Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventure Drill

Needwood Creek

Today we didn't have an opportunity for a real training session. But Renee and I took Lumi, Laddie, and Gabriel for a hike on the woodland trail from Needwood Lake toward the National Zoo, which runs next to a lovely creek. Normally the creek is wading depth, but weeks of rain has filled the creek to near flood stage, with a rapid current and swimming depth. It's now ten to twenty yards across.

Renee had brought a miniature soccer ball to throw for Gabriel, and I borrowed it several times to continue Laddie's Adventure Drill. I'd put Laddie in a sit on one side of the trail, then go to the other side of the trail where the creek was and throw the ball to the other side.

These were challenging retrieves, with tangled footing on both sides, difficult entries and exits to the creek, and a fast-moving current that tended to carry Laddie downstream, requiring him to fight his way across. I felt any of those factors would only frighten Lumi and kept her on a lead tied to my belt, but based on Laddie's body language, he seemed to revel in the power and uproar of the creek, and the challenge of making such a difficult retrieve. Each time I threw the ball and then came back to him to send him, he lowered himself into a racing crouch, barely able to hold back until I called his name. He sprinted toward the creek, traversed the difficult shore-side terrain, leapt into the water, fought his way to the other side, struggled onto the far shore, raced to the ball, grabbed it on the fly, and reversed course for his return, arriving to deliver the ball with the proud breathless excitement of a rookie who's just rounded third base after hitting a grand slam to win the game.

It's difficult to believe that Laddie has had such difficulty with LWL retrieves. He showed no hint of it in this session.

Today's practice included an additional distraction not usually available in our training sessions: people. The trail was busy today, with cyclists, runners, families, and plenty of other dogs. I intentionally ran Laddie just as a group was coming thru, giving him an opportunity to discover the pleasure of maintaining focus and not getting distracted by anything that would interfere with his true calling.

Will the Adventure Drill provide useful preparation for Laddie's retrieves in his Senior Hunt Test a week from today? Is he acquiring a level of reinforcement history for "go git it" that will override the distractions that have sometimes interfered with the quality of his returns, especially in events? Is he discovering that nothing is more fun than simply going out and bringing back the article?

I hope so.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Adventure Drill, LWL Practice

Sundown Road Park

I decided yesterday to run both dogs in the region's last spring Senior Hunt Test next weekend, so I came up with a drill intended to work on Laddie's tendency not to come back on retrieves, especially in events. My theory is that the events are more distracting for Laddie, so we need to work on distraction-proofing his returns.

Accordingly, I came up with the Adventure Drill. I sit Lumi and Laddie at a SL anywhere from 10 to 100 yards from the treeline of a section of woods with a creek running inside, and while they wait, I walk into the woods, fire a starter pistol, and throw a bird. For Laddie, I throw the bird into or across the water. For Lumi, I throw the bird onto the ground just inside the woods. For various reasons, I don't feel it's appropriate to ask Lumi to perform the arduous retrieves I'm asking Laddie for.

Sometimes I walk back to the SL and send the dog, sometimes I walk to the area just outside the woods and use a remote release, calling the dog's name. That has the advantage of letting me see how the dog is performing, which I would not be able to do from the SL, but has the disadvantage of making the situation less like an event where, of course, I'm back at the SL the entire time. In the case where I use a remote send, I then run back to the SL just as the dog is coming out of the woods, which is more fun for the dog than just having me wait at the SL. After a good job, I also sometimes give the dog high-value treats, if it seems to be having a motivating effect on the particular dog.

For today's version of the Adventure Drill, I used a pheasant rooster for all retrieves. These birds seem to be somewhat more unpleasant for my dogs to retrieve than ducks — heavier, with the feathers tending to come out in the dog's mouth — so success with pheasants in training hopefully will provide something of an additional buffer for retrieving ducks in competition.

Today's retrieves were the most difficult I've ever asked Laddie to perform, and were unlike any I've ever seen in a Hunt Test. The area inside the treeline was almost impassible for a human, with trees, thick underbrush, and thorny vines and shrubs. The usually tame wading stream was swelled by weeks of rain, with a noticeable current and swim-depth for the dogs. Beyond that, my throws were out of the dogs' sight, so Laddie had to guess the pheasant's location based on how far he knows I can throw, then cross the stream and hunt for the bird in the tangle of vegetation on the other side. If the bird was in the water, he'd then have to figure out that might be the case and go back in the water to find it. The pheasant's scent seemed to be less than help than ducks usually are.

Lumi's pick-ups and returns thru the underbrush were tentative, as I had expected, but I treated them as high quality responses, because I felt that was appropriate for Lumi.

Laddie showed exuberance in all elements of his performance and persistence on his hunts, and had only one breakdown, when he picked the bird up, then dropped it back in the water and apparently decided to cool his belly. To his surprise, I was right there and called "Fetch!", which he responded to well and we raced back to the SL together.

It seemed to me to be a successful and hopefully useful drill.

Stadler's Pond

More practice on LWL retrieves with 25-yard and 30-yard swims. In today's work, the duck was always placed on land 3-4' from the water, and I used no cueing for the pick-up and return. As we've been doing, I called "nope" and picked the dog up if the dog started to shake off instead of immediately picking up the bird and getting back into the water. Both dogs did attempt to shake off at least twice, but both dogs mostly remembered not to and performed well.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interrupted Single, LWLs with No Whistle

Oaks Areas 2 and Stadler's Pond

Today was a continuation of our recent training.

First each dog ran an interrupted single, with the mark a pheasant "thrown" (using an RL and weighted streamer) left to right at 60 yards, and the blind at 130 yards 90° to the left of the mark. I had two reasons for using a wide angle. First, I wanted to minimize the need for a Walk Out, for the reasons described in my previous post. Second, Bob Hux pointed out to me that dogs risk learning to return to old falls from running too many tight angles. It didn't apply in this situation, but he also said that tight angles on practice doubles tend to promote head-swinging.

Next, we ran LWLs at the pond behind Stadler's Nursery, randomly alternating 25-yard and 30-yard swims and randomly alternating dogs. Most of the placements were on land 3-4 feet from water's edge, and both dogs shook off at times, resulting in Walk Outs. One placement for each dog was in the water touching shore, because I want to continue to practice that at times, so that the dogs don't go back to carrying the ducks up on shore instead of turning around and swimming back immediately. Today, they both ran that retrieve correctly so I resumed focusing on retrieves that required the dog to get out of the water. Both dogs finished with at least two high quality retrieves in a row.

I left two ducks on the path as we were arriving at the pond, and the dogs could not see them when I said "Get your birds". The idea was that they are learning that birds lying around the start line are not to be picked up, but other ducks are waiting for them in the direction of the van even if they can't see them.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Interrupted Singles, LWLs with No Whistle

Oaks Area 3

SERIES A. Interrupted land single with single blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

First, I used an RL with weighted streamer and pre-positioned duck to "throw" a mark right to left at 60 yards. Then I ran the dog on a 130 yard blind (OD) on the left that took the dog within 18 yards of where the "thrown" duck was lying. Finally, I sent the dog to pick up the duck.

Though short, both lines included several elevation changes, and the line to the blind was thru a keyhole formed by the duck acting as PB on the right and a hedgerow on the left.

Laddie lined the blind in Series A, completely ignoring the duck. Lumi required, but accepted, handling off the bird when she ran her blind.

SERIES B. Interrupted land single with single blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series B was almost a mirror image of Series A, except that the blind was 100 yards and the dog ran within 10 yards of the where the "thrown" duck was lying.

Both dogs required, but accepted, handling off the bird when they ran their blinds.

NOTE ON LINE MECHANICS. To help the dog recognize when we are running interrupted marks, I've developed a number of discriminators:
  • I have the dog line up on the side of the throw to watch the throw, then switch sides to be lined up for the blind.
  • Verbal cueing is "sit, mark" before the throw, "dead bird" while lining up for the blind.
  • Send-out cue for the blind is "back", send-out cue for the mark is dog's name.
Stadler's Pond

Today we continued shaping pick-ups and water re-entries with ducks on LWL retrieves, an advanced stage of the Wetfoot Drill begun several weeks ago.

Today, both Lumi and Laddie ran several retrieves with 15-yard swims. I sent them in random order. In most cases, I threw the duck onto land four feet from water's edge. Once for each dog, I threw the duck with a splash, so that it remained in the water touching the shore.

I didn't use a whistle on any of the retrieves. If the dog shook off, I called "Nope" and brought the dog back. Otherwise, I applauded when the dog re-entered swim-depth water with the duck, and gave high-value treats when the duck was delivered. I'm gradually reducing the amount of extrinsic +R for these retrieves, as correct responses become more habitual and hopefully self-reinforcing.

Both dogs returned the duck that was thrown in the water without attempting to climb on shore first, correctly performing a behavior we have not worked on for several days.

Both dogs required at least one reminder that shaking would result in a Walk Out, but most of the retrieves were performed correctly the first time.

After each dog had performed correctly on half a dozen 15-yard swims, I had each of them run a single retrieve with a 25-yard swim to a duck placed on land four feet from water's edge. Both dogs picked up the duck without shaking or otherwise delaying and immediately turned and re-entered the water without me using a whistle. I applauded and gave them treats for their excellent work.

At the end of the session, I placed two fresh ducks 30 yards from the start of the path back to the van, and put the soggy ducks we'd been training with on the ground near the dogs. I then cued "Get your birds", cueing the dogs to ignore the nearby ducks and run to pick up the ones on the path.

Acclimating to No Retrieve

I was both pleased and concerned about a change I'm seeing in both dogs: their willingness to forego a retrieve when I call out "nope" or "leave it". Laddie has been responsive to "nope" for months, and Lumi is finally also getting more willing to take direction away from a bird she had intended to retrieve.

Of course, I'm glad the dogs are responding correctly to cues. But I'm concerned that they might be developing in an undesirable way simultaneously: Not bringing back the bird is becoming increasingly acceptable to them.

I see two ways that could be a problem. First, I could imagine a situation in which the dog might leave the bird behind in the face of adversity. Secondly, I could imagine that the effectiveness of the Walk Out as a training strategy might decline.

Because of these concerns, I plan to switch to wide spacing of the poison birds or other diversions from marks, reducing the likelihood that I'll have to handle the dog away from a retrieve. In addition, I plan to be more cautious than ever about raising criteria in exercises like the Wetfoot Drill in order to minimize the number of incorrect responses that need to be interrupted with a Walk Out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Interrupted Double, LWL without Whistle

Oaks Area 2

SERIES A. Interrupted land double and double blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Although I rarely run Lumi on doubles in practice because I don't want her anticipating the second throw and swinging her head too soon, today I wanted to create a strong diversion for a blind and decided to use an interrupted double for the purpose.

For the marks, I used RLs, weighted streamers, and pre-positioned ducks. Both "throws" were in the same direction as the light wind, our usual practice so that the dog doesn't learn to run to the thrower to try to pick up the scent.

For the blinds, I used ODs with no markers.

Our field had several large bales of hay on it today, so I set the RLs up on top of two of the bales. The second blind also used two bales of hay as a diagonal keyhole.

When "throwing" the marks (that is, remotely launching the streamers toward the pre-positioned ducks), I used an LP as a "handler's gun" to aim at the RL and then follow the streamer with the "gun barrel". In addition, I used one of our new starter pistols to fire a shot, holding the pistol against the "LP" and firing just before pressing the button on the RL's transmitter.

Although I have been concerned about Lumi's head-swinging, this procedure seemed to keep her attention on each fall until I expressly cued her to turn with me.

The first mark of the double was on the left, thrown left to right at 60 yards. The second mark of the double was on the right, left to right at 50 yards. After both marks were thrown, I ran the dog on the first blind at 80 yards, on a line 15° to the right of the line to the right bird. When the dog delivered the first OD, I sent the dog to pick up the right bird, then the left bird. Finally, I ran the dog on a blind at 90 yards, midway between the fall from the left mark and the RL for the right mark.

NOTES. I tried to run Lumi on Series A first, but she ran to the second mark when I tried to run her on the first blind and would not allow me to handle her off the bird to the right. I went out, slipped on her lead, and put her in the van.

Next I ran Laddie on Series A and he did fine. Like Lumi, he veered right when sent on the first blind, but he readily accepted handling off the bird and to the blind 30 yards further back, thru a keyhole formed by a gap in a line of trees.

Then I brought Lumi back out and tried it again. Again she would not accept a cast to the right away from the right bird at first, but I was able to obtain a good response by walking about 10 yards toward Lumi and then casting again. Once she'd gotten some distance from the bird, she became responsive to handling again. In addition, her enthusiasm throughout the series was excellent.

SERIES B. Wetfoot Drill

Rather than continuing to build distance for birds in the water near shore, an exercise I do want to get back to in the future, I decided that I was more interested today in working on both dogs ability to pick up an inland bird on an LWL without any delays, particularly shaking off.

So I chose a corner of the pond behind Stadler's nursery with a 15-foot swim, and ran the dogs repeatedly on the same retrieve, with the throw on land four feet from water's edge.

For the first nine throws, I blew CIW just as the dog approached the bird. If the dog shook, I called out "Nope" and went around the side of the pond to pick the dog up. If not, I cheered as the dog re-entered swim-depth water with the bird, and gave high-value treats when the dog delivered.

When both dogs had retrieved twice in a row without shaking, I decided to try it without any cueing from me. I was pleased to see that both dogs completed the retrieve without shaking even though I had not blown the whistle nor used any other cue when they arrived at the duck.

Today's sequence of throws was as follows:
  1. Laddie, CIW, good job
  2. Lumi, CIW, shook off, WO
  3. Lumi, CIW, good job
  4. Laddie, CIW, shook off, WO
  5. Laddie, CIW, good job
  6. Lumi, CIW, shook off, WO
  7. Lumi, CIW, good job
  8. Laddie, CIW, good job
  9. Lumi, CIW, good job
  10. Laddie, no cueing, good job
  11. Lumi, no cueing, good job

Friday, May 22, 2009

Land and Water Training

Oaks Areas 3 and 1

I learned recently that it's a mistake to run my dogs in water first, then let them dry in the sun. First, they need to have the pond water washed off them with clean rinse, and secondly, they need to be thoroughly dried with a dryer so that moisture doesn't remain in their undercoat and against their skin.

Accordingly, we ran a land series first. It was a sunny day with blue skies and temps in the high 70s, beautiful but too hot for the dogs to be comfortable. I saw that as an advantage for Laddie's training, in the sense that he needs to learn to return even in the face of temptations such as shade or a puddle as relief from the heat. After each dog ran, I put the dog in the van with the engine running, the A/C on, and a bowl of water on the floor.

Here's the series I came up with.

SERIES A. Two land singles and triple blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Before taking the dogs out of the van, I placed an LP as our SL, planted two ODs at each of three locations as blinds, and pre-positioned two RLs. I then took the dogs out, let them watch me load the RLs with streamers and place ducks 20 yards from each RL, and walked the dogs to the SL. I tied Laddie to a tie-out while I ran Lumi and put her in the van. I unhooked Laddie from the tie-out and let him watch from the SL while I reloaded the RLs with the streamers and re-positioned the ducks. I ran Laddie, put him in the van, and finally picked up all the equipment.

For each dog, I began by launching a streamer from the RL on the left, throwing right to left at 130 yards. I then ran the dog to a blind at 150 yards on a line that passed 20 yards to the right of that RL and 40 yards to the right of the streamer's fall and the duck. Next, I launched a streamer from the RL on the right, throwing at a sharp angle back right to left at 90 yards. I had the dog pick up the duck on the right, and then sent the dog to the original 130-yard mark on the left. Next, I ran the dog on a 130-yard blind to the left of the left mark, and finally ran the dog on a 160-yard blind to the right of the right mark.

All of the retrieves took place in Oaks Area 3 except the final 160-yard blind, which was in the adjoining Oaks Area 1.

The intended challenges of this course were as follows:
  • The dog had seen the left RL launch and knew where the duck on the right was, yet had to accept handling on a line that ran between them, "behind the left gun".
  • The line to the first blind included three elevation changes and took the dog behind a crest and out of sight for a short part of the last segment of the blind.
  • The line to the shorter mark on the right included an elevation change and required the dog to drive past the "thrower" to the fall.
  • The line to the longer mark on the left included crossing a curved embankment, resulting in two diagonal hillside traversals.
  • The mark on the left was "thrown", but not retrieved until the dog had first run the center blind, watched the mark on the right "thrown", and run that mark. Besides the delay, the mark on the left was thrown into an open area with no distinguishing features, so the dog had to remember it from general layout of the course.
  • The line to the blind on the left was under the branches of a large tree on the right, then thru a keyhole formed by two trees at 100 yards.
  • The line to the blind on the right included crossing a curved embankment, again resulting in two diagonal hillside traversals.
Laddie had one slipped whistle running the first blind, resulting in a Walk Out. Aside from that, both dogs performed well, with excellent marking requiring no hunts and good responsiveness on all WSs and casts except the WS Laddie refused on his first blind.

Stadler's Pond

After we finished Series A, I drove the dogs to the pond behind Stadler's Nursery for our next session of the Wetfoot Drill, consisting today of two retrieves. For each retrieve, I ran Lumi first, then Laddie, first walking around to place a single duck for the next dog to retrieve. I used a single CIW, cheered and applauded as the dog re-entered the water after picking up the duck, and gave high-value treats after the dog delivered the bird.

The first retrieve was a 40-yard swim across a corner of the pond, with the duck on land three yards from water's edge. Both dogs performed the same way. The dog swam straight to the location on shore closest to the bird, climbed onto shore, shook off, ran to the bird, picked the bird up immediately, trotted back to the water, and immediately re-entered the water and swam straight back, completing the retrieve with a high-quality delivery. I had originally planned to interrupt the retrieve if a dog shook off, but I decided I would rather see how they performed after the shake. I plan to shorten the amount of land they have to cross to get to the duck in the next few sessions, so that they can gradually learn not to shake off until they get back to the start line.

The second retrieve was an 80-yard swim on a diagonal across the length of the pond, with the duck on land at water's edge.

In theory, this was our most challenging Wetfoot Drill session, but strangely, as I was putting out the ducks, I felt complete confidence that each dog would pick the bird up and bring it straight back into the water, which is exactly what both dogs did on both retrieves. I had a sense that, from all our previous Wetfoot Drill sessions, the dogs now understood the desired behavior, and it was nice seeing that they did.

"Get Your Bird"

Via email correspondence responding to a recent post on this blog, Alice Woodyard said that she thought the dog's ritual of carrying birds back to the van was a good one, but expressed concern that it could lead to a couple of problems at events. One problem is that the dogs might think they are entitled to grab a bird from the judging area. The other problem is that the dogs might eventually learn that events aren't as much fun as training when the series is over, and that might affect their performance, especially on the last retrieve of a series. Alice made some suggestions on how to prevent those problems, which I've attempted to adapt for Lumi and Laddie.

For today's two sessions, each dog's return to the van was run as follows:
  • I placed two soggy ducks on the ground near the SL and cued the dog to sit a few feet away.
  • I walked 10 yards in the direction of the van, tossed a fresh duck on the ground, and walked back to the dog.
  • I cued "Get your bird", initially with no body language to indicate which bird to pick up.
  • If the dog went to one of the wet dogs, I said "nope", and used a faked throw toward the fresh bird.
  • If the dog stayed in place without moving, I also used a fake throw.
  • When the dog ran to pick up the fresh bird, I picked up the soggy birds and the dog and I walked to the van together.
For today's land series, the above sequence was performed with each dog individually, as the dog completed the series. For our water work, the sequence was performed with both dogs at the same time, sending first one dog by name, then the other.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wetfoot Drill with Videos

Stadler's Pond

Today I brought along a video camera and tripod to record Lumi's and Laddie's continued work on LWL retrieves with the Wetfoot Drill.

Each dog had five successful retrieves, with a number of Walk Outs for shaking instead of coming straight back with the bird. In all cases, I used a single CIW as the only cue to pick up the duck and return, I used cheering and applause as conditioned positive reinforcement (timed as the dog re-entered swim-depth water), and I reinforced with high-value treats when the dog delivered the duck.

As the videos show, the WO continues to have the desired effect of causing the behavior of shaking to decline, since that behavior produces the outcome of the dog not being permitted to complete the retrieve. I call out "Nope" as a no-reward-marker at the moment the dog shakes, then walk around the edge of the pond to pick the dog up and bring the dog back on lead. Sometimes, I then run the other dog. Other times, such as if the other dog has already run that series successfully, I run the same dog again instead.

The series were as follows:
  • Series A. 25-yard swim, duck in water touching shore
  • Series B. 25-yard swim, duck on land 12" from water's edge
  • Series C. 30-yard swim, duck in water touching shore
  • Series D. 30-yard swim, duck on land 12" from water's edge
  • Series E. 60-yard swim, duck on land at water's edge
Here are the videos for each series:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

10-for-10 on Wetfoot Drill

Stadler's Pond

After our excellent success with the Wetfoot Drill on 15-yard swims a couple of sessions ago, Monday I raised the bar and went to 25-yard swims. But it was not an ideal session. Each dog had two successful retrieves and three Walk Outs, for a 40% success rate. Some WOs were for shaking, some for climbing up on shore. If we continued at 40%, that's too low a rate to make the work enjoyable for the dogs (or me).

Fortunately, today's continuation of that work was far better, with a 100% success rate. Again each dog had five retrieves:
  1. 25-yard swim, duck in water 6" from shoreline
  2. 25-yard swim, duck in water touching shore
  3. 25-yard swim, duck on land at water's edge
  4. 25-yard swim, duck on land 6" from water's edge
  5. 60-yard swim, duck in water 6" from shoreline
For all retrieves, Laddie ran first, then Lumi. The only cue I used when the dog reached the duck was a single tweet-tweet-tweet CIW. For +R, I cheered and applauded as each dog pushed off into swim-depth water during the return, and I gave high-value treats upon delivery.

Here's an example of the power of WOs in shaping a field dog's behavior. On #3, Laddie cocked his head as if about to shake off. Then, apparently remembering previous WOs for that behavior, he stopped, picked up the bird, turned around, and launched.

After the session, I tossed the two ducks on the ground and told the dogs, "Get your birds". This has become one of our rituals. When we do this, each dog picks up a bird and carries it to the van, the picture of real working retrievers.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Water and Land Series

Stadler's Pond

Today, we had more sessions with the Wetfoot Drill, Splash Version. After yesterday's success with 15-yard swims, today I chose a location with 25-yard swims. For every retrieve, the duck was in the water next to shore.

The two behaviors I wish to extinguish are shaking, and climbing out of the water when unnecessary, which was the case for all of today's retrieves. Because it is so important to the dogs to complete the retrieves, it was necessary only to call "nope" when one of those behaviors occurred, then interrupt the retrieve with a WO, in order for the behaviors to extinguish in both dogs.

I alternated the dogs in most cases. Here's a compilation of how each dog did:

Lumi had a WO for shaking, then two great pick-ups and re-entries into water.

Laddie had one WO for shaking and two WOs for climbing onto shore, then two great pick-ups and re-entries into water.

Sundown Road Park

I've been running the dogs mostly on the Wetfoot Drill in water, but today I decided to give them some marking and handling practice as well.

SERIES A. Two singles, three blinds (Laddie, then Lumi)

I began by planting ODs as blinds, placing RLs loaded with weighted streamers for "throwing" marks, and pre-positioning ducks 25 yards from the RLs for the dogs to pick up while leaving the streamers on the ground. I ran Laddie, reloaded the RLs, put the ducks back in position, and ran Lumi. The sequence was as follows.

I launched the RL on the right, left to right at 90 yards. The dog ran a 100-yard blind to the left of the left RL. I launched the RL on the left, left to right at 70 yards. The dog picked up the left mark, and then finally the right mark which had been launched first. The dog ran a 130-yard blind to the right, and wrapped up with a 230-yard blind in the center between the two RLs.

All five retrieves were within a 135° angle, resulting in fairly tight angles between the lines to all retrieves. Both dogs pinned both marks, which were on open lawn with no nearby features. With the tight angles, the lack of features near the marks, and the delay in picking up the first mark, this might have been a difficult course for the dogs some months ago, but today they made it look easy. Both ran with enthusiasm and purpose the entire series.

Except for one slipped whistle and WO for Laddie, both dogs were also responsive on all WSCs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Lumi's First Senior Ribbon

[Note: The following was posted today to the DogTrek and PositiveGunDogs lists.]

Hi, everyone. Lumi here. I'm using Daddy's computer to let you guys know that I earned my first ribbon in Senior Hunt Tests yesterday. It took me nine tries dating back to last fall. I came close on the first two Senior tests Laddie and I took this spring, and on the third one yesterday, the test official finally called my name at the ribbon ceremony. Daddy put the ribbon up in the kitchen for now, but soon he'll add it to my Lumi bulletin board in the office.


For those not familiar with the requirements of the Senior level and how they differ from Junior level, which Laddie and I have already titled in, here's a dog's-eye outline:

* OFF-LEAD. In a Junior test, we're heeled from the last holding blind to the start line on lead, then transferred to a slip lead for the run. Some gentle physical contact is permitted at the line as we're lined up for the two retrieves. In a Senior test, our lead is removed in the last holding blind, replaced when we're leaving the judging area after then entire series is complete (which sometimes includes overlap with the next dog's series), and in between no physical contact typically occurs. An occasional exception can be given at the judge's discretion. For example, yesterday, Daddy asked for and received permission to clear some feathers out of my mouth after one retrieve. The reason offline heeling to the line is difficult is that the judge's area is a target-rich environment for a retriever: people (Laddie and I are Goldens, don't forget); birds on a drying rack; the ground in front of the start line with zillions of interesting smells; the nearby gun stations with their own birds, half the time including one station with live birds; and the judge's lunch and snacks. Walking at heel offline and remaining under Daddy's control throughout the series in such environment is not a job for a typical Junior dog.

* MULTIPLE MARKS. In a Junior test, the dog runs two single marks (meaning the dog sees the birds thrown and retrieves a bird immediately after each throw). In a Senior test, the dog runs double marks (meaning the dog sees both of the birds thrown, and then retrieves both of them, first the "go-bird", then the "memory-bird"). A Senior dog has a second or two between throws to take a mental snapshot of where the first bird fell, so that after the dog picks up the go-bird, she'll remember where the other bird is to be found. In more advanced tests, the number of memory birds increases, but in a Senior, we just have doubles: a land double and a water double. The fact that they throw doubles in Senior tests also leads to a variety of concepts we dogs have to learn. Yesterday's test, for example, had convergent throws on the land series (the birds were thrown toward one another from the two gun stations), and a "flower-pot" on the water series (both birds were thrown from the same holding blind, but in opposite directions). If you've never seen a particular concept, it can be hard to find the memory-bird. Junior dogs don't get any memory-birds at all.

* HANDLER'S GUN. In a Junior test, the handler can focus entirely on handling the dog. In a Senior test, the handler is often required to carry a "handler's gun", an unloaded shotgun or facsimile thereof (we Goldens like to use expressions like "facsimile thereof" in our emails). Some Senior handlers just hold the gun in one hand while trying to focus on their dogs as in a Junior test. Others, like Daddy, actually aim the barrel of the "gun" at the birds as they're thrown, which I like. It tells me when to turn and thereby helps me find the bird in the air faster, instead of scanning the whole field waiting for a shot from the gun station. Without the gun, I tend to look away from the memory-bird without taking a good look (that's called "head-swinging"), because I don't want to miss the next throw. I don't have to worry about that when Daddy's using the handler's gun that way, so I don't have to swing my head. When Daddy realized that a few weeks ago, he began using his hiking stick as a handler's gun even in practice. I knew it wasn't a gun, but it still helped.

* MARKING DIFFICULTY. It seems to me that the marks are longer and more difficult to find in a Senior test, though I'm not sure about that. Laddie and I don't usually have a lot of trouble with marks. I often hear people telling Daddy what good "marking dogs" we are. People say that when they see one of us run straight to the birds, when other dogs are having to hunt for their birds.

* HANDLING. In a Junior test, the dog runs no blinds (meaning the bird is planted somewhere the handler knows about but the dog does not). In a Senior test, we have one land blind and one water blind. When I run a blind, Daddy, like most handlers, sends me from heel with the verbal cue "Back", and then uses whistle, verbal, and hand cues to direct me to the blind. That's called "handling". We practice at distances of hundreds of yards (Laddie and I ran a 690-yard blind in practice a few weeks ago), but they're generally no more than 100 yards in a Senior test. Of course, that doesn't necessarily make them easy. In yesterday's land blind for example, we had to make two diagonal crossings of cover changes (without practice, we dogs tend to square a cover change, or refuse to enter high cover entirely), then two diagonal traversals of an embankment to a pond on our right (again, we tend to square embankments, and some dogs are also affected by gravity and are either pulled offline downward or push themselves offline upward, to say nothing of the temptation a pond presents to a waterdog). Running blinds is such a prominent feature of the more advanced tests that people often think it presents the greatest challenge to training a retriever for advanced field work without aversives. In my opinion, that is not true, because I think other challenges among those I'm telling you about are more difficult to train without aversives. But it wasn't easy learning to remain responsive to Daddy's cues, especially when in some cases I was pretty sure I already knew where the bird was and didn't WANT to sit when Daddy blew the whistle. Also, after I sit, if Daddy says I should go left, and I'm sure the bird is to the right, I don't WANT to go the way he casts me, either. In yesterday's test, the land blind was unusually short, and some dogs overran it, then needed a come-in cast, which is many dogs' weak point. I actually don't like come-in casts myself, because I'm afraid I'm losing the chance to complete the retrieve. It wasn't an issue for Laddie and me yesterday, though. For our second test in a row, we both "lined" the blind (meaning we ran in the direction Daddy sent us straight from the start line to the blind, despite any "suction" from factors like those I mentioned, and required no handling cues from Daddy). Spectators like seeing a "good-lining" dog and judges usually give them a high score for the blind, but it also annoys some judges because they don't get to see whether the dog would have been responsive to the handler if handling had been required. Daddy actually apologized to one of the judges after I lined a blind in a test once. :0)

* STEADINESS. In a Junior test, the dog wears a collar and is held at the start line -- until the judge calls a number to release the dog to retrieve -- by a "slip cord", a cord that runs thru the collar so that the handler can release the dog by letting go of one end. In a Senior test, the dog wears no collar and must be "steady", which means that the dog has to remain at heel at least until the judge calls the number, and preferably until the handler releases the dog by calling the dog's name. Like many but not all other handlers, Daddy also places his flattened, vertical hand over my head when sending me, to give me a "sight" toward the fall I'm running to. I've learned not to go on the motion of the hand, but rather when the hand is still and Daddy calls "Lumi" in a special growl he uses just for this one cue. Learning to be steady when ducks are being thrown, or possibly a live duck is being thrown and then shot in the air, is HARD! You have to wait, wait, wait until Daddy releases you. Oh, it's excruciating!

* WALK-UPS. In a Junior test, the handler brings the dog to the line, the dog sits at heel, and when the handler signals the judge that he's ready, the first bird is thrown. In a Senior test, sometimes they do it that way, but often they have other ways of doing it, too. A common example is called a "walk-up". They had a walk-up in our last test where the rule was that the dog has to walk at heel as the handler advances toward one of the gun stations, and then at some point a duck-call is blown, a shotgun is fired, and the bird is thrown by means of a mechanical device called a "winger". In most tests that I've seen, the handler cues Sit when the duck call sounds, but in that recent test, you weren't told to Sit until the bird was in the air. So you can't sit, but you can't go, either. You have to keep just walking along while all that's going on.

* LINE MECHANICS. In a Junior test, the handler positions you to face the appropriate gun station before each bird is the thrown. In a Senior test, you get disqualified if the handler shows you where all the gun stations are before the throws. Daddy stands aside and gives me time to look around and find the stations, then lines me up for the first throw and says, "Sit. Mark." As I stare out at the gun station, Daddy aims his handler's gun, then raises a hand to let the judge know I'm ready for the throws. I keep staring in that direction until Daddy turns to the other station, but I know that's coming because I had a chance to look around first. In Junior tests, we didn't have to worry about all those line mechanics.

* HONORING. After a Junior dog completes his two retrieves in each series, he's done. A Senior dog generally has three retrieves in each series -- the double mark, and the blind. But half the time, you're not done yet. Now you have to "honor", which means sit nearby and watch the next dog run the same series. Usually you don't have to stay the whole time, just the hard part: watching the birds thrown, possibly watching a flier shot, and then watching the running dog go racing off to pick up the go-bird. If you can get that far without breaking, one of the judges says, "honor dog released." Then your handler can call you away from the line and slip your lead back on. Experienced dogs get pretty comfortable honoring, because they can tell from the set-up that they have no chance of being sent on those particular throws and therefore have no reason to coil up for a send-out. Laddie and I still tend to alert when the birds go down, and I can hear Daddy's voice become a bit more emphatic as he quietly repeats, "Just watch . . . just watch." Laddie has only broken once honoring this year, and I haven't broken at all, so we are getting this difficult skill down.

In summary, Laddie and I had a lot of new skills to learn beyond those needed for a JH title before we were ready for Senior. It's pretty unusual for a 2Q dog to get that far. Just arranging the logistics for proofing steadiness with fliers, at the line and honoring, is probably enough to prevent many trainers from getting their dogs there.

But in the end, I'd say the most difficult skill for a 2Q dog is also one of the most basic, and even applies to Junior dogs: the return. After you pick up the bird, you're supposed to run back to your handler with it. It sounds simple and it does seem to be natural to some retrievers, but let me tell you, once you get out there and find the bird, there are so many other things to do instead. It's pretty straight-forward for a 4Q trainer to instill in the dog's conditioning the disadvantages of trying any of those things, especially in this era of ecollars. But a 2Q trainer has to condition the dog to return based entirely on the giving or not-giving of rewards. Daddy has spent countless hours over the last two years on that skill with Laddie and me, and we're pretty good at it in private practice. But in the elevated distraction level of an event, the competing reinforcers for not returning become more prominent, and our returns deteriorate. Also, it's begun to dawn on us that Daddy won't leave the start line and come out to get us if we don't come straight back in a test. Most of the time, we still squeak by, and occasionally Laddie makes a spectacular return. Other times, a poor return, especially on a land-water-land retrieve, does us in and we end up scoring too low to qualify. That's what happened to Laddie in yesterday's test. It almost happened to me, too.

Daddy has decided not to run either of us in any more Hunt Tests till the fall. Then, maybe, Laddie and I can earn some more Senior ribbons for our bulletin boards.

With feathery wags,
Lumiere-du-Soleil JH WCX CGC TDI (Lumi)

Wetfoot Drill, Splash Version

Stadler's Pond

BACKGROUND. In yesterday's Senior Hunt Test, the water series featured a bird thrown right next to shore, with a splash.

I wanted Lumi and Laddie to retrieve the bird without getting up on shore, but I realized before we came to the line that we had not worked on the Wetfoot Drill with that scenario. Not unexpectedly, both dogs swam to the bird, picked up, carried it up onto shore, dropped it, and shook off. As in our training over the last 2-3 weeks, I then blew CIW, and since it was a test, also called "Here" for insurance. Both dogs then picked up the bird, pushed thru the high grass at water's edge, and entered the water.

Unfortunately, at that point, Laddie began wading along the shoreline with the water up to his belly rather than swimming across. I misinterpreted that as his old re-entry problem with LWL retrieves and, after calling Here a couple of times without getting a response, turned to ask the judge for permission to go around the pond to pick Laddie up. I didn't want Laddie learning that if he failed to return, I wouldn't pick him up in the context of an event.

The judge said, "Can't you get him to swim over, preferably with the bird?"

I responded, "If I could do that, I wouldn't be calling it quits." But in my mind I was thinking, "Why is the judge suggesting that?" So I said, "OK, let me try one more time."

I turned back around and to my surprise, instead of seeing Laddie playing with the bird, climbing up on shore, or continuing to wade along the shoreline, he was standing still, facing me while holding the bird in his mouth. He had stopped when he was directly across from me, with the shortest swim distance to get back to me. I called "Here" and he immediately pushed off and swam back. I wondered then whether I should have quit the test, since that might have been a satisfactory, if not ideal, return. But at the same time, I had not yet really absorbed the fact that Laddie had actually had no problem picking up the bird and re-entering the water. His only problem was that he wanted to square up to shorten his swim rather than making a diagonal trip. Now that I've realized that, I see that our Wetfoot Drill has actually paid off handsomely. Of course, we'll need to work on coming straight across rather than running the bank, but that's a separate issue and, knowing Laddie, possibly not too difficult to repair.

Meanwhile, the fact is that with a duck floating next to shore, neither dog simply grabbed the bird, spun around in the water, and swam straight back. They both carried the bird up onto shore to shake off first. So this afternoon, I took them to the pond behind Stadler's Nursery to work on that scenario.

We used a simple modification of the Wetfoot Drill. Instead of my setting the duck halfway on shore, I tossed it into the water with a splash, so that it then washed close to shore as in the test. I sent the dog from a point 15 yards away, and blew CIW just as the dog was reaching the bird. If the dog started to climb on shore, which only Laddie did and only once, I immediately called "nope" and walked around to pick the dog up, leaving the bird in place.

In a phone conversation yesterday, Jody Baker, one of my mentors, told me she had watched the incomplete set of videos for our April 28 session and suggested that I not encourage the dogs to shake off before picking the bird up, because it breaks the momentum. On one of her early retrieves today, Lumi shook off while still in the water preparing to pick the bird up. Thinking of Jody's advice, I called "nope" and picked Lumi up, and she didn't shake off again during the rest of the session.

Each dog got half a dozen of those short retrieves, most of them exactly as I wanted them, and then I called it quits, though both dogs seemed excited to keep working. Of course I'd rather quit while they want more than wait until they're losing interest.

My plan is to continue our work with the Wetfoot Drill, Splash Version in the next few days, raising criteria in various ways such as increasing distance, perhaps getting a thrower if I decide I can justify the expense, and trying other locations besides Stadler's pond.

Once the Splash Version is fully proofed and seems fluent, I'll resume work on retrieves with the bird further up on shore. I believe the dogs are now ready for me to increase criteria to where I expect no shake or other hesitation before picking up the bird and bringing it straight back. I don't expect to compete the dogs again until September, more than three months from now. Perhaps after that much work, their LWL pick-ups will have been practiced so much that the habit will carry thru in the water series of an actual event. Considering the progress we made with the Wetfoot Drill in just the last few weeks, I think it's a reasonable possibility.

I now feel that if I ever use the Wetfoot Drill with another dog, I'll start with the Splash Version, and discourage any break momentum, including a shake, by picking the dog up if it occurs. Once the dog has learned the Splash Version, I'll gradually move the duck up onto shore, the same plan I now have for Lumi and Laddie.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Water Tune-up


With both dogs entered in a Senior Hunt Test tomorrow, and with Lumi having rested since last Sunday, I thought I'd take both dogs to Cheltenham for some final water work before tomorrow's test.

SERIES A. Over-into-water drill (Lumi and Laddie)

This was a drill similar to one suggested by Alice Woodyard to work on Lumi's running a bank instead of taking an Over cue into water at an earlier Hunt Test this spring. I used it with both dogs today:
  1. I propped up two white dummies in the high grass 3/4ths of the way down a peninsula, as a "pile".
  2. I sent Lumi to the pile.
  3. I sent Lumi to the pile again, but blew WS when she was halfway to the pile.
  4. I cued "Over" into the water on the left.
  5. As soon as she was in the water, I tossed a white dummy a few feet in front of her for her to swim to and bring back back to me.
  6. We played a little tug.
  7. I switched dogs and ran Laddie on the same two retrieves.
  8. I switched dogs again and ran Lumi again, this time cueing "Over" to the right in Step 4.
  9. I switched dogs again and ran Laddie again, again cueing "Over" to the right this time.
  • Lumi did not respond to the first "Over" in Step 4. I moved her closer to the water and stepped up right in front of her, and when I cued "Over", she leapt right in. I then re-ran Step 3 and Lumi responded perfectly, as she also did when we ran it to the right.
  • Laddie understood the game immediately. In fact, he popped when I tried to send him to the pile for his second series, anticipating that I was going to stop him and cue Over. I called him back and resent him, and this time he went all the way to the pile. But he seemed thrilled when I then stopped him the next time and sent him into the water.
SERIES B. Water blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

This was a 30-yard blind with a difficult angle entry and a swim through an S-curve, providing temptation on both sides. The duck was planted in high grass near water's edge. Both dogs made an excellent entry without difficulty. Lumi required several cues to keep her from squaring the far bank. Laddie required almost no cueing. Both dogs had good pick-ups and water re-entries.

SERIES C. Water blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

This was an 80-yard blind with another difficult angle entry and the duck again planted in high grass near water's edge. Both dogs had good entries, swam straight to the blind, and had good pick-ups and water re-entries.

SERIES D. Water blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

This was the same retrieve that Laddie did not return from on our last Hunt Test a couple of weeks ago, but with some differences:
  • By the time we ran Series D, I had discarded the ducks, which were by then in bad condition. So I used ODs for Series D.
  • In the Hunt Test, this retrieve was the memory-bird of a water double, thrown with shotgun fire and by means of a winger. Those factors, plus the presence of throwers and the general excitement of an event, made the Hunt Test version of this retrieve far more exciting than today's water blind.
Lumi required three send-outs before she'd enter the water without stalling, and then required several cues to prevent her from squaring the bank and coming to shore early. In the Hunt Test we ran, Lumi didn't have either of those issues, and if she had, I probably would have just let her do what she was going to do as long as she completed the retrieve.

Laddie swam straight to the blind in the direction I'd sent him, shook off, and picked the dummy up immediately when I blew CIW. He then turned away from me as though planning to take the dummy in the opposite direction. When I called "This way", he turned back toward me but ran the bank some distance. I stopped him with a WS and cued him into the water with an angle-in.

CONCLUSION. Despite minor glitches, I thought both dogs appeared to be ready for the water retrieves in tomorrow's test. I wouldn't be surprised if they're easier than some that both my dogs have practiced on lately. In addition, Lumi was active and bouncy, showing no sign of lameness, so hopefully she's sound enough to participate and enjoy tomorrow's event.

If they make it to the water series, I think Lumi's most probable weakness may be that she isn't sufficiently responsive to casts. Laddie has been disqualified in both events where he reached water this year for beaching on an LWL retrieve, so that remains a major concern, but at least in our last event, he also made an excellent retrieve on the go-bird, which was also an LWL retrieve, without the slightest hesitation entering the water. He seems to have made significant progress with the Wetfoot Drill we've been working on since the last test.

We've had little chance to practice steadiness since the last test, and no chance to train with a group. I can only hope that both dogs' earlier training in those areas will hold up tomorrow.

I hardly think we're a lock, but I think both dogs have a chance of doing reasonably well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Water and Land Retrieves for Laddie

Both yesterday and today, I took Laddie out for a series of water and land retrieves, leaving Lumi at home because she was limping last Sunday. Tomorrow, I'll have Lumi join Laddie and me for a last tune-up session before our next Senior Hunt Test on Saturday.

In yesterday's session, I had both Nate and Austin throwing for us. All retrieves were with ducks.

The water marks took place at the pond behind Stadler's nursery and were at 20, 50, and 80, and 40 yards. Laddie had two excellent pick-ups and returns, two others where he began to play with the bird and I immediately came around the pond to pick him up, and two others where he hesitated on his water entry and I used verbal cueing to bring him back, as I would have to do in competition if it came up.

The land retrieves took place at Oaks Area 2. After having Laddie retrieve two thrown singles, I had him run a 100-yard blind on a line a little to the outside of the second single, with the wind blowing from the bird toward the SL, and had Laddie sit 30 yards from the blind even though by then he had clearly scented the bird.

Today's work was similar, except that Laddie and I trained alone. At the pond, I had him run four water blinds with the duck in high grass near water's edge with 30-yard, 60-yard, 80-yard, and 40-yard swims, and his pick-up and water re-entry were sterling on every one of them. Because the un-mowed grass is so high most places we train right now, I decided to run him on a 170-yard land blind at Sundown Road Park, again running into the wind and having him sit after he had clearly scented the bird.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Triple Blinds for Laddie

Laddie Only Today

Lumi was limping on Sunday afternoon. I couldn't tell what was bothering her, could have been shoulder, wrist, back, hips, maybe something else. Although she was no longer limping by Monday, I decided to keep her out of training for several days, then train with her some on Friday. If she's limping again on Saturday morning, I'll scratch her from her Senior Hunt Test. Otherwise, hopefully she'll be OK.

CONDITIONS TODAY: Sunny with temps in the 60s.

TODAY'S TRAINING: I took both dogs with Renee and Gabriel on a short hike. I dropped Lumi off at home with a frozen chicken wing, took Laddie to the pond behind Stadler's nursery for a triple water blind, took Laddie to Oaks Area 3 for a triple land blind, and brought him home to receive his own frozen chicken wing.

SERIES A. Triple water blind (Laddie only)

The first blind was a land-water-land (LWL) blind to the left at 15 yards. The second blind was an LWL to the right at 50 yards. The third blind was an LWL diagonally across the pond at 80 yards. All blinds were ducks planted in tall grass near water's edge.

Laddie required no WSCs for the first blind, one for the second, and three for the third. He was responsive on all whistles and cast reasonably accurately. My primary concern wasn't his handling but how he would do on his pick-ups and water re-entries. He was fabulous on all of them. In each case, I blew a come-in whistle as soon as he had shaken standing over the bird, and his pick-up and water re-entry were so prompt that no other cueing was required. I cheered enthusiastically as he pushed off into the swim-depth water, and rewarded him with several small bites of fried chicken liver after his excellent deliveries.

SERIES B. Triple land blind (Laddie only)

The first blind was in the center at 100 yards, with the line crossing a depression filled with standing water. The second blind was to the right at 130 yards, with the line diagonally crossing a crest and a depression, then going thru a narrow keyhole formed by a break in a hedgerow, and finally going diagonally uphill into an area of waist-high cover. The third blind was to the left at 180 yards, with the line diagonally crossing a crest, going past several trees on either side, and finally going diagonally up a hill. The terrain for all three blinds was knee-high cover and irregular footing. All blinds were ODs.

Because I'm now requiring my dogs to run a tight line on all blinds, Laddie needed handling on all of today's blinds. He never slipped a whistle, but took poor casts twice on the first blind. In each case, I called him back to the SL and started again. His performance remained focused and exuberant throughout the series. I rewarded each retrieve with a thrown duck that I had brought along to the SL for the purpose.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Steadiness Training, Water Blinds

AM: Clevenger's Corner

This morning, Lumi, Laddie, and I trained with Dave and his dog. We had no one else to shoot for us or train with us, so we worked as follows:
  • Standing five yards to our left side, Dave fired live ammo, then threw a dead duck for the following dogs in turn: Laddie, Dave's dog, Lumi, and Dave's dog again. Laddie and Lumi honored Dave's dog.
  • Repeat of the same series but with duck fliers.
  • With me holding first Laddie, then Lumi, Dave threw dead ducks while blowing duck call and firing starter pistol 10 yards in front of the dogs. After throwing, Dave would indicate whether or not I should send the dog. Two times out of three, Dave would say "no bird" and pick up the bird himself. In each case, I would then call "Here" and send the dog to a duck lying on the ground behind us and the dog I would play a game of chase with that bird.
For all of the above, I held Lumi's and Laddie's tabs so that if they tried to break, they would not be successful. Although both dogs alerted at times, neither of them tried an outright break.

I discussed with Dave some questions I had about standing at 11 or 1 o'clock rather than at 5 o'clock, and he said that he did not recommend the change, that we were likely to have problems with judges if we tried it.

PM: Stadler's Pond

On way back from training with Dave, and knowing that we probably wouldn't be able to get out in the afternoon because family would be visiting for Mother's Day, I took Lumi and Laddie to the pond behind Stadler's Nursery for a little water work.

First I put out two ducks at each of two locations, then I ran Laddie first, then Lumi, on the double blind. The first blind was at 20 yards, planted in high grass near water's edge. The line to the blind had some suction for squaring the bank to the right. The second blind was at 60 yards straight across the pond, again planted in high grass near water's edge.

Both dogs had reasonable pick-ups and good re-entries into the water.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

LWLs with Thrower

Stadler's Pond

Today, Nate joined Lumi, Laddie, and myself for our training at the pond behind Stadler's nursery, giving us an opportunity to practice LWL retrieves with a thrower.

First, I had each of the dogs run an LWL with a 15-yard swim with Nate throwing the duck onto a small point. Both dogs had high quality pick-ups and returns.

Next, I had Nate throw the duck into an area of high grass several feet from the water, with a 30-yard swim. I decided to have Laddie try it first.

The first time I sent him, he picked up the duck and got right into the water, but then began to play with the duck instead of swimming back to me. I walked around to where he was, called "Fetch" to have him bring me the duck, handed the duck to Nate, and walked Laddie on lead back to the SL.

With Laddie still on lead, I had Nate throw to the same place for Lumi, and she had an excellent retrieve. I cheered for her as she returned, and gave her some treats after she delivered the duck.

I took Laddie off lead and had Nate throw for Laddie again. This time, he started to pick up the bird but instead of completing the retrieve, became distracted by something behind him and ran to investigate. I rushed over, called him to me, again handed the duck back to Nate, and walked Laddie back to the SL again.

With limited time, I decided to run Laddie immediately rather than running Lumi again. This time, he had a top-notch pick-up and return.

We only had time for one more retrieve, and I decided that Laddie needed the work more than Lumi, so I had Nate throw our longest retrieve of the day, with a 40-yard swim. The first time he threw it, it rolled down the embankment and I had Nate pick it back up because I wanted an inland retrieve. After he re-threw the duck, I sent Laddie. I guess Laddie didn't understand that the first duck wasn't there any more, because he tried to hunt the duck up at the first fall, and required handling to get to the actual bird. But as soon as he got to it, he picked it up and trotted right into the water, then swam back.

It's always nice to have a session of excellent performances beginning to end, for example like yesterday's. But today seemed to be a good step for Laddie. Over the last month, he's missed two qualifying opportunities in a row by not coming back on LWLs, yet he hasn't exhibited that behavior in our private training. Today showed that the presence of a thrower may have caused some of the problem, and we worked our way through it. Hopefully we'll get several more opportunities before our next test on May 16 to improve on this key area that Laddie has a problem with.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

High Quality LWL Pick-ups

Stadler's Pond

Today, Lumi, Laddie and I again trained at the pond behind Stadler's nursery. We ran the following variations on LWL retrieves:
  1. 15-yard swim, duck at water's edge
  2. 15-yard swim, duck in high grass 2' from water
  3. 40-yard swim, duck in low grass 6' from water
  4. 40-yard swim, duck in low grass 8' from water
  5. 50-yard swim, duck in high grass 2' from water
For every retrieve, both dogs had grade A pick-ups and re-entries into water.

We again played pick-up speed games for the first half of the walk back to the van, and then each dog happily carried a duck the rest of the way to the van.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Rainy Walk to the Pond

Stadler's Pond

It's been raining now for several days, and I was again concerned that the van might get stuck if we tried to drive down the dirt road to the pond behind Stadler's nursery. But I've signed Lumi and Laddie up for a Senior Hunt Test on May 16, so I wanted to get in some water work. No other pond I know of was within driving range given my time constraints this afternoon.

To solve the problem, I parked in the last paved parking area of the nursery, brought out the dogs and a bag of ducks, and we walked the half a mile to the pond. With temps in the 50s and a steady rain, the weather presented a bit of a challenge, but we were all up to it.

At the pond, I planted a series of sight blinds in the high grass at water's edge and sent each dog alternately, using locations we hadn't previously used at this pond. Each dog ran three retrieves with a 30-yard swim and one with a 40-yard swim.

Both dogs happened to have two slow pick-ups during the session, and in each case, I called "Sit", walked around to where the dog was, replaced the bird where I had originally planted it, slipped a lead gently over the dog's head, and we walked back together. Then I sent the other dog to the same blind, while the first dog waited beside me on lead. When the other dog came back with the bird, I sent the original dog again. The timing worked out that another bird was always available.

This has proven in the past to be an effective use of the Walk Out, and the same was true today. In no case did either dog have two slow pick-ups in a row, and both finished with their best pick-ups of the day.

On the way back, we played a new pick-up game I invented on the spot. I'd put both dogs in a sit together, walk some distance toward the van, toss one duck to the left of the road and one to the right, and then walk a bit further. Then I'd turn and call one of the dog's names while pointing at one of the birds. That dog would race to the bird, pick it up, and bring it to me. Then I'd do the same with the other dog. If either dog had a slow pick-up, I'd call "sit", walk to the dog, and use a hand target to draw that dog away from the bird and back to where I'd called from. Then I'd call the other dog to pick up the same bird. Once the second dog arrived, I'd send the first dog to the other bird.

During this game, Laddie had no slow pick-ups and Lumi had only two or three, and never more than one in a row.

After we played the game for awhile, working our way closer and closer to the van, I finally told both dogs, "Get your bird," and each carried one of the ducks most of the way back to the van. Lumi has shown a significant affection for carrying ducks for some months, and the last few weeks, Laddie has begun to show the same thing.

Neither showed any interest in dropping the bird, but after a few hundred yards, I decided to put the birds back in the bag and carry them the rest of the way myself. I'd rather have them wanting more than starting to get tired of it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fundamentals on a Wet Day

Oaks Area 3

I had planned to train both dogs almost exclusively on water for the next several days, but it didn't work out today. After several days of soaking rain, I felt likely to get stuck if I tried to take the dirt road to Stadler's pond, and we didn't have enough time to go much further. So I took the dogs to the smallest of the Oaks fields, and found that one of the depressions had filled with rain water, forming a shallow pool.

I had each of the dogs run a couple of "channel blinds", though they weren't really "channel" because the dogs weren't swimming, and they weren't really "blinds" because the dogs knew where the duck was. But since both dogs did try to "run the bank", I felt it was still good practice calling them back when they veered toward higher ground, and re-sending them until they took a straight line.

In addition, I had Laddie run a 100-yard blind through a stand of trees and over several elevation changes, mostly so I'd have a chance for a WSC, which he responded to beautifully. Wanting to rest Lumi's hips and wrist, I decided not to run her on the blind.

But as we walked back to the van, with me throwing Laddie's puppy dummy and playing tug with him, I also repeatedly threw a duck a few feet with Lumi in a "wait" and then sent her on her name and came up beside her as she was reaching for the bird. If she took any extra time at all to pick up the bird, for example by trying to turn it over for a better grip, I said "nope" and reached down to pick the bird up myself. But if she grabbed the bird without hesitation, I laughed and said "Yes! Great job!" and ran away from her a few feet inviting a chase, and then took the bird, said "Wait", and tossed it away again. In that way, Lumi ended the session without about a dozen excellent pick-ups in a row.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Delayed Double, Marks Thrown from the Line, Land Blinds

Clevenger's Corner

I heard from Dave this week that he was available to train on Saturday, and with both Lumi and Laddie registered for a Senior test tomorrow, I decided to cancel a group training session we had registered for and train with Dave instead.

Unfortunately, he didn't have anyone else to train with us, so at first it appeared we would have no opportunity to practice honoring. Dave sees steadiness as a general skill, so I guess he didn't see the problem, whereas I have come to believe that steadiness honoring is a specialized skill that's different from steadiness at the line, which I believe is more consistent with Alice Woodyard's view, at least with respect to my dogs.

Our last series with Dave today, Lumi and Laddie did get to practice honoring, and were rock steady, but it was with a dead bird, so I'm not sure how good an indication it is of how the dogs will do tomorrow. In any case, here's what we did:

SERIES A. Delayed double (Lumi, then Laddie)

Dave suggested that we begin with what he termed a "delayed double". When I brought my dog to the line, Dave began by throwing a chukar right to left on an angle back, with the fall at 80 yards in high grass. Dave then walked to a pre-positioned crate of fliers 90° to the left, and shot a flier, also thown right to left, at 50 yards into high grass.

Both dogs marked the flier well, both dogs had reasonable pick-ups and excellent returns and deliveries, and Laddie also had an excellent mark on the memory bird.

I delayed sending both dogs before sending them to the flier. Laddie did fine, but Lumi tried to break. Since I was holding her tab, she was unable to do so. Although it's unfortunate that she tried to break, in a way this was good news. I have been concerned that one or both dogs might have become line-wise, meaning that they would alter their behavior depending on whether or not they were on a line, in their case, their 9" tabs. That would be severely damaging to their careers, because it would mean that they might practice well when wearing a tab, but then break in an event when they noticed that they weren't wearing collars. The fact that Lumi attempted to break this morning means that she was not choosing whether to break or not on the presence or absence of a collar or line. Hopefully her development benefited from the experience.

A second problem with Series A was that Lumi took a WIL on the memory bird and after hunting for some time, seemed about to switch to the old fall of the flier, so I handled her to the fall of the memory bird. Though she eventually did get to the bird, she did not handle well. She slipped the first two or three whistles, though in each case responded when I called "SIT". She also cast poorly, repeatedly digging back in her original direction instead of continuing in the direction cast.

We have not been running a lot of blinds the last week, so I decided we'd practice a couple of blinds a little later on. As mentioned below, we did so in Series E, and Lumi handled well, as did Laddie.

SERIES B. Mark thrown from the line (Lumi, then Laddie)

Dave suggested that a mark thrown from beside the handler and dog would be a good steadiness challenge. For Series B, he threw a dead duck as practice, while firing a shotgun with live ammo. Both Lumi and Laddie were rock steady.

SERIES C. Mark thrown from the line (Lumi, then Laddie)

After the rehearsal of Series B, we moved to a new location and ran the same thing, but this time using a duck flier. To add to the challenge, Dave intentionally let the duck gain some flight and brought the bird down so that it would land on the far side of a crest. I used Lumi's and Laddie's tabs, and again both dogs were rock steady.

SERIES D. Honoring for mark thrown from line (Lumi, then Laddie)

Dave had brought along his 14-year-old yellow Lab. I believe that he doesn't like to have the old dog pick up fliers any more, but he suggested that to end the day, he would throw a dead bird for his dog twice, to give each of my dogs a chance to honor standing a few feet away. I didn't feel this would be much a challenge since we weren't using fliers, and didn't hold my dogs' tabs. Once I cued "just watch", neither Lumi nor Laddie showed much interest in the other dog's mark and were both thrilled to run back to the van for play when I said "Here" after the Lab had been sent. In fact, Laddie turned away before I even said "Here".

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

After we left the farm where we'd been training with Dave, I took Lumi and Laddie to another field on the way home and set up a double blind for each of them to run.

The first blind was to the left, a chukar at 60 yards. The second blind was to the right, a still warm duck at 140 yards. Although both dogs might have been able to line both blinds, I followed recent practice and blew WS at least once on each blind. Both dogs were responsive on every WS and reasonably accurate on every cast.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Steadiness Training, Wetfoot Drill

Mt. Ararat Farm

SERIES A. Steadiness Training

For this series, we had three rounds of singles. In each round, I would run Lumi, then another trainer would run a dog while Lumi honored, then I would run Laddie, and finally another trainer would run a dog while Laddie honored.

Each single consisted of a wing-clipped chukar thrown at 40 yards. Several teenagers acted together as throwers behind the holding blind. Before each throw, one of the throwers blew a duck call, and during each throw, one of the throwers fired live ammo from a shotgun, but not toward the bird.

Some of the throws were thrown into calf-high cover, others were thrown onto mowed grass. Lumi and Laddie had no difficulty marking the throws into the higher cover, but some of the other dogs did.

For all retrieves and all honors, I held my dogs' tabs. Neither of them attempted any breaks, marking or honoring.

SERIES B. Wetfoot drill

Using one of the ponds at Mt. Ararat Farm, I ran each dog on a pair of LWL retrieves with chukars placed near water's edge. Both dogs had good pick-ups and water re-entries.
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