Sunday, December 27, 2009

Interrupted Triple with Wiper

Oaks Area 2

After a major snowstorm a few days ago, the ground has been too treacherous for training. But a couple of days of rain, followed by a beautiful, sunny, and relatively warm day today, gave the dogs and me an opportunity to get out for some training day.

Today's series was almost a mirror image of the last triple we ran, though today with only one blind.

SERIES A. Interrupted land triple (Laddie, then Lumi)

While the dogs waited in the van, I placed an LP as our SL and planted two ODs as a blind. I brought Laddie out to run the series first, then put him in his crate and ran Lumi. That used up the time we had available. Here's how I ran each dog.

With the dog waiting at the SL, I walked 100 yards to the left of the line to the blind and threw a frozen duck left to right. I walked across the line to the blind, over to the right side, and threw a second frozen duck left to right at 90 yards into an area of widely spaced trees, the bird landing in a shallow pool of standing water five yards behind a tree. I walked across the line to the blind again, back to the left side, and threw a frozen chukar left to right at 50 yards, so that the line to the first mark was under the arc of the third throw. For all throws, I blew a duck call and fired a pistol. After throwing all three marks, I returned to the SL to run the dog.

First, I ran the dog on the blind, between the first and third marks on the left and the second mark on the right. The blind was an OD at 190 yards, thru a break in the treeline and up a hill. Next, I sent the dog to the go-bird, the 50-yard mark on the left. Then, to the second mark, the 90-yard mark on the right. Finally, to the first mark that was thrown, the 100-yard mark on the left.

Both dogs handled well on the blind, apparently comfortable with the idea of running blind before picking up the marks. Laddie's casts were more accurate, but both dogs were responsive on all WSs and stayed within a fairly narrow channel. Both dogs also picked up all three birds without difficulty, though Laddie's routes were straight to each fall, while Lumi bowed left on the two longer marks, as though she were running toward where she remembered me throwing from and then veering right when she got close. Another explanation is that she might have been avoiding some of the large areas of standing water.

Both dogs showed great enthusiasm on their outruns, and Laddie also raced back on every retrieve. Lumi's returns were more leisurely for some reason; one possibility is that she may be having some discomfort in her hips and wrist from the cold.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Tight Triple

Oaks Area 3

As the winter solstice approaches and every day is shorter, today we arrived at our field with the sun already disappearing behind the horizon. I rushed out and planted an LP as our SL, planned a series I'd been thinking about, planted two blinds for each dog, got Laddie out of the van, ran him on the series (he did great, though my poor planning resulted in one out-of-sequence event), put him in his crate to avoid van-destruction, got Lumi out of the van, ran her on the series (she ran with nice enthusiasm and control, but her marking wasn't quite as good as she's capable of), let Laddie out so the two of them could play while I put all the gear away, and finally we packed up and headed home.

It was a compact session and a compact course. Here's a description.

SERIES A. Interrupted poorman triple with wiper and two blinds (Laddie, then Lumi)

First I walked out and threw the rightmost mark, a frozen duck right to left at 110 yards. Next I crossed toward the left and threw the leftmost mark, a frozen duck thrown from in front of a tree right to left at a 100 yards, with the fall on the far side of a low crest traversing the left side of the field. Then I crossed back and from beside another tree that was to the right of line to the first mark, threw the center mark, a frozen chukar thrown right to left at 60 yards, in an arc over the line to the first mark so that it landed on the left of the line to the first mark. Such a throw is called a wiper bird perhaps because the throw resembles a windshield wiper, perhaps because the mark tends to wipe out the dog's memory of the earlier, longer mark in the same general direction.

After throwing the three marks, I returned to the dog, who had been watching at the SL, and ran the dog on all five retrieves in the following order:
  1. The first blind, an OD at a 100 yards on a line between the second and third marks, sitting atop the low crest mentioned earlier, and just to the left of a hedgerow.
  2. The go-bird, that is, the last bird down at 60 yards in the center.
  3. The shorter memory-bird, that is, the bird on the left at 100 yards on the far side of the low crest.
  4. The second blind, an OD at 160 yards on a line over the same low crest, a little to the left of the left mark, 15 yards past a stand of trees on the right and in front of the line of trees that separates this field from Oaks Area 2. Running this blind also required the dog to run across a hill sloping downward from left to right most of the way to the blind.
  5. The longer memory bird, that is, the first mark on the right at 110 yards.

Here are some of the challenges intended by this series, in intended order of difficulty, most difficult first:
  • The first mark at 110 yards was intended to be difficult to remember. It was in an open area with no nearby visual markers, it was retrieved after two other throws and four other retrieves, and a wiper bird was thrown over its arc as the go-bird. However, neither dog seemed to have any trouble with this supposed challenge, both dogs running straight to the fall when finally sent.
  • The first blind at 100 yards, run before the go-bird and on a line between the go-bird and the shorter memory-bird, was intended to be difficult to control the dog on. This challenge worked better than I intended, as Laddie raced in the correct direction when sent but at the last moment veered off to the memory-bird on the left, getting to it before I could stop him with a WS. I don't try to discourage my dogs once the dog has gotten to a bird, even if it's not the bird I intended, so I cheerfully blew a CIW, and when he delivered that bird, then I ran him on the first blind. At least I was able to keep him to the left of the go-bird, which he had to run past on both the first two retrieves.
  • The 160-yard blind was also intended to be somewhat difficult. All three marks, two of which had already been picked up, were to the right, one of them on a particularly tight angle. The blind involved running across a downslope and crossing over the low crest, and it risked losing the dog behind the stand of trees at 145 yards, especially because the earlier blind was planted right next to a similar formation. However, neither dog had any difficulty with this blind.
  • I intended that the dog would have some difficulty remembering the left memory-bird at 100 yards, which was to be run after two other retrieves and was on the far side of the low crest. Laddie had no difficulty with this mark (he picked it up when I was trying to run him on the first blind), and Lumi seemed by her demeanor to remember it. But she overran it and I took the opportunity to switch her to handling and practice an angle-in cast to bring her back in.
  • Any mark can be a problem, and I thought it possible that the dogs might have a little trouble with the go-bird in the center at 60 yards, since the dog had first run the blind on a line slightly to the left of the go-bird, and in Laddie's case he had also run the left mark at 100 yards. But both dogs easily pinned the go-bird when sent to it.
  • Because these were poorman marks, they were all in effect retired guns. My dogs have often retrieved under those conditions, however, and didn't seem to have a problem with it in this series.
  • All five retrieves were within a 75° angle, a tight course that could have caused some confusion of the different lines but didn't seem to.
  • The SL was in the midst of a dozen or so widely-spaced trees, so every line had additional distractions on both sides as the dog started each send-out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Water Return in Cold Water


With time extremely tight, all we had time for was to drive to Cheltenham, run our water drill, and drive back. I had hoped to get in some land work locally, but work interfered and now its too dark.

So here's a description of today's water return drill. Per Alice Woodyard's suggestion from her original description of a drill along these lines, I ran Lumi first, while Laddie waited in the warm and running van, specifically in his crate where he could bark like crazy but not tear up any more roofing or chew thru any more seatbelts. When I'd let Lumi back into the van after her turn, I ran Laddie on the same series.


The steps we followed:
  1. I put Lumi in sit/stay at SL near water's edge with 100' line attached to collar.
  2. I walk across road in opposite direction from water, fire pistol, throw a frozen duck into field.
  3. I walk to Lumi, use hand cues to turn her around to face water, fire pistol, throw frozen chukar across 10- yard channel.
  4. I carefully observe Lumi. Is she showing reluctance to get in water? Not at all, she is her usual self at the line after bird has been thrown, hardly able to contain herself. She is coiled and ready to go.
  5. I send Lumi. She gets right into water, swims across, picks up bird.
  6. I do not need to use line to bring her back. As soon as she picks up the bird, she gets back into the water and swims back.
  7. As soon as she starts to swim back, I fire pistol a third time.
  8. When Lumi arrives, I take chukar and give her a large chunk of fried chicken liver. She gobbles that down, while bouncing around looking toward the duck I threw earlier.
  9. I call "Lumi". She races to the duck and races back with it.
  10. I throw the duck maybe three more times for her, not requiring her to sit before throwing, just happy throws.
  11. I dry her thoroughly with a dry towel, let her into the warm, running van, and give her a little cheese as her usual reinforcement for hopping in the van.

The description for Laddie is identical to the description above for Lumi with one exception:

The throw across the pond was right next to a wooden footbridge. I haven't used the long line with Laddie before on this drill, but because he dawdled a little on his return last time we ran this, I decided to use the long line today.

When Laddie got to the other side and picked up the bird, I wasn't fast enough taking up the slack and he ran the two yards to the footbridge and came across that way.

So I put him back in a sit, fired the pistol again, threw the bird again, and sent him again. This time, the moment he picked up the bird, I took up the slack on the line. As soon as he pulled against it and realized he couldn't go any direction but back toward me, he got right into the water again and swam back.


I recognize that retriever trainers in general are adamently opposed to training in cold water. I understand that Mike Lardy has a water thermometer and won't train in water if it reads below 56°. I got myself a water thermometer, too, and had planned to follow that same policy.

But Alice's suggestions a few days ago reminded me of some things. First, my own dogs often swim spontaneously in ice cold water. Just a couple of days ago, when I let the dogs out to air when we first arrived at Cheltenham, Laddie jumped in the stickpond and swam across to the little island. He explored for a few moments and then swam back. I had nothing to do with it. Similarly, Lumi used to go swimming at Black Hill when we'd go for a hike along the lake there. I remember one time that her leg cramped up when she came out. I rubbed it and helped her warm up, and soon her leg relaxed and she could walk normally again. Then she jumped back in the water to swim some more.

Secondly, this isn't just my own dogs. As I understand it, hunting dogs often swim in water so cold that they break ice. Competition dogs sometimes encounter events with icy cold water, including the event we attended in South Carolina a few days ago. I'm not aware of anyone saying that hunting or competing in ice cold water makes dogs dislike swimming.

I understand that my dogs would rather not enter water on their returns if the alternatives including eating the duck or running a bank. But I don't think that necessarily means that if I take those alternatives away by using a long line, and their only choices are to get back in the water with the duck or get back in the water without the duck, that that means they're going to learn to hate water. They may just decide that it's more fun to get back in the water with the duck and stop considering any other alternative. That's certainly what I hope and expect to happen.

Considering that we've run this drill on three icy days so far, and they are as enthusiastic as ever when I line them up for their water retrieve, I honestly feel that Alice's advice was right on the money.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Switch to Handling Mode, Carrying Casts

Oaks Area 3

With darkness falling around 4:30 PM and my work preventing me from getting out during the day today, I thought we'd work on a short course with a reasonably difficult job for the dog: when running a mark, to switch instantly to handling mode and carry a cast in a completely different direction.

We ran two series, mirror images of one another. In each case, the sequence was as follows:
  1. With dogs in the van, I planted two frozen ducks at the blind location, 100 yards from SL.
  2. I brought dog to SL and left dog there.
  3. I walked out, threw a poorman mark with a frozen chukar to about 50 yards. Threw it high so dog could see it against the sky in the twilight.
  4. Walked back to SL. Dog was focused on chukar. With whistle in mouth, I sent dog, who raced toward chukar. Halfway out, I blew WS.
  5. If dog didn't stop, I called out SIT and went out to pick the dog up, then sent the dog again.
  6. Once dog stopped, I cast the dog to the blind, 30° to the left or right of the line to the chukar.
  7. If the dog didn't carry the cast, I intended to use a WO for that also, but it didn't come up today.
  8. When the dog got back with the blind, I sent the dog to pick up the chukar.
  9. Walking back to the van, I gave happy throws with the chukar several times.
For Series A, the 100-yard blind was to the right and the chukar was thrown toward the left. Series B had a completely different SL, the 100-yard blind was to the left, and the chukar was thrown toward the right.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Water Retrieve, Double Land Blinds


On a cold, wet day, with intermittent rain and a thin sheet of ice covering the ponds and channels, I took the dogs to Cheltenham with the intent of training with Charlie's group, but we had the place to ourselves. I found out later they had moved the training day to Saturday to beat the bad weather front that rolled in last night.

SERIES A. Water retrieve (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series A was an attempt to execute an idea that Alice Woodward suggested to me: Instead of giving up on water entirely during the winter, run occasional water retrieves no more than one per day, even in cold water, then create a highly reinforcing outcome (combinations of gunfire, land retrieves, happy throws, tug). Finally, dry the dog and putting the dog in a nice, warm vehicle.

Today's Series A was our first attempt to carry that plan out.

With the dog waiting at the SL, I walked 50 yards to a mound, fired a gunshot, and placed a frozen duck, white feathers up, on the face of the mound. I returned to the dog, fired another gunshot, and threw a frozen chukar across a 10-yard wide channel in the opposite direction as the mound. I sent the dog, and when the dog re-entered the water on the return, I fired a third pistol shot. When the dog delivered the chukar, I lined the dog up and sent him/her to the duck at the mound. When the dog raced back with the duck, I threw the chukar as a happy throw, ran with the dog to the van, throwing the bird a few more times. I then dried the dog with a dry towel and put the dog in the van, which I'd left running with the heat turned up.

The above description worked great with Laddie, exactly as described.

With Lumi, the first time I tried it, she stalled at the far side so I cued "over", directing her to cheat around the channel for her return. I wouldn't object to her doing that in a test, but I still wanted a water return as well.

So I put on her collar and attached a 100-foot line, then threw the chukar again. Lumi swam across but again wanted to cheat on her return. I used the line to draw her back into the water, and she swam back to me, leaving the chukar behind. I then sent her back for it, and this time she picked it up and came straight back to me. Then I sent her to the duck on the mound, which she was thrilled to retrieve.

SERIES B. Double land blind (Laddie, then Lumi)

For both dogs, the first blind was 90 yards thru a narrow keyhole into a cluster of trees, using the chukar as the blind. Laddie lined it. Lumi slipped her first whistle, but then I realized she needed to go to the bathroom. After she was done, I sent her again. She veered a little right, I blew WS, she sat nicely, then took a good cast to the bird.

For Laddie, the second blind was thru a wet, boggy depression, thru high cover, and across a road to the frozen duck at 180 yards. Laddie ran it on a single cast.

For Lumi, the second blind was across a different section of the road to the frozen duck at 120 yards. Lumi overran it and while responding nicely to every WS, had difficulty with the CIWs. So that's something we need to work on.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Poison Bird Land Blinds

Oaks Area 2

With Austin along as my only helper, I thought today would be a good opportunity to work with both dogs on running a blind after a bird has been thrown, but before the bird has been retrieved. I believe such throws are called poison birds (PBs). I don't know whether PB would be picked up in a test; I always have my dogs pick them up after they've run the blind.

First I put out two ODs at one location, and two ODs at another location 20 yards away. That was a mistake, I should have set them further apart. No harm was done, I just needed to alter how I ran Series B a little.

SERIES A. Land blind with poison bird (Laddie, then Lumi)

The throw was on the right, a WD thrown left to right at 60 yard. After letting the dog watch the throw, I had the dog move to my other side as information to the dog that we were not going to run the bird that had just been thrown at this time. I then ran the dog behind the thrower, that is, just to Austin's left, on a 120-yard blind. When the dog returned with that dummy, I sent the dog to pick up the one that had been thrown.

Laddie veered slightly right when sent on the blind. I blew WS, and he took a nice angle-back left cast. Running full-blast as usual, he ran past the intended blind, ignoring my WS, and picked up an OD from the other blind, another 20 yards further along the same line. I viewed that as a set-up error, since both the dogs interpret a whistle near a blind as a cue to pick up the bird rather than sit, and that's all Laddie was doing. He did a great job of ignoring the PB when running the blind, then pinned the mark when sent on the second retrieve.

Lumi needed several WSs and angle-back-left casts to keep her away from the PB, but she remained responsive and enthusiastic the entire time and eventually was far enough along that she was able to get on a good line and stay on it. She had no trouble finding the intended blind and bringing me one of those ODs. Then she, too, pinned the mark that had been thrown as a PB when sent on it.

SERIES B. Land blind with poison bird (Laddie, then Lumi)

Series B was intended as a mirror image of Series A, and somewhat shorter. The mark thrown right to left as a PB was at 50 yards, and the blind run behind the thrower to his right was at 120 yards.

Two notes on Series B:
  • Laddie apparently remembered where he had picked up the blind from Series A, and that another OD was still there. As a result he tried to veer left to that blind when sent to the blind for Series B. But when I blew an insistent WS and cast him to the right, he took the cast and seemed excited to discover that another OD was also waiting for him in that direction. Of course, Laddie always seems excited.
  • Lumi ran her blind nicely, but overran her mark, which was thrown in the shadows. It looked like she would need a long hunt, and I know many trainers would have let her find the dummy that way. I have seen her hunt and I felt confident that she would find it eventually, but I decided instead to use one of my pet theories: That it's good once in awhile to have the thrower help, even if the dog could have found it herself, because it reminds the dog that throwers don't throw their articles very far, so there's no point in ranging 200 yards away on hunts.

[to be uploaded]

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