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.

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