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.

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