Sunday, October 25, 2009

Assisted Walk Outs and Bulldogs


Because I was working in New York all of last week, and will be there again next week, and because I wasn't able to get out with the dogs yesterday, today was our only training session over a period of nearly two weeks.

To make the most of it, I brought along Austin, a neighborhood kid who's helped with training earlier this year as well.

Both of my dogs have done well with most requirements of the Senior Hunt Test for some time, with one exception: both are unreliable on their returns for water retrieves. This single fault prevented both of them from qualifying in their last test a week ago.

Two address this, Gaby and I began working with the dogs on what I call an Assisted Walk Out (AWO) last Sunday. Today's session was again devoted to the AWO.

Over a period of just under two hours, I set up four series, all the same except that they were in four different locations. Each series was as follows:
  • On my signal, Austin held a duck up for the dog to see, then dropped the duck at the base of a lining pole set back from the bank varying distances (closer at first, further back for the later series), on the opposite side of an inlet. He then walked to a point 10 yards to the left or right and closer to water's edge, remaining as inconspicuous as possible as he walked and took up his new position, holding a second bird.
  • As soon as Austin had taken a few steps, I sent the dog. Each dog became confused in one of the series and swam toward Austin, in which cases I handled the dog to the lining pole. Aside from those incidents, the dog swam straight toward the pole, climbed out of the water, and raced to the pole and the bird.
  • If the dog picked the bird up immediately (I allowed the dog to shake if desired, which happened almost every time) and got back in the water, I cheered and applauded. Then, when the dog was well into her swim back, I called for Austin to throw a "bulldog", that is, another mark while the dog is retrieving the previous one. The bulldog included a gunshot, and was thrown either on shore near the water or in water near the shore. If the dog showed any inclination to turn toward the bulldog, I called her to me. In general, Lumi ignored the bulldogs while Laddie looked at them, but neither dog tried to change direction in most cases. As soon as the dog got to me with the first bird, I took the bird without even bringing the dog heel, gestured in the direction of the bulldog to get the dog turned around, and sent her as soon as she was looking the right way.
  • If the dog cheated around the water on the return (Lumi did this several times, Laddie did not), I did nothing to discourage it while it was happening. If Lumi had done that in our last test, she'd have her Senior Hunter title now, so I don't want to outright ban it. But I then took the bird, brought it back to Austin, and ran the retrieve again. The goal wasn't to use attrition to change her cheating return (which is legal in a Senior test, I believe), but to give her a chance to earn the bulldog by coming back over water.
  • If the dog came straight back with the bulldog, I cheered again, and this time I threw my own bulldog with the first duck, this time into open water to one side or the other. Again, as soon as the dog arrived with the bulldog, I sent her to the open-water retrieve.
  • If the dog dawdled on either the original retrieve or the bulldog, I used an AWO. That is, I called to Austin to pick up the bird, called out "Sit" to the dog, and walked around to pick the dog up. I then slipped on her lead, walked her back to the SL, and ran the identical retrieve again.
The good news is that in every case, the dog had a high-quality pick-up after the AWO. Even better news is that for Lumi in the third series, and Laddie in the fourth and last series, the dog performed perfectly and we didn't need any AWOs.

The bad news is that in the fourth series, Lumi again required an AWO. This could mean that the AWO is only a short-term solution. Or it may simply mean that my dogs have a well-ingrained habit of dawdling on pick-ups and returns and it's going to take a lot of practice with the AWO to replace that habit with the one I want.

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