Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pushing-off-the-gunner Drill

Riggs Road

Because Laddie pushed off the gunner in our previous session, today we just worked on that issue.

SERIES A. Pushing-off-the-gunner Drill (Laddie, then Lumi)

With the dog watching, I placed an LP at the SL, and a stickman (retired gun rack wearing white coveralls) at 50 yards. At 100 yards, I placed an LP and a frozen duck 5 yards to the left of the point directly in line with the stickman, and another LP and frozen duck 5 yards to the right, so that the LPs were 10 yards apart, and the lines from the SL to the ducks passed within a couple of feet of the stickman.

I then ran the dog. First I sent the dog to the last bird placed, then to the first bird placed.

If the dog had attempted to push off the gunner, or run around the gunner on the other side, during the outrun, I'd have called the dog back and repositioned to make the outrun easier, then moved gradually back to the original test. Neither of my dogs did that on this particular day.

But both of the dogs did have difficulty making straight returns past the stickman, so I still ended up following the same sort of strategy. I allowed the dog to complete the first retrieve, but then I put the bird back out in the field for some easier lines and stopped the dog if she veered on her returns. After a few stops and improvements in performance, we gradually worked our way back to running the original lines without difficulty.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Interrupted Reverse Hip-pocket Doubles

Oaks Area 3

For today's work, RLs and weighted streamers pre-positioned frozen ducks for the marks, and ODs for the blinds.

Normally, a stickman (a retired gun rack wearing white overalls) makes marking easier for dogs, compared to having nothing near the RLs, but for hip-pockets and reverse hip-pockets, I believe a stickman near the shorter RL makes it more difficult for the dog to remember the longer fall. Therefore, to make today's series more useful, I placed a stickman near the shorter RL.

SERIES A. Interrupted reverse hip-pocket double (Laddie, then Lumi)

The first throw was on the right, right to left at 120 yards. The second throw was on the left, right to left at 50 yards. The thrower for the second throw was only a little to the left of the line to the first fall. In two dimensions, it would appear that the first thrower was throwing to a location just off the heels of the second thrower, though of course the bird landed 70 yards further out. When the long throw gives the illusion of nearly reaching the second thrower, that's called an "off-the-heels double", or a "reverse hip-pocket". (In a normal hip-pocket, the short throw gives the illusion of nearly reaching the first thrower.)

After both throws were down, the dog ran a 120-yard blind on a line to the left of the second throw. Then the dog picked up the second throw, and finally the first throw. When the dog is required to run a blind after the birds are thrown, but before they're picked up, that's called an "interrupted" series. It's an advanced skill, and the dog frequently has much greater difficulty handling on such blinds, if she can do it at all.

SERIES B. Interrupted reverse hip-pocket double (Laddie only)

Series B used the same SL, but was run in a different direction, and was a mirror image of Series A.

Notes on Performance

Lumi did well on Series A, so I rested her and didn't run her on Series B.

Laddie didn't have a fair test on Series A, because the first streamer didn't fire, so I had to handle him. He ran the difficult blind reasonably well.

On Series B, Laddie again ran the blind well, and this time ran immediately to each bird, but he veered away from the stickman and toward the RL on the long mark, then veered back on line once he was past the stickman. This is called "pushing off the gunner". It's a fault in competition and we'll need to work on it.

In retrospect, I think I should have stopped him with a WS and handled him back to the correct line. That's what we'll do when we train for this issue.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Convergent Marks


Today, Lumi and Laddie again ran with Charlie and Milly's Field Trial group, made up today of ten dogs, though some did not run every series.

We ran three series on three different setups, but all based on the same "picture", or concept. Each series was a convergent land double arranged as follows:

First, the memory-bird was thrown toward the center at a distance of 200-300 yards. The line to this bird in each case included a descent into a marshy area, traversal thru unusually thick cover, and in most cases an additional traversal of standing water later on. In every series, the dog was out of the handler's sight, hidden below a ridge line or by cover, for part of the time. The second bird was also thrown toward center. The second bird, the go-bird, was angled back and thrown onto a higher elevation from the thrower (in one case onto a mound), at a distance of 70-90 yards, except for the third series, when the throw was "flat" and on the same elevation as the thrower.


In each case, I ran Laddie on the double, that is, the same series that most of the other dogs ran, though a few of the trainers had the long gun retire on one or more series, and I didn't do that with Laddie. On the first series, Laddie cheated around a patch of thick cover, and I (stupidly) didn't realize he was actually supposed to go thru it until I saw a later dog run. When the other dogs were done, I had him run the long mark again as a single, but first I moved up closer to the patch of cover, and this time he ran straight thru it.

On the second series, I got on the radio beforehand and asked Charlie whether he thought I should move up again, or stop Laddie with a whistle and handle him if he started to cheat. Charlie said it was unlikely Laddie would be able to see the throw if I moved up, and that handling him would be better in any case, so that's what I did. Laddie did in fact start to cheat around the tough terrain on the second series, stopped on a dime when I whistled, took a nice angle-in cast, and responded perfectly on "back", running the rest of the difficult mark beautifully. One of the other handler commented on what a great marker he is.

On the third series, Laddie made no effort to cheat, but at 200 yards on the way up an embankment, he turned around and sat, apparently waiting for a cast. Charlie, who was again throwing the long mark, immediately called "hey-hey-hey" and Laddie completed the retrieve. Later I told Charlie I was glad he'd done that because I didn't feel it would have been appropriate to reinforce Laddie's pop by interacting with him, and Charlie said he knew that and that's why he'd done it. I asked Charlie why he thought Laddie might have popped and Charlie said he thought that Laddie might have heard a whistle from the other training group that was training on a different part of the property.

I was a bit worried when I saw the third series included a short water crossing thru an ice-cold channel, where I feared Laddie might stall on the return, but he didn't hesitate in either direction.


For the first two series, I had Lumi run only the shorter mark as a single. For the third series, I asked another trainer to go out and throw a converging mark at 50 yards so that Lumi could run that one and the 80-yard mark from the Field Trial set-up as a double. Lumi nailed all her marks today and ran with great enthusiasm.

All of the marks were run with training dummies today.


Because of my current focus on the dogs' returns, especially water returns, I have gotten into the habit of taking the dog's article as soon as the dog arrives back at the start line, rather than having the dog come to heel and then cueing "out". I have the dog come to heel before taking the article only about 25% of the time now. Taking the article quickly seems to be more exciting for the dog, since it doesn't require the dog to execute the disciplined hold-heel-sit-out maneuver. Since I know both my dogs can do that, I don't feel we need to practice it, and I'm more interested in building motivation.

However, I hadn't thought about what it must look like to the other trainers. After today's session, we retired to Tony's place for sandwiches, and during the conversation at one point Charlie asked me, "What is that you're doing at the line?" At first I didn't know what he meant. He said that I seemed to be taking the bird as soon as the dog got to me.

I said, "Yeah, that seems to be more fun for the dogs than heeling them first."

Charlie didn't say he had a problem with it, but he had a thoughtful look on his face. He's a quiet guy and extremely nice. I can't even guess what he was thinking!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Land Retrieves

Mt. Ararat Farm

Today, Lumi and Laddie trained with three of Gaby's dogs, but only two per series. Gaby's three dogs are a yellow Lab named Buster, a Chessie named Gus, and a nine-year-old black Lab she just adopted named Zap. Buster and Gus have their JH and each is training for a first Senior ribbon. Zap is highly accomplished Field Trial dog with an FC that Gaby hopes to run in Master Hunt Tests when winter is over.

SERIES A. Triple

The first throw was in the center, thrown right to left at 70 yards. The second thrown was on the right, thrown left to right at 40 yards. The third throw was on the left, thrown left to right at 50 yards on a sharp angle back.

Series A was an easy, confidence-building drill. The primary beneficiaries were intended to be Gus, who was learning that if he runs straight to where he thinks he saw the bird fall, it will be there, and Zap, who was learning that sometimes a triple has no long (FT-style) marks.

SERIES B. Double blind, one with poison bird

First the thrower got in position at 40 yards in front of the dog, The thrower held a frozen duck and was equipped with duck call and pistol. Then the dog was brought to the SL and run on the first blind, 90 yards on the left of the thrower, diagonally across a road, and with a diagonal entry into a corn field. Next, the thrower threw the duck left to right at 40 yards. Next, the dog was expected to ignore the thrown bird (making it a "poison bird") and run a blind on a line to the right of the fall at 240 yard. The blind was at the seam between the meadow we were training on and a corn field, which, if the dog squared, would cause the dog to turn left toward the poison bird. After the dog ran the second blind, the dog was to be sent to pick up the poison bird.

Not one of the dogs was able to run the second blind; every one of them managed to pick up the poison bird without the handler being able to prevent it. I guess that test was a bit too difficult.

SERIES C. Blind with poison bird

Before we ran Series C, Gaby brought Zap back home and got Buster instead. Gus ran all three series.

For Series C, the thrower stood 40 yards from the SL and quietly threw a bird a few feet right to left. After letting the dog watch that throw, the handler turned the dog 90 ° to the right and ran the dog on a 120-yard blind up a hill. Then the handler sent the dog to pick up the poison bird on the left.

All of the dogs were able to run this series successfully.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Land Work

Mt. Ararat Farm

Today, Gaby and I trained our dogs together at her farm. Gaby worked Gus and Zap, while I worked Lumi and Laddie. The weather was sunny with temps in the 40s, a pleasant winter day.

We didn't have any birds so we used training dummies for the entire session.

SERIES A. Delayed, interrupted land triple with double blind (Zap, Gus, Laddie, Lumi)

Series A was run in a similar form by all four dogs. I'll describe it the way Lumi and Laddie ran it first, then describe the modified version that Zap and Gus ran.

When the dog came to the SL, the dog was given an opportunity to settle down and locate the three throwers. Then the dog was lined up and sent on a 90-yard blind that ran a few feet to the left of the middle thrower. Next the throwers threw the triple, as follows: First, the thrower on the right threw right to left at 130 yards. Then the thrower in the center threw a converging mark left to right at 70 yards. Finally, the thrower on the left threw left to right at 40 yards. After all three marks were down, the dog was run on a 160-yard blind to the right of (behind) the rightmost thrower, over a ridge and across a bowl-shaped depression, with the blind almost at the top of the far embankment. The dog was then sent to pick up the three marks, though not in exact reverse order. Instead, the dog was sent to the 40-yard mark on the left first, then the 130-yard mark on the right, and finally the 70-yard mark in the center.

Zap and Gus ran almost the same series, but they picked up their three marks immediately after they were thrown, and before running the second blind.

SERIES B. Land blind (Zap, Gus, Laddie, Lumi)

This was a 110-yard blind into a wooded area and thru a narrow keyhole formed by two trees.

SERIES C. Land blind (Zap, Laddie)

This was a 240-yard blind thru a narrow keyhole formed by two trees and into a corn patch. Because of the distance, Gaby and I decided not to run Gus or Lumi, neither of whom are expected ever to run Field Trials. Zap already has his Field Championship (FC), so even at 9 years old, this seemed a pretty routine blind for him. As for 2-year-old Laddie, I hope to run him in Field Trials some day, so I continue train him accordingly, even though our immediate goal is to complete his Senior Hunter and then to begin competing in Master Hunt Tests.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Training with Field Trial Group


Lumi, Laddie, and I trained with Charlie's group again today. We only had three other dogs, and the ponds and channels were frozen, so we were all able to run two land series, at two locations on the property, quite quickly.

All retrieves were with training dummies, and all blinds were marked with LPs.

SERIES A. Delayed, interrupted, converging land double with three blinds

Laddie, running as #2 dog, ran the same series as Charlie & Milly's three dogs, while Lumi, running as #4 dog, ran a shortened version.

The full version was as follows. (Note that I did not measure the distances, nor make a note of my estimates at that time, and my estimates as I write this from memory may be inaccurate.)

When we first came to the SL, the dog ran a blind to the far left at 90 yards. Then the converging double was thrown: The first throw was on the right, right to left and angled back with the fall at 150 yards. The second throw was on the left, inside the first blind, thrown left to right into high cover and a depression at 110 yards. After both throws, the dog ran a blind to the far right at 80 yards, then picked up both marks, the shorter mark on the left first. Finally, the dog ran a blind at 180 yards under the arc of the left mark.

Lumi's version used the same stations, but we moved up for the first blind, then moved sideways for the double and the second blind, and Lumi did not run the long blind.

SERIES B. Delayed land double with three blinds

Laddie, again running as #2 dog, again ran the same series as the other dogs, while Lumi again ran a shortened version.

The full version (note again that I'm not confident in my distance estimates):

When we first came to the line, the dog ran a 190-yard blind down the center of the course. Next came a double thrown in an unusual sequence, short/long: The first throw was on the left, thrown right to left at 40 yards. The second throw was on the right, thrown right to left at 130 yards. The dog was sent to the long mark first, then to the unusually short mark. After the dog picked up both marks, the dog ran a blind at 110 yards under the arc of the left mark. Finally, the dog ran a blind at 150 yards under the arc of the right mark.

The line to the first blind in the center was supposed to go over a ridge, which is how Laddie ran it. Some of the other dogs veered right into a swale, then veered back to the left after getting past the ridge. The line to the second blind, besides being under the arc of the short mark's throw, had as a second diversion an LP with a ribbon tied to it 10 yards to the left of the blind. I was able to keep Laddie from going to that LP first, but some of the other dogs went to that LP first, then had to be cast to the right to the blind. The line to the third blind, besides being under the arc of the longer mark's throw, was past a mulch mound and thru a stand of trees. Laddie ended up running on the wrong side of the thrower and the mulch mound, and had to be cast to the left to the blind.


Laddie's had excellent accuracy on all his marks, except that he needed to hunt on the short mark in the depression in the first series, as did most or all of the other dogs. I felt he handled well on all blinds, though it may not have been to Master Hunt Test or Field Trial standards, I'm not sure about that. He ran with his usual stylish exuberance.

Laddie's greatest weakness at this time seems to be his returns, and on the last retrieve of Series A, he diverted toward the frozen pond whose shoreline runs parallel with that retrieve on his return. He has done the same thing on that field, once in a Super Singles competition resulting in his being disqualified, and once, with the retrieve in the opposite direction, during group training, resulting in great annoyance to the other members of the group.

Lumi seemed uncomfortable the entire day. It could have been her hips, her wrist, or her back. In addition, it could also have been her feet, which at times seem to be more sensitive to ground surface than other retrievers. Though she ran three of the marks with excellent accuracy, she needed help on the short mark in the depression in Series A.

I was pleased to see that neither dog had any difficulty running a blind either before the doubles had been thrown, nor after the doubles had been thrown but before they'd been picked up. They also both had good memory for all marks despite the complexity of the sequences, with the exception of the short mark in Series A, which four of the five dogs need a hunt for.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Practice with Field Trial Group


After a hiatus of several months, the dogs and I once again trained with Charlie and Milly, the owners of the property where we often train in Cheltenham, MD. Besides Charlie and Milly, some other trainers we've trained with in the past were also there.

Before the others arrived, I ran each dog on a triple blind, 90-140-190 yards. Laddie had an easy time with all of them. Lumi did well on the first two but went OOC on the long one, apparently becoming distracted by the nearby icy water and a decoy, or perhaps a live bird. By that time others had begun to arrive, so I walked halfway out and handled Lumi from that distance to the blind.

With temps in the high teens and gusty wind, and with ice covering most of the ponds and channels, water training was out of the question, so the group ran two land series, each with a duck flyer in the center and two longer retrieves with previously shot ducks to either side. Both of the set-ups were tight, and keeping the dogs attention on the throws to the flanks, with the flyer station in the center, proved to be a challenge for most of the teams. I was the only person who honored his dogs, and I did so with the dogs on lead just in case, though neither came close to breaking while honoring.

I think we had a total of nine dogs. One trainer had both of his dogs run the first series as a triple, and ran his younger dog on the second series as a triple while resting his older dog. Aside from that, every other dog ran both series as singles with one other exception: for the second series, I had Laddie run a double with the flyer and the shorter station, then a single with the long bird, and I had Lumi run just the double to preserve her soundness.

Another modification I made was to move up our SL on all the retrieves except the flyer on the first series. The retrieves were still long by HT standards, and Laddie's long single was still over 200 yards.

But my focus was not primarily on challenging Lumi and Laddie. My main concern was that my dogs would make high quality pick-ups and returns, and I felt the original SLs made that somewhat riskier.

As it turned out, Laddie's pickups were all excellent and the only problem with his returns was his stopping to mark. Lumi was slow on picking up the two flyers, spending some alone time with them first, but her pickups on the dead birds were fine and all her returns were solid, if slower in the second series than the first.

I was pleased with our return to training with the group.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Pickup Distraction-proofing

Mt. Ararat

Before starting our training session today, Gaby and I reviewed a TO DO list we'd made up a few weeks ago of what we wanted to work on this winter. Given the limited time and frigid conditions, we decided to work on distraction-proofing the pickup for our four dogs.

Gaby ran all four dogs, while I did all the throwing.

This describes the drill we ran each dog on:
  1. I call hey-hey and throw a frozen duck at 50 yards.
  2. I walk the opposite direction 30 yards.
  3. Gaby sends the dog.
  4. As the dog is picking up the bird, I call hey-hey again and throw a WD 10-yards in the direction of the dog, so that it lands about 20 yards from the dog.
  5. If the dog drops the bird and heads for the WD, I run to the WD and say "no, go get your bird". Gaby calls the dog to heel and we run the mark again.
  6. If the dog is successful on the first retrieve, I walk 20 yards toward my first throwing position, call hey-hey, and throw another frozen duck.
  7. I return to the same position I threw the first WD and Gaby sends the dog.
  8. As the dog is picking up the bird, I call hey-hey again and throw the WD as before, so that this time it lands about 10 yards from the dog.
  9. Again, the dog is not permitted to pick up the dummy.
  10. Once the dog is successful on the second retrieve, I walk 10 yards toward my first throwing position, call hey-hey, and throw a frozen chukar.
  11. I return to the same position I threw the first and second WDs and Gaby sends the dog.
  12. As the dog is picking up the bird, I call hey-hey again and throw the WD as before, so that this time it lands close to the dog.
  13. Again, if the dog drops the bird and attempts to pick up the WD, I call "no, get your bird," and when the dog gets back to Gaby, we re-run the mark.
Gaby's first dog, a Lab named Buster, did great on the first two retrieves, but tried to get the WD on the third retrieve. He had no difficulty on the re-try.

Gaby's second dog, a Chessie named Gus, had difficulty with all three retrieves, so I used more distance for him and he didn't have to deal with one WD thrown right next to him.

Lumi did exactly the same as Buster.

Laddie had no difficulty with any of the retrieves, barely even glancing at the WD even when it landed right next to him.

In the few minutes before I had to leave, we used a new location and ran Gus on the same drill again, this time throwing in the opposite direction. He had made improvement during the first series, and continued to make improvement in the second one.
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