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.

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