Monday, May 31, 2010

Skimming Drills

Rolling Ridge

Like every day the last few days, today was a continuation of running Laddie on the Skimming Drill, first on land, then on water.

He's making good progress.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Skimming Drills

Rolling Ridge

In the morning, Laddie and I trained on a field in the Rolling Ridge subdivision near home on Brink Road.

Series A and B were mirror images of one another. In each series, I used three LPs and four WBs. I placed one LP at the SL, a second LP and two WBs on a line that went near but not thru a point of high cover, and the last LP and two WBs on a line that went thru the high cover a few feet from the point.

I then sent Laddie from one side to pick up all four of the bumpers, in this sequence: past the cover, thru the cover, past the cover, thru the cover. Then I put the bumpers back out and ran him to the same locations but from my other side.

Seeing the difficulty Laddie had with this drill, and the importance of this skill in FT competition, I wonder why I've never heard of anyone running this drill before. I've given it a name: the Skimming Drill. I can see many ways to vary it and to increase performance criteria:
  • With a point of high cover to skim
  • With a rounded edge of high cover to skim
  • With a pond's squared corner to skim
  • With a pond's rounded shoreline to skim
  • In water with a point of land to skim
  • In water with a rounded edge of land to skim
  • With white, orange or black bumpers
  • With or without a lining pole
  • From near the entry point to increasing distances back from the entry point
  • With the target near the exit point to increasing distances beyond the exit point
The goal is to get the point where the dog is able to run all of those pictures without handling.

Black Hills Regional Park

Series C was another skimming drill with high cover.

Series D was another skimming drill, but this time at a rounded edge of shoreline. Laddie made progress during Series D, but for the water retrieves, he never got to the point where he could cut straight across the curve of the pond without handling. In addition, he never got to the point where he could take the sharply angled entry without either running the bank or squaring the shoreline, so we needed to run every water retrieve for Series D from water's edge.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Skimming Cover

Liberty State Park

After a 2-1/2 hour drive to go 9.2 miles, thru first the Battery Tunnel and then the Holland Tunnel, Laddie and I finally arrived at lovely Liberty State Park on the New Jersey shore just a short, scenic view from the Statue of Liberty.

The sun was nearly on the horizon, but we still had a few minutes of sun and then twilight to work on a large, slightly domed field of low cover adjoining an area of high cover on one side.

The area of high cover took a curved shape, creating a perfect opportunity for Laddie to work on the difficult lining picture I call "skimming". The dog must enter the high cover at a very sharp angle, run thru it for some distance, and then emerge again to continue in a straight line from the original SL. A similar challenge occurs when the dog is sent toward a rounded shoreline, and rather than veering slightly to run the bank, must enter the water and swim just a few feet from shore till reaching the far edge of the curve.

Although Laddie learned to run into cover, rather than around it, long ago, I learned in today's work that he does not yet understand these very sharp angles of entry. Instead, he repeatedly attempted to run just outside of the cover, curving around in the low cover rather than cutting into and thru the high cover.

I had several unsuccessful attempts to elicit the correct behavior by calling him back and sending him again, each time moving closer and closer to the entry point. I then put him at the SL in a sit and entered the cover myself, carrying a bumper with me. I pushed thru the high cover on the line I wanted Laddie to take, walked nearly to the far edge, and thru the bumper straight forward and high, so that Laddie could see it from where he was waiting. I was then able to send him and have him take the correct line.

After that breakthrough, we ran the same thing a few more times, the only difference being that I moved the SL further and further back away from the entry point into the high cover.

We had enough time for several successful retrieves. By then, Laddie was panting hard in the hot, muggy air, so we got back in the van and drove back to our room in Brooklyn.

Monday, May 24, 2010

FT group work and water returns

Rebel Ridge

In the past, when I wrote that my dogs and I trained with a Field Trial group, I meant Charlie's group training in Cheltenham. But today, I mean a different group, Pattie's group, who was training at Rebel Ridge in northeastern Maryland. Pattie is professional retriever trainer and a friend of Gaby's, and has been kind enough to welcome Laddie and me to train with her group from time to time. We trained with her today as Laddie and I were on the way to New York — Rebel Ridge is at approximately the halfway point on our biweekly drives to New York — and also a couple of other times recently.

In today's group training, the dogs ran two land/water set-ups with three marks in each. All the throws were ducks, except that the middle throw of the first set-up was a white bumper, and the middle throw of the second set-up was a duck flyer.

I won't describe the set-ups in detail because it's not important for the purposes of this post. Suffice it to say that most of the marks invited "cheating" (running around one or more water crossings), and that both set-ups overall were significantly longer than a typical Hunt Test set-up.

Despite the fact that Laddie ran both set-ups as three singles (most of the dogs ran them as triples), here's what the other trainers probably "saw" when they watched Laddie take his turn: a terrible marking dog, with virtually no sense of where most of the falls were and, to all appearances, no concept of taking a water entry rather than running the bank.

Now here's what I saw: a dog who, amazingly, picked up every bird and trotted right into the water with it on his returns, making it look simple and routine. Between the two series, I'd guess that added up to about ten water entries with a duck.

Dating back for years, and as recently as only a few weeks ago, I was concerned that I would never solve Laddie's problem of returning into water while carrying an article, especially a duck, and at its worse with strangers around. Never mind the fact that most retrievers seem to have no difficulty with that skill at all, for Laddie it seemed potentially fatal to his competitive career.

How much does this milestone have to do with the Walking Recall, a training plan I invented a couple of weeks ago and have described on my reference blog, "The 2Q Retriever"? That's a question I can't answer. But I am pleased with Laddie's breakthrough, and if the Walking Recall is part or all of it, I'm happy that I finally found a solution to this major flaw in Laddie's development.

Sometimes progress with one skill is accompanied by a temporary setback in another. Maybe that's why Laddie's marking was so awful today. Or maybe it was a case of Group Discount Factor, similar to Alice Woodyard's term, "Event Discount Factor," which describes the almost inevitable decline in performance of a dog in an event compared to the dog's work in practice. Today Laddie was training with a new, and rather large, group, on a property he's only seen a few times and has never run FT set-ups on. Nor is he particularly experienced in FT groups set-ups at all. Plus we had flyers today. With all that change and all that excitement, perhaps it would be surprising if Laddie's performance hadn't declined some.

Well, bad marking is bad marking. Hopefully Laddie's good marking will resurface again sometime, and better sooner than later. Meanwhile, Laddie is finally able to bring a bird back over water even under in the presence of lots of other trainers, lots of other dogs, and even a few crates full of flyers!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Land blinds

Emory Road

Today I had Gabriel, Renee's Golden, in the van along with Lumi and Laddie as we were driving Renee first to work at the fitness club where she teaches, then to visit her mother about an hour from our house. I stopped on three of the legs to take the dogs for hikes in various green areas, and on two of them, I left the dogs in the van while I planted a blind (OB), then let them all out and ran Laddie on the blind. The two blinds were in a large field, traversed by a winding paved road, owned by one of the utility companies. Laddie ran one of the blinds in the morning, the other in the afternoon.

SERIES A. Land blind

Series A was a 280 yard blind run in light rain. The line to the blind was diagonally across a rectangular section of field, to the left of a telephone pole on the edge of a slope down to the road, an angle away from the road, across a concrete ditch, across a grassy area on an angle toward the tree line of a wooded section, and across a section of wood chips to the edge of an intersecting wooded section, with the OB planted at wood's edge.

Series A had two challenges: (1) Running the dog just to the left of the pole and to the right of the road, which required the dog to reach the downhill slope at 150 yards from the handler, then run sideways along the slope till passing to the left of the telephone pole. (2) Staying to the left of the wooded section, when a large uphill field invited the dog to run to the right of the wooded section.

Laddie had trouble with the line and needed to be called all the way back in twice, and partially back in a couple more times, but he remained responsive to both WS and casts the entire time, and as always maintained a high level of enthusiasm and engagement.

SERIES B. Land blind

Series B was a 180 yard blind run in what had become a warm, sunny afternoon. The line to the blind was along the left edge of a curving road, then at a sharp angle off of the road and diagonally up a slope adjoining the road, between two telephone poles 10 yards apart, 100 yards across a meadow angling in toward a section of woods, to the OB planted in cover in front of a large shrub at the edge of the woods.

I thought that the challenges of Series B were: (1) To get off the road on a straight line rather than following the curve of the pavement. (2) To run diagonally up the slope adjacent to the road rather than squaring the slope and also rather than following the hill's baseline. (3) To run between the two poles rather than outside one of them or possibly even hunting the base of one of them. (4) To stay on line while approaching the woods on an angle rather than squaring the wood line to the left or running the open meadow parallel to the wood line by veering right. (5) To stop and find the OB in cover rather than darting into the woods or running past the shrub without responding to a handle.

As it turned out, Laddie had no difficulty with any of those challenges. He stayed on an excellent line off the road, up the hill, and thru the telephone poles, then responded well to three WSCs to keep him in a narrow corridor to the blind.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Land blinds

West of Zion Park

As the weekend and Laddie's next Senior test approaches, with temps in the low 50s, I thought today might be a good day to give him a little handling practice. This adds to the variety of recent days, when we've run such things as a quad thrown with two BBs to exercise Laddie's memory, a double with a sharp angle back and a sharp angle in thrown by a single BB, and a water double thrown with two BBs combined with a water blind requiring a shoreline swim.

Today's blinds (OBs) were hopefully more difficult than anything Laddie will see on Saturday, giving a safety margin in preparation for the test.

The first blind was in the middle at 80-yards. The line to the blind was thru knee-high cover, past a telephone pole, and thru a strip of waist-high cover, then straight up a nearly sheer rise to the top of a 15' high mound. The bumper was planted at the crest of the rise, so that Laddie had to get to the top and then immediately stop, or he would disappear on the other side and we'd be unable to see one another, making handling impossible.

The second blind was to the right at 180 yards, at the end of a split-rail fence. The line to the blind was thru knee-high cover, then moist mud, with the blind planted in a clump of high cover. The challenge of this blind was that the actual placement was in the vicinity of a variety of likely-looking alternative blind placements: a telephone pole on the right, a mound on the left, and a gap between the fence and the mound that could easily have represented a keyhole, with a small meadow and then an orchard of widely spaced trees beyond.

The third blind was to the left at 280 yards. The line to the blind included a variety of factors intended to challenge Laddie's handling. The line was thru knee-high cover most of the way. After an initial open stretch, the line went under a giant electrical tower, past a mound of strongly scented topsoil, over a spot with a deer hoof and several leg bones still attached to each other, and sideways for nearly a hundred yards up a hillside. The blind placement was marked with an LP, and as in the first blind, was placed at the crest of the hill, so that if Laddie went more than a few steps past the plane of the blind, he'd disappear behind the hill and we wouldn't be able to see each other.

Laddie had little trouble with any of these blinds, but did require handling on all of them. For the short blind in the center, he faded left or right each time I cast him back near the sheer rise, since I doubt I've ever run him on a blind that required such a climb, and the rise must have looked like a border or barrier rather than a path to the blind at first. For the second blind on the right, Laddie was drawn to all of the expected diversions, but remained responsive to the WSCs I used to redirect him each time he faded away from the clump of cover containing the bumper. For the third blind, he had little trouble staying on line, but he stalled at the deer bones and required a number of casts to send him racing back to the LP and the final bumper. When I later went to retrieve the LP, I realized why it had taken so long to get him going again: He had used a spot a few feet from the bones to eliminate.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Advanced retrieves


Although I wasn't able to get Laddie to the FT training group in time to train with them today, Laddie and I did train at Cheltenham in late morning and early afternoon, using the Bumper Boy (BB) Derby Doubles we recently acquired. I replaced the battery in one of them a couple of days ago, and yesterday I repaired the wiring in the other one, where some of the tiny wires had somehow gotten severed.

With temps above 80°, I decided to have all of today's retrieves as water retrieves.

Although any of today's retrieves could have been run as blinds, I felt that Laddie's learning would be better using the BBs at this stage, for two reasons. First, I wanted Laddie to have a clear picture of his destination, so that if I had to handle him, he'd have an opportunity to recognize that it was because he had veered off line. Second, I wanted to provide a more pleasurable association for these long, challenging retrieves, and felt that running to a mark launched on a big arc with gunfire would probably be more fun for Laddie than running a blind.

SERIES A. Two water singles

Series A consisted of two water marks run across the property's large pond. Though Laddie basically ran Series A as two back-to-back singles, I moved the SLs to provide the kinds of lines I wanted Laddie to practice.

The first mark was on the right, thrown left to right to water's edge at 190 yards. The line to the fall ran down a steep hill, across an inlet, a few feet to the right of a point, across the main pond past two honking Canada geese on the left, across the next point, and across an inlet to the bumper. Laddie ran and swam a perfect line most of the way, but when he reached the far point, I saw him glance to the left, toward a cheating opportunity around the left side of the final inlet. I blew WS and cast him "over" off the point to the right. He lined the mark from there.

The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left angling back across a dirt road to the edge of the woods at 210 yards. The line to the mark was across level ground, over a dirt road, down a steep embankment, across the near inlet, over the same peninsula that Laddie had swum past without touching on the earlier retrieve, across the rest of the pond thru the area where the geese had been swimming, up the far embankment, across another a dirt road, and nearly to the woods that surround the pond. Laddie ran and swam another perfect line, this time to the far shore and up the embankment, but at that point he veered right and began to hunt in the area of the BB. After some time, I decided to handle him to the fall. I made that decision for two reasons: First, I'm not a fan of long hunts, and if there'd been a real gunner, I'd have called for the gunner to help. And second, since there was no real gunner, it was an opportunity for Laddie to get some positive reinforcement (that is, success) from long distance handling cues.

Here's a satellite view of Series A:

View 20100502 Series A in a larger map

A Note on Using "Over" off the Point

As I mentioned above, I used an "Over" cast off the far point on the first mark of Series A. This is something I had read about in an article by Alice Woodyard, but I had some direct experience with it earlier this week. In a similar situation, I used a straight "Back" cast, and as Alice had warned in the article, Laddie disappeared behind the point and then veered sharply toward the shoreline rather than carrying his cast. When I called him back and reran him, I used an "Over" cast to get him off the point, then cast "Back" from open water, where I had a clear view of him, and him of me.

That worked much better, and I remembered to use the same strategy today.

SERIES B. Two up the shore singles

One challenge for Laddie, and I guess for all retrievers, is staying on line and in the water when its necessary to swim past a gunner to a mark thrown on an angle back along the shoreline, a set-up called "up the shore". The double suction of the landfall, and the gunner, are difficult for a young retriever to resist.

For Series B, I decided to run the same up-the-shore retrieve twice. I assumed that I'd need to handle on the first one, and then I'd have Laddie run the identical retrieve and perhaps he would not need handling the second time. That's exactly how it went. Here's a description of the retrieve.

I sent Laddie from near water's edge, with a slight angle entry that was no challenge for Laddie. He then swam thru a keyhole formed by an island on one side and a point on the other. Next, he swam thru a stick pond, ignoring protruding trees and various decoys, passing the opening of a channel on the left. The BB was positioned several yards from the corner of that channel opening up the shoreline, aimed so that it would throw the bumper on an angle back further along the shoreline, nearly to a large tree on water's edge.

The first time, Laddie swam a good line till he got past the channel opening, then veered right toward the BB. But he accepted handling, swam out to the left, and completed the retrieve without getting out of the water until he reached the bumper.

The second time, Laddie did not veer and swam straight to the bumper.

SERIES C. Double mark

Although today was mostly about running and swimming good lines, and the go-bird of Series C was very much about that objective, I decided to use Series C for another couple of objectives as well. I had Laddie run it as a double, challenging his memory. Also, the first throw, that is the memory-bird, was unusually long for us. Here's a description of Series C:

The first mark was on the left, thrown left to right across a road at 320 yards. As seen from the SL, the BB was on the left of a cedar tree 150 yards out, and the fall was on the right. The line to the mark was across an area of cover, across a channel, across a large field, across a water-filled ditch, across another large field, and over the road to the fall. That was the memory-bird.

The second mark was on the right, thrown left to right on an angle back at 240 yards. The line to the second mark was across a section of cover, across the channel, across a point of land, a swim thru two keyholes formed by a broad point on the left and first a peninsula, then an island, on the right. After the keyholes, a wide expanse of water lay before the dog. The line approached the far shore on an angle, then crossed more cover to the fall. That was the go-bird.

As it turned out, the second mark was too difficult for Laddie. Every time he went off the back of the point of land, disappearing for some time, he came up again either on the left or the right. I called him back to the point three times, positioned him for a straight back cast each time, and raised an arm straight up, calling "Back". He would seem to launch off the back of the point on the correct line, but when he became visible again, he was up on one side or the other each time. Finally I called him back to the SL and lined him up for the long memory-bird.

I thought it would be that much more of a challenge, since it had been so long since he'd seen it thrown, but Laddie nailed it perfectly.

I then piled Laddie into the van and drove him around to the other side of the property, parked the van, and together we walked to the point that I'd been casting him off of. I then had him run the Series C go-bird as a blind. Even with me that close to him and in clear view, Laddie still has significant difficulty with the double keyhole. He seemed to understand going thru the first one, but treated the second one as a barrier, repeatedly swimming left or right rather than straight back. I think part of the problem was the unusual (for us) configuration. But a second part of it was the big water that lay beyond the keyhole. By that time, Laddie had been running retrieves for three hours, the first two featuring long swims and all of them featuring mental challenges.

Eventually, Laddie did accept a cast thru the second keyhole and lined the retrieve the rest of the way, perhaps remembering the original picture even though we had driven around to the closer launch point.

Here's a satellite view of Series C:

View 20100502 Series C in a larger map

A Note on "Dummies" vs. "Bumpers"

Around the time I started training Lumi for field work, I read somewhere that "training dummies", or "dummies", is the newer terminology, replacing "bumpers", the older terminology. Ever since then, I've tried to use "dummies" whenever possible.

However, I've finally concluded it's a losing battle. First of all, I don't know a single other trainer who uses the term "dummies", though they all know what I mean when I say it. And secondly, Laddie and I now train with Bumper Boy equipment. Having a BB throw dummies just sounds silly.

So from now on, it's "bumpers", along with associated new abbreviates as needed, such as WB and OB.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Poison-bird Singles

[Laddie and I continue to train every day, but I haven't had time to update this training journal every day. Examples of things we've worked on:
  • 300-yard+ blinds in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, in twilight and usually with other people and dogs, some off lead, dotting the field
  • Training with Gaby and some of her dogs, sometimes with other trainers as well; for example, yesterday we practiced several set-ups in which the dog would run one or more land-water marks as well as a land-water blind, each of which would require the dog to go past a point without touching it, to go over a point, or combinations of both in the same retrieve; distances were in the 100-200 yard range
  • The Walking Recall drill that I invented this week and hope to describe in our companion blog, The 2Q Retriever; Laddie and I now use this drill for lunchtime walks in Brooklyn as well as strolls across the rolling hills of ProspectPark
Power-line Right of Way, Fieldcrest Road

Today Laddie and I went to a field a few minutes from home, under the massive array of power lines that runs thru our part of the county. We've often trained under those lines, which run for many miles. We've never trained on this particular stretch before.

SERIES A. Poison-bird single
First, I used the Bumper Boy (BB) to throw a mark right to left angling sharply back, with the fall at 50 yards. Then, I had Laddie run a 130-yard blind "behind the gunner", with the line to the blind passing slightly to the right of the BB, diagonally down a long hill, diagonally across a wide depression, with an area of impenetrable shrubbery angling in on the right and a ditch, backed by a treeline, angling in on the left. The line ultimately passed the point of the shrubbery on the right, crossed the ditch, ran diagonally uphill a short distance, and lay a yard or so inside the treeline. After Laddie ran the blind, I sent him to pick up the mark.

SERIES B. Poison-bird single
First, I used the BB to throw a mark left to right angling, with the fall at 50 yards in a large, sloped depressing. Then, I had Laddie run a 150-yard blind on a line 180° from the line to the mark. The line to the blind went over the crest of a grassy hill, passed close to the point of a section of woods, ran thru knee-high cover and between two shrubs so close together that the foliage touched at the top, approaching a white split-rail fence angling in on the right, and under the branches of some trees at the edge of the woods where the blind was planted. After Laddie ran the blind, I sent him to pick up the mark.
Line Mechanics for Poison Birds
I thought I'd mention a convention of line mechanics that I use with both Lumi and Laddie when running them on interrupted marks, that is, marks that act as PBs until after the dog has run one or more blinds.
The convention is that I have the dog watch the mark or marks on the side that the go-bird is thrown as normal. For example if the go-bird is thrown left to right, the dog watches the throw or throws from my right side, and will eventually run the marks from there as well.
But if I'm going to have the dog run a blind after watching the throws, but before picking them up, I have the dog switch to my other side to line up for the blinds. I believe switching sides before being sent helps the dogs understand that they will be running a blind or two before being sent to pick up the marks.
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