Sunday, March 28, 2010

Training with field trial group


Today we only ran one series, consisting of a double blind followed by four singles all thrown by the same thrower, who used a 4-wheeler to move from position to position. We had a lot of dogs that single series pretty much killed the morning.

Lumi seems especially unsound lately so I brought her but didn't run her at all.

A description of the series follows. I didn't walk off the distances, so I've tried to make them conservative. Some or all of the retrieves may have been longer than indicated.

SERIES A. Two blinds, four single marks, all land (Laddie only)

The six retrieves were run left to right.

The first retrieve was a 150-yard blind (OD). The dog had to run diagonally over a mound, thru a field, diagonally across a dirt road, and to the right of a stand of trees.

The second retrieve was a 170-yard blind (OD). The dog had to run across the downslope of the same mound, thru a field, diagonally across the dirt road, and behind the gunner who stood in white coat positioned to throw for the third retrieve.

The third retrieve was a 180-yard mark (duck). The gunner threw left-to-right from the far side of the dirt road but across a 90-degree bend in the road. The dog had to run across a depression in the field and across the dirt road.

The fourth retrieve was a 170-yard mark (duck). The gunner threw right-to-left from in front of the dirt road, arcing the throw over the road. The dog had to run thru the left edge of an area of standing water (or cheat around it on the left), then cross the dirt road.

The fifth retrieve was a 230-yard mark (duck). The gunner threw left-to-right from the edge of a stand of trees.

The sixth and last retrieve was a 280-yard mark (duck). The gunner threw left-to-right from the bank of the large pond, across the dirt road and into an area behind a stand of trees, so that the fall was no visible from the SL.

Notes on Laddie's Performance
  • Laddie had excellent lines on every retrieve. For example, he ran over the mound both times on a perfect line in both directions, one of the best if not the best on that particular aspect of the series.
  • He handled reasonably well, not slipping any whistles. However, sometimes his responses on WSs are too slow, letting him get too far out of the corridor to the blind. That's something we need to work on, but I didn't take up people's time for a WO in that situation, and his performance was still pretty good, I thought.
  • Though he had a good line on the first mark, he hunted short for a few seconds before recovering and racing further out to pick up the bird without help. I asked Charlie (the group leader and in this case also the lone gunner) whether that was because of the depression and the road crossing, and he smiled and said, "That's why we practice that."
  • On the second mark, Laddie ran thru the standing water on a perfect line in both directions with no need to handle.
  • On the second and third marks, Laddie dropped the bird on the return, 20 yards from the SL, and actually seemed to lose interest in the retrieve. He responded well to me calling "fetch" and resumed his normal over-the-top level of motivation for the next retrieve. I was of course distressed by the behavior and asked Charlie about it later. He said that it was because Laddie was tired and was catching his breath. He knew that if he brought the bird straight back, he'd be sent right out again. By that time he'd run hundreds of yards non-stop. Charlie said Laddie's apparently not used to running so many long marks, especially in heat -- quite true -- and recommended a steady diet of long marks in the days to come as the remedy.
  • On the last mark, Laddie ran a gorgeous line straight toward the invisible fall, swerving around the trees with perfect grace. All the dogs had to execute that maneuver -- none cut thru the woods -- but none performed it any better than Laddie had, and several had difficulty finding the bird.
  • Unfortunately, after Laddie picked up the bird, he headed for the pond. As soon as I saw him disappear behind the ridge of the embankment, I rushed out and called "No, here". As I made the long sprint to the pond, I saw Laddie emerge after a few seconds, carrying the bird and running to meet me. I walked him back to the original fall, left him there in a sit with the bird at his feet as I walked 100 yards back toward the SL, turned and blew a CIW. He came perfectly, no hint of another detour to the pond. When he reached me, I broke into a run toward the SL and we ran together some distance further. Then I had him sit again, walked alone toward the SL again, turned and called him again, and as he came running I yelled, turned, and ran away from him, inviting a chase back to the SL, where we arrived about the same time. When Charlie and I talked later, Charlie said that the dip in the pond was part of the same issue as the earlier dropped birds, and that Laddie was cooling himself off as well as taking a breather from so many long runs. Charlie felt that the same prescription -- plenty of long marks -- would remedy the pool diversion as well. I hope he's right.

To that end, my plan is to purchase a couple of Bumper Boy Derby Doubles and use them to set up long marks in various venues when we're training alone or with insufficient throwers. One of the other trainers said he may be able to find some used Derby Doubles for me, explaining that people sometimes purchase that model and later want to trade up to quads or larger. Hopefully we'll have them soon.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Land blinds


Out driving with the dogs today, I noticed a field a few miles from home where we'd never trained before.

Leaving the dogs in the car, I set up a 100-yard blind for Lumi and a double blind for Laddie, 270 yards to the left, 300 yards to the right.

Lumi lined her blind but with such reluctance to set her feet down in the clumpy grass that several times I called "back" just to keep her from stopping entirely.

Laddie handled well on a narrow zig-zag route to the left blind, then lined the longer one on the right.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Land blinds

West of Zion Park

With highs in the low 50s today, I felt it would be counterproductive to swim the dogs. Besides, work left me short of time.

So went to a field and set up a double land blind for each of the dogs.

Lumi's set-up was 80-170 yards. The short blind was thru a tight keyhole, while the long blind converged on the treeline for a section of woods. Lumi required handling on both retrieves but was responsive on every WS and took every cast correctly, though she didn't carry them well on the long blind. Her feet seemed extremely uncomfortable coming back. I wonder if that's an indication that her thyroid Rx needs to be increased. Our holistic vet sent in blood earlier this week, so we should know in another few days.

Laddie's set-up was 80-400 yards. He had the same short blind as Lumi, while the long blind was unusually long even for Laddie. It carried thru several boggy areas of standing water, and between a pair of huge electrical towers.

I always felt that once a dog really understands a keyhole, the keyhole could actually make the retrieve easier by acting as gunsights. Laddie illustrated that idea today, taking a perfect line on both retrieves. He lined the first one, the popped just before a particularly swampy area at 300 yards. I'd rather he hadn't popped, and I'm not sure I should have risked reinforcing it by casting him instead of just staring at him. But I didn't think fast enough and ended up sending him with a straight back cast. He spun around and ran the rest of the way straight to the blind.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water work, cheaters


It's starting to cool off from the unseasonably high temps we've been getting lately, but it was still warm enough to run some water retrieves.

Both dogs readily re-entered the water on returns when no obvious opportunity to run the bank was available.

In addition, I ran both dogs on a few "cheating singles", such as channel swims where the line takes the dog close to a bank but the dog is to continue straight and not veer offline.

In Lumi's case, I had her perform difficult entries but with her SL not too far from the water entry. For Laddie, the SLs were 50 to 100 yards from the entry. Both dogs did nicely at the level we were working.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cheating singles


Today's temps were again in the 70s. The FT group was training at Cheltenham again, but I needed to do some work at home, so I decided to take care of that first, and then bring the dogs to Cheltenham for some private work.

We worked for about two hours, with Laddie getting the lion's share of the work. Since I'm now confident in his ability to come back across channels without marooning, my focus was on difficult cheating situations, such as running across the corner of a pond when the dog could avoid water with a small veer to one side or the other. Several of the setups involved the requirement to get back in the water with the duck -- that is, they had no opportunity to run the bank on the return -- and Laddie was completely reliable on all of them.

When a bank-running opportunity was available, he sometimes took it, but he also sometimes came straight back across the water without any handling cues from me. In fact, at the end of the day, I sent him on a long retrieve thru an S-curve channel, and once he was safely thru the curve, I turned my back and started walking to the van, thinking that Laddie would probably pick up the burn and run around on the land route to get back to me. But when I glanced over my shoulder a few seconds later, I saw that he was in the water and swimming back thru the S-curve to return. I rushed back toward him and cheered, letting him know how proud I was of that return.

During the session, I gave Lumi a few retrieves over water where no obvious bank running opportunity was available, and she came back across the water without difficulty on all of them. I also gave her one long channel swim with a difficult angle entry and the fall in an area with underwater debris, and she swam it well. In any situation that had a bank-running opportunity, Lumi invariably took it. That's OK. I've decided that as long as she will swim back when necessary, I won't object when she runs the bank if that's available.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Training with field trial group


With morning temps in the 70s, the weather seems to have gone straight from winter to summer this year, leaving spring out entirely.

For today's session, we ran a single triple, which one of the trainers characterized as an "all-age triple", as opposed to an easier "qualifying triple".

The triple run by advanced dogs was 280-220-170 yards from right to left, with difficult cheating opportunities on the outer marks and a deceptively difficult center mark.

I felt all the marks were too physically arduous for Lumi, and ran her on some water marks in a different part of the property when we had some spare time.

I felt that Laddie would require significant handling for the cheating situations, and even then I might not be able to keep him from running the banks, and if circumstances had been different, that might have been my primary focus.

But I wasn't at all concerned with cheating. Instead, my focus was on Laddie's returns. All three marks required the dog to come back on different lines over the same channel, and if the dog marooned on the far side, the handler would be unable to reach dog without a half-mile drive around the outer edge of the property. In addition, the throwers were all 100 yards or more from the channel, so it would be a major imposition for me to ask one of them to take the bird away from Laddie if he did stall.

In the past, Laddie has often marooned on far easier marks, so it was not easy making the decision to run him on this setup. But after a few of the dogs had run, I decided to run Laddie as well. I had him run the 280-yard on the right as a single, letting the throwers know that I would decide what to do next after I saw how he did on that one.

The single he ran to the right included a swim across the channel and then a run thru wetland with standing water. On the return, Laddie put the bird down to relieve himself 120 yards out, which I was unhappy about because a wounded bird ("cripple") could get away in that situation. When he was finished, I blew CIW and he started toward me without the bird. I called "Fetch" and he raced back, picked up the bird, and brought it across the channel to me.

While the return overall was unsatisfactory, it gave me confidence that Laddie could handle the returns across the channel, so I called for a double on the 220-yard center mark and the 170-yard mark on the left.

Laddie cheated on the difficult channel swim on the second half of the go-bird on the left, but I decided not to break his momentum by handling him. He hesitated slightly on the return across the channel, but quickly responded when I called "Here".

Then he ran the memory bird, which included not only the channel crossing but also a ditch crossing 200 yards out. I was pleased to see that when Laddie picked up that bird, he came back over both the ditch and the channel without hesitation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Water work


With daylight savings time in effect, the dogs and I made the hour drive to Cheltenham after work and still had an hour to practice before it got too dark.

I didn't use the long line with Laddie at all, and he had several returns across water that simply looked routine, with no hesitation on water re-entries.

Lumi had two retrieves with a line attached, then several with no line and no difficulty.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Water work


Although today was a work day, the dogs and I made the drive to Cheltenham so that we could work on returns for water retrieves. It wasn't the most efficient use of time: an hour to drive there, almost two hours to drive back in traffic, and only 45 minutes of actual training time. I couldn't afford to stay away from my home office and work longer than that.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, with air temp of 65° and water temp of 58°.

SERIES A. Water work (Lumi, then Laddie)

Today we moved our water work to a wider channel than the one we've been using. This one is nearly 30 yards wide, my 100' line barely long enough for the exercise.

Instead of a duck, I used a canvas training dummy. Leaving the dog with line attached at the SL, I walked across the foot bridge, threw the dummy with a gunshot, returned to the SL, and sent the dog. Once the dog had picked up the dummy and re-entered the water for the return, I fired the pistol again and threw an OD high in the air and inland behind the SL. As the dog climbed on shore, I took the dummy the dog was carrying, removed the line, and sent the excited dog to pick up the OD. When the dog brought back the OD, we had a rousing game of tug.


It was a good thing that Lumi had a line on her, because for some reason such as the extra distance or change of location, she initially stalled after picking up the dummy. She responded instantly when I lightly tugged on the line and we completed the exercise.

We then reran the exercise on a nearby section of the same channel, and this time Lumi didn't stall on the far side. I threw a double for her with two ODs while she was swimming back.

Then I brought her back to the van, running little retrieves and playing tug as we walked, dried her thoroughly, let her into the van, and gave her some bites of string cheese.


Laddie showed no hesitation at all on his return after picking up the canvas dummy. In fact, he used a style of looping pick-up so that he was on his way back as he was picking up the article. He ran to the water, jumped in, and immediately began swimming.

I was so encouraged that I decided to run him on another nearby water retrieve that was next to the end of a channel, giving him a temptation to run the bank on his way out or on his return. The distance was also longer than we've been doing lately, too long for my 100' line. It was 35 yards of swimming and another 10 yards from the water to the fall. Although I couldn't use the line, I would have been able to run to Laddie and prevent him from completing the retrieve if he had stalled.

As I expected, that turned out to be unnecessary. Again he grabbed the dummy off the ground while spinning back toward the SL and ran to the water, where he immediately entered and began swimming.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Training with field trial group


SERIES A. Double land blind (Laddie and Lumi)

This was a double blind set up by one of the group members: 130 yards to the right, 280 yards to the left. As an added diversion, a bird crate with a couple of ducks in it was sitting 50 yards to the right of the line to the longer blind 200 yards out.

I ran Laddie on the set-up first. Then I ran Lumi, but only on the shorter blind to the right.

SERIES B. Triple (Laddie and Lumi)

The set up was a 400-yard mark down the middle, with much shorter marks on either side. Running as the first team, I planned to run Laddie on the long mark as a single, but when I saw that the gunshot was barely audible, the thrower was barely visible, and the throw itself was entirely visible, I decided not to run Laddie on that mark. We then ran the other two marks as a double.

I ran Lumi on the shorter of the two marks as a single.

SERIES C. Triple (Laddie and Lumi)

The set-up was a 230-yard mark down the center, a 180-yard mark slanting uphill on the left, and an 80-yard mark angle back into a cluster of trees on the right, with the line to the mark across a bowl down to the property's big pond. All throws were left to right, which was downhill toward the pond.

I ran Laddie on the set-up as a triple. He did OK on the first two marks, though he had some confusion on the mark on the left when he found a training dummy left behind by someone in the past, then the bird that had been thrown. He picked up the dummy, but dropped it and picked up the bird before returning.

After Laddie returned the second time, I asked the center thrower to wave a little, but my radio was broken and he didn't hear. I should have gotten someone else to call for the waving, but Laddie seemed to be looking the correct direction so I sent him. Unfortunately, he veered down the bowl and into the water and reeds to play instead of staying on line to the mark. I ran toward him and called and he immediately came out of the water and ran to him. I then ran with him 50 yards forward of the SL, this time called back to the other trainers to request that the thrower wave, and sent Laddie, and his retrieve was fine. As he returned, I raced back to the SL, arriving just a few seconds before he caught me.

When it was Lumi's turn, I ran her on the double made up of the two outer marks. She nailed the go-bird, as had Laddie. When I sent Lumi to the memory bird, she became distracted by the center gun and needed help from the thrower on the left to get back on line, but then she did fine.

I had both dogs honor the next dog in both Series B and C.

SERIES D. Water work (Lumi and Laddie)

Series D was a repetition of yesterday's water work, just on a different and slightly wider section of the channel. In this case, I didn't put any tension on the line for either dog, and both dogs immediately got back in the water as soon as they picked up the bird.

I think it's possible that one or both dogs are line wise and that they might not return so readily without the line. But I feel that that does not necessarily mean that they are not gradually learning a good water return that in the future will work just as well without the line. I can imagine a situation where the dogs are aware of the line during the current series of water retrieves, but that over a period of time, they become habituated to the line and don't really pay attention to it. Meanwhile, they're getting into the water of their own volition. Perhaps at this time it's an avoidance behavior so they don't have to feel any tension on the line, but the behavior could gradually become habitual with the dogs gradually forgetting why it is that they're performing the behavior in that particular way.

It's also possible that the dogs are not line wise and even now would be getting back in the water immediately on most occasions. However, other than the inconvenience and psychological barrier (for me) of setting up the line each session, I see no reason to run them on these water retrieves without a line at this time. They'll have occasion to run water retrieves without a line in group work, and even competition, soon enough.

Rolling Ridge

SERIES E. Double land blind (Laddie only)

On the way home, I thought I'd get a little more work in for Laddie, since he still seemed full of energy. I set up a double blind, 160 yards to the right, then 300 yards to the left.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Training with field trial group


After weeks of snow-covered fields preventing Charlie's field trial group from any meaningful training, this morning we trained. Apparently some of the trainers arrived early and ran blinds, but my dogs and I missed that.

I ran Laddie in the two triples set-ups that the group ran. I felt both were two physically demanding for Lumi, but afterwards, I did additional training with both dogs and included Lumi in some of that.

For both Series A and B, I had Laddie honor the next dog with me holding his tab, which was good because he made a half-hearted attempt to break both times. Laddie was the only dog to honor all day.

SERIES A. Three singles (Laddie only)

One or two of the dogs in the group ran this as a triple, but given our lack of recent training, I felt it best to run this as three singles. That's how most of the dogs ran it.

The first mark was on the right, a dummy thrown left to right along a treeline at 180 yards. The second mark was on the left, a dummy thrown right to left and angled back over a shallow creek at 90 yards. The third mark was in the middle, a flyer thrown right to left across a dirt road at 160 yards.

All three marks were thru low wetland and involved running thru sections of ice-cold, running-depth water.

Notes on Laddie's performance. On the long mark to the left, Laddie took an excellent line but found himself in a valley with a ridge in front of him, blocking his view of the thrower. This apparently confused him and he turned to face me. Unfortunately, I cast him back, realizing too late that I was reinforcing the popping behavior, something I don't want to reinforce. I should have gotten on the radio and asked the thrower to call hey-hey.

Laddie had no difficulty with the short second mark, unlike some of the other dogs who apparently found it a confusing picture.

Laddie nailed the flyer, making it one of the best marks of the day on that bird. Unfortunately, he stalled on the way back when he got to the creek at 100 yards from the SL, dropping the bird and looking at me. I called "here" and, when he didn't come immediately, I started to walk toward him. Then he picked up the bird and came running to me.

SERIES B. Indent land triple (Laddie only)

The first mark was on the right, a dummy thrown right to left along a tree line and slightly in among the trees at 280 yards. The second mark was on the left, a dummy thrown right to left along a different tree line, angled sharply back at 190 yards. The third mark was in the center, a duck thrown right to left, across a road and up a hill at 90 yards.

All three marks were thru hilly terrain with slopes that tended to misdirect the dog. In addition, the mark on the left was thru at 50 yards, so that when the dog got past the conifer on the right, the center station with the ducks suddenly appeared on the dog's right. When taking a direct line to the long mark on the right, the dog went thru a valley losing sight of the thrower, who was poorly visible anyway in the shade of the trees, and then the dog had a line thru a large area of running depth water to the fall.

Later in the day, when I mentioned that I hoped to run Laddie in Qualifying events in the future, the other trainers immediately pointed out that today's marks were much more technical, and longer, than typical qualifying marks.

Notes on Laddie's performance. Laddie nailed the go-bird, the short center mark. He then also nailed the mark on the left thru the keyhole, except that amusingly, he grabbed a dummy from the thrower's pile rather than making it all the way to the actual fall. Since Laddie ran as the first dog, the thrower hadn't realized that the dog would have to go right past his pile to get to the fall, and moved the pile to a more protected location after Laddie. Laddie took an excellent line to the long mark on the right, but when he lost sight of the thrower, he again popped. This time, I didn't help and the thrower called to him. Laddie then did a great job completing the retrieve.

When I later mentioned my concern about his popping, Charlie seemed less concerned about it than I was. He attributed the pops to Laddie's lack of group experience with such long marks, and pointed out that when Laddie popped, it was with at least one other station nearby and in clear view. Apparently Charlie felt it was to Laddie's credit that he knew not to go to the other station, but just wasn't sure what to do instead.

Despite the pop, one of the other trainers, who we've trained with in the past but not recently, commented that Laddie had done a good job. The people in this group do not give compliments lightly, so of course I was pleased.

SERIES C. Wet land double (Lumi only)

I asked for two of the ducks from earlier training and used them for continued work with both dogs, starting with a poorman land double for Lumi.

I positioned Lumi on a mound, then walked to the edge of the running-depth creek and threw the first duck across at 70 yards. I then walked to the right and threw a second duck across a section of shallow water, also at 70 yards. For Lumi, the line to the second bird was thru a diagonal key-hole formed by two trees. I used a pistol when making both throws.

After throwing both birds, I walked back to Lumi and sent her thru the key-hole to the bird on the right, then to the first bird down on the left. She moved slowly thru the water each time, but she maintained momentum and did a nice job on both retrieves.

SERIES D. Single land blind (Laddie only)

I left one of the ducks on the mound from which Lumi had been running, packed up both dogs in the van, and drove around the outer edge of the property and around a section of woods to an area 150 yards from the mound. I then ran Laddie on that as a blind.

SERIES E. Lining practice (both dogs, mostly Laddie)

For this drill, I would leave the dog in a sit, then walk some distance away and throw a duck so that the line to the duck required the dog to take a very sharp angle into water and mud, run a few yards, and come right back out again, a configuration which presented a strong temptation to "cheat" around the water. I set this up with the dog at various distances from the angle entry and with the bird thrown at various distances past the water. The easiest was with the entry and the duck both close to the water, while the hardest was with the slight water crossing in the center of an otherwise relatively long line.

Although I haven't written it up as an entry in this blog, I worked on a similar drill with both dogs yesterday at Oaks Area 2.

SERIES F. Water crossing (Lumi, then Laddie)

Since the outside temperature had risen to 60°, from a morning low of 20°, I felt that no one would object if I gave each dog a little water work away from some of the other trainers who hadn't left yet.

For Series F, I left the dogs in the van and laid out a 100-yard line, getting out the tangles. Then I gave first Lumi, then Laddie, a turn.

I brought the dog to the edge of a swim-depth channel, no doubt ice-cold. I fired a pistol and threw a duck across the channel. I sent the dog and picked up the line to feed it out so that it wouldn't catch on the ground. When the dog reached the bird at the other side, I was prepared to gently draw the dog back toward me if necessary. After the dog re-entered the water and was swimming back, I dropped the line and fired another shot with the pistol, then threw the other duck in the opposite direction, on land. As soon as the dog was ashore, I grabbed the duck the dog was carrying and sent the dog racing happily off to retrieve the second duck.

For Lumi, I didn't give her a chance to see whether she would dawdle on the first retrieve, but immediately began to draw her toward me and into the water as soon as she had bent down to pick up the duck. After she had brought me the second duck, I set everything up again and ran her a second time, this time not putting any tension on the line as she bent to pick up the first duck after swimming the channel. I was pleased to see that she quickly picked the duck up and got back into the water, without any need for me to draw her to me with the line.

For Laddie, I decided to see whether I needed to draw him to me with the line before putting any tension on it. I was pleased to see that he quickly picked the bird up and was back in the water in a flash.

After each dog had completed the series, I dried the dog thoroughly and put the dog in the warm van.

I felt good about this drill. I wish we could have been doing something similar all winter, but this particular winter, with record snowfalls, was just too severe.
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