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:
- I put Lumi in sit/stay at SL near water's edge with 100' line attached to collar.
- I walk across road in opposite direction from water, fire pistol, throw a frozen duck into field.
- I walk to Lumi, use hand cues to turn her around to face water, fire pistol, throw frozen chukar across 10- yard channel.
- 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.
- I send Lumi. She gets right into water, swims across, picks up bird.
- 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.
- As soon as she starts to swim back, I fire pistol a third time.
- 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.
- I call "Lumi". She races to the duck and races back with it.
- I throw the duck maybe three more times for her, not requiring her to sit before throwing, just happy throws.
- 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.