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.

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