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!

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