Thursday, November 26, 2009

Land Blinds

Oaks Area 3 Today

Today being Thanksgiving, it wasn't practical for me to take the dogs very far from home for training, but we did get in a short session:

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

The first blind was to the right at 60 yards. The line to the blind was diagonally across a ditch and steep hill and past foliage on the left. The second blind was nearly 180° around to the left at 80 yards. The line to that blind was thru a wooded area and up a short slope. The third blind was in the middle at 140 yards. The line to the third blind was over a ditch and past foliage, first on the right, then on the left, forming a narrow line of sight for the last half of the blind and an opportunity for the dog to get lost out of sight on either side if she veered.

Laddie's performance was spectacular, with great WSs, accurate casts, and his exuberance in top gear. Lumi's performance was more mundane, and since she does not like to sit on wet ground, I didn't require her to sit on my whistles. But she did a good job of stopping and turning to look at me on every whistle, took good if not great casts, and never came close to requiring a Walk Out for non-responsiveness.


20091126 Series A 60-yard blind
Series A 60-yard blind

20091126 Series A 80-yard blind
Series A 80-yard blind

20091126 Series A 140-yard blind
Series A 140-yard blind

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

First Session in Prospect Park

Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY

The good news: Lumi and Laddie are staying with me at my new lodging in Brooklyn, as I have to spend alternate weeks in New York for my new job. I chose a place a few blocks from Prospect Park, which has huge, rolling fields plus off-leash hours 9 PM to 9 AM.

The bad news: I haven't been able to find any place up there to do water training, and I have no one to throw marks. It may be too cold for water anyway, but with L&L's Senior Hunt Tests coming up December 5-6 in South Carolina, I sure wish we could do something besides private training in the next few days.

Well, we ran some blinds on Tuesday morning. Besides the hills, the dogs had to maneuver thru keyholes formed by trees and an even more difficult challenge, other dogs and people on their route to and from the blinds. Laddie was spectacular, remaining responsive on WSs and accurate on casts despite all the distractions. Lumi found it more difficult, but did reasonably well once I got one little black dog to stop hounding her.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Preparing for Senior Hunt Tests

Rolling Ridge

It was too cold this morning for water work, so the dogs and I drove to a nearby area we've used for training in the past, a field near an abandoned farm house, for some land work.

Initially I just planned to run both dogs on Series A, an interrupted double more difficult than anything we'd see in a Senior Hunt Test, as overloaded preparation for the Seniors the dogs will be running in South Carolina in a couple of weeks.

However, Series A turned out to be too difficult for Lumi to perform well, so I also set up Series B for her as a more typical Senior-level series.

All marks were "thrown" with RLs launching weighted streamers to planted ducks. All blinds were unmarked ODs.

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

The first mark of the double was on the left, thrown right to left at 90 yards. The second mark was 90° to the right, thrown right to left at 50 yards. After both marks were down, the dog was sent to pick up the short mark on the right. Then the dog was run on two blinds. Finally the dog was sent to pick up the longer mark on the left.

The first blind was at 120 yards, on a line to the right of the launcher for the left mark. The second blind was at 130 yards, on a line just to the left of the first mark's fall.

  • The wind blew from behind the SL toward the memory-bird (the 90-yard #1 mark on the left), so the dog could not scent either mark without running past it (for #1) or to its left (#2).
  • The dog had to run into high, dry, prickly cover to pick up the go-bird.
  • The dog had to go into a large depression in the ground to pick up the first blind.
  • The dog had to go thru the same area of prickly cover as for the go-bird to get to the second blind, and also had to go up a step.
  • The dog had to ignore the diversions of a number of trees and shrubs on the various lines.
  • The dog had to traverse the hilly terrain on a variety of angles tending to pull the dog off line.
  • Remembering the memory-bird on the left while running three other retrieves. This isn't only a memory problem, it's also a confidence problem. During the interruption after picking up the first mark, the dog is required to rely on the handler to find the two blinds, but afterwards, the dog must return to self-reliance to drive towards, and if necessary hunt for, the memory-bird.
  • Handling well on the blinds while the memory-bird has not yet been picked up. I found when I first tried this that my dogs tended to slip whistles and take poor casts.
  • As described above, the series also had a variety of other challenges.
Laddie's Performance

Laddie ran a superb Series A, showing confidence on every retrieve. He seemed to understand at the SL that the second and third retrieves were interruptions in the double; that is, he lined up as I directed him to, made no attempt to veer toward the memory-bird while running the blinds, and remained responsive on all whistles and reasonably accurate on all casts rather than having his handling fall apart because the memory-bird was still out there. Yet he raced unhesitatingly to the memory-bird when finally sent to it, pinning it just as he had the first mark. It was a stunning performance.

Lumi's Performance

Unfortunately, Lumi, running second, had the problems I'd anticipated as possibilities. Though she was responsive on most WSs during her blinds, her casting was poor which resulted in extra WSs, and eventually she needed a WO for a slipped whistle on each blind. I attribute those problems, which are not typical of Lumi's blinds, to the presence of the memory-bird. Yet by the time she had completed both blinds and I sent her to the memory-bird, she took a few steps and stopped, a dreaded no-go, very uncharacteristic of Lumi. When I tried calling her back and sending her again, she pranced out in the right general direction but clearly had no idea where the memory-bird was.

I then reset the launchers with Lumi attached by my lead to my belt, and ran her on the simple double. She still needed a big hunt on the memory-bird.

At that point, I wanted to give Lumi more confidence on her doubles, so I moved the SL and set up Series B just for Lumi, leaving Laddie in his crate in the van.

SERIES B. Land double with blind (Lumi only)

The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 100 yards. The second mark was 60° to the left, thrown left to right (converging) at 40 yards. After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran a 60-yard blind on a line just to the left of the RL for the left mark.

The memory-bird, that is, the 100-yard mark on the right, was thrown from in front of one tree to in front of another tree, and the line to the mark was across a ditch and thru an area of high, dry, prickly cover. The go-bird, that is, the 40-yard mark on the left, was in front of a wide cluster of shrubs. The blind was planted to left of another cluster of shrubs.

Lumi ran Series B nicely.


20091122 Series A 90-yard mark and 120-yard blind
Series A 90-yard mark and 120-yard blind

20091122 Series A 50-yard mark and 130-yard blind
Series A 50-yard mark and 130-yard blind

20091122 Series B 100-yard mark
Series B 100-yard mark

20091122 Series B 40-yard mark and 60-yard blind
Series B 40-yard mark and 60-yard blind

Friday, November 20, 2009

Eliminating Verbal Recall

During the last week, we've trained almost every day. We've trained three times at Cheltenham, once on a nearby field, and once, today, at Twin Ponds.

The day we trained on the field, Lumi and Laddie each ran a triple blind, 50-90-140 yards.

The other days were all land-water-land retrieves. I had given up on water work earlier this fall because the weather had gotten so cold, but it warmed up again and I'm seriously considering running them in a double Hunt Test in South Carolina in December. Accordingly, I felt we should focus on the one problem they both had in the last test, and that Laddie has had on a continuing basis, which is returning across water.

This week, I made a new change in our training procedure. The results have been so excellent that I wonder if the new procedure could have been used all along, but I'm not sure whether that would have been possible. If I ever train another retriever, I'll try it this way for sure.

The change was simply to forego any voice cues for recall. In the case of water retrieves with the bird on land, I wait for the dog to reach the duck and shake off, which both of my dogs invariably do when they get to the bird, or sometimes earlier as they get out of the water. When they are standing at the bird and have shaken off, I blow come-in whistle (CIW) one time. Our CIW has evolved to tweeeet-tweet-tweet-tweet.

For water retrieves with the bird in water (which have never been a problem) or at the shoreline, I blow CIW as soon as the dog is about to reach the bird.

Once I blow CIW, either the dog picks up the bird and comes back, or she doesn't. I give her a moment to pick up the bird, and if she doesn't do so, or if she does so but doesn't get back in the water, or if she does so but then puts it down again, I instantly call "sit" and walk around the shoreline to her. When I arrive, I slip on her lead, walk her gently back to the SL, and run her again. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I call this procedure of picking the dog up a Walk Out (WO). The important modification for this week's sessions was eliminating the voice recall, also continuing to drastically curtail tolerance for dawdling on the pickup and water re-entry.

I've used this procedure at least a dozen times with each dog. Laddie has had almost no WOs, while Lumi has had 4-5 WOs total. In not one instance has either dog required a second WO on the same retrieve, and both dogs have had fewer and fewer need for WOs as the week has progressed, with neither dog requiring a WO in either yesterday's session at Cheltenham or today's session at Twin Ponds. To me, that adds to the evidence that the WO has at least a short-term reinforcing effect on high-quality pickups and returns.

Eliminating the voice recall seems to have strengthened the effectiveness of the WO. Perhaps this is because it simplifies the context and response equation for the dog. Perhaps it's because the verbal recall acts as a reinforcer for the undesired behavior of dawdling, and eliminating that reinforcer has led in the direction of extinction of the dawdling. Perhaps some other force is at work. For whatever reason, it seems clear that use of a voice recall is detrimental to my dogs' performance, at least at this stage in their development.

We also continued with change I made a month ago, but it has only applied to Lumi, as it turns out. That change was to permit the dog to run the bank on returns, while still requiring a straight line from the SL to the bird. Laddie has not attempted this, though I would permit it, even encourage it, if he did so. Lumi, on the other hand, has taken advantage of this option several times, and it seems to have significantly improved her confidence and motivation. I only regret not teaching it to her earlier in her career. As mentioned in an earlier post, she would have earned her Senior Hunter title on our last test if she had known this option was available to her.

The photo below shows one of our more challenging and interesting retrieves over the last week. The distance is 100 yards, and the line requires the dog to go on and off one point, then past a second point on the right. Another challenge is that section of water on the far side of the first point is a stickpond with considerable underwater debris as well as tree stumps visible at the surface.

Lumi, running second, had great difficulty being handled into the stickpond, requiring many casts as she repeatedly tried to stay on the first point, veer right to the second point, or come back in toward the SL, all in order to avoid the stickpond. She did finally complete the retrieve, however, and had no difficulty with her return, on which she steered to the left side of the debris, then turned back in toward the first point.

When Laddie ran this retrieve, by contrast, he leapt into the water, accepted handling to keep him from veering too far right as he swam hard to the first point, took a WSC back off the first point with a second exuberant big air water entry, drove hard toward the lining pole with complete disregard for debris, decoys, tree stumps, leaves and any other diversion, grabbed the dummy (I had inadvertently left our ducks at home for this session), trotted back into the water, and swam straight back, again ignoring the second point and then crossing the first point, finally climbing out and cheerfully delivering his prize. I was stunned at the quality of his performance and how easy he made it look.


20091120 LWLWL retrieve

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lumi's Low Thyroid

[This is a note I sent to Alice and Jody about Lumi's low thyroid.]

Here's something I don't think I've mentioned.

I'm 99% convinced that a large part of Lumi's pickup-speed problem was low thyroid. The problem has largely disappeared since she's been on thyroid Rx.

I have never really understood Lumi's slow pickup. She wants to complete the retrieve, she wants the next retrieve, she's not especially distracted by the environment (unlike a certain other dog who shall go unnamed). So what's the problem?

OK, I can see that cold water is a problem. Big problem for 2Q dogs, I think. But never mind that.

What about the pickup for a land retrieve? Why should that have ever been a problem for Lumi?

I think the answer might have been energy level. Often Lumi would run out, then walk the bird or dummy back. In fact, her returns were getting slower and slower over time, one of the reasons I wondered if she'd stay sound enough to make it to Master.

I now think that the return had an aversive quality because of her low thyroid, minimal food intake, and low energy. Her slow pick-ups might have been an avoidance, or at least postponement, response.

I also noticed that her feet seemed much more sensitive to certain terrains than other dogs. I'm not sure if that might also be a thyroid issue, or might be an allergy issue.

Oh, they may be tied in. Low thyroid has skin allergies as one of its symptoms.

Anyway, it's wonderful to see Lumi run out, pick up the bird or dummy, and run it all the way back in. That's what I'm seeing more and more.

I can hardly wait for competition to start again in the good weather. Lumi's just a hair's breadth from her SH. Laddie's not much further.


Triple with Reverse Hip Pocket and Blind

Oaks Area 2

On a gorgeous fall day, we continued our preparation for Master tests next year.

Training alone, we used RLs with weighted streamers and frozen ducks for the marks, ODs for the blind.

The terrain was calf-length cover, thorny in places, with uneven footing.

SERIES A. Land triple with reverse hip pocket and blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

The first mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 70 yards. The second mark was in the center, thrown left to right at 100 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown left to right at 50 yards. The line to the second mark ran just behind (on the left of) the RL for the third mark. After the dog had picked up the three marks, the dog ran a 160-yard blind to the left of the left mark.

The first mark, the final memory-bird, had a row of trees 50 yards further back as a backdrop, providing possible suction for the dog to overrun that mark, since marks are often thrown near the treeline.

All first and second marks were planted in cover. The third mark, the go-bird, was in a tractor wheel's rut.

The line to the 160-yard blind was thru a keyhole formed by a break in a line of trees at 140 yards.


Series A was designed with several training objectives in mind:
  • Practice a triple mark, something Alice has emphasized as a key for Master preparation
  • Practice a keyhole blind
  • Practice a reverse hip-pocket double, in which the long mark is thrown "on the heels" of the short thrower, that is, so that it lands on a line that runs just behind the short Gun
  • If the dog had needed handling on the second mark (the long throw of the reverse hip-pocket), the dog would still need to run with confidence on the last memory-bird, the first bird down and the only bird thrown right to left; this objective was not met in today's session, because neither of my dogs needed handling on any of the marks


These days, I rarely use stickmen with RLs, so in effect all guns are "retired". Usually that strengthens the challenge and requires the dogs to pick up visual data such as background scenery rather than depending on the sight of the thrower.

However, today's challenge on the second mark might have been made more difficult if I'd used a stickman at the RL for the shorter third mark, since that might have thrown the dog's line on the longer mark off line or even made the longer mark more difficult to remember. I'll try to bring along a stickman for next time I run a hip pocket or reverse hip pocket.


Though both dogs bowed around areas of thorny ground cover on two of the marks, they both ran to all three birds with enthusiasm, showing confidence in their focus and lines from the moment I lined them up.

As always, both dogs also had exuberant send-outs on the blind. For the return, Laddie has always run training dummies back, and Lumi used to do so. Now that Lumi has been on thyroid medication for several weeks, she has once again been doing so, rather than walking them back as she had been doing increasingly earlier this year.


20091108 70-yard mark
Series A 70-yard memory-bird, first down, last retrieved

20091108 100-yard and 50-yard reverse hip-pocket double
Series A 100-yard and 50-yard reverse-hip pocket

20091108 160-yard blind
Series A 160-yard keyhole blind

Saturday, November 7, 2009

First Quad

West of Zion Park

SERIES A. Quadruple land marks with blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

This was the first quad either of my dogs has run, or at least the first I can remember.

All marks were "thrown" with an RL and weighted streamers, using a pre-positioned, frozen duck. The blind was an OD.

The first mark was at middle right, thrown right to left at 100 yards. The second mark was at middle left, thrown right to left at 70 yards. The third mark was on the far right, thrown right to left at 60 yards. The fourth and last mark, the go-bird, was on the far left, thrown left to right at 50 yards. The 230-yard blind, run after the dog had picked up all the marks, was between the first and third marks, and also thru a keyhole formed by huge powerline towers. All five retrieves were contained within a 120° angle.

The terrain for this series was calf-high cover with uneven footing and some thorny foliage. The backdrop was woods, which turned out to be a factor for Lumi on the go-bird. She has apparently become accustomed to birds being planted near the treeline when woods are the backdrop, and for the go-bird, the treeline was at 100 yards, while the throw was only at 50 yards. That didn't fool Laddie, but Lumi ran right over the bird and all the way to the treeline, then needed to be handled back so she wouldn't go after the second bird down, which was at the treeline. Unfortunately, the come-in cast is the most difficult for Lumi, and while she remained nice and responsive on every WS, she took a lot of WSCs before she finally came in and got to the bird.

Aside from that, Lumi took good lines and did a reasonable job on her other three marks, and handled reasonably well on the longish blind.

By contrast, Laddie, who had run first, did an outstanding job on this, his first quad. He ran with purpose straight to every mark, picked it up and raced back. He then handled beautifully on the blind. His only flaw was that on his third send-out, when I intended that he pick up the second mark at 70 yards, he decided immediately he was going to pick up the longer first mark at 100 yards, a bit to the right of where I sent him, instead. I was concerned that he might have forgotten the second mark, but no, when he got back with his third bird and I lined him up for the second mark, he locked in on the correct line immediately and nailed it. He made the whole series look easy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Delayed, Interrupted Triple with Blind

Nearby Field

SERIES A. Delayed, interrupted land triple with blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

For today's series, I used three remote launchers with weighted streamers and pre-positioned frozen ducks, and an OD for the blind.

The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 60 yards on an angle back from the RL. After the dog watched the first mark thrown, the dog was handled to the 160-yard blind to 75° to the left, then sent to pick up the first mark. With the dog accompanying me on lead, I then placed a duck at 70 yards nearly in line with the blind. Back at the SL, I used another RL to throw another mark on the right, thrown right to left at 110 yards on an angle in from the RL, and on a line that took the dog thru the fall from the first mark. The last throw was on the right, left to right at 70 yards, the bird that I had gone out and planted after the dog had picked up the first mark and the blind. After the last two throws, the dog was sent to the 70-yard mark on the left, then the 110 yard mark on the right.

As I understand the terminology, this was an interrupted series because the dog ran the blind after watching the first mark thrown, but before picking it up. And this was a delayed series because the last two marks were not thrown until the dog had picked up the blind and the first mark.


My primary objective with this series was for Lumi and Laddie to practice running a blind even though a mark had been thrown and not picked up. Both dogs did well, with no attempt to veer toward the first duck while running the blind.

A second objective was to work on memory-birds. The second mark was a memory-bird because it was run after the dog picked up the third mark as the go-bird first. That was a normal double. The first mark was also a memory-bird, but a more unusual one in that the dog was first handled to the blind, then had to remember the memory-bird that had been thrown earlier. Both dogs retrieved that memory-bird without handling, but Lumi pinned it whereas Laddie required a moderate hunt to find it.

An objective related to the second objective was giving the dogs practice with retired guns, that is, gun stations where the thrower disappears from sight after throwing the mark. One advantage to working with RLs is that they are usually invisible from the SL, effectively acting as retired guns.

A third objective was practice with a convergent double, the second and third marks.

A fourth objective was practicing an angle-back and an angle-in throw, the first and second marks respectively.

A fifth objective was practicing running thru a previous fall, from the first mark, to get to a later bird, the second mark. This was difficult for two separate reasons. First, advanced dogs have learned not to run the same line twice, so in the unusual case where they are sent on the same line, they tend to veer around the first fall, taking them off the line to the second fall. Second, if they stay on the correct line or find their way back to it, they can be distracted by scent from earlier falls on the shorter throw and have difficulty driving thru the area of that fall to the longer fall where the bird is.

In addition to those challenges, another objective was to build motivation by rewarding the difficulties of handling on the blind, and the interrupted retrieve of the first mark, with the relatively easy and exciting double of the second and third marks.


Series A 60-yard mark

Series A 160-yard blind

Series A 110-yard mark

Series A 70-yard mark

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Land Blinds

Nearby Field

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

The first blind was to the right at 60-yards, across hilly terrain and thru a narrow keyhole formed by conifers. The second blind was in the middle at 70-yards, with diagonal hill crossings. The third blind was to the left at 140-yards, with diagonal hill crossings on a tight angle to the preceding blind.


20091101 60-yard blind
Series A 60-yard blind

20091101 70-yard & 140-yard blinds
Series A 140-yard and 70-yard blinds
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