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.

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