Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Land Blinds with Poison Birds

Rolling Ridge

SERIES A. Double land blind with poison birds (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series A was two blinds (ODs) run from the same SL. The first blind was to the right at 40 yards. The second blind was to the left at 70 yards. The line to the right blind was thru the point of a section of high cover with the blind planted in an open area to the left of a large tree. The line to the left blind was thru the same section of high cover and into a wooded area, with the blind in front of a shrub.

Before sending the dog to each blind, I stepped a few feet in front of the dog and threw a duck on a 30° angle to act as a PB. For the blind on the right, the PB was to the right of the line to the blind, adding more suction to the existing suction formed by the open area to the right of the section of high cover and the false target of the large tree to the right of the blind. For the blind on the left, the PB was to the left of the line to the blind, adding more suction to the dog's natural resistance to entering high cover.

The sequence was:
  • Throw PB to far right
  • Send dog to right blind
  • Send dog to PB
  • Throw PB to far left
  • Send dog to left blind
  • Send dog to PB
Laddie did a good job with all the retrieves.

Lumi had no trouble with any of the retrieves except the left blind. The first time I sent her, she looked in the correct direction but immediately veered to the PB when sent. I called her back and sent her again, and this time she took a good line into the cover. She had good pickups with the ducks.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Blinds, Adventure Drill

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

We ran Series A in the large area behind an elementary school near Needwood Park.

The first blind was to the right at 80 yards. The line to the first blind was across a slope and ended in a cluster of trees. The second blind was to the left at 160 yards. Both blinds were unmarked ODs.

SERIES B. Adventure Drill

For Series B, we returned to the creek at Needwood Park, using the section to the right, away from the paved trail. Each dog ran eight LWL retrieves across difficult terrain as described in yesterday's blog entry. Today's retrieves varied 15-100 yards in distance. Today, Lumi ran each retrieve first, then Laddie.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Old Blinds, New Adventures

Needwood Lake Park

Today we returned to a park where we used to train back in December 2007, in the earliest days of this blog. On the large, open field, each dog ran a couple of blinds, 80 and 230 yards, with unmarked ODs. We then returned to the van where I traded the dummies for a bag with a couple of old ducks in it, and off we went down the trail that eventually leads to the National Zoo, in search of good locations to run our Adventure Drill.

As the trail reached the large creek, it turned left to fall in line with the downstream flow, a direction the dogs and I have hiked in with Renee and Gabriel, her Golden, often in the past. But today we broke thru the underbrush and headed to the right instead.

For the next hour and a half, as I chose ten different stream crossings where each dog would have an LWL retrieve, we never saw another soul.

The retrieves varied in distance from 20 to 80 yards, and each presented a series of challenges: steep embankments, logs to leap over, difficult water entries and exits, thick underbrush on both sides of the stream, swift current and eddies, underwater debris, and muddy sand bars, some covered in broken branches.

Both dogs raced from my side as the dog's turn for a send-out came up, Laddie first on each set-up, then Lumi. Solving one problem after another to reach the bird, neither dog required a recall cue of any kind. "Ah, here's my duck. Must get it back to Daddy now!" For Lumi, this meant no dawdling, no hint of rolling in the grass. For Laddie, it meant a sprint back to the finish line, the idea of diverting to explore some side interest or cool off in some puddle never seeming to cross his mind.

I don't yet know whether the Adventure Drill will carry over to ordinary retrieves as well for Lumi as it did for Laddie in earlier work a few weeks ago, but it does appear that both dogs are forming a new attitude about the Pattern. Instead of the technical nuts and bolts of the basic retrieve occupying the spotlight, fundamentals become mere table stakes for Adventure Drill retrieves. The real work is traversing the difficult terrain and stream crossings to get to the bird.

For years, I've been seeing other people's retrievers — usually Labradors — running retrieves with this kind of single-minded purpose. How good to see it, one retrieve after another, in my own sweet dogs.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Blind, Adventure Drill

Sundown Road Park

CONDITIONS. Sunny, temps in low 80s, wind NE at 4 mph.

SERIES A. Land blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

150 yards (duck), with last 30 yards across a slope. The slope included an 0ffset keyhole with the further tree on the right and on the downhill side of the slope. Both dogs lined this blind easily.

SERIES B. Adventure Drill

Using the creek that borders one side and one end of the large field, the dogs ran seven LWL retrieves through nearly impassible terrain, including a swim-depth stream with floating and underwater debris, thick, often thorny underbrush on both sides of the stream, and in several cases fallen trees or large branches to be navigated over, under, and around. Each retrieve was run in a different location but using the same pattern:
  1. I put the dogs in a sit at the edge of the woods and underbrush that bordered the stream.
  2. I pushed as far as possible into the underbrush, then threw two ducks as far as possible over the stream.
  3. I came back out of the woods and walked with the woods 10-30 yards across the mowed field.
  4. I put Laddie on a slip lead, gave him a treat, cued Lumi to sit, and sent her to make the retrieve.
  5. With Laddie on lead beside me, I followed Lumi to the entrance to the woods. In most cases, I was able to catch a glimpse of her during some of her retrieve. I wanted to see whether she showed any inclination to roll when she arrived at any of the blinds. She did not.
  6. When I saw that Lumi was on her way back, I returned with Laddie to our original SL and received Lumi's delivery there, giving her a treat.
  7. I removed Laddie's lead and cued Sit.
  8. I sent Laddie on the retrieve, but did not follow him to the treeline. In each case, he was out of sight just long enough to get to the bird and back.
Going by their excited demeanor as each dog's turn came up for one retrieve after another, both dogs seemed to enjoy this game tremendously.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Adventure Drill

Seneca Creek

Today I took Lumi and Laddie on a hike and ran each of them on three seriously challenging Adventure Drill type LWL retrieves: brambles, steep embankments, and a deep, fast-moving stream. I came up with the idea for the Adventure Drill a few days before Laddie's last Senior Hunt Test (see this post), and in that test, his returns were fabulous despite serious temptations of the kind he's often given into in the past.

Into today's version of the drill, I stood on one side of the creek, called both dogs to me to watch, threw the article (ducks we've been training with for several days) into the underbrush on the other side, walked in a more or less straight line back thru the woods until I couldn't go any further in that direction (30-50 yards), brought the dog to heel, and sent the dog back in the direction we'd just come from.

I originally planned to run only Laddie on these grueling retrieves, but Lumi was so upbeat and bouncy I decided to let her run them, too. While she's not as fast as Laddie, she returned proudly and promptly every time, and catching sight of her thru the foliage as she arrived at the blinds, I could see that she never seemed to give a thought to rolling.

I'm not really sure why the Adventure Drill works. My original concept was to use it as a proofing drill, the idea being that if the dog had a problem returning, I'd pick the dog up, and then after the dog could handle those, a test would be easy.

But actually it hasn't worked that way. On these difficult retrieves, both dogs for some reason seem intent on picking the bird up and getting back to me as quickly as possible. So it's not so much a proofing drill as a conditioning drill, apparently creating high-value intrinsic +R for speedy pick-ups and returns.

I find the nature of the conditioning interesting. To me, it doesn't seem to be operant conditioning. Instead, these difficult retrieves seem to act as an unconditioned stimulus triggering an unconditioned (untrained, automatic) response. Why then would the response carry over to less interesting retrieves afterwards?

I'm a vegetarian now, but many years ago, I ate in French restaurant and had easily the best steak I'd ever eaten (a filet mignon). Thereafter, whenever I had steak, I found that I enjoyed it more than I ever had before that French restaurant, because at that point other steaks reminded me of that great French steak.

Lumi did something similar with fliers a couple of years ago. After she'd had her first flier, her attitude about the whole game — gunfire, dead birds, land retrieves — shot straight up thereafter, even when no fliers happened to be around at a particular session.

So maybe on an AD, the dog's inbred instincts are awakened as never before, and suddenly it just feels right to pick up the bird and go running back to Daddy with it (as it seems to feel right to a Lab to do even in less interesting situations). And maybe, hopefully, after a few Adventure Drills, it carries over to less interesting retrieves, like the memory of that French steak causing me to enjoy later steaks better, too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

LWLs and LWLWLs, Blanket Cueing


My objectives for today diverged significantly for Lumi versus Laddie. It wasn't that long ago that I would work on extending Lumi's advanced skills while I had to focus on basic LWL retrieves with Laddie. Now that situation has reversed. Whereas Laddie seems to have well-developed basic and even intermediate water retrieval skills, Lumi has begun rolling on the grass after reaching the blind fairly frequently on water retrieves. Therefore, I used a variety of set-ups but in most cases varied them between dogs.

I inadvertently left the ducks I was planning to use today in the garage, so today we trained exclusively with ODs.

LADDIE. Laddie ran two LWLWL retrieves (across peninsulas) of over 100 yards, then a 50-yard LWL in a channel with very sharp angle water entries and exits, then a 120-yard LWL past a nearby point on the left, and finally an LWLWL retrieve of over 100 yards with a very sharp angle entry and return cheat. He performed well all day, his only weakness being that he didn't always carry casts very far and so would require another WSC after only swimming a short distance after the earlier cast. But he remained responsive to WSCs all day and had no apparent difficulty re-entering the water repeatedly on his returns.

LUMI. For Lumi, I began the day planning to try out a cheerful version of the WO for any cases of Lumi rolling at the blind.

I had an opportunity to do that on the first long LWLWL, which was the same one that Laddie had already run. As soon as Lumi started to roll, I began walking across a ditch and a road, over a foot bridge across a channel, and along the side of the pond in Lumi's direction. I walked most of the way without saying anything, glancing up occasionally to see Lumi lounging on her side looking back at me.

When I got close, I cued "Stand", then "Sit", both in a cheerful voice, which Lumi responded to with great attitude, which was a big improvement on yesterday's videotaped WO. I slipped her lead over her head and we walked all the way back, then I ran her on the same retrieve again.

Normally after a WO, Lumi's performance improves significantly. Perhaps because this was her first experience with a cheerful WO, that didn't happen this time. Again she rolled, and again I used a cheerful WO.

Of course I had speculated originally that the WO simply won't work if it's done that way, and could in fact even cause the rolling problem to get worse, since a cheerful WO might actually act as +R for rolling. On the other hand, I wasn't ready to give up on trying to improve on the previous day's approach.

So the third time, I added a new element. I had done something similar in the early stages of the Wetfoot Drill at Stadler's pond, and I thought I'd try it out again with Lumi today. A second or two after I blew CIW, it looked like Lumi was getting ready to roll again, but this time I blanketed her with verbal recall cues, calling out something along the lines of, "No, Lumi, get up, get up, here, come here, here, etc." I may have also thrown in some ordinary English like, "Don't roll," which was probably a waste since Lumi doesn't speak English, but I think she got the gist of what I was trying to communicate.

Even on this relatively long and complex retrieve, the blanket cueing worked. Instead of lying down, Lumi picked up the dummy and carried it into the water, then completed the return.

We ran about half a dozen more LWL and LWLWLs the rest of the session. With one exception, I would run Laddie on a difficult retrieve, then made it easier for Lumi. Examples:
  • Laddie on a 50-yard channel swim with extreme angle water entries and exits. Lumi to the same blind, but starting further down the peninsula so that it was more like 25 yards and easier angles.
  • Laddie on a 120-yard LWLWL over a point with an extreme angle entry from the SL. Lumi from the point (which was a peninsula), converting it into a 80-yard LWL with an easy entry.
In each case, as Lumi arrived at the blind, I blew CIW and a moment later started blanketing her with verbal recall cueing as above.

Lumi did not roll again the rest of the session. Was that because the retrieves were all shorter? I would answer, No. My reasons are as follows:
  • One of the retrieves was a 120-yard LWL past a point. That was easily long enough to tempt Lumi into rolling, considerably longer than the blinds she rolled on in her last two Senior tests. Yet with blanket cueing, she didn't roll.
  • Several times I saw Lumi start to dip her shoulder an instant before I began my cueing, which shows that these set-ups did tempt her to roll.
Thinking about it later, I realized that it was a mistake to wait until Lumi dipped her shoulder, because the blanket cueing may be reinforcing to Lumi (Kay Laurence says that any interaction with the handler, even a harsh one, has a +R attention effect) and therefore may have reinforced the shoulder dip. But luckily, it didn't seem to work that way and Lumi seemed to become less inclined to dawdle as the day continued.

Obviously blanket cueing isn't ideal, and I'd like to fade it as soon as possible. But it may be a way for Lumi to practice the desired Retrieve Pattern long enough for her to decide she doesn't really need to roll.

Lumi's Demeanor on Video

Producing videos of my dogs working is a difficult job. Either I need to find, and in most cases pay, someone to come along and take the video, or I need to set up the camcorder on a tripod and take the video myself. When I get home, I have to upload the video into editing software, edit it, export it as a file, upload the file to YouTube, and embed the video into the blog entry where I want it to appear.

Besides the amount of work involved, a special difficulty also arises with the videos of Lumi, one which becomes more pronounced when I use a tripod to take the video myself. I've found that the videos taken that way present a highly distorted picture of Lumi's overall demeanor when training.

For the record, the following describes Lumi's actual field-training demeanor:
  • When we arrive at the training site, I open the side door of the van and both dogs jump out. They generally spot some interesting nearby location and run to it, then sniff around, explore, and possibly eliminate. Except that Laddie is more active and far-ranging, both dogs have about the same demeanor at this time.
  • When I bring out their training collars — the ones with the 9" tabs attached — they come to me so that I can put on the collars and give them treats. Lumi, who is more attuned to known opportunities for treats than Laddie, is likely to come without being called when she sees the collars. Her demeanor is calm and engaged as I put on the collar, and excited when I offer the treat.
  • If I let them run around while I'm setting up, sometimes they follow me and sometimes they continue exploring. Again, both dogs have the same demeanor. In this situation, Lumi is likely to range further from me than Laddie. I believe this is because she is more comfortable not running around too much, and so generally explores within a smaller area than the area I'm covering as I set up our course.
  • If I decide to run Laddie first, I call Lumi to either the van or the tie-down stake and she comes trotting over. If it's the van, she hops in on cue; if it's the stake, she comes close enough for me to fasten the chain to her collar and sits on cue. Either way, she waits expectantly for a treat and takes it happily.
  • When I bring Lumi out and begin walking with her to the SL I've set up (usually an LP), she becomes aroused, holding herself back from running ahead only with difficulty. When she loses the battle, which often happens several times as we walk, I call Here and she bounces back to heel position, then once again fights her urge to run ahead. Sometimes she looks up excitedly at me as we walk, sometimes she just keeps her eye on the course ahead of us, especially if throwers are out there, and most especially if any of them have live birds.
  • At the start line, Lumi glances at my hands to see which side I want her to sit on, then sits down and begins scanning the course for throwers or other salient features. Her demeanor is erect, alert, and well under control. She has never been rewarded for looking at me as part of our line mechanics, and is unlikely to do so. Her focus is entirely on the course in front of us.
  • When marks are being thrown, Lumi continues with the same erect, alert, focused demeanor. At the moment of the throw, she'll often lift her head even higher, apparently to get a clear view of the fall. If multiple throwing stations are in the field, Lumi's natural tendency is to watch one throw and then immediately look for the next one, sometimes without waiting for the earlier throw to land. That's called head-swinging. We've worked on that as a problem, for example with a game I call the Focus Drill, and Lumi is now unlikely to look away before the throw lands, which as far as I'm concerned solves the problem. We'll continue to play the Focus Game for some time, however, so that the habit becomes strong enough for the more difficult situation of one gun station having fliers waiting to be thrown.
  • Before Lumi learned to be steady, her natural inclination was to launch herself toward the throw immediately. Now she continues to wait, her eyes locked on the last fall, showing an increased edginess as she waits to be sent. When I place my hand over her forehead and say "Lumi", she leaps forward and races to the mark. As I may have mentioned in other posts, Lumi is an excellent marker and often takes a laser-straight route to the fall, on both go-birds and memory-birds. (Note that I use the terms and go-bird and memory-bird even when the thrown article is a training dummy.)
  • If Lumi is running a blind rather than a thrown mark, her demeanor is not much different. Once we are at the SL, she sits and scans the course. If her back is not aligned toward the blind, I use visual cues to reposition her until she is, during which time she only reluctantly takes her eyes off the field for a split-second at a time. I use my forearm as a sight to get her looking in the correct direction, then move my hand back toward her forehead with a cocking motion and verbally cue Back. In this situation, too, Lumi launches herself excitedly. Lumi virtually never no-gos on either a mark or a blind.
  • In the case of a land blind, Lumi typically trots more slowly as she goes out than she would on a mark, but not a great deal more slowly unless she believes for some reason that she is close to the blind. Her demeanor on WSs varies from a somewhat distracted turn-around and sit, finally turning her face to look at me, to a slipped whistle in which she ignores the whistle entirely. Her demeanor on a cast is another launch, generally not as dynamic as her launch from the SL but seemingly happy to be on the way again.
  • In the case of a water blind, Lumi tends to slow considerably or even stop when she reaches water's edge. Her tail continues to wave, but she moves forward tentatively, seeming to look in every direction for alligators or other dangers and testing each step of the water entry to make sure she won't slip or be bitten. Once she reaches what I call the swim-line demarcation between wading depth and swimming, she pushes off unless the entry is steep, in which case it sometimes takes her more time to build up the confidence to make the plunge.
  • Lumi is a strong, confident swimmer, and her demeanor in the water is proud and purposeful. She is generally responsive to WSs when she is swimming, though sometimes she adjusts her swim direction to where she assumes I'm going to cast her instead of turning all the way around to look at me. Since she nearly always guesses correctly, I haven't completely worked out in my own mind whether I should require her to turn all the way around in that situation or not. In recent videos of water retrieves, it is during her outruns swimming that Lumi first comes into view, so that none of the signs of engaged excitement described above have been captured by the camera. The first view of Lumi is her powerful strokes as she approaches the far shore.
  • Recently Lumi has learned from the Wetfoot Drill that if the article can be retrieved without her getting out of the water, she is to simply pick the article up, turn around, and re-launch across the swim-line. Though always edgy in shallow water where she apparently believes danger may lurk, Lumi tends to perform this maneuver in a deliberate and reasonably fluid fashion, then seems back in her element once she has resumed swimming, now cheerfully carrying her prize.
  • If the article is further inland, Lumi climbs out of the water. Though not as pronounced as her water entries, Lumi's water exits also tend to be somewhat cautious, again watching for unseen dangers that she apparently fears might leap out at her from the shallow water or high cover near the shoreline.
  • Once on shore, Lumi seems torn between whether to find the article or shake first. At one stage in our Wetfoot Drill training, I interrupted her retrieve with a WO if she shook, but I later decided that was a mistake and have stopped doing it. It is now rare that Lumi does not shake off almost immediately after getting on solid ground, though sometimes she locates the article, at least visually, first.
  • It is at this stage that Lumi's demeanor drops to its lowest ebb. Lumi seems to struggle between her natural urge to spend as much alone time with the bird as possible, versus her equally natural and also endlessly trained response of picking up the bird and heading back for the delivery. I think Lumi is at a disadvantage here compared to dogs skillfully trained with an ecollar, because those dogs no longer consider this a moment where two viable choices are available. It is precisely because of the difficulty that a 2Q trainer has of convincing a dog a considerable distance away, and on the other side of water, that a slow pick-up will cost her the opportunity to complete the retrieve that Lumi remains mired in what is apparently a difficult decision for her. "Should I pick up the bird and head right back, or should I spend as much time alone with it as I can?"
  • Her difficulty with the pick-up is further complicated by the fact that she, like all well-bred retrievers and especially Goldens, has a soft mouth, making her genetically disinclined to bite down hard on the retrieval article. Goldens are said to have the softest mouths of all retrievers, and Lumi's bite seems soft even by that standard. As a result, she likes to take her time flipping the bird over repeatedly until she finds just the right way to pick it up, and even then may require several pick-ups before she feels confident enough that she won't drop the bird for her to begin the trip back. The fact that this gives her more time to lick and savor the bird, which is what part of her would rather be doing anyway, of course tends to prolong the process. On camera, Lumi's struggles to overcome those natural inclinations and complete the pick-up process, so much more difficult for Lumi than for many retrievers, gives the appearance of a dog most unhappy in her work. The savvy viewer may think, "Since she's under no compulsion, why would she have gone out there if it makes her unhappy to be there?", but none of the excited, athletic body language she exhibited off-camera is available to help understand the answer. The first thing the viewer sees is Lumi anxious to shake off and then begin her internal battle of whether to pick up the bird or savor it as long as possible.
  • It is difficult for me as the handler to know how long I should wait for Lumi to perform her pick-up before considering it an incorrect response and terminating the retrieve with a verbal "Sit" and a WO. I feel it's unreasonable for me to expect her to simply grab the bird and spin around, though of course that's what I'd like to see. I feel I do need to give her a moment or two to inspect the bird's position on the ground and find the right grip. Perhaps I do her a disservice by giving her this time, as it may confuse her about how prompt a pick-up is actually required. Frankly, I don't know the answer to this question. I certainly wish it weren't an issue, as it does not appear to be with many other retrievers, especially those at Lumi's advanced level in other retriever skills.
  • On those occasions when I finally do decide she has exceeded my criteria at that moment for a correct response, I signal her that that is the case by calling Sit and walking out. Having a video record of these incidents, to show how effective they generally are in at least temporarily improving Lumi's pick-ups, is one of my primary motivations in expending the considerable resources required to create a video of the session. Yet it is these very incidents when Lumi is at her most unhappy in the entire panoply of the field training experience. During the time she is on camera, she has lost both the opportunity to lick and play with the bird, and the opportunity to retrieve it, and instead she must sit for interminable moments, the bird only a few inches away, as I walk out to pick her up.
  • Nor would it be consistent with our goals for me to attempt to make the WO a particularly pleasant experience for her. Of course I could call out encouragement, cheer and applaud her impressive sit/stay, and celebrate with play and treats when I arrive at where she's waiting. That would result in a happier dog on camera. But it's not in the interest in her development as a competition retriever to feel good about a poor pick-up, which is the reason for this step in the training. I don't want her to feel bad about it, but I want her to feel a sense of loss that she can avoid in the future with a prompt performance.
  • On top of all that, the camera also misses the last segment of Lumi's retrieve. Lumi has an excellent delivery, and then it's time for rewards, which could be any combination of another retrieve, a treat, a happy throw, a game of tug with a training dummy, or a chase back to the van. For Lumi as for any well-bred retriever, the greatest reward is the intrinsic reward of the retrieve itself, but the extrinsic rewards that I can offer after delivery also seem to have significant value to Lumi, as reflected in her excited engagement in our post-retrieve activities.
In summary, Lumi is a happy dog when we're out field training, happy with nearly every aspect of the game. But our videos unfortunately record the least happy moments of the experience, including her anxiety around shallow water and shoreline cover, her internal struggles with whether or not to pick-up the bird, and worst of all her unhappiness when she faces the consequences of an incorrect response — the lost opportunity to complete the retrieve.

I think it's worth noting that if the retrieve itself weren't so valuable to Lumi, the WO wouldn't work. It is only because it's so important to Lumi that she be allowed to complete the retrieve that her performance immediately improves on the next send-out, and that in turn intensifies the unhappy demeanor she shows when a WO is needed.

If only our videos more accurately reflected the whole of Lumi's true feelings about our field training activities, the sweet and happy dog who has been my beloved companion in these daily adventures.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blinds and Focus/Pick-up Speed Drill

Riggs Road

They've cut the hay on the large field on Riggs Road, leaving around many large bales that will probably soon be gathered up. But for now, this makes the field better than ever for our training, combining reasonable footing with plenty of interesting features for lining drills.

Today was sunny with temps in the 80s, and time was limited as has been so much the case lately. Still, we had time for a nice double blind and a couple of short "quads" for Lumi to work on both focus (rather than head-swinging) and pick-up speed.

All of today's retrieves were with ducks from the refrigerator. Two were fairly old and still soggy from water retrieves in the previous day's session. The other two had been transferred from the freezer the night before and were still frozen and nearly solid. Both dogs have gotten good at picking up older birds on land retrieves, but both dogs had some difficulty getting a good grip on today's frozen birds. It didn't seem to present too much of a problem for either dog.

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

The first blind was to the right at 150 yards. The blind was planted midway between an offset keyhole formed by two hay bales 30 yards apart, that is, away from the closest salient features.

The second blind was to the left at 230 yards. The blind was planted just to the right of a hay bale, that is, near the closest salient feature.

The line to both blinds also passed close to other hay bales on either side.

Obviously one goal in this course was to remind the dogs that they could make no assumption about whether a blind will be near, or away, from features on the course.

SERIES B. Focus/pick-up speed drill (Lumi only)

I saw no advantage to run Laddie on this drill, which would have prolonged our time in the hot sun without working on any area of weakness in his current performance. So I kept him on a slip lead tied to my belt while I ran Lumi.

Series B was actually two series, the same except that the distances on the first one were 10-15 yards while the distances on the second one were 20-40 yards. For both series, as Lumi and I positioned ourselves at the SL, I threw four ducks out in four directions. Before the first one, I used our line cue of "sit, mark", saying no more as I went on to throw all four of them. I delayed a few seconds between throws, a bit longer than would normally occur in an event, because I was specifically working on Lumi's focus. As I threw each duck, I watched her to see whether she took her eye off the fall before I began to swing the next duck. On the one occasion when she did so (looking at me in anticipation), I silently walked out to the duck I'd just thrown and brought it back to the SL, then threw it again. It seems clear to me that Lumi understands from this procedure that the way to keep the game going is to keep her eyes on the fall until the next throw begins. Actually, I don't mind if she looks away earlier than that in anticipation, as long as she does not look away while the throw is still in the air.

The other part of the drill had to do with Lumi's pick-up speed once she was sent out to each bird. Again, she had one slow pick-up, which I interrupted with a Walk Out. Her other pick-ups were excellent, and were not only intrinsically rewarded by the overall retrieval process but were also extrinsically rewarded with praise and treats. One of her pick-ups was a spectacular scoop on the run, and that was rewarded with several chunks of fried chicken liver, delivered rapid-fire one after another as soon as she arrived back at the SL with the bird, amid cheers and applause.

Someday, I'd love to see her pick a duck up that way on every retrieve.

Monday, June 22, 2009

LWLs with Deep Placements (includes videos)

Twin Ponds

Today we ran three short LWL retrieves with ducks placed well back from water's edge. Each of the three also presented cheating opportunities such as points or banks, but the dogs either ignored them or handled easily away from them.

Laddie displayed no problem with his water re-entries after picking up each bird. I would look at today's work as a matter of building habit rather than new learning. Since it hasn't been that long since Laddie had problems with water re-entries, I think it's worthwhile to build as much history of success as possible now that he's doing so well in this area.

Lumi doesn't have a problem with water re-entries, but sometimes she stalls at the pick-up, and in her last two tests, those stalls evolved into rolling in the grass. In one of the tests, the judges disqualified her as a result and she didn't get to run the next series.

In today's practice, none of her pick-ups were sterling, but I only interrupted the second one with a Walk Out. It's difficult to balance the opposing goals of zero tolerance for dawdling, versus maintaining a high rate of reinforcement (ROR) for correct responses. To achieve the latter goal, it's sometimes necessary to start with lower criteria and gradually raise them. For a dog with Lumi's long experience and generally advanced field skills, it's difficult understanding why it should be necessary to lower criteria on something as basic as picking up the bird, but I need to remember that a high ROR is just as important for her now as it was when she was first learning these skills.

Here's a video of Laddie performing his three retrieves:

Here's a video of Lumi performing her three retrieves, including the Walk Out on her first attempt at the second retrieve:

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Training Day, Blinds, Focus Drill in Front Yard

Morning: Cheltenham

This morning, we joined a sister club's training day. With plans at home for the afternoon and a lot of dogs in the advanced group running a complex land series, we had to leave before the water series started.

CONDITIONS: Temps in 60s and 70s, another day of pouring rain, standing water everywhere on course, marshy, knee-high cover. No retrieval article was visible until the dog was within a few feet.

[Note: Each handler informed the acting "judge" how that handler wanted to run the test for the particular dog. Here's how my dogs ran it.]

SERIES A. Land triple with double blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The first mark of the triple, the more difficult memory-bird, was on the left, thrown with a winger from inside a wooded area left to right at 70 yards, with the fall in front of more woods. The second mark was in the center, hand thrown left to right from behind a holding blind into an open area at 110 yards. The third mark, the go-bird, was on the right, hand thrown right to left at 30 yards. I sent my dogs to the right mark, the left mark, and finally the center mark. After the dog picked up all three birds, we waited in a holding blind while the first blind was planted, then we came out to run that blind. The first blind, at 50 yards, was on a line to the left of the left throwing station, with the line running beside the tree line on the left and ending at the point where the tree line curved around and across to the right. The second blind, at 160 yards, was on a tight angle to the left of the center throwing station. Besides the difficult terrain, the long blind was also difficult because it was 10 yards inside a stand of trees. All three marks were ducks, while both blinds were ODs. Duck calls and gunfire were used with all throws.

LUMI. Great enthusiasm throughout the series, no head-swing, the only dog in the group to run pin-point lasers on all three marks despite the fact that only a few of the dogs ran the series as a triple. Excellent job on the short blind, for which Lumi required a single WSC. Poor job on the long blind, with intermittent slipped whistles and poor casting. Ended her turn by making the honor look easy.

LADDIE. Usual exuberance, no head-swing, short controlled break on go-bird, excellent first and third marks (right and center), brief hunt on the left mark, lined the short blind. Great job on the long blind (three WSCs), perhaps the best of all the dogs that ran that blind. Two disastrous returns, with Laddie lying belly-down in puddles. Stood up when bird was thrown while honoring, but no attempt to break.

Afternoon: Oaks Area 2

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

The first blind at 140 yards was thru open meadow ending at a mid-point of a hedgerow. The second blind at 140 yards was thru an offset keyhole formed by a space between two trees in a line of widely spaced trees.

Evening: Front Yard

SERIES C. Focus Drill (Lumi only)

This evening we moved the focus game we've been playing in the living room to our front yard. Lumi ran two "triples", doing an excellent job of keeping her eyes on each thrown article until I turned to throw the next one. The articles were a Dokken, a toy made from two tennis balls, and a plush ring.

Slow Pick-up

Although I've noticed before that Lumi sometimes shows reluctance to pick up an article that's lying in wet grass, today her behavior was especially noticeable during Series C. When the article was lying on the driveway, she picked it up and returned without hesitation. But for the first article thrown onto the lawn to the side of the driveway, she approached it slowly and then firmly resisted picking it up, even when I walked out right beside her and cued "give it" repeatedly. Eventually she did pick it up and we ran back to the SL together, and after that she did better on the other three throws that landed in the grass.

I wonder whether this incident bears any relationship to Lumi's general problem with slow pick-ups, or whether this was a special case.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Land and Water Blinds with Six Videos


Today, I used a videocamera and tripod to videotape our session.

Here are the series we ran:

SERIES A. Land blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

100-yard land blind (duck) thru a narrow offset keyhole formed by trees, slanting across a slope to the right.

SERIES B. Land blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

150-yard land blind (duck, marked with LP) thru an offset keyhole formed by trees, slanting across a slope to the right.

SERIES C. Water blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

140-yard LWL (duck, marked with LP) with blind planted 10 yards up on the embankment. The line to the blind was past a point at 100 yards on the right.

Laddie did reasonably well. Near the beginning, he yelped with frustration at one point (something I don't remember him doing before), but he handled well past the point. Once at the blind, he shopped the two ducks a few moments before starting his return. His water re-entry was excellent, and he came back past the point nicely as well.

Lumi also handled reasonably well past the point, but she rolled on the grass when she got to the blind before getting back up and completing the retrieve. That's a repeat of the behavior she exhibited in the water blinds for the last two Senior Hunt Tests she's been. In one, the judges passed her anyway. In the other, they dropped her because of it. She also exhibited that behavior during an LWL mark in group training a couple of weeks ago. Today was the first time she's done when we were training alone. That was good, because it gave us a chance to work on it in Series E and F.

SERIES D. Water blind (Laddie only)

140-yard LWLWL (chukar, marked with LP) with blind planted 10 yards up on the embankment. The line to the blind was over a point at 90 yards, so the swim was divided into a 90-yard segment and a 40-yard segment.

Laddie has had much more practice going past points than over them, so he chose an initial line to the right of the point. When I cast him to the left so that he was aimed at the point, he yelped but eventually got oriented correctly and swam to the point. He then attempted to run around the end of the point on the right, but accepted handling back to the left and then took a "Back" cast over the point. I could see a splash as he entered the water behind the point, and then he disappeared until I could see him climbing out of the water and onto the far embankment.

Once again, his water-reentry was excellent coming back from the blind, and again after he crossed the point and re-entered the water for the last swimming segment.

SERIES E. Water blind (Lumi only)

40-yard LWL (chukar, marked with LP) with blind planted 10 yards up on the embankment. When Laddie stalled at the blind, perhaps preparing to roll, I used a WO to interrupt the retrieve, then brought her back and ran her again. The next time, she picked the bird and re-entered the water without any apparent thought of rolling.

SERIES F. Water blind (Lumi only)

Another 40-yard LWL (chukar, marked with LP), this time with blind planted 15 yards up on the embankment. Again, Lumi picked up the bird and re-enter the water without any suggestion of rolling.


Below are videos from today's session.

Video of Laddie running Series A:

Video of Lumi running Series B:

Video of Laddie running Series C:

Video of Lumi running Series C:

Video of Laddie running Series D:

Video of Lumi running Series E twice and Series F:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Land Blinds, Focus Drill

Olney Pipeline Right-of-way

While dropping a letter off at a post office about 15 minutes from home, I noticed a right-of-way crossing one of the roads. The right-of-way turned out to be for an underground pipeline. It was 100 yards or so across, and went for miles in either direction. The section I was seeing was covered in mowed grass and had a few scattered recreational features such as trees and a picnic table along one side, though further out the cover was impassible — high, thick, and prickly.

I had left Lumi at home to give her a day off, and decided to use this right-of-way to run Laddie on a few land blinds with ODs:
  • 60 yards with a tight keyhole at 50 yards
  • 130 yards with a tight keyhole at 100 yards
  • 340 yards on a slant across a downhill slope
  • 240 yards on a slant going the other way across the same downhill slope
  • 220 yards
Living Room

In the past, Lumi has shown a tendency for what's called head-swinging. When she's at the SL where two or more throwers are visible in the field, she has a tendency to look at the first one, and then before that article has landed, she's swung her head to look at another thrower. She's especially likely to do this if the go-bird is a flier. Of course, like virtually all field dogs I guess, she knows where the flier station is as soon as she gets to the SL, even though the birds and crates are behind holding blinds.

The problem with head-swinging is that after the dog picks up the go-bird, she needs to pick up the memory-bird or memory-birds, and if she didn't watch where they fell, she won't be able to run as good a mark. Worst case, she might not be able to find a memory-bird at all.

One approach I've taken to Lumi's head-swinging is a drill we do in the living room of our house, which I'll call the Focus Drill. I have Lumi sit beside me while I hold two or three articles such as obedience dummies, plush animals, and small Dokkens. I then throw them one by one in three directions, with a long delay between throws. As long as Lumi keeps her eye on the last article down until the next throw, I keep going. If she takes her eye off an article before I've thrown the next one (generally to look at me), I go and pick the one up that she took her eye off of, then throw it again. Once all the articles are down, I send her to the "g0-bird", and then each of the "memory-birds". As she brings each one back, I give her a treat and send her to the next one.

The Focus Drill is an exciting game for Lumi, because of both the retrieves and the treats, and she is strongly motivated to keep the game going quickly, which means maintaining her focus on the last article down. Over time, she's become increasingly good at it.

I played the Focus Drill with Lumi some months ago, but stopped playing it with her when I decided on a different strategy, which is to run Lumi exclusively on singles except in events. Here's how I proceed when training with a doubles set-up in group training: I come to the line and show Lumi the short gun. Then I ask that thrower to come out from the holding blind to wave a little bit, and stay out where Lumi can see him/her. Then I show Lumi the long gun and call for the long throw. Then I send Lumi to the long mark. Of course, when she gets back, we run the short mark.

I've discussed this strategy with Alice Woodyard in correspondence. While I believe she feels that approach to running singles is beneficial, I think she also feels that it's important for Lumi also to run multiples in practice, for a variety of reasons. One obvious reason is that Lumi needs experience with challenging types of doubles such as hip pockets, reverse hip pockets, and two down the shore.

Now that Alice has suggested that Lumi resume running more multiples, I decided to practice the Focus Drill with her again tonight. We ran three little triples, and she turned to look at me once during each one. Tomorrow we'll do it again. Hopefully, within a few sessions, she won't turn to look at me at all, and then we can move the game outside. During this period, we'll continue to run singles in group training. Gradually we'll increase distractions and distance with the Focus Drill, and eventually it will evolve into real multiples and we'll be ready to run multiples in group training as well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Corridor Picture Drill, Pick-up Speed Drill

Oaks Area 3

At Alice Woodyard's suggestion, I ran both dogs on Alice's corridor picture drill. In today's version, I set up a course with three blinds — on OD, a chukar, and a duck — in a stand of about a dozen trees, so that each blind involved lining thru a corridor formed by one or more trees on each side of the line. The blinds were all in the range of 30-40 yards.

I then ran each dog on several pick-up speed drills in an open area of the same field. Each pick-up speed drill consisted of a multiple of two to five short poorman marks with ducks (in good shape) and/or chukars (in poor shape), quick send-outs after each delivery, high energy, distances ranging from 10 yards to 50 yards, and intermittent extrinsic reinforcement at delivery with high-value treats. Both dogs had excellent retrieves on every send-out, including immediate pick-ups and enthusiastic, direct returns. Lumi's last retrieve was spectacular, with a running pick-up and a race back to me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Land Blinds, Pick-up Speed Drills

Rolling Ridge

Double land blind:
  • 100 yards to a chukar, diagonally across a large ditch and on a slant across a hillside
  • 180 yards to a duck, with opportunities to wrap first on right, then on left, a high-cover point to traverse instead of going around, and a keyhole formed by trees
The point, at 70 yards, turned out to be difficult for Lumi, impossible for Laddie. Lumi required two or three casts before she understood that she was not to go around it. Laddie was only able to run the point correctly when I moved up close to the point to send him.

After the double land blind, we had a session of pick-up speed drills. Both dogs performed exceedingly well, with not a single slow pick-up nor a single poor return.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Land and Water Blinds

Brook Knolls

Double land blind, with both blinds slanting across a hillside:
  1. 70 yards, chukar
  2. 80 yards, duck
Stadler's Pond

Water blind with chukar: 80-yard swim, starting at water's edge, ending with 10 yards thru thick, high cover, then 20 yards uphill.

Water blind with chukar: 25-yard swim to bird in water at shoreline.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Deep LWLs, Hillside Blinds

Local Venues

In our Senior Hunt Tests last Saturday, Lumi went out at the end of the first series because she began to roll on the grass after arriving at the duck on an LWL blind. Laddie was called back to water but went out on the land blind because I didn't stop him as he veered downhill and around a diagonal keyhole formed by two trees.

Accordingly, yesterday and today, when I took the dogs out to train, we worked on both of those issues.

To work on the problem Laddie had, I set up blinds in the range 60-80 yards that involved keyholes and diagonal hill crossings. I wasn't able to set up the identical configuration as the test, but I'll keep watching for an opportunity for such a set-up at the various properties where we train. Meanwhile I set up blinds that had similar elements. Today's, for example, included a narrow (6-foot wide) keyhole at 30 yards, with an easier route beckoning on the outside of the tree on the right, and a diagonal uphill path to the bird. Lumi had no problem with it, but Laddie required quite a bit of handling both on the way out and, using disciplined casting (that is, while carrying the bird) on the return to get him thru the keyhole both directions. I then ran him again with a poorman mark to the same location, and again he tried to go around the keyhole both directions, but was much easier to handle thru the keyholde.

To work on the problem Lumi had, I set up LWL blinds with deep placements of the bird, rather than at or near the shoreline.

Yesterday's blinds:
  • 40-yard swim, 5-yard deep placement thru thick, high cover
  • 60-yard swim, 20-yard deep placement on trail
  • 60-yard swim, 30-yard deep placement made up of 10 yards thru thick, high cover and 20 yards of uphill lawn
Today's blind had the same specification as the last of yesterday's blinds but with a different placement of the bird.

All retrieves both yesterday and today were with chukars, which have been used several sessions and are not in good shape. But the dogs still seem to enjoy retrieving and carrying them.

Lumi Rolling on Deep LWLs

Based on correspondence with Alice Woodyard, I'm inclined to believe that I now have a working hypothesis in regard to Lumi's recent practice of rolling after reaching the bird during deep LWLs, which she exhibited on the water blinds in both of the last two Senior tests as well as on a water mark a week ago training with Bob Hux.

The hypothesis is that for some reason, Lumi feels a really strong compulsion to shake off when she gets out of the water these days, possibly because her skin is so uncomfortable from allergies this spring. Training her not to do so with WOs did not start the rolling behavior, because she had done it at least once before that training began. But the theory is that the training did increase the likelihood of the rolling behavior, by taking away the alternate behavior of shaking to at least partially dry herself off.

I had already decided a few days ago that trying to prevent shaking off was not worth any more trouble, but now, not only have I stopped doing so, but I also regret having tried in the past. It might have been a good thing to train the dogs when they were first learning to retrieve over water, but I'd now say that it apparently was not a good thing to train later on. At least, not for Lumi.

Hopefully, the combination of no longer discouraging shaking off and practicing deep LWLs will prepare Lumi for not repeating the rolling behavior on future retrieves, especially in competition.

Thursday, June 4, 2009



Our last Senior Hunt Test of the season is in two days, so I wanted to give Lumi and Laddie one last tune-up today, then mostly rest them tomorrow. The weather was surprisingly cooperative. Today's temps were in the low 60s, and while it rained almost continuously the whole day, it stopped raining in Cheltenham for the hour or so we were there.

Both dogs ran all series, and ducks were used for every retrieve.

Although I tried to choose significant challenges for every series, Lumi and Laddie both had an excellent day, filled with enthusiastic, high quality performances. I'll note some particulars in the descriptions that follow.

SERIES A. Single land blind

100 yards, starting with a 20-yard downhill slope, passing thru thick, high cover, and skirting a large area of standing water. The water was my primary reason for this set-up, because if Laddie tried to divert to the water on his return, it would give me a chance to interrupt his retrieve with a Walk Out. Instead he nearly lined the blind, needing only a short Over cast near the end, then bowed around the point on his return. "Look, Daddy, I'm going nowhere near that water!"

SERIES B. Single land blind

130 yards, ending with a 30-yard uphill slope, through thick marsh with high cover and standing water. Laddie had stopped to play in that same marshy crossing during Tuesday's group training, but his outrun and return were both flawless. I hope that doesn't mean he's only going to misbehave in event-like situations.

SERIES C. Cheating single

60-yard LWL poorman mark with a 30-yard swim thru a channel that included a narrowing between two points. Laddie is spoiling me. He didn't show the slightest hesitation re-entering the water after he picked up the duck.

I might mention that this week, I've decided to abandon the idea of training the dogs not to shake off on the far side. Weeks of training immediately went out the window when they ran water on Monday and Tuesday, and I just don't think it's worth the effort to try to suppress their shaking off any longer.

The good news is that they seem to have learned that if they are going to shake, they should do so before they pick up the bird, something that I worked on with them for months before I began trying to convince them not to shake at all.

SERIES D. Water sight blind

50-yard LWL sight blind with a 40-yard swim, with the duck planted on a marshy delta.

SERIES E. Water sight blind

20-yard LWL sight blind across a stick pond, with thick, high cover and a steep embankment on both sides, underwater tree stumps and other debris in the crossing. I'm calling it a sight blind because I brought the dogs over to the far side with me when I planted the two ducks, so that they knew where they were when we went back around to run the retrieves. To my surprise, Lumi has gotten braver! I noticed that Laddie had to climb over a submerged log when he ran first. I wondered whether Lumi would skirt it, but she climbed right over it as she went for the bird. She did skirt it on the way back, but otherwise made a bold return as she threaded her way thru other obstacles in the channel.

SERIES F. Water mark

10-yard LWL poorman mark, with conditions similar to Series E: thick, high cover and a steep embankment on both sides, a significant amount of floating and underwater debris in the crossing. Once again Lumi climbed over an underground log on her outrun, skirted it on her return. Lumi's unexpected bravery in Series E and F makes me feel so proud of her. Laddie's effortless LWL returns make me feel the same for him.

I decided to end the session with Series F because it was short yet challenging, an opportunity for both dogs to produce difficult, high quality retrieves without pacing themselves. I had originally planned to end the day with a long swim, but decided that I liked the idea of them carrying their dedicated, driven performances on Series F as their final memories of the day's training.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Adventure Drill, Blinds

The Adventure Drill is unusual in that we can practice in a wide variety of locations and don't need a lot of time per session. In our region, it's easier to find a short retrieve with challenging factors than a long retrieve that looks similar to typical Senior Hunt Test retrieves.

Today, for example, we had three short sessions of the Adventure Drill with a double blind mixed in:
  • Before work, I took the dogs to nearby powerline right-of-way, with high grass in the center and mowed strips around the edges. Having no birds along with us, I used one each of four different kinds of training dummies, and we ran seven quick high-energy series, alternating dogs between retrieves so that each dog got 14 retrieves of about 10 yards. Each retrieve involved a crossing into or out of high cover, several required the dog to go thru a strip of higher cover rather than around it, I cued each return with a three-tweet CIW, I gave high-value treats for each delivery (which I took as soon as the dog arrived without requiring swing to heel nor sit). Both dogs' body language maintained, "I want to go next," and "I want to get back for my treat." That's the kind of attitude I'll want to see in our event on Saturday.
  • After work, I took the dogs to the east side of the trail at Seneca Creek and ran them on another five Adventure Drill series, using two pheasants and four ducks. Two of the series were 10 yards and involved leaping over a log, first one direction, then the other. Another involved a 50-yard run down a path thru the woods, down a steep embankment, across a small, fast-moving creek some of it requiring a swim, and up a steep, slippery embankment to the bird "pile" (closely spaced but not touching one another), then back again for the return. Two more involved crossing a strip of high cover rather than running around it. Same high energy, high motivation.
  • Next we drove over to Oaks Area 2 and each dog ran a double land blind, 70-100 yards with one duck and one pheasant.
  • Finally, we drove back and hiked out on the west side of the trail at Seneca Creek, for another three Adventure Drill series with two ducks and two pheasants. The first was 30 yards thru a narrow path of five-foot high cover and down an embankment onto a muddy beach covered with tangled vines, amongst which I had thrown the birds. The second involved the dog running along a 20 yard path thru high cover and then traversing a short, narrow shelf with shrubs blocking the right and a steep drop to the left. I sent Lumi on her turn three times and each time, when she got to the shelf, she tried to see a way across, tail wagging, but was unable to summon the courage to get across, even when I brought the dogs near the shelf and let her watch Laddie show her the way. Laddie, who bounced across, grabbed a bird, and bounced back without hesitation each time I sent him, ended up retrieving all four birds. After the series, Lumi, walking beside beside me, seemed philosophical and in good spirits as we hiked on, while Laddie was full of himself as always and raced ahead looking for more excitement. The last series was 40 yards meandering thru thick cover and woods, down an embankment, left and out of sight across a rocky beach, across a small, fast, running-depth creek, to the bird pile on a sandy beach on the other side of the creek, then back again. The dog was not visible toward the end of the outrun, but I was able to guess from the sound of splashing when to blow CIW. Based on how quickly each dog came back into sight, neither dog got diverted and both raced back with their birds on each of their two retrieves for a joyful reunion with the pack and high-value treats (sliced roast beef and fried chicken liver).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hunt Test Training

[Note: Time is too short these days for me to write up every training session. Briefly, we continue to train every day with few exceptions. When I don't make an entry in the blog, it generally means we continued working on the same things we've been working on. Recently, it has meant we've continued working on the Wetfoot Drill, the Adventure Drill, and blinds. Yesterday and today's work was different.]

Park Heights and Cheltenham

Bob Hux, the Pro whom Lumi and I began training with in 2007 when we first became involved with field sports, retired this last winter to Florida. But this week, he was back in town helping a friend of his with one of her dogs. He took the occasion to train with two small groups, one yesterday at our Park Heights training area, and one today at Cheltenham. My dogs and I joined him both days.

The training session were typical Senior Hunt Test and WC/WCX practice days, since the dog he's working with is entered in both of those events at the FCR National Specialty north of here next weekend. Each day, we ran a land series first, then a water series.

Yesterday's land series was a single mark because the hay was too high to see our dogs. After the land series, a few of the dogs, including mine, also ran a land blind. Then we ran a water series on the technical pond at that property. The water series consisted of two water marks, and also included a water blind, for those dogs that were running blinds. Both of my dogs did well on every retrieve, which was great. Most importantly, neither one had any problem with returns on the water retrieves. Bob congratulated me on Laddie's LWL return, saying happily, "I never thought I'd see that!"

Today's land series was three marks with a flier for the third (center) mark, plus a blind. The lines to two of the marks and the blind ran thru a marshy low-lying section of the field. Lumi and Laddie, like most of the dogs, ran all three marks as singles. Lumi and Laddie made the marking look easy, but every other dog had trouble finding the flier, and some also had trouble with one of the other marks, or getting thru the marshy area, or both, so I don't think they actually were easy. Lumi and Laddie were also the only dogs in the group ready to run that particular blind, though Bob set up a separate easier blind for the dog he was working with. Laddie ran the blind nicely. When Lumi ran the blind, she needed a WO for a slipped whistle, but then reran it beautifully. I also had both of my dogs honor, but neither got to honor a flier. They both remained steady the entire session.

Today's water series was two marks. Bob had the marks thrown in open water for all the other dogs, but I had my dogs run them as LWL singles, with the ducks thrown on land. The good news (very good news) is that Laddie came right back with both of his. The bad news (very bad news) is that Lumi repeated her behavior from her last Senior Hunt Test and stalled on one of the water marks, repeatedly licking and turning over the bird, then rolling around in the grass. Eventually she picked up the bird and brought it, as she had in the test where she passed, but it was completely unsatisfactory. Unfortunately, on both occasions it was too inconvenient for me to go pick her up. I'm afraid her behavior will only go down hill for that situation. I don't know what's going to happen in our test this coming Saturday.

After the water series, Bob put out one duck as a water blind for the dog he's working with. "This one's too easy for your dogs," he said, "I'll get to them next." After he ran his dog, he put out two more ducks for my dogs, then told me where I should drive around to run them from. This was a 110-yard blind with a very sharp angle entry, open water for the first 80 yards, and then a channel for the last 30 yards, with points angling in from both sides at the entry to the channel. The birds were up on the shore.

Bob didn't know it, but an additional difficulty was that a few days ago, I ran both dogs on a water blind to one of those points. Of course, that's where both dogs aimed for as soon as they were in the water, and my hardest task with each of them was to keep them off that point without swimming over to the point on the other side. Once they were past both points, they needed minimal handling in the channel. Again, I was pleased to see both dogs climb up on shore, pick up the bird, and trot back into the water to swim back. Both dogs took an excellent line back to me thru the channel, without attempting to divert to either of the points.

Afterwards, I told Bob that that blind looked harder than any of the Senior water blinds I've seen so far. He said, "Oh, no, that was a Master blind." It was nice to know that he had that much confidence in my dogs.
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