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.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
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.
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.
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.