In November 2007, Lindsay Ridgeway developed a series of performance tests as a method of training Lumi and Laddie, his two Golden Retrievers, for field sports. This is the journal of their progress through that series and beyond. Contact: LDRidgeway at gmail dot com.
Series A was a xmas-tree triple (that is, the longest mark in the center) with the long mark retired. Distances were 190-170-80 yards. Laddie has made excellent progress on retired guns and seemed to have no difficulty remembering the existence of the first mark after nailing the other two, and took a line that arced only slightly toward the original position of the retired gun, and then back on line, when he ran the final mark.
Series B was another xmas-tree triple with the long mark in the middle retired, in a different field. Distances were 280-230-130 yards. Laddie nailed the first mark, needed handling on the second mark since he veered offline toward the center and apparently intended to pick up the middle mark on his second send-out, and nailed the long mark with a remarkable, laser-straight outrun despite the thrower hiding and despite having to traverse a diagonal upslope that crested 60 yards from the fall.
Series C was a triple blind, in a third field. Distances were 130-140-80 yards, with the shortest blind run last. For a straight line to the first blind on the left, the dog had to run a narrow keyhole between two trees thru a small area containing trunks and branches from one or more fallen trees, which the dog could not traverse without leaping over some of the debris, and also had to ignore the middle blind, whose bumpers were visible 20 yards to the right of the blind the dog was being sent to. Laddie was the only dog today to take the path thru the keyhole.
A continuation of the advanced "decoy blinds" drill I've been running Laddie on periodically the last few days.
Today's series was four blinds run from the same SL, all in the range of 170-220 yards, and all featuring keyholes with lines between narrowly spaced trees. The first and last were to blinds at the foot of LPs. The middle two were what I call "decoy blinds": The blinds themselves are unmarked, but the dog is required to ignore LPs nearly the same distance as the blinds and within a short distance of the blinds (in this case, within 20 yards), sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right.
The reason for also running the dog on one or more blinds marked with an LP in the same series is to prevent the dog from becoming overbalanced and coming to believe that the blind is never marked with an LP. The goal is for him to rely on instructions from the handler, rather than trying to guess whether the blind is, or is not, at a particular landmark.
[Today and at times in the future, I'll submit a very brief post, in hopes of maintaining a record of Laddie's training even in situations where my time is too limited for a complete description or commentary.]
TUE at Mt A with Gaby:
Quadruple blind. LPs as decoys on 1st three, then last one to an LP at 170 yards. Laddie did well on all the blinds, was only one of four dogs to line the last blind. Lumi didn't run these.
ILT with middle gun retired. Lumi couldn't remember the middle gun so I brought the thrower out for her to see him. Laddie (and all of Gaby's dogs) were able to run the middle gun correctly without apparent difficulty.
420-yard land blind. Though I like running Laddie on big blinds, this wasn't a great set-up on my part, because with the wind, the whistles were apparently nearly inaudible to the dogs. Nonetheless, Laddie took an excellent line much of the distance, including across a cornfield. He overshot and went out of sight for several seconds, but when he came back and became visible, he took a nice WSC to the blind.
Today was another training day at Gaby's dairy farm fairly typical of our winter sessions. Gaby provided gunners for us in the form of her sons and their friends, enabling us to have throwers for land triples in two series. We also ran the dogs on one blind.
The temps were just over freezing with a 10 mph NW wind, but the day was bright and sunny and not too uncomfortable for those of us (the adults) who dressed warmly.
Gaby ran Buster, her yellow Lab, and her two Chessies, Wes and Gus. I ran Laddie on all three series, and Lumi on a pared down version of the session.
Per plans we had made the last time together, today we ran fairly short xmas-tree (pyramid) triples with the middle gun retired.
SERIES A. Land triple with retired gun
For Series A, the first mark (WB) was in the center, thrown left to right at 170 yards. The second mark (WB) was on the left, thrown left to right at 130 yards. A tape was positioned as a target so that the fall for the second mark was within 10 yards of the line to the first, longer mark, creating a hip-pocket double configuration for those two marks. The third mark (black bumper) was on the right, thrown left to right at 90 yards. As the dog was returning from that last mark (the go-bird), the thrower for the first mark retired, so that the dog could no longer see a white coat at that station while running the second mark and finally the long mark.
The first and second marks were not only tight and thrown in the same direction, but they were both thrown in the shadow of woods with the thrower next to the treeline, which angled toward the SL. The idea was for the two throws to be as similar as possible, making the longer one with the retired gun that much more difficult for the dog to remember.
The long mark was also thrown into the middle of a corn field, creating a terrain barrier that might push the dog off course.
Lumi ran as the second dog, running only the two shorter marks as a double, since I didn't think that a run thru a cornfield would be a good mark for Lumi to run. Lumi's leaping-in-the-air enthusiasm as she came to the line, and her turbo-charged outruns, were a joy to behold. However, as she has been doing recently, she stalled on the way back during all of her returns today, requiring me to come out to meet her and walk her back to the SL for the next retrieve, or to the van after the last retrieve of each series.
Laddie ran as the fourth dog and nailed all three marks. In contrast to his work a few weeks ago, where he had some difficulty with xmas-tree triples featuring a retired center gun, Laddie's performance in this session and the previous one, and perhaps other recent sessions, has greatly improved. It appears that he is now able to memorize the position of even long falls without having to rely on the gunner staying visible.
SERIES B. Land blind
Series B was a 170-yard land blind (OB). Though not particularly long or arduous, it was extremely tight, requiring the dog to cover 120 yards of low cover, then navigate diagonally thru an equestrian ring and a small skateboard park before avoiding an opening in the hedgerow to the left of the line, which seemed to act as suction for most of the dogs, and instead picking up the bumper in deep shadow in front of the hedgerow itself.
When I set Series B up, I was afraid the unusual obstacle course might be too difficult at those distances, and I decided not to even try Lumi on it. Laddie, however, did a great job, responding to whistles on reasonably tight sits keeping him within a narrow corridor, and taking high quality casts that he carried well.
SERIES C. Land triple with retired gun
As I often do in setting up courses for our sessions, I tried to emphasize a particular lesson for the dogs by setting up our second set of marks as a mirror image of the first one, though on a different part of the field. For Series C, the first mark (black bumper) was in the center, thrown right to left at 140 yards. The second mark (WB) was on the right, thrown right to left at 120 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the left, thrown right to left at 90 yards. As the dog was returning from the third mark (the go-bird), the thrower for the long mark in the center retired behind a large tree. Series C had no significant terrain changes, and was run entirely on low, frozen cover.
Though some of the dogs arced a bit offline running the second mark, the primary challenge of Series C was the retired long gun in the center. Besides the difficulty of the thrower retiring, the original throw was a bit difficult to see because it was a black bumper thrown against the background of tree branches, and the bumper was also a bit difficult to spot as it lay on the ground after the throw. As in Series A, the configuration of Series C featured a hip-pocket double for the first and second marks, which the dog did not begin until after picking up the shorter and wider go-bird. And as in Series A, the landscape features for both of the first two marks were strikingly similar, in this case because the thrower threw from a position a little to the left and in front of a prominent tree in both cases.
Lumi again ran second, and I decided to run her on the full series. However, after Lumi easily picked up the two shorter, outside marks, it appeared to me that she had no idea where the long mark in the center was. I got on the radio and asked the thrower to return to his throwing position, and unbidden he also faked a throw. Lumi then easily nailed the last mark. In Series C as in Series A, her outruns were as enthusiastic as they were accurate, while her returns were painfully slow.
Laddie again ran fourth, and again nailed all three marks, making even the center mark with the retired gun look easy.
I'll begin with some notes about our current approach to training, and then describe today's session.
After using BBs extensively for private training with Laddie, I learned from Alice that for some skills, such as running long marks, I might actually be doing more harm to Laddie's marking than good. Since then, I've limited use of BBs and stickmen to the go-bird on multiples, when no thrower was available. I may also use BBs as hidden guns on short series if we practice Hunt Test set-ups, but I don't plan on using BBs, even with stickmen, to simulate stations other than a short go-bird for Field Trial set-ups.
As a result, our practice sessions now fall into two categories: private training, where we work only on blinds; or training with at least one other trainer, where we work on a variety of set-ups. In most cases recently, the other trainer is my good friend Gaby, who also trains her yellow Lab and her two Chessies in various combinations in different sessions. Today, for example, we trained at Gaby's dairy farm, and Gaby worked with the Lab and one of the Chessies.
Although I don't plan to compete Lumi again in the future, I often bring her with Laddie and me to training sessions and run her on some of the marks. My primary goal for this is to keep up her conditioning. Because blinds, difficult terrain, really long marks, and challenging elements such as retired guns don't seem enjoyable to Lumi, I don't run her on those. She enjoys multiples, so I modify the set-up to run her on those when possible. Other times, I limit her turn to running singles, and don't have her run those that I don't think would be enjoyable to her, for example a single that required running across a corn field.
Does Lumi enjoy our training sessions? Well, Lumi usually doesn't share Laddie's enthusiasm about getting in the van to leave home when I say "Want to TRAIN?", and she's sometimes excruciatingly slow coming back from a retrieve. But she's always excited coming to the SL and seems highly motivated on her outruns. I think she enjoys them when we're out there though she may not always look forward to them in advance, and I also think that keeping up her conditioning will improve her quality of life long-term as well as in the present.
As a matter of policy, I avoid using this blog as a training journal for other people's dogs, but of course Gaby has her own training objectives for her dogs, and modifies the set-ups as appropriate. For example, the Chessie she was running today has developed a head-swinging problem, so Gaby ran the series as singles with the dog running the long marks first. Gaby's Lab, Buster, is a little more advanced than Laddie thanks to months of almost daily training with a pro last summer, and they usually run the same series in our practices. But sometimes Gaby modifies the series for Buster. Today, for example, she had Buster run the long mark in Series B as a single before having him run the entire series as a triple.
Today, we were fortunate to have Gaby's two sons, and two of their friends, available as throwers, allowing us to man gun stations for two triples. Since Laddie and Gaby's dogs run plenty of blinds when each of us trains alone, and since blinds are typically not combined with marks in Qualifying Stakes, we decided that to save time today, we'd just have Laddie and Buster (Gaby's Lab) just run the triples.
Lumi and Gus (one of Gaby's Chessies) ran some of the same marks, but modified according to their levels. For example, Lumi ran all the marks of Series A as singles, and the two shorter marks of Series B as a double.
The weather has been subfreezing for several of our recent sessions with Gaby, including today's. But it was mostly sunny with a north wind at 6 mph, so conditions weren't too bad.
SERIES A. Land triple with retired gun
For Series A, the first mark (WB) was in the center, thrown left to right at 180 yards, with the gunner retiring to the woods behind the gun station while the dog was running the go-bird. The second mark (black bumper) was on the left, thrown left to right at 70 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the right, thrown left to right at 260 yards. The dogs were sent to the marks in the reverse order of the throws.
The intended challenges of this series were as follows:
Such a long go-bird is unusual, especially combined with such a short memory-bird thrown immediately beforehand. Aside from that, the go-bird was on the long side but with the thrower remaining visible, none of the dogs had any difficulty with it.
FT dogs sometimes have difficulty with short marks, and in Series A, the second mark was not only short but was a black bumper thrown onto the downslope behind a small crest in the terrain, making it invisible from the SL and on most of the outrun. I thought that Buster or Laddie, running the series as a triple, might overrun the short mark, but both seemed to have a clear memory of it, taking laser lines and pouncing directly on it once they cleared the crest.
The final memory bird, the retired gun in the center, had a number of challenges: First, from the SL, the thrower appeared to be standing to the left of two horse-jump standards, with the throw arcing over the standards. But actually, the standards were only half the distance of the thrower and fall from the SL, so the dog would have to push past the standards. Second, if the dog flared the right standard, that would put the dog line offline to the right. Third, the first mark combined with the short second one made up hip-pocket double. That is to say, they were tight and thrown in the same direction, with the short throw seeming from the SL to land just behind the long thrower, though actually the long thrower was actually another 110 yards further back. With the long gun retired, and after running two other marks first, that can make it difficult for the dog to remember that the long mark even exists, and some dogs will flare too wide to avoid running too close to the line of a previous mark.
Laddie did an excellent job on all three marks. He nailed the first two retrieves on a laser. For the retired gun, he took an initial line too far to the left, toward the still-visible short gun, but at 50 yards out he corrected his line, raced just to the right of the right jump standard, and from there straight to the fall.
SERIES B. Land triple with retired gun
For Series B, the first mark (WB) was in the center, thrown right to left at 350 yards, with the gunner retiring to a mound behind the gun station while the dog was running the go-bird. The second mark (black bumper) was on the left, thrown right to left at 170 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the right, thrown left to right at 90 yards.
The intended challenges of Series B were as follows:
The go-bird presented no challenges for dogs at the level of our dogs.
The memory-bird on the left was a black bumper, so the dog had to remember the fall without being able to see the bumper. A snow field was behind the thrower, and the sun, fairly low in the sky, was also behind the thrower, both of which made visibility of the thrower, even in his white jacket, somewhat difficult.
The long memory-bird in the center was difficult for several reasons: First, the thrower and the throw were both difficult to see against the background, and at that distance, the gunshot was faint. Second, the thrower stood in front of one of several visible mounds in that direction, increasing the difficulty of remembering the throw after the gunner retired. Third, the long mark was fairly tight to the second mark, and both were thrown in the same direction, with the potential making the longer retired mark even more difficult to remember. Fourth, the line to the long mark was across a corn field. Fifth, the area of the fall had several possible diversions, including the snow field on the left (a basin for a future pond), woods behind the fall on the left, the mounds behind the fall, and a barn to the right of the fall. And sixth, just the considerable distance. My estimate of 350 yards is conservative; it may have been more than 400 yards.
For Series B, Laddie was unable to spot the long gunner until I called for motion and a hey-hey. He seemed to get a good look at the throw, however, despite the difficulty of seeing both the thrower and the bumper. Once the other marks were down, he again nailed the first two retrieves. When I sent him on the long mark, he again veered toward the tight gun on the left at first, but again corrected his line and raced past the gunner. However, he popped twice, once just before entering the corn field, and again just after coming out of it, both times well over 200 yards from the SL, where he sometimes loses confidence that he's supposed to be that far out and is most likely to pop. As always, I just continued looking at him when he popped without moving a muscle, and he quickly spun back around and resumed his exuberant outrun. Once he reached the correct distance, he hunted for several seconds, but never left the area of the fall. I thought it was an excellent mark and excellent series, considering the challenges.
I don't always have time to describe our training sessions, but today's was fairly typical of our recent sessions with Gaby and her dogs these days.
Today Laddie and I went out twice for training. In the morning we went to one location on worked on skimming high cover. In the afternoon, we went back out and worked on inline triples.
For our morning drill, I used an LP with tape waving at the top to mark where I planted an OB, then ran Laddie from the other side of a curved section of high cover. Laddie could easily see the LP from our SL, and could reach it by veering slightly off line to avoid the high cover. I ran him repeatedly from a variety of distances, always calling him back if he tried to veer around the cover, or if he dove too deeply into the cover.
For that first part of the session, Laddie was always entering the cover on his right. After he seemed to have mastered retrieves in that direction, I moved the LP to the other side of the cover and also switched our SL, running a similar series of retrieves while giving Laddie an opportunity to practice entering the cover on his left.
Muncaster Mill Farm
For our afternoon session, we drove to the huge hayfields off Muncaster Mill Road, which I was told by a hunter were once private cornfields but are now owned by Maryland state.
I set up the stations for an inline triple (ILT) with three stickmen spaced 40 yards apart, two with BBs and one with an RL. I had Laddie ran three ILTs from various locations 80 yards from the shortest mark and with all the throws angling back, to either left or right depending on where the SL was.
For the first two ILTs, I left all the stickmen up. For the third ILT, I brought Laddie to the SL while all three stickmen were up, then went to the middle station and removed that stickman, then returned to the SL to run Laddie.
[I wrote this from memory several days after the session. Laddie has been making gradual progress with several concepts, and I wanted to record some of the intermediate steps we've been using.]
After yesterday's preparation with LPs, today Laddie again ran diagonal ditch crossings, but this time with a black bumper placed at each of four locations without any marker. He nailed the first two retrieves, but tried to change directions in the ditch for the second two. In each case, I called him back and ran him again, rather than letting him succeed at completing the retrieve when he veered while in the ditch.
[I wrote this from memory several days after the session. Laddie has been making gradual progress with several concepts, and I wanted to record some of the intermediate steps we've been using.]
Since Laddie and I were training alone today, and since Laddie had squared a ditch running a retired mark yesterday, I thought that today we'd practice staying on line for diagonal ditch crossings. I set up four LPs, each with four bumpers (some white, some black), at various positions on one side of the ditch, and ran Laddie from various positions on the other side of the ditch, so that Laddie had to cross the ditch on one diagonal or another for every retrieve.
Despite the fact that Laddie had squared the ditch on one crossing yesterday, he surprised me by running every retrieve today without squaring a single time.
Lumi came with us today and seemed to want to do some retrieving, so I saved one bumper at each pole for Lumi to pick up. But to Lumi protect Lumi's hips, back, and wrists, we moved up so that she didn't have to traverse the steep elevation changes of the ditch, which also saved her sensitive, arthritic feet from having to run thru the rough, prickly terrain on the floor of the ditch.
[I wrote this from memory several days after the session. Laddie has been making gradual progress with several concepts, and I wanted to record some of the intermediate steps we've been using.]
Today Eric was again training with us, so I used the opportunity for Laddie to try a big xmas-tree triple with the middle gun retired.
All of the marks required Laddie to cross a large ditch on a diagonal. The go-bird also required him to run around a broken tree branch in the ditch, and the second mark required him to run thru high cover in the ditch. Despite those difficulties, Laddie nailed the go-bird and nearly nailed the second mark. But for the first mark thrown, which Laddie ran last and which became retired as he was returning from the go-bird, Laddie squared the ditch, stayed on that line with the result that he passed the mark too wide, looped back behind the gun, and finally circled back to the mark.
[I wrote this from memory several days after the session. Laddie has been making gradual progress with several concepts, and I wanted to record some of the intermediate steps we've been using.]
Oaks Area 2
With my son Eric training with us today, I set up stations for inline triples (ILTs): Eric's chair with an umbrella and WBs in the middle, stickmen and BBs 30 yards in either direction.
Laddie ran four ILTs. As we continued from one series to the next, I moved our SL to various locations, sometimes at a 90° angle from the shortest station, sometimes at a 60° angle, increasing the distance to the second and third marks. Distances to the shortest station varied from 90 to 120 yards.
For the first two ILTs, Eric stayed visible throughout the series. For the second two, Eric retired by opening the umbrella in front of him while Laddie was returning with the go-bird.
Last time we trained on the hilly fields off Newcut Road, about 20 minutes from here, they were farmland. Today, dozens of construction vehicles were parked in one section of the field, and most of the fields had been cleared, leaving only packed dirt and an occasional survey flag on a wooden pole. A few large areas of meadow, fringed by strips of high grass, remained, so I ran some of today's series on the packed dirt and others on the meadow. But the meadow ground was stubbly and though Laddie continued to sprint on his outruns as he always has, he slowed to a trot on his returns thru those meadows. Since he normally gallops on his returns, I suspect the ground stubble was causing some discomfort. Since I don't want to create a negative association with retrieving, we probably won't work on those stubbly surfaces in future sessions here.
Conditions: a sunny day with blue skies, temps in the low 60s, and a light wind from the south.
NOTE ON POORMAN "RETIRED GUNS"
In today's description, I again use the term "retired" to describe what is really a hidden gun. This is the best I've been able to come up with for working on retired guns when we're training alone. Although the gun station is not visible at the moment the mark is thrown as with a true retired gun, I do allow Laddie to see the field with all the stickmen visible when I'm first lining him up, and I also allow him to watch me walk to the stickman, lay it down, and walk back. This sequence enables Laddie to get a good picture of the field with all the guns visible, then run the marks with one of the "gunners" hidden, somewhat resembling a retired gun concept.
SERIES A. Land blind
Series A was a 160-yard blind thru the meadow. The "judge's line" required the dog to maintain a narrow corridor and go thru a small section of high cover the dog could easily cheat around.
SERIES B and C. Inline triples, one gun retired
For Series B and C, I set up stickmen with two BBs and an RL in a line spaced 40 yards apart, all throwing in the same direction, in line with the stickmen. The middle mark fell into a depression and out of sight from the SL, while the longest mark fell on the facing side of a hill. The running surface of the hilly field was packed dirt. The SL was 120 yards from the closest stickman, at a 105° angle to the line of the gun stations.
For Series B, I brought Laddie to the SL, showed him the gun stations, then cued "sit". As he waited, I walked to the closest gun and lay the stickman down on the ground behind the RL. Then I returned to the SL, fired the three launchers longest first, middle second, shortest third, and sent Laddie to them in reverse order of the throws.
For Series C, I again left Laddie in a "sit" at the SL as I walked out into the field. I stood the stickman back up at the shortest station, re-planted a WB for that mark, and reloaded the weighted streamer into the launcher. Then I walked to the middle station, lay that stickman on the ground behind the BB, and walked back to the SL. There I fired the three launchers and ran Laddie in the same sequences as before.
Performance on Series B and C
For Series B, Laddie nailed the shortest mark, then ran a good line toward the second mark in a depression but overran it and headed up the hill to where the longest mark was. I blew WS and gave him a come-in cast. He ran straight to the middle dummy and brought it back. On the longest mark, Laddie needed a big hunt which took him both long and behind the gun, but he stayed within a reasonable hunting area and eventually found the bumper.
For Series C, Laddie nailed every mark. I was especially pleased with his performance on the middle memory-bird, because he took a perfect line despite the fact that both the stickman and the bumper were hidden from view at the SL.
SERIES D. Land triple with long gun retired
Series D was an xmas-tree configuration. The first mark was in the middle, thrown by a BB right to left at 220 yards into a depression. The second mark was on the left, thrown by a BB right to left at 190 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown by an RL left to right at 70 yards.
In order to "retire" the middle gun, I brought Laddie to the SL, showed him the stickmen at each of the three gun stations, cued "sit", walked out to the long gun station, lay that stickman down behind the BB, walked back, fired the three launchers, and sent Laddie to pick up the three marks in reverse order of the throws.
Laddie nailed all three marks. I was especially pleased by his performance on the last retrieve, since both the stickman and the bumper were hidden from view at the SL. I also hoped that mark on the left would add to the challenge, since it was almost as far as the mark in the middle, requiring the dog to remember that another mark still lay in that same general direction at that same general distance though both the "bird" and the "thrower" were no longer visible.
SERIES E. Land blind
Series E was a 260-yard blind across hilly meadowland. A narrow corridor for Series E required the dog to run thru a small patch of high cover at 130 yards when it would be easy for the dog to skirt the cover on either side.
Yesterday Laddie and I participated in a training session with Patty's group running big reverse hip-pocket doubles and blinds at the set-aside field, and a some private water work at Mt. Ararat Farm. Today, Laddie and I trained at lunch time at the field I found near my office and resumed work on ILTs.
Today, instead of walking out to the three stickmen and throwing the marks, I used two BBs and an RL with a WB at the stickmen for both of the ILTs. We used the same three gun stations twice, with two different placements of the SL:
Series A: The SL was 40 yards from the closest stickman and at a 90° angle.
Series B: The SL was 60 yards from the closest stickman and at a 60° angle.
Laddie nailed every mark of both series.
Afterwards, Laddie ran a 270-yard blind featuring two diagonal keyholes, one between two trees at 100 yards, the other thru the frame of a soccer goal at 250 yards.
Today, Laddie and I continued our work on in-line triples (ILTs). At the end of the session, Laddie also ran a couple of blinds.
For the five ILT series, we used three stickmen in a line at 30-yard separations. For each series, I put Laddie in a sit at the SL, walked to the longest station and threw that mark in line with the stickmen and away from the SL, walked to the middle station and threw that mark in the same direction, walked to closest station and threw that mark in the same direction, and finally returned to the SL and ran Laddie on the three marks in the reverse order thrown. All marks were WBs, I called out hey-hey and fired a pistol for all throws, and all throws were about 10 yards. No two series were run from the same SL, and no two series in a row were run with the same throws.
The angles of the line from the SL to the closest stickman, versus the line of the stickmen, and the distances from the SL to the closest stickman, were as follows:
Series A: 90° and 70 yards
Series B: 90° and 90 yards
Series C: 90° and 110 yards
Series D: 45° and 50 yards (by 45°, I mean that the line of stickmen extended away from the SL at a 45° angle, rather than running horizontally as in the previous series)
Series E: 60° and 40 yards
Laddie nailed all the marks in Series A, B, and C. For Series D, he needed a small hunt on one of the marks, so I moved the angle closer to horizontal for Series E and reduced the distance.
Once again, Laddie nailed all the marks for Series E. He consistently took an initial line at the stickman, then veered in front of it and ran straight to the bumper. I think that's a pretty good strategy for running ILTs, at least for now.
Series F was a 500-yard+ blind (OB), with the line to the blind crossing thru two short strips of rough, high cover. In each case Laddie started to veer around those strips but accepted handling thru them.
Series G was a 280-yard blind (OB). Although the field was dotted with hay bales and I required Laddie to stay within a tight corridor, he made it look easy.
Today I again set up three stickmen in a line with 20-yard spacing to work with Laddie on in-line triples (ILTs). Each SL was at an LP placed 90° from the line of stickmen, forming an L-shape. Every throw was a WB thrown seven yards in line with the bumpers, all thrown in the same direction, all thrown with a gunshot as Laddie waited at the SL. We ran six series at gradually increasing distances from the closest stickman: 30-40-50-60-70-80.
Laddie did a great job on every series except one, the first time we ran the 80-yard distance. In that series, Laddie veered outside the longest gun when sent on the middle mark. I blew WS, called him in, placed him in a new sit/stay at the SL, and re-threw the series. When I re-ran the same series, Laddie nailed every mark.
Lining toward the Gun
On a set-up as tight as today's last couple of series, I've found that it seems to be preferable to line Laddie toward the gun itself (in this case, the stickmen), rather than toward the falls as we have always done in the past. Running Laddie toward the guns apparently reduces confusion about his target. When I take that approach, he takes an initial line toward the stickman, then veers the small angle to get online toward the fall. I don't know if that approach is customary with more experienced trainer/handlers, but it seems to produce better results for a series like this than lining Laddie toward the fall.
Today, Laddie and I drove to Gaby's area for training. Our initial plans were to train with Patty's Field Trial group. After running two series with them, we then went over to Gaby's place and had the opportunity to run a series with a Hunt Test group that was training there. Finally, we ran several series with Gaby and her yellow Lab, Buster, who are preparing for both Master and Senior Hunt Tests this weekend.
As is customary in group training, each trainer ran the set-ups in particular ways, not necessarily the way other dogs in the group ran the same set-up. For example, in today's Series A, the most advanced dogs ran the set-up as an indent triple with the short gun thrown second rather than last, and retired while the dog was running the longer go-bird. Meanwhile, most of the younger dogs ran the same set-up as a delayed triple. I decided that my primary goal was building Laddie's confidence, so I had him run the same set-up as singles.
Similar variations occurred on all the set-ups, Laddie sometimes running the easiest version of the set-up, sometimes the hardest, and sometimes somewhere in the middle.
SERIES A. Three land singles
These singles were on hilly terrain, a combination of hay fields and cut corn fields. The throws were a mixture of two ducks and one black bumper, which was for the shortest throw. The distances were 110, 170, and 280 yards. [Note: Today's recorded distances are especially rough estimates, because I didn't have an opportunity to walk them off and also because I didn't think much about the distances till later, relying on memory rather than estimating while looking at the actual set-up.]
Laddie nailed every mark.
SERIES B. Land triple
This series was at a different location on the same field as Series A, with the same sort of terrain. Some of the dog ran this series with the long mark retired, but Laddie ran it as a "stay-out triple". The first mark (duck) was in the center, thrown right to left at 320 yards. The second mark (duck) was on the left, thrown right to left on an angle back at 110 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the right, thrown right to left at 140 yards.
Laddie again nailed every mark, but unlike his performance in Series A, he had two flaws in his performance in Series B. First, he popped briefly at 150 yards while running the long mark as his final memory-bird. As usual when he pops, I froze, and after a moment he spun around and completed the mark. Second, he stopped and put the bird on the ground 50 yards from the SL, not completing his return until I called him with "Here".
I think it's possible that the latter behavior might have been an indication of reduced energy level, perhaps caused by recently diagnosed Lyme Disease and/or the course of Doxycycline that he's taking for it. Once before Laddie put a bird down on a long return in a series of four long singles that Charlie had set up, and Charlie commented later that it might have been because Laddie was taking a breather.
SERIES C. Delayed triple
Laddie and I ran Series C with a Hunt Test group training elsewhere on Gaby's property. The terrain for this set-up was a combination of alfalfa and cut corn fields, with one very hilly section for the fall of the center mark.
The first mark (WB) of Series C was in the center, thrown left to right from a holding blind at 110 yards. The second mark (WB), the go-bird, was on the right, thrown right to left at 70 yards. While the dog was returning with the first bumper, a BB was used to throw the third mark on the left, left to right at 80 yards. Although the distances for Series C with this group were shorter than the distances for Series A and B for the Field Trial group, the marks were difficult enough that every mark required hunts for some of the dogs, especially the longest mark in the center. Laddie, however, nailed every mark.
SERIES D, etc. Hunt Test preparation
After Series C, Laddie and I trained with Gaby and Buster on a different field. To provide some light, motivational, last minute preparations for their Hunt Tests this weekend, we focused primarily on a variety of singles and blinds for Buster. But Laddie also ran an interrupted double and a long final mark. He nailed all of those marks as well.
I've tried a number of approaching to getting Laddie comfortable with inline triples (ILTs). He's had difficulty with the second or third retrieve so often that I've considered suspending ILT training for a few months to avoid de-motivating him.
But I'm not quite ready to give up yet. Today I ran Laddie on the following (Lumi got to do a couple of the short series):
Stickmen in a line 20 yards apart. Some throws toward one end, some toward the other. In any one series, all throws in the same direction, and all throws in the direction of the longest.
All throws by hand (poorman marks). All throws were WB. With dog at SL, I walked to longest stickman, fired pistol and threw, then middle stickman, fired pistol and throw, then closest stickman, fired pistol and throw. I tried to keep throws closer to throwing stickman than next one. After the three throws, I turned 90 degrees and walked to SL, then ran the dog. I used enough lining to take the dog off the wrong mark. But I did not want to use strong lining, because I wanted to give the dog opportunity to develop a strategy such as running at the gun, or "wowing" the longest mark (running too wide and too far, then curving back toward the gun to close in on the fall).
Series A: SL 20 yards from closest stickman.
Series B: SL 30 yards from closest stickman (on opposite side of the row of stickmen).
Series C: SL 40 yards from closest stickman (at opposite end, so that throws were in opposite direction).
Series D: SL 50 yards from closest stickman (again switched ends, new angles).
Series E, F, G, H, and I: SL 60 yards from closest stickman (again, a different picture even though the stickmen hadn't moved).
Laddie pretty much nailed every mark on Series A, B, C, and D, as did Lumi on the series she ran. I think each of them may have had a short hunt on one of the early marks.
However, I brought Laddie back on Series E, F, G, and H without letting him finish one of the marks. For one of them it was the go-bird, for the others it was the middle mark. In each case, he got into a long hunt. I brought him back to the SL, cued "Sit", and went out to throw again. By the end, I was saying "Bang" instead of firing a pistol.
For Series I, Laddie nailed the first and third marks. For the middle mark, he raced at the gun, passed it on the wrong side, banked into a well proportioned U-turn without slowing, and picked up the bumper on the way back to me without breaking stride. I would have preferred that he passed the stickman on the side of the mark, but it looked to me like sound problem-solving and I let it go.
It was interesting to see his performance fall off the cliff like that, suddenly having a problem at 60 yards after none at shorter distances. I wonder why.
I think our next ILT session will be a repeat of today's. I don't plan to raise criteria (more distance, more spread, sharper angles, etc.) until Laddie is really solid on this poorman version.
Today I thought I would run an experiment to see whether Laddie might possibly be near-sighted: I ran Laddie on a 200-yard single and three 300-yard singles yesterday morning. He nailed the 200-yarder and the last 300-yarder.
The first two 300-yarders had a rising green slope as the background behind the throw, and while Laddie ran with his usual exuberance, he seemed to have no idea where he was going, though he hunted the bumpers up without too much trouble
Since Laddie had no difficulty with the third 300-yarder, I don't think he's near-sighted. However, I'm guessing that Laddie, and maybe other dogs as well, can't see a B&W BB bumper very well against a rising green slope
The last 300-yarder had trees as the background, and that's the one Laddie nailed.
Now that our competition is completed for the season, I don't expect Laddie to be in another event until next spring. At that time, I hope to run him in both Master Hunt Tests and Field Trial Qualifying Stakes. Since the latter are more challenging in most respects, we'll probably train predominantly on that sort of set-up. In addition, with overnight temps now in the 30s and daytime highs generally reaching only the 50s, we will probably do little if any water training between now and spring.
For this morning's session, we drove to the huge farm I discovered a few days ago off Muncaster Mill Road, behind Macgruder High School.
There, Laddie ran four inline triples. They were in four different locations in the complex of hay fields, but had a lot in common:
All were relatively long, varying from 200+ yards to 400+ yards for the longest memory-bird. The first series was the longest, the last series the shortest.
In each case, the three throwing stations were two BBs and an RL/WB, with the RL used for the short go-bird at distances of 100-120 yards.
A stickman was used at every throwing station of every mark.
The three stations were spaced fairly evenly and in a line, the spacing varying depending on the overall size of the set-up.
The throws were in line with the stations, and were all in the same direction. In some cases, they were all in the direction of the longest station toward the shortest station, while in other cases, they were all in the direction of shortest station toward the longest station.
Though an event could feature the inline triple on a vertical or horizontal line relative to the start line, none of today's triples were either vertical or horizontal. Instead, they all ran on a diagonal, extending outward either toward the left or the right.
In all cases, the marks were thrown longest first, shortest last, and in all cases I ran Laddie on them in the reverse sequence of the throws.
In most cases, I used geometric relations of the many hay bales to establish visual patterns in our set-ups. For example, for the fourth series, from the SL it appeared that the stickman for the longest gun was standing at a particular corner of two nearby hay bales, and the middle gun was standing at the same corner of two other nearby hay bales. My purpose was to challenge Laddie to remember the differences in pictures that were largely similar.
The first three set-ups also featured a blind (OB) that was longer than the longest gun and that was run after the triple. All three of the blinds were on a line that ran relatively close behind one of the guns, sometimes inside the boundary of the three marks and sometimes just outside. All three of the blinds also featured at least one narrow keyhole, either horizontal or diagonal, as well as other factors such as hills, an angle entry to high cover, or muddy terrain. Since Laddie had performed well every time I had handled him on the first three series, and had done a lot of running by the time we got to the fourth series, I didn't run him on a blind for that one.
In every series, Laddie nailed two of the marks — the short go-bird and one of the longer memory-birds — and required a hunt on one of the memory-birds. For the first two series, his hunt began to extend too far from the area of the fall and I transferred to handling him. For the third, he suddenly spotted the blind while hunting for the long mark and picked up the blind instead, then required handling when I sent him out again for the long mark. For the last series, he required a hunt on the longest mark but did not require handling.
Pros and Cons
I am not yet certain whether Laddie is benefitting from practicing inline triples. It's important that Laddie do well if he ever gets an inline triple in competition, and to me that suggests that we should practice more of them, perhaps reducing the size of the set-ups for awhile, perhaps avoiding the hay bales for awhile, until he is able to be more successful with them.
On the other hand, if Laddie doesn't begin nailing all three marks soon, especially when the three gun stations are all marked with a stickman, to say nothing of future training when one or more of the guns is retired, it's possible we should stop working on this kind of set-up to avoid damaging Laddie's confidence on this picture.
Brief summary of Laddie's first Master test today, given by the Long Island Golden Retriever Club:
Of 29 dogs running Series A, 17 were called back, including Laddie. He nailed the 20-yard go-bird, was one of the only dogs to line the 50-yard blind run after first mark was picked up, was one of the only dogs to pick up the 70-yard inline memory-bird flyer (behind the go-bird) without handling, and ran the final 80-yard blind nicely.
I don't have exact figures, but I think most of the dogs who made it to the unusual second series passed it. I thought it would be easy for Laddie, too, but he went out on the first retrieve, a 50-yard mark thrown into running water among a bunch of decoys. Laddie ran up onto the shore behind the decoys and duck and hunted there, after a few passes suddenly catching wind of the hot blind 30 yards further along the shoreline and picking it up without me being able to stop him with my whistle. As far as I know Laddie was the only dog to have trouble with that mark, which seemed strange at first. But then I got to thinking: Of all the water marks Laddie has seen in FT practice, HT practice, private practice, or AKC or GRCA events, how many of them have ben thrown into water the last couple of years? Only a tiny fraction. Because of Laddie's longtime difficulty with returns on LWL retrieves, I virtually always throw or place water retrieves on land. The FT groups we train with also virtually always throw marks and plant blinds on land. I don't think it occurred to Laddie that the bird might be in the water, and the decoys sealed the deal.
Despite the DQ, I am encouraged by Laddie's performance. I was told this was considered a difficult test, and it seemed well within Laddie's ability level to me, other than my training error of letting him get over-balanced on expecting a water retrieve to be beyond the water and up on land.
Today we returned to the huge network of hay fields north of Muncaster Mill Road for some light preparation for Laddie's first Master test on Friday.
Series A was set up as an xmas-tree land triple with two blinds, but I ran Laddie on all the marks as singles. The marks (two BBs and an RL) were 50-70-90 yards. The first blind (OB) was 120 yards, with the line to the blind featuring a diagonal keyhole formed by two closely-spaced hay bales. The blind was placed 10 yards into an area of high cover. The second blind was 410 yards. The line to the second blind was 15° to the right of the first blind and a few degrees to the left of the fall for the center mark, and required an angle entry into a corner of high cover at 280 yards.
Series B was a triple land blind, with all the retrieves at 120 yards or less. The first blind was on the right thru a pair of hay bales. The second blind was on the left, in open meadow except for a hay bale a few feet to the right. The third blind was in the center and the longest, another keyhole between two hay bales and then a few feet into the woods. The left hay bale for the first blind was the same bale as the right bale for the second blind, so those blinds were quite tight.
My focus on Series B was having Laddie run in a tight corridor, with plenty of WSs to keep the line tight and a couple of WSs even when Laddie was already on line. In the past, I've tried to balance control with motivation by holding off as long as possible on whistling, giving Laddie a chance to maintain momentum as long as he wasn't too far off line, but not for this series. I especially wanted to be sure Laddie would sit when whistled fairly close to the blind, what I call the danger zone. For some reason, Laddie sometimes veers sharply off line as he gets within 30 yards of a blind. When I whistle to stop him, he realizes that the whistle must mean he's veered the wrong direction, so he instantly turns the other way and wants to hunt up the bird. I feel that in a test, it's essential that he sit and let me cast him that last few yards. Patty, the Field Trial pro I sometimes train with, once told me that FT blinds are often failed because of cast refusals just a few yards from the bird.
During my first few weeks working at my new job in Reston, VA, I've been bringing Laddie, and sometimes Lumi, with me to work. The temperatures have been mild enough that they can stay in the van with the windows rolled down, and me coming out to walk them every couple of hours.
At lunch time, I've been taking them for drives to look for possible training venues, and last Friday I found something special: an abandoned private school off Leesburg Pike. Besides a large sports field, the property includes three meadows just big enough for a wide variety of Hunt Test set-ups, a few lines of sight of over 200 yards, plenty of hills with knolls for start lines, cover in the meadows at a nice height for training, some large sections of high cover, hedgerows, and a tree-lined dirt road.
Today, I began winding down the complexity on Laddie's preparation for his Master test on Friday. I set up multiple guns (BBs and RTs), but ran every mark as a single. Since Laddie has mostly been running Field Trial blinds up to 500+ yards in the last few weeks, today I also had Laddie run several blinds (OBs) of less than 100 yards, just in case his test includes a short blind.
As I attempt to prepare Laddie for his first Master test this Friday, I planned today as our last day of complex set-ups before the test. Training at Mt. Ararat Farms with Gaby and her friend Jessi, Laddie ran five series consisting of various combinations of Hunt Test marks (hidden guns) and Field Trial blinds:
An open xmas-tree triple (two BBs and Gaby as throwers) interrupted by a 120-yard open-field blind to the side, plus a 400-yard+ blind behind the middle gun
A widely-spaced land and water quadruple mark in a corn field (two BBs, two throwers) using a thawed duck for the longest retrieve, a 130-yard LWL mark thrown into high cover from behind a stand of cattails by Jessi
An unusually tight xmas-tree water triple with a cheater on the right (WB), a channel swim on the left (duck), and an on-and-off across a peninsula in the center (WB)
A channel swim single with a duck, to give Laddie a little more practice returning with a duck on an LWL retrieve
A 200-yard blind consisting of a duck thrown into swamp grass, the duck mostly submerged, with a cheating water entry at 150 yards, a channel swim, and an on-and-off point
Even with a fairly long hunt for the 40-yard BB go-bird into high cover on the quad, I felt Laddie performed well on every set-up.
Today, while driving on Muncaster Mill Road, I discovered the driveway to an old, burned out building, and behind that, an entry to a network of massive hay fields. The hay had been recently cut, providing a good training surface and dozens of hay bales scattered around. Other features included hills, road tracks, areas of woods, and areas of high cover. With sight lines of hundreds of yards in many directions, the fields seem to offer countless set-up opportunities.
I've been gradually increasing the difficulty level of Laddie's practice Hunt Test land triples, and today's were some of the most difficult he's ever run, if not the most difficult.
We ran three triples. All were the same configuration, though in different locations, with different orientations, and with the throws in a variety of directions: some angled in, some angled back, and most flat. The configuration they had in common is called an indent: the first throw was the longest mark (80-100 yards), the second throw was the shortest mark (40-50 yards) and was in the center, and the last throw — the go-bird — was of middle distance (60-70 yards). Because the shortest throw was not thrown last, these were out-of-order triples in addition to being indent triples.
In addition, each of the three series included two blinds:
For Series A, the first blind was run after the three marks were thrown, but before they were picked up, making Series A an interrupted triple. The second blind, 420 yards, was run after the three marks were picked up.
For Series B, the two blinds were run before the three marks were thrown and picked up.
For Series C, the first blind was again run after the three marks were thrown, but before they were picked up, making Series C another interrupted triple. The second blind, 380 yards, was run after the three marks were picked up.
All the triples were run with two BBs and a RL. Before each throw, I blew a duck call at the SL, then sounded the BB's duck call if the gun was a BB, and finally fired. The blinds were OBs. I used no stickmen or any other marker for any gun station nor any blind.
NOTES ON PERFORMANCE
Laddie nailed nearly every mark, though he did need handling on the go-bird for Series A (not like a true go-bird, however, since Series A was an interrupted triple). He also handled well on most of the blinds, though twice in the early going, I didn't feel he responded quickly enough to the WS and walked out to pick him up, then reran him.
Now that Laddie seems comfortable with the concept of a triple, I wanted to add one more complexity he may run into in a Master test: running a blind after the marks have been thrown, but before they've been picked up. That's called an interrupted triple.
Because I wanted to isolate that concept, I chose a sports complex to run our first two interrupted triples on, with a mowed and mostly flat surface. With no hills, high cover, water, etc., Laddie was able to have a clear example of the sequence:
Run a blind
Pick up the marks
In addition, I also had him run a second blind after he had picked up the marks.
Fortunately, my son Eric was available to help, so I had him throw the long mark (WB) on each triple, then sit in a chair and hide behind a camouflage umbrella. The other marks were thrown by BBs. The blinds were OBs.
SERIES A. Interrupted triple, two blinds
The first mark was in the middle, thrown left to right at 100 yards. The second mark was on the left, thrown left to right at 70 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 40 yards. After the marks were down, Laddie was run on a 180-yard blind behind (just to the right) of the right thrower, diagonally up a small incline, and thru a narrow diagonal keyhole formed by two large conifers. When Laddie returned from the blind, he was sent to pick up the three marks in reverse order they were thrown. Finally, he was run on a 190-yard blind further to the right, which required crossing the terrain changes of two baseball diamonds.
SERIES B. Interrupted triple, two blinds
The first mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 100 yards. The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 70 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown left to right on an angle-in at 30 yards. After the marks were down, Laddie was run on a 190-yard blind behind (just to the right) of the middle thrower, under the bough of a large tree, across a depression in the field, and up a hill. When Laddie returned from the blind, he was sent to pick up the three marks in reverse order they were thrown. Finally, he was run on a 180-yard blind on a line between the left and middle guns and thru a diagonal keyhole formed by a fence and a tree.
Laddie nailed every mark in both series, and handled thru every keyhole, which I think is especially good in the situation where three marks are waiting for him.
However, he continues to have a somewhat looping whistle sit. I don't know whether that will be a problem in a Master test or not.
Today was a dreary, overcast day with temps in mid-50s and wind calm.
I hoped today to reap the rewards of yesterday's session. My objective today was to transition Laddie from easy, poorman triples and higher multiples to legitimate Hunt Test triples, and find out whether he still requires long hunts on the final memory-bird.
SERIES A. Poorman triple
These easy marks were 50-40-30 yards in an xmas-tree configuration.
SERIES B. Poorman triple
These easy marks were 70-55-40 yards in an xmas-tree configuration.
SERIES C. Poorman quintuple
These easy marks were 80-70-60-50-40 yards scattered over the field, with the middle mark the longest.
NOTES ON THE POORMAN SERIES
For all of Series A, B, and C, Laddie needed only one hunt, the #4 bird (second picked up) under the boughs of a tree and in line with a longer fall. That was a short hunt.
SERIES D, E, and F. Land triples
The next three series were similar to one another, each a triple run with two BBs and an RL.
Series D was 80-60-40 yards. Laddie nailed all three marks. This was a watershed, given Laddie's long string of similar triples before yesterday's session of poorman multiples in which he had needed a long hunt on the final memory-bird of one series after another for several days.
Series E was 110-70-50 yards. After picking up the marks, Laddie also ran a 120-yard keyhole blind to the left of the marks and a 540-yard blind, with a keyhole at 450 yards. On the marks, Laddie nailed the 50-yard mark, then overran the 70-yard mark. He had taken a good line, but I think he was trying to switch to the long mark before I handled him back (with one cast) to the mark I'd sent him to. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be happy with a switch, but in this case, I think it represented a good sign, that Laddie was keeping the final, first-thrown memory-bird in mind while running the later-thrown marks. After racing back (as always) with the second pick-up, Laddie flat nailed the final memory bird, which was on the same line as the go-bird, adding a small difficulty factor.
Series F was a wide triple at 90-70-30 yards. Laddie nailed every mark. I especially liked the way he came back from #2 and come to heel locked in on line to #1. Laddie automatically locking in on the next bird upon his return from a retrieve has always been a hallmark of his doubles, including interrupted doubles, and I hope to see that behavior now applied to triples, quads, and quints as well.
We had a little time in the afternoon so I drove Laddie over to the hilly fields at Rolling Ridge, as another incremental increase in criteria after this morning's work on the flat fields at Oaks Area 2. I was pleased to see that someone has mowed the Rolling Ridge fields. They still have rough, uneven footing, but the weeds are cut and Laddie didn't come back from his retrieves covered with sticky hitchhikers.
SERIES G. Land triple with two blinds
For Series G, I reverted to the kind of set-ups with which I had begun our Master-test preparation: an HT-scale triple and two difficult blinds.
SERIES H. Land triple
For Series H, I used a configuration that Laddie has had trouble with in the past, a long mark and a hip-pocket double.
NOTES ON TODAY'S HILLY SET-UPS
For Series G and H, Laddie pinned every mark, with great initial lines on every bird. A diagonal crossing of the large, dry ditch got Laddie off line on the long memory-bird of both series, but once he got level with the fall, he turned and ran directly to the fall without a hunt. I'd rather Laddie hadn't partially squared the ditch, but at more than 100 yards, I felt he still ran these marks well.
I've signed Laddie up for his first Master Hunt Test on October 29, 2010, in Manorville, NY. Therefore, I've temporarily stopped running Laddie on long set-ups in our private practice. At least until the test, I plan to set up HT-scale triples combined with the most difficult blinds I can come up with. For the triples, I use my two BBs and one RL with a weighted streamer and a pre-positioned WB.
When I began that pattern a few sessions ago, Laddie nailed the go-bird and first memory-bird, but had a long hunt on the final memory-bird (that is, the first bird thrown) on all four series. In our next series the following day, he followed the identical pattern on another four series, no matter how easy I tried to make the final memory-bird.
However, today I set up two more easy triples with big blinds. He still had more difficulty than I expected on the final memory-bird marks.
I've concluded that after years of training on doubles, Laddie hasn't had enough triples in his experience, and has developed an internal rhythm that cadences with the second mark.
So this afternoon, in two separate sessions, we went to a small field near work and I threw poorman triples, quads, and even quints with WBs. These were quick series, where I'd sit Laddie at the SL, walk out a short distance and throw the WBs in various directions and distances, then come back and let him get quickly into action. At first, every fall was visible, and Laddie still required small hunts after the first two marks. But soon, he was nailing every one. After that, I used the slope of the land to throw an early mark out of sight. That required Laddie to hunt again the first couple of times, but once again, he soon adjusted and was taking a good line to the hidden falls as well. These fast-paced drills seemed to be great fun for Laddie.
In our next session, I'll run another poorman triple or two, then try using the BBs and RL for another more event-like triple, and see whether the poorman drills have helped prepare Laddie for more success with his final memory-bird mark.
I'm afraid that Laddie's most vulnerable area for the Master test will be whether he can honor a flyer, and unfortunately, I have not been able to arrange for us to practice with live birds. At most, Laddie has seen one or two flyers, if any, since his last Senior test in the spring.
The best I've been able to come up with is to run Laddie on his series, and then have him sit at the side in an honor location while I run Lumi on a similar series. Because of Lumi's limited soundness, she doesn't seem to enjoy long retrieves, and she's often very slow on her returns. However, I walk over to Laddie, say very distinctly "Just watch" (our honor cue), and then I leave his side and go over to run Lumi on her series. I try to use maximum excitement for Lumi's throws — hey-heys, duck calls, high throws, gunshots — I often make them very short, and I position Laddie so that Lumi will run right in front of him for her go-bird.
So far, Laddie has never broken in those situations. If he stands up to him, I walk over to him and clearly say, "Sit!" But if he stays rock steady, as he usually does, I throw a bumper for him. I've also begun bringing out a jar of PB, and if he's steady, I give him a taste of that as an additional treat.
I don't know how beneficial this procedure will be in preparing him to honor flyers. The sequence should help — first you run your series, then you watch the next dog — and hopefully the fact that I'll be standing next to him in an event will make honoring easier for him than having me standing five yards away running another dog. But I can't duplicate the level of ambient excitement of an event, I can't duplicate the excitement of a live bird being shot with a real shotgun, and the different context of me running Lumi, rather than standing with Laddie, may actually be disadvantageous in preparing Laddie for a particular response to a particular set of stimuli.
However, it's the best preparation I've been able to arrange for. Hopefully, on top of previous preparation that got Laddie thru his Senior tests, it will be enough.
I'm considering running Laddie in a Master test in a couple of weeks. Sometime back, Alice suggested that the best way to prepare for a Master test is to run lots of triples, so today I set up a couple of them.
However, my primary focus remains on running Laddie in Qualifying stakes, so today's triples were longer than are used in Master tests. In addition, I used stickmen with white coats at all the gun stations. For each triple, two of the marks were thrown by BBs, and one was a weighted streamer thrown by a remote launcher, with a WB pre-positioned in the area where the streamer would land.
The hilly field at Rolling Ridge has not been mowed in months, so the grass is thick and long, interspersed with a variety of weeds, some thorny. The footing is uneven, and most of today's retrieves included a diagonal crossing of a dry ditch. The day was blustery, with temps in the low 60s.
SERIES A. Out-of-order indent triple and two blinds
The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 180 yards. The second mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 110 yards. The first two marks were on a tight angle, forming a reverse hip-pocket double. The third mark was on the left, thrown left to right at 130 yards. The line to the third mark was 60° to the left of the line to the middle mark.
I had Laddie pick up the third mark as the go-bird. Although it was "out-of-order" in that it was somewhat longer than the second mark, it wasn't much longer and a wide angle separated the two, so Laddie had no difficulty picking it up first. He also had no difficulty with the second mark, nailing both of the first two marks. For the final mark, the 180-yard mark on the right, he veered left around a shrub before crossing the ditch, then stayed on that line before veering increasingly left, getting so far away from the area of the fall that I had to handle him.
The first blind (OB) was on the right at 200 yards, with the line to the blind tight behind the "thrower" (BB and stickman) for the 180-yard mark on the right.
The second blind (OB) was on the left at 280 yards, with the line to the blind under the arc of the 130-yard mark on the left, then thru a keyhole formed by a gap in a tree line, then thru an additional keyhole formed by a shrub and a survey marker.
SERIES B. Out-of-order indent triple
The first mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 170 yards. The second mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 130 yards. The first two marks were on a tight angle, forming a hip pocket double. The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 220 yards. The line to the third mark was 60° to the right of the line to the middle mark.
Laddie had no trouble being sent to the long third mark on the right first, and while he didn't nail it, he required only a short hunt. He nailed the second mark, 130 yards in the center. He took a good initial line to the final 170-yard mark on the left, but veered right, went out of sight in an area of high cover, and finally appeared a few seconds later right behind the fall. He picked it up and ran it straight in.
Today we practiced on a large field in the midst of an incomplete housing development in Howard County I happened to notice on a recent drive. The cover was low but rough, the footing was good, the terrain was hilly, and the field was dotted with hay bales. The field was surrounded on three sides by high, impenetrable cover, with a dry ditch and a residential street called Cattail River Drive along the north edge.
The day was sunny with temps in low 70s and light wind. The wind came from the west, acting as a headwind for Series A and C.
All three series were run from the same SL, at the top of one of the rises in the terrain.
SERIES A. Land blind
Series A was a 270-yard blind (hen pheasant), with a 10-yard wide keyhole at 250 yards formed by high, impenetrable cover on the left and a hay bale on the right.
PREPARATION FOR SERIES C.
I walked out and placed a chair and white coat as the "gun station" we'd use for Series C.
SERIES B. Out-of-order land double
The first mark of Series B was in the opposite direction as the blind in Series A. It was thrown by a BB left to right at 120 yards. It had no white coat, but the BB was placed in front of a hay bale.
The second mark was 60° to the right, thrown by a BB and stickman left to right at 150 yards.
Laddie was sent to the longer go-bird first, then the shorter memory-bird. He nailed both retrieves.
SERIES C. Pre-retired land single
A "pre-retired" mark is the name I've come up with for the approach I used for Series B yesterday and again for Series C today. In both cases, the pre-retired mark was run as follows:
An SL is selected, and a white coat, with a chair or stickman, is positioned at the intended gun station.
The dog is then run on some other series from the same SL in a different part of the field.
With the dog in a "down", the handler goes out to place a BB and retire the white coat.
The handler returns to the SL, launches the bumper from the BB, and sends the dog.
Today's pre-retired mark was thrown left to right at 170 yards.
Notes on the two pre-retired marks Laddie has run
For both Series B yesterday and Series C today, Laddie ran on a laser-straight line to the fall, with no under-run nor over-run. This seems to indicate that pre-retired singles, at least at these distances with minimal factors, are reasonably easy for Laddie.
In our next session, I'll run another pre-retired mark as a single. Hopefully Laddie will have no difficulty with that mark, either.
If that's the case, the next time after that, I'll add one more element: After I launch the pre-retired mark, I'll hand-throw a bumper to the side. I'll have him pick up that bumper, then run him on the long mark. It will be interesting to see whether he can still run a pre-retired mark well when it's a memory-bird rather than a single.
I've been corresponding with Alice Woodyard on the subject of trying to practice retired guns when Laddie and I are training alone. The issue is not yet resolved for me. I think these are the main issues:
I am under the impression that Laddie is probably about average in terms of his ability to run a retired-gun mark for a young dog ready, or almost ready, to compete in Qualifying Stakes.
However, Laddie has one significant difference from other dogs at a similar level of marking and handling skill: His returns are sometimes much worse than other dogs at that level.
It's not entirely clear to me exactly why Laddie's returns sometimes fall apart. It may be a combination of reasons, all of which are intermittent.
One theory I have, which is not necessarily shared by anyone else, is that Laddie's poor returns are, at least sometimes, an avoidance behavior because he is uncomfortable with the difficulty level he perceives awaiting him in the remaining marks when he returns from an earlier one.
As a part of that theory, I believe that retired guns make Laddie uncomfortable.
It's been many months since I have seen poor returns when Laddie and I train alone together, nor when we train with hired bird boys or with Gaby and her dogs, our occasional training partners. To me, this isn't necessarily inconsistent with my theory. The combination of a training group plus a difficult series, especially one involving water marks, may be the trigger for Laddie's intermittent poor returns.
So as a way of addressing Laddie's comfort level, in the hope of both reducing the likelihood of a poor return and increasing the likelihood of a high quality mark, I've wanted to figure out a way to practice retired guns when we're practicing together.
I've tried a number of possibilities. For example, for several sessions, I used a BB without a stickman for the long mark of a reverse hip-pocket double, with a stickman at the BB of the short gun. In those set-ups, while Laddie couldn't see the long gun-station at any time, and could only see the arc of the throw, the line to the long mark passed just behind the short gun, giving Laddie a visual reference point for remembering that line.
I had thought of expanding that approach to a variety of hip-pocket and reverse-hip-pocket configurations, varying: directions of the throws; which gun would have the stickman; and the order of throws. However, correspondence with Alice has made me rethink that plan. In addition, in a phone conversation with my friend Tony Hunt, who has trained with BBs extensively, I learned that he always places a white coat near the BB.
The problem is that using a BB without a white coat is not a retired gun, it's a hidden gun, and hidden guns are illegal in Field Trials. Therefore practicing them is not practicing something the dog will ever see in a trial. In addition, it may be that practicing them does not enable the dog to get any better at running them. In fact, practicing hidden guns, or even retired guns, may actually result in deterioration of a good marking dog's marking skill.
Obviously, these considerations are making me cautious. My thought is that if I can come up with a training plan where Laddie performs well, or at least improves over a series of several similar sessions and performs well at the end, then I would think that will improve Laddie's comfort level with retired guns and hopefully decrease the likelihood of a poor return in group training or competition.
Applying all of that to today's Series B (click here to view), I tentatively feel that this was a good approach, on the grounds that Laddie's mark was so good. He took a perfect line from the SL and held it without veering until he reached the fall, seeming to gauge the distance as well as he had the line.
Despite the fact that Series B was really a hidden gun, not a retired gun, it seemed to have most elements in common with a retired gun:
The dog had plenty of time to see the field with the gun station visible. In fact, he had more time than he normally would with a retired gun.
The dog saw the arc of the throw.
The dog was sent immediately after the throw.
The gunner was not visible while the dog was running the mark.
The primary difference between today's hidden gun arrangement and a retired gun was that the gunner was not visible at the moment of the throw as he would be with a retired gun. The set-up of course also had secondary differences, such as the dog watching me walk out to the gun station while waiting at the SL. I cannot judge to what extent all these differences invalidate the value of this sort of set-up for meeting my objective of making Laddie more comfortable and/or skillful with retired guns.
For the immediate future, I plan to run several more long singles like today's. If Laddie continues to run them with the same level of accuracy, I'll begin to insert other retrieves in front of the send-out to the long gun. For example, after launching the BB, I'll try throwing a bumper to the side and having him pick that up, then sending him to the long mark. If that continues to go well, I'll add a short mark, thus incorporating the hidden gun into a double. And if that goes well, I'll add a couple of additional marks, thus incorporating the hidden gun into a triple.
For all of those, I'll follow the practice of pre-positioning a white coat (on a chair or stickman) at the long mark, running some other series, then walking out and "retiring" the white coat, walking straight back to the SL, and running Laddie on the series immediately.
This may or may not help Laddie become more comfortable and/or skillful with retired guns, but as long as he's running high quality marks, I guess it won't be doing any harm.
The cover at Oaks has been too long for training for several months, but today I discovered that the park service has finally mowed. Oaks is our closest field, and good for land training when time is short. In this case, I was squeezing in a training session with Laddie after returning from a day of work. At this time of year, sunset has begun coming pretty early.
I placed an LP as our SL, and a chair with my white coat at 200 yards to the far left of the field we'd be facing. That would give Laddie plenty of time to notice the position of the gun station for Series B.
SERIES A. Out-of-order land double and blind
For Series A, the first mark was on the right, a BB throwing left to right at 70 yards. The second mark was well to the left of the first one, a BB and stickman throwing right to left at 120 yards. The second mark was thrown from under one tree into an area near two other trees, one closer to the SL, the other further. The ground in that area of the field was somewhat marshy, with soft, uneven footing.
Laddie picked up the long mark on the left — the one with the stickman — as the go-bird first, requiring a small hunt. He then nailed the short mark on the right — no white coat — as the memory-bird.
After Laddie had picked up both bumpers, I ran him on a blind at 180 yards, even further to the left. This blind was placed at the foot of the rearmost tree among a group of trees in that area of the field, requiring Laddie to enter an area that by that time was deep in shadows.
After Laddie ran the blind, I had Lumi run the long mark for fun, since she has seemed interested in doing a little retrieving lately. She also required a small hunt on that mark. I'm not sure why neither dog was able to pin that mark. Maybe it was the unusual fall among trees.
SERIES B. Land single with hidden gun
When both dogs were done with Series A, I walked out to get the BB on the right that still had an unfired bumper and carried it out to the chair and coat I had positioned far to the left earlier. When I got to that station, I positioned the BB, lay the chair flat on the ground, picked the coat up to carry with me, and walked straight back to the SL, where Laddie was in a down waiting for me. As I walked, I put on the jacket.
When I got to the SL, I fired the BB and sent Laddie. He ran a laser mark with no under-run nor over-run.
I took Lumi and Laddie for a ride in the van to look for a good field for working on reverse hip-pocket doubles with Laddie. I wanted Field Trial distances, and I didn't want a flat sports field.
I decided to use a strategy I've used before: exploring new housing developments. I've had pretty good luck in the past finding good training areas that way. Today, I followed some new-development signs onto a twisting, almost invisible exit off Frederick Road and onto something called Newcut Road, and found several large fields that seemed good for training. Unfortunately, they don't have any ponds. Also, the fields seem to have been planted in various crops in the past, and I'm not sure how much discomfort they may cause dogs' feet when running in them. I would have preferred softer footing.
However, the fields have hills, variable cover, and distinctive backdrops for the dog to take note of when lining, so I think they'll be good for practices like today's.
The Reverse Hip-pocket Double
The reverse hip-pocket double (RHPD), also known as "off the heels", consists of two marks thrown the same direction, where the line to the longer mark runs just behind the thrower of the shorter mark.
I had planned to add some extra challenges to the RHPD in today's practice, such as having the marks thrown and retrieved out of order, or having them thrown and then having the dog run a blind before picking up the marks (an "interrupted" double).
However, I recalled that Laddie has had difficulty with the RHPD when we've run it using BBs on fields like the one we were using today, though he has no trouble with RHPDs on a flat field. Using BBs in variable cover has an effect similar to retiring the gun, and I knew that that also presented problems for Laddie.
So I decided not to use an unusual version of the RHPD, other than the fact that I used a stickman at the short BB but no marker at the long BB. In a way, this is even more difficult than a retired gun, because the long gun isn't visible even when the dog is watching the marks thrown. The dog has only the arc of the throw to gauge his run to the memory-bird.
SERIES A-E. Reverse hip-pocket doubles
Series A thru E were five RHPD set-ups, alternating direction with right-to-left throws for Series A, left-to-right throws for Series B, and so forth. I also moved the SL and orientation within the field from series to series. The long throws were in the range of 150-200 yards. The short throws were in the range 70-100 yards. I used a BB for both gun stations, with a stickman at the short BB in each set-up.
Series A thru C, the first three, also included a blind. For Series A, the blind was beyond the long mark, with the line to the mark running behind the long gun. For Series B, the blind was 180 yards, to the left of the left gun station, and thru a keyhole formed by hay bales. For Series C, the blind was beyond the long mark, and under the arc of the long mark.
Laddie pinned all the short marks (go-birds), and did a nice job running all the blinds.
As for the long marks, Laddie seemed to go thru a process of gradually learning how to get his bearings on the long marks, perhaps using a combination of the backdrop as well as the position of the stickman he needed to run "behind". For Series A, he took a line too wide off the stickman, hunted without success, and finally needed to be handled. For Series B, he took a line too close to the stickman and again needed a long hunt, though this time he didn't need to be handled. For Series C, he took a good line past the stickman but veered to the BB when he saw it, and then needed a short hunt the other way to find the bumper. For Series D, he took a good line past the stickman and nailed the long mark. For Series E, he took a good line past the stickman but veered a little afterwards and needed a short hunt.
Today, Laddie and I were driving around in the van exploring, looking for new possible training locations near home. At one location I found a space between two planted fields that had a few reasonably interesting lines for blinds. I set up a triple blind and brought Laddie out of the van to run it. The picture below shows the set-up.
The first blind was on the right at 140 yards, and ended beside the curved edge of a corn field. The second blind was on the left at 210 yards, and required Laddie to cut across the curved edge of a soybean field, entering on a sharp angle 130 yards from the SL. The third blind was on the right again at 250 yards, and was on the same line as the first blind, but extended another 110 yards to another edge of the corn field. The extended section of the third blind is shown in blue in the picture. All the blinds were OBs.
As Laddie and I often do when we don't have time or opportunity for other field training on a particular day, today we went to a nearby field — in this case the field behind the Rolling Ridge housing development on nearby Goshen Road — to run blinds.
Today, I set up three blinds while Lumi stayed near as I walked, and Laddie waited in the van. I didn't measure but estimate the distance of the blinds at 160, 220, and 300 yards. All of the terrain was medium to high cover with uneven footing.
First, Laddie ran the 160-yard blind on the right. The line to the blind was thru prickly undercover and fallen branches into a shadowy area surrounded by trees, to one of the trees furthest to the back of the area. Here's a picture:
Second, Laddie ran the 220-yard blind on the right. The line to the blind was across a ditch — currently dry because of the draught we are having in our area — then past the end of a line of trees, then uphill on a line diverging from the tree line, ending at the crest of the hill. If Laddie had run too far to the left, he would have gone out of sight behind the tree line, and if he'd gone past the blind, he'd have gone out of sight behind the hill. Here's a picture:
Third, Laddie ran the 300-yard blind in the center. The line to the blind included diagonally crossing a downhill slope, then diagonally crossing an uphill slope, with the blind planted in a featureless spot on the sloped area of the hill in high cover. I used orange tape to mark the blind so I could see where to handle Laddie to from the SL. Here's a picture:
After Gaby and I trained with Patty in the morning, we returned to her farm, where she helped Laddie and me on Steps 1 and 2 of the De-flaring Drill.
Today we made made a few changes from the last time we worked with Laddie (and also Buster) on the drill. Last time we were learning how to approach the problem. That led to a few set-ups and then, based on that experience, to a training plan, which I added to my reference blog, "The 2Q Retriever". Click here to see that post.
Today, we followed that training plan first for Step 1. Gaby didn't want to run Buster on the drill, so we just ran Laddie, with Gaby throwing the long gun. We used a BB with a chair behind it for the short gun, the chair in neutral position and a white coat draped on it. We ran Step 1 (two singles) twice, once to the left, once to the right, moving both the SL and the chair to create a new picture, as well as reversing the throws. Both times, I started Laddie at the SL for the first trial, since that's the litmus test for deciding whether the dog is ready for Step 2.
Laddie didn't push off the chair in the least as he ran his lines to the long fall, so I felt he was done with Step 1 and ready for Step 2. I had planned to go home at that point, but because it had gone so quickly, Gaby offered to help me try Laddie on Step 2 as well. Again, we moved the SL and chair for each set-up, and again we ran it on both sides. Step 2 uses the same kind of set-up as Step 1, but for Step 2, the set-up is run as a reverse hip-pocket double.
Again Laddie ran all the retrieves on a laser, not veering in the least as he ran past the chair on either side.
So I guess now Laddie's ready for Step 3, the next time Gaby and I get together to work on the drill. For Step 3, we'll be retiring the short gun, that is, hiding it behind a large camouflage umbrella. If we are again using a BB for the short throw, we'll place an umbrella in front of the BB and chair. I'm not sure the chair, draped with white coat, will add anything, since it will be behind an umbrella, but at least the dog will see it on the way back as he's running the long mark.