Sunday, May 17, 2009

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.

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