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.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Training with field trial group
On an overcast day with temps in the 50s and intermittent showers, Charlie's group had eight dogs today. Laddie and I were there, but Lumi is staying with my daughter Brookie the Cookie this week.
SERIES A. Pinch blinds
Charlie called the blinds in Series A "pinch blinds", because they require the dog to run on a line that takes the dog very close to a gunner.
For this setup, Charlie put out a stickman at 30 yards, and to begin, the dog was sent to pick up a dummy three feet in front of the stickman. Since dogs do not usually find articles near gunners, and are generally not encouraged to go near them, some of the dogs actually had trouble with this simple retrieve, though Laddie did not.
Next, the dog ran a 150-yard land blind that took the dog just a few feet to the right of the stickman, then just skimming an inlet of the property's largest pond, then diagonally up the pond's long embankment, then thru one of several keyholes formed by a small grove of trees, then across a long strip of grass running parallel to the dirt road that circles the pond, then across the road at a bend, and finally to a pile of ODs placed in front of an LP. One or two of the dogs ran this blind from the original stickman, but Charlie encouraged most of the handlers, including me, to move up close to the stickman before sending the dog.
After the land blind, the dog ran a 190-yard shoreline water blind 15° to the left. This blind took the dog a few feet to the left of the stickman, then across a 30-yard inlet, then across a peninsula, then along the shoreline more than 100 yards to a pile of ODs placed in front of an LP. Again, one or two dogs ran this blind from the original SL, the others from closer to the stickman.
I felt Laddie ran both of these blinds reasonably well. Like most of the dogs, he veered slightly right and skirted the inlet on the first blind, but then ran the rest of it with just one WSC, taking an accurate cast and lining the remainder of the blind. He required a few WSCs to keep him in the water on the long shoreline swim of the second blind, but he remained responsive and ended up swimming a good line.
SERIES B. Three water singles
Although this set-up could have been run as a triple, Charlie suggested to me, when I inquired on the radio, that it would be best for Laddie's preparation for running in Qualifying Stakes if we ran it as three singles. It turned out that every dog ran it that way.
All marks were WDs thrown by a gunner in a white jacket and with a gunshot. None of the gunners retired.
The first mark was in the center, thrown left to right on an angle back up the shore at 180 yards. The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left across a channel at 80 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left on an angle back over a road and in front of a mound at 230 yards.
Laddie watched the throws for all of these marks from the SL, which was atop a mound. Some of the handlers moved up for one or more of the marks.
The line to the first mark in the center was across the end point of a ditch filled with swim-depth water and lined with high reeds, then thru a line of trees and underbrush, then across a dirt road, then thru a stick pond, then between two points (the ends of two small islands), then across big water, then approaching a shoreline at a sharp angle, then a short way up onto the grass. Like some of the other dogs, Laddie tried to run around the ditch on the left the first time I sent him. I called him back and sent him again, and the second time he ran an excellent mark, requiring no handling to run a good line despite all the factors such as the steep embankments, the underwater debris and high cover in the ditch, the barrier of the trees and underbrush, the stickpond, the suction of the islands, and the diagonal shoreline swim as the dog approached the far shore.
The short second mark to the left was thrown near a sharp bend in a channel. I decided to leave Laddie at the mound and walk up so that I could send him on a different line than the one from the mound. After walking up, I called Laddie to me before sending him, so that he would swim most of the way to the mark along the channel's shoreline, rather than swimming the short distance across the channel and coming up at the point of land where the channel bent, which was the direct line to the fall if the dog ran from the mound. I was the only handler to do this. I guess the other handlers weren't worried, as I was, that having the dog run the bank on that retrieve might run counter to the dog's primary guidelines ("stay in the water") for such a picture. If he'd run from the mound, Laddie would have actually had to veer offline on the right to stay in the water.
The third mark to the right was again across the ditch in front of the mound, then thru the line of trees and underbrush, then across the dirt road, then across the stickpond, then over a small island, then back into water and high reeds, then up onto wetland and high cover, then across a small inlet of running-depth water (field trainers call this "running water", as opposed to "swimming water"), then over a large field, then diagonally across a dirt road, and finally to a section of low cover in front of a mound, with woods behind that.
Laddie ran Series B as the second dog. The first dog had diverted around the small inlet of running water on this third mark, so when Laddie reached the same point, I blew WS and cast him straight back with a spin to the left, sending him over the inlet rather than letting him skirt it. Aside from that, he nailed the mark, not hunting short or otherwise getting diverted as several of the other dogs did on that mark.
Despite my using a whistle at one point or another on all three marks, I felt Laddie did an excellent job on this series. In a training situation like this, my mentors have suggested that it's better to handle Laddie and have him run the correct line, rather than just let him go to "see what he does".
As always, Laddie ran with great enthusiasm. However, his returns on all the marks were easily the worst of any of the dogs. On every one, he stalled at least somewhat before entering water on the returns, and in one or two cases, he put down the dummy to mark and then explore before responding to my recall cue, picking the dummy back up, and resuming his return.
Charlie discussed Laddie's work with me later, and at one point in the conversation, I commented on Laddie's dismal returns. Charlie's only comment on that subject was, "We don't judge the returns." Since Charlie is a Field Trial judge, and in fact was one of the judges at last year's National Open, I felt a bit less concerned about Laddie's returns after that comment. In fact, I'd say the greatest concern might be if Laddie's returns deteriorated even further, especially in event conditions, to the point that he wouldn't complete the delivery at all within a reasonable amount of time.