Saturday, July 25, 2009

Land-water-land Marks, Pool Swimming, Recall as a Reinforcer

Mt. Ararat Farms

Again today, Lumi, Laddie and I trained with Gaby and her three dogs. Today we focused on weaknesses in the various dogs with respect to LWL marks, so that elements that were hard for some of the dogs (such as marking and angle entries for some of Gaby's dogs) were easy for other dogs, while elements that were hard for other dogs (such as speedy pick-ups for both of my dogs) were easy for the first dogs. None of the dogs were overfaced by any of the retrieves, but each of them had some particularly difficulty to work on.

A flock of five ducks swam in the pond we were using the whole time we were there. My dogs chased the ducks when we first got there, but once Gaby and I began throwing marks (dead ducks) for one another, all of the dogs did an excellent job of taking straight lines out and back on all their retrieves while ignoring, or at least not chasing, the live ducks.

We ran a total of five retrieves for each dog, all on different lines. My dogs did well on every aspect of each retrieve with the exception of their pick-ups.

Laddie's pick-ups were not bad, but they weren't as great as his land pick-ups generally are. His pick-ups seemed somewhat more reluctant on the later retrieves, when the ducks we were using had lost a lot of feathers and become water-logged, and that alone may have accounted for his difficulty. He never seemed to consider rolling, he had no trouble with his water entries, and his returns were good.

Lumi dawdled on her first pick-up. After that, I asked Gaby to wait until Lumi arrived at the fall, then circle around behind Lumi and approach her. I requested that if Gaby reached Lumi before she had picked up the duck, she should pick the duck up herself. That happened on the next retrieve. I called across the pond for Gaby to throw the duck in the direction of the pond, and Lumi ran to it, picked it up, and completed the retrieve.

On the next two retrieves, Gaby again circled around, but each time Lumi picked up the duck and brought it into the water before Gaby reached her.

On the last retrieve, I asked Gaby to stay in her thrower's location unless I called for help. On that retrieve, Lumi had a good pick-up and immediately headed back to me.

After our work at the pond, Gaby and I took the dogs swimming in Gaby's pool. This seems to be great fun for all the dogs, though poor Lumi often has her dummy taken away from her by one of the other dogs during the retrieval games we play. Yesterday, Lumi had difficulty learning to jump off the edge of the pool into water where she couldn't touch bottom, but she learned the skill yesterday and today had little difficulty with it.

Gaby had warned that one of her Chessies was likely to dominate the other dogs, but Lumi used evasive maneuvers to avoid difficulty with that dog, while Laddie had no difficulty getting in the Chessie's face, even taking dummies away from the Chessie several times. It was amusing to watch, as it seemed to come as a surprise to the Chessie that that could happen to him.

Recall as Combined Cue and Reinforcer

I have been experimenting with a suggestion from Helix Fairweather, an Internet friend for five years who coached me when I was training Lumi for agility. In recent correspondence, Helix has reminded me that a previously reinforced cue, especially a highly reinforced cue like recall, also acts as a reinforcer for the previous behavior in a chain or sequence (a chain being a sequence that's always repeated the same way).

Based on Helix's recommendation, the last few sessions including today's, I've begun calling "Here" as soon as my dogs pick up the bird on a retrieve, even though both of them already seem proficient at returning once they have the bird in their mouth. In this case, the recall is not to cue an activity the dog is confused about, but rather to reinforce the pick-up.

I haven't yet been able to detect an improvement in either dog's pick-up difficulties on LWL retrieves, but I have noticed a subtle reaction to my cueing "Here" in that way. Both dogs tend to look at me, perhaps lift their ears a bit, and perhaps increase their speed toward the water entry, suggesting that the cue is improving their motivation. I plan to continue doing it, at least for awhile, unless I see something to suggest that it's doing more harm than good for some reason.

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