the bird before the dog picks it up, he's to pick it up himself, and the handler is to call the dog back without the bird.
SERIES A. Two land singles (Laddie, then Lumi)

Austin and I threw while Nate ran each dog in turn. Both dogs ran the easy marks beautifully, with speedy pickups long before the thrower could get to the bird.

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

This time Nate and I threw while Austin ran each dog in turn. But Series B didn't go as planned at all.

Laddie had a magnificent outrun on Nate's throw at 200 yards, picked the bird up on the fly and raced away, but unfortunately, he did not run to Austin at the SL, he ran to me. When he got close to me, I used a brushing motion with my hand and said, "go on", while signaling Austin to continuously call Laddie, and after a few moments, Laddie ran the bird back to Austine.

Next Austin called for my throw, and again Laddie had a great outrun. But once he picked up the bird, he began to dawdle. I tried to again motion him toward Austin, but he'd just take a step or two and then stall. Finally he stopped at a pole that was between Austin and me, dropped the bird, and peed.

I had seen enough. I tied him to a metal stand in the picnic area, near the van but within sight of our on-going training, and ran Lumi on Series B. I then set up a second, shorter version of Series B and ran Lumi on that as well. The kids and I loaded Lumi and the equipment into the van, and finally I brought Laddie by lead to the van and had him hop in. I used no harshness with Laddie the entire time, but also used no friendliness.

Evening: Oaks Area 3

After I brought the kids home, I took Lumi and Laddie out for a little handling practice. My primary concern was to continue the message I was trying to send to Laddie.

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

When we arrived at the parking area, I left the dogs in the van and went out to plant the blinds, two at each location.

I put on Laddie's collar and tab, took the tie-out stake out of the trunk, and tied Laddie up ten yards from the van, where he'd be able to watch me working with Lumi and get as frustrated as he liked without doing any more damage to my van than he's already done.

I got Lumi out of the van and together we walked to the SL for the blinds, with me speaking especially cheerfully to her as we walked for Laddie's benefit. I had Lumi run both blinds, maintaining a tight line, and she performed beautifully. After each blind, and with Laddie watching, I made a point of giving Lumi a bite of chicken. After the second one, I then cued, "Get your bird," and Lumi walked beside me, carrying the duck to the van. As we walked past Laddie,neither of us glanced at him.

With Lumi in the van, I went back to Laddie, took off the tie-out chain, pulled the stake, and holding Laddie by the tab on his collar, we walked back to the van. I tossed the stake in the trunk, opened the door for Laddie to hop in, and I got into the driver's seat. Then I started the van and drove away.

After a short drive, I did a U-turn and returned to the parking place. I let Laddie out of the van, gave Lumi another bite of chicken while leaving her in the van, and Laddie and I walked to the SL for the blind. I then ran him on both blinds, which he ran with all the exuberance mixed with handling control of Laddie at his best. As he found each bird, he grabbed it on the run and broke into a sprint toward me without the slightest hesitation, running on a beeline to me in each case. Finally he swung to heel, sat, and held the bird till I took it from him.

As we returned to the van, I threw the duck for Laddie several times. Each time, he joyously grabbed it off the grass and raced back with it, with none of the looping, parading, head tossing, or other variations that so often mar his deliveries.

At home, I let him walk out to the mailbox with me and gave him an envelope to carry back into the house for me.

I've tended to think that to a retriever, the reinforcement comes from the retrieve itself, and I'm basically a chauffeur to get the dog to and from retrieving venues. But maybe for Laddie, the nature of our relationship as handler and retriever needs to shift a little.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Steadiness Training, Water Blinds

AM: Clevenger's Corner

Today we again drove to a rural area in the vicinity of Warrenton, VA, to train with Dave and a friend of his, and the friend's son.

Dave had one of his dog's along, so we had enough people to set up doubles to work on steadiness, both running and honoring, for both Lumi and Laddie.

After Series A and B, Dave also acted as blind planter so that my dogs could each run a water blind.

SERIES A. Land double (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series A was a rehearsal with dummies instead of fliers.

The kid fired a starter pistol, then threw a dummy right to left at 50 yards. The friend, 90° to the left, fired a shotgun with live ammo, then threw a dummy right to left at 30 yards. The dog was sent to the 30-yard mark as the go-bird, then the 50-yard mark as the memory-bird. Then the dog honored the next dog, who ran the same series. I positioned the honoring dog so that the running dog would run in front, making steadiness even more challenging.

I ran Laddie first. I then had him honor as Dave ran Lumi. Finally, I had Lumi honor as Dave ran his dog.

Both of my dogs wore collars with tabs, but it was unnecessary to hold the tabs. Both of them were rock steady, both running and honoring.

SERIES B. Land double (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series B was identical to Series A with the following differences:
  • The boy threw from a position closer to his dad and threw his dummy left to right, producing what's called a "flower-pot" double.
  • After the boy threw, he went over to his father to throw the duck so his father could concentrate on shooting.
  • Dave and I held the tabs as we ran and honored Laddie and Lumi.
Again, both dogs were steady. Laddie did stand up while honoring, but he didn't move far enough to take up the slack on the tab.

I felt good about the dogs' steadiness, given the following challenges:
  • Ducks, which seem to be my dogs' favorite game
  • Fliers at only 30-yards, closer than any Senior test I've seen
  • Running dog ran in front of the honoring dog
SERIES C. Water blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

As I held the dog out of view, Dave fired a dry shot and planted a duck. I then ran the dog on the blind.

The blind started with a sharp angle entry, which had been a problem for Lumi in our last Senior test so I wanted to work on that. The line was a 40-yard swim, with a fallen tree to the right, the shore side of the line. The blind was planted on shore behind a clump of reeds, and more reeds grew in the water nearby.

Laddie had a great entry, was responsive on WSCs, and handled easily to the blind. However, he had difficulty dealing with the reeds and seemed on the verge of stalling. After a stream of calls from me, he finally entered the water and made a good return and delivery.

Lumi was quite tentative on her initial water entry. Once in the water, she was responsive on WSCs and handled reasonably easily to the blind. She did not pick up the bird and return instantly, but she required relatively little coaxing to do so. Once she entered the water, she made a good return and delivery.

PM: Stadler's Pond

A couple of days ago, Austin mentioned that he used to go fishing at a pond only about five minutes from here. This afternoon, he showed me where it was, in the huge area behind Stadler's Nursery on MD-108. Mr. Stadler happened to be out that way and gave us permission to swim the dogs. Click here for a satellite view of the pond.

It's not a technical pond, with peninsulas or islands, but it's swimming depth with plenty of cover along the shoreline, so I think it serves our immediate purposes well.

For today's session, I had Austin throw a total of four birds for each dog, alternating back and forth between the dogs. The swims were all about 40 yards, cutting a corner of the pond so as to provide some practice against bank running.

The primary goal of the training was to work on Lumi's pick-up speed and Laddie's tendency to stall on the far side of an LWL after picking up the bird. To work on both of those, I instructed Austin to begin walking toward the dog as soon as I blew a come-in whistle, and to pick up the bird if the dog hadn't done so by the time he got to the bird.

The results were mixed. Both dogs recognized that they needed to pick up the bird and get on the move to avoid losing the bird, but they didn't necessarily go right back into the water. Next time, I think I'll have one of the kids run the dogs and I'll do the throwing, so that I can learn the right way to approach the dogs during the pick-up to optimize results.

In addition, I'm hoping that Nate will be able to join us several times over the next couple of weeks, so that the dogs don't learn a quick pick-up and water re-entry only when a particular person -- Austin or me -- is out there. Ideally, we'd also do additional training other locations for further generalization.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Water Blinds


Gorgeous day, sunny with temps in low 70s.

SERIES A, B, and C. Double LWL water blinds (Lumi, then Laddie)

With limited mobility because of my sore legs (no diagnosis yet), I decided to focus entirely on water blinds for this session. For each series, I set out two chukars in one shoreline location, two more in another shoreline location, and then ran each of the dogs on each of the blinds. For Series A, I ran the four blinds in the sequence Lumi, Laddie, Laddie, Lumi. For Series B and C, I ran Lumi on both blinds, then Laddie on both blinds. For all three series, I moved our SL for each blind according to the goal of that particular set-up.

I intended all six blinds as practice for Laddie on LWL re-entries after picking up the bird. He had no problem re-entering the water on any of them, and I fired the starter pistol and cheered as he began to swim on each re-entry. I did the same for Lumi on some of her retrieves, though I don't know whether the gunshot makes any difference to her. It may, and I see no harm in it. It definitely made a difference for Laddie last fall, and while it may not matter any more, it may still be helping. Again, I see no harm in it.

The first four retrieves (that is, Series A and B), gradually increased difficulty level on bank-running. It was possible for the dog to run the bank on any of them, but the first one would have been a long way around, whereas by the fourth one, the dog was making an angle re-entry into the water after picking up the bird and then swimming parallel to the shoreline, less than 10 yards away, during the entire swim back.

The last two retrieves, in Series C, were not particularly tempting for bank running. The first presented an extra LWL challenge because after the dog got back into the water with the bird, he/she had to swim thru several clumps of vegetation before entering the open water. That's the kind of situation where Laddie might have been tempted to drop the bird in the water and play with it, but he swam right thru it without stopping.

I chose the set-up for Series C to match the water double in last weekend's WCX, where I had to pick Laddie up when he refused to come back on the first mark. Though the retrieves were the same, the situations had many differences. For one, the WCX was marks, whereas today was blinds. The weather was cold for the WCX, whereas it was warm today. Perhaps most importantly in terms of why Laddie stalled at the WCX but came straight back today, the WCX had gunners near the falls, judges, other trainers and dogs, and spectators, whereas today we trained alone. I wish I could arrange for some group training to prepare for our next Senior test on May 2, but I don't know how to arrange it.

Today's six retrieves also increased gradually in distance, from 25 yards to 40 yards. Both dogs have swum water blinds of nearly 200 yards, but since they've had little swimming this year, I th0ught it best to build their distance gradually over the next few days and weeks.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pointed Gun Barrel for Head-Swinging

The term "head-swinging" is the retriever world's term for a dog at the start line taking her eye off the bird being thrown before it lands, in anticipation of another throw in a different direction. If the mark she takes her eye off is a difficult one, she may then be unable to find it as a memory-bird, or even no-go when sent back out because she's forgotten it entirely.

As I understand it, the desired behavior is for the dog to maintain her gaze and focus in the direction of the last bird thrown until either she is sent, or until she is specifically cued to turn in a new direction. For Field Trials and events based on Field Trials, that cue comes from the handler. For Hunt Tests, the handler is not permitted to explicitly communicate with the dog while the birds are being thrown, so the cue to turn is the duck-call and/or gunshot from the new direction.

I'll mention in passing a couple of things I've heard from traditional trainers:
  • Once the dog understands the concept of multiples (doubles, triples, quads), run 90% singles. Besides helping solve head-swinging, that is said to be advantageous to the dog's marking ability, as well. I've seen a few people who follow this practice with advanced dogs, but not many.
  • If the dog swings her head during training when you were planning to run her on a multiple, don't call for the next bird. Instead, send her to the one she took her eyes off of.
I've come up with some additional approaches myself, which I may describe at another time. But for now, I'd like to mention an approach I discovered on Saturday that may render the others obsolete.

At the Senior Hunt Test both dogs ran on Saturday (Lumi had a call-back to water, neither Lumi nor Laddie qualified), the handlers were required to carry an unloaded shotgun to the startline on both the land and water series. The only requirement was that you carry it, but many pointed the barrel at the birds being thrown as well. I've never done that before because I was afraid it would disrupt our line mechanics, but on Saturday I decided to try it. At the same time, I watched my dogs' heads.

I was pleased to see that with the barrel of the shotgun pointed toward the fall, both dogs maintained their gazes. Laddie doesn't have a head-swinging problem anyway, but it was great to see Lumi exhibit that same focus in both series.

I think that in the future I'll use some sort of imitation shotgun — perhaps a lining pole if an empty shotgun isn't available — when we run multiples in practice. Hopefully, that will support development of a non-head-swinging habit. And in the occasional event in the future where a gun isn't carried to the line, hopefully by then the habit of holding the gaze will be well-enough formed that it won't matter that no gun barrel is assisting that particular time.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Downwind Drill

PM: Oaks Area 3

Both Lumi and Laddie had trouble with the same land blind in yesterday's Senior test, despite the fact that it looked like a simple 100-yard lining exercise.

The difficulty was that a strong wind blew from 11 o'clock, carrying the bird's scent at the blind to points to the right of the line to the blind.

The result was that virtually every dog veered right, presumably catching the scent. Because the dog was no longer on the line to the blind, the handler was then expected to blow a WS and cast the dog on a left angle-back.

However, because the dog now had the scent of the bird, the dog did not actually need that cast. In the dog's mind, a hunt was more appropriate.

Oddly enough, the result was that getting the dog to sit at 70 yards on this blind was far more difficult than getting the dog (or at least my dogs) to sit at 270 yards if the scent from the blind was not present.

To address the problem, which I feel certain we'll encounter in future competitions, I devised the Downwind Drill. I now see it as teaching an essential handling skill. I have no idea why I never realized it before.

SERIES A, B, and C. Downwind drill (Lumi, then Laddie)

Series A, B, and C were identical except for distance. Series A was at 50 yards, Series B was at 80 yards, and Series C was at 110 yards.

In each case, with the dogs in the van, I planted four birds in a "pile" (near one another but not touching) so that the wind blew from the pile into our faces as we stood on the SL. Thus, as the dogs approached the pile of birds, they could scent the birds long before they saw them.

Variations of this drill would be having the wind blow straight in, versus blowing somewhat to left or right. In the case of an angled wind, the dog would veer in that direction, necessitating an angled cast rather than a straight Back cast after stopping the dog.

In today's drills, I used a pheasant, a duck, and two chukars.

First I brought out Lumi, and using line mechanics as though running a blind, sent her on "Back". Of course the scent told her exactly where the birds were so she raced off to pick one up.

When she had reached a point 20-30 yards from the pile, I blew WS. If she turned and sat, I called, "YAY! Good job!" and sent her to the pile with a back cast. But if she slipped the whistle, I immediately called "no, come on in, get back here, etc." and insisted that she not complete the retrieve but come back to heel. When she did, I sometimes gave her a small treat to reinforce the difficult recall. Then I sent her again.

After repeating the "blind" with the same dog, I then switched dogs.

Lumi needed five call-ins before she finally sat on her first blind. She did much better with the second bird in that pile, but when we went on to Series B, she again needed several call-ins before responding correctly. For Series C, she again needed more than one, but not as many as in the previous series.

Laddie sat on every WS until Series C, when he finally slipped one whistle and needed one call-in. I guess that's because I've worked with Laddie more on the quickstop drill than I have with Lumi.

This drill has the potential to be hard on a dog's motivation, so I suppose it should not be used unless and until the dog is ready for it. Fortunately, both Lumi and Laddie seemed to be having a great time the entire session.

Laddie WC/WCX

[Note: As in previous journal entries, I'd like to mention that the dogs and I have been training with the same frequency and intensity as ever, and I have continued to maintain hand-written notes. I simply don't have the time for typing them up most days. I hope to catch up and fill in the blanks at some point in the future.]

AM: Cheltenham

Today Laddie ran in the PVGRC WCX and WC tests. He ran as #1 of 6 in the WCX, and #4 of 10 in the WC. Both land series were run first, in two different venues. Then both water series, again in two different venues. After we finished our work in the WCX and WC, we did some private training and then left.

Lumi, who has both her WC and her WCX, slept in this morning, so it was just Laddie and I at Cheltenham.

CONDITIONS: Sunny, but temps in the 40s with a 20 MPH west wind. Water temps, which ideally would be above 50 for water work, were well below that level.

WCX Land

The WCX land series consisted of a land triple, with dead pheasant roosters for the first two marks and a pheasant rooster flier as the go-bird. Running without collar, Laddie was rock steady watching the birds thrown. He then marked beautifully on all three birds — one of the judges told me she gave Laddie 10-10-10 on his marking — with reasonably good pick-ups and returns.

Four of the six dogs were called back to water.

WC Land

The WC land series consisted of a land double, with a dead pheasant rooster at the memory-bird and a pheasant rooster flier as the go-bird. Running on a slip-cord, he made no effort to creep or break as the birds were thrown, then again marked beautifully on both birds. In this case, his pick-ups and returns were also spectacularly good.

Six of the ten dogs were called back to water.

WCX Water

The WCX water series consisted of two land-water-land retrieves of dead ducks across a 30-yard channel.

While the club was setting up the course, I took Laddie to a different part of the property to warm him up with an LWL, but one of the event officials drove up and informed me that training during the test was strictly prohibited. I hadn't realized that, since warm-ups do occur in agility and musical freestyle, the other two sports I've competed in. Naturally I stopped at once, so Laddie didn't get his warm-up.

Laddie watched both ducks thrown remaining rock steady but alert, and seemed to have a good luck at both throws. He leaped into the water and swam straight to the go-bird, shook off, picked up the bird, and then became stumped as to how to get back. Me whistling and calling "Here" did not help. After I watched him run a bit to the left, and then some distance to the right, I told the judges I was going to get him. As I began to walk around the end of the channel, Laddie dropped the bird and started to swim to me. Before he got out of the shallow water, I called "Sit" and he did, and there he waited until I got almost to him. Then I called "Here" and he and I went to the van, where I dried him off.

One dog passed the WCX.

WC Water

The WC water series consisted of two LWL singles across a 20-yard channel.

As the judges were making arrangements for a test dog, I saw that there was considerable distance from the start line to the end of the channel, especially given that I'm walking quite slowly with a crutch due to significant discomfort in my legs, possibly due to Lyme disease. I made the mental calculation that if Laddie again stalled after picking up the LWL, he would have too much time on his own for self-reinforcement before I would be able to get around to the other side to interrupt the activity.

Accordingly, I asked to scratch Laddie from continuing the test and we left that part of the property.

At this writing, I don't know how many of the dogs passed the WC.

Private LWL Practice

After leaving the WC venue, I took Laddie to another part of the Cheltenham property to try out some LWL retrieves. I didn't have any birds in the van so I threw white dummies. The results:

#1: 10 yards, easy opportunity to cheat (but also for me to get to Laddie if he stalled): Outstanding retrieve, no hesitation on pick-up or water return.

#2: 15 yards, no way to cheat (nor for me to get to Laddie without a long drive to other end of the property): Laddie swam across and then began stalling tactics, including rolling on the dummy. Ignored whistle and "Here". I headed for van to drive around to get Laddie, but as I was opening the door, I saw that Laddie had picked up the dummy and was returning across the water with it.

#3: 15 yards, easy opportunity to cheat: Another outstanding retrieve.

#4: 30 yards, possible to cheat but a fairly long way around: Another outstanding retrieve, absolutely flawless.

At this point, I wondered whether Laddie was evaluating whether I could reach him in making the decision whether to come back or not. The three times I could reach him, he came right back. The one time I couldn't, he didn't.

Since the weather was so cold and windy, I didn't want to run him in the water too much more, but I was curious to test the pattern one more time. So:

#5: 15 yards across the water, another 10 yards inland, no opportunity to cheat (again, a drive to the other end of the property would be needed to pick Laddie up): This time, Laddie made another outstanding retrieve.


In the private practice, #5 was somewhat upshore from #2 on the same channel. To me they appeared to present virtually identical pictures. I have no theory why Laddie fell apart on #2 but not on #5.

Several differences applied in comparing the four private practice retrieves where Laddie did so well with the one WCX retrieve where he stalled:
  • Longer channel
  • Duck versus dummy
  • Presence of judges, other trainers and dogs, and spectators
  • No warm-up, versus easy warm-up with increasing difficulty
I don't have enough data points to know which of those was the predominant factor, or whether it was an even mix of some or all of them.
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