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.

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