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.

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