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.

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