Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's the Gallery


This afternoon I drove Lumi and Laddie to Cheltenham with the intent of using our BBs for a private practice session.

But when I got there, Charlie had a group that was just starting, and he said Laddie could run with them. I felt optimistic that Laddie would do reasonably well, since he had done well running with the group on Sunday. Boy was I wrong.

Charlie set up three water singles:
  • The first required the dog to take a narrow strip of the edge of an inlet (the sort of thing we practice in our Skimming Drill), then a long swim missing a point by a few yards.
  • The second was an angle in, thrown across the corner of another inlet, with the outrun featuring a channel swim before hitting the open water.
  • The third was another skimming line, then across the open water again, then over a peninsula a couple of yards behind the gunner from the second mark, then across a channel, then up an embankment to a dirt road.
All of the marks were WBs.

Here's how Laddie did:
  • On the first mark, he tried to run the bank on the angle entry, but responded well to a WSC into the water. However, he then pushed too far from the shoreline he was supposed to be swimming close to, which brought him up on the peninsula well off line. As he crossed the peninsula, he ran around in two little circles with his head down at one point, something I've never seen him do before on an outrun and don't understand why he did it. Then he got going again and leapt into the second, bigger water, still well off line. This allowed him to easily miss the point in the second water, but he wasn't that close to it. In fact, he was the only dog all day who did not veer with the strong wind and current to the point and touch it. He easily found the WB, but instead of getting right back in the water with it, he carried it along the shoreline. I think he may have even dropped it at one point, I'm not sure. Rather than let him run the shoreline all the way to the end of the far inlet, I called "Here" and he entered the water, but now he was behind the point he was supposed to be swimming clear again coming back. I moved laterally quite a long way trying to catch sight of him and then handle him clear of the point, but without success. He probably put the bumper down and shook there, I'm not sure. He may have done the same when he got to the second peninsula. By staying way to the side, I got him to take the last water coming back, but of course that made it easier.
  • On the second mark, Laddie squared the water entry which put him in the center of the channel and made it easy for him to stay clear of the points on either side, but it also put him off line to mark, aiming him to come up on shore too soon. After he was in the open water, I handled him onto the correct line. When he reached shore, he overran the mark, which was the intent of the angle-in throw. I believe every dog did the same thing. He was able to double back and find it, but when he picked it up, instead of getting back in the water, he ran over to the thrower with it, then continued onto the peninsula. I don't remember all his shenanigans. He did respond when I called "Here" and if anything else bad happened on the return I don't remember it. By now I was in shock.
  • On the third mark, Laddie took a good line (I think) most of the way to the peninsula where the gunner for the second mark was sitting, but as he approached her, he began to veer to the wrong side of her. I handled him back on line and he had little trouble getting over the peninsula, back into the water on line, and to the bird. But once again, he picked up and ran with it to the gunner, plus I believe some other capers I don't remember. Again, I was able to call him back with "Here".
My friend Tony was the only trainer who had been both at the Sunday session with Laddie, and today's session. He joked, "You sure don't have very good luck on this pond," referring to the fact that Laddie hadn't behaved badly at all at Timmy's place on Sunday, but that he has behaved badly at this pond on other occasions before. Laddie has also behaved well on this pond before, even at this same location, and today, after the session with the group, I ran Laddie on half-a-dozen skimming marks on the same pond using our BB, some of which were just as tight and/or long as the marks Charlie had set up, and Laddie ran them without difficulty.

For Charlie's set up, Laddie's mind seemed to be blown. He needed handling on the first skimming line, he made those little circles on the first outrun, and screwed after every pick-up before getting back into the water. Why? What was special about the session with Charlie? It wasn't the location alone, because of the information I mentioned in the previous paragraph. And it wasn't the presence of people in the field, because there were five people in the field in the first series on Sunday and two in the second series.

The one difference that I can see is that in today's session with Charlie, there was a "gallery", that is, a number of trainers, and at least one on-looker, near the SL. That hadn't happened on Sunday because we only had enough trainers to man the gun stations while one trainer handled his dog or dogs at the SL.

It's unfortunate that this happened today. I felt that Charlie was beginning to see some potential in Laddie, but I'm afraid today's session did some serious damage to that assessment. Naturally I'm disappointed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Triples, Blinds, and Cool-off Drill

Rolling Ridge

In about two weeks, Laddie is scheduled to run in his next Senior test, and I have two concerns in preparing him. First, his marking on recent land multiples has not been as dead-on as it has been at times in the past, and second the heat has triggered a detour to water during returns from land retrieves several times this year.

Thinking about the latter issue, today I invented the Cool-off drill (click here to read a description), and with temps in the 80s, today's session was our first attempt to try it. I used a batch of nine fairly long retrieves on dry land (Series A, B and C) to get Laddie yearning for a swim, and then ran a single Cool-off drill retrieve (Series D).

After that, we did one small skimming retrieve near the pond (Series E) and a few more happy throws (open water retrieves) in the pond.

Here's a sketch of the work:
  • Series A. Land triple using two BBs, followed by a blind under the arc of the longest mark.
  • Series B. Land triple using two BBs, followed by a blind thru a keyhole and "behind" the BB used for the longest mark.
  • Series C. 300-yard land single thru a gap in a treeline, diagonally over rolling hills, and diagonally across a dry ditch.
  • Series D. Cool-off drill at 30 yards.
  • Series E. 40-yard skimming drill with SL at water entry.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Training with Field Trial group

Park Heights
Lumi, Laddie, and I used to train with Bob Hux at Timmy's property in Park Heights quite often, but in the year and half since Bob retired to Florida, we've only been to Timmy's property once, when Bob came back for a visit. Since Bob's groups were HT-oriented, we've never run FT set-ups at Park Heights.

But last night, Tony, one of the trainer's in Charlie's Cheltenham group, called me to let me know that several of the trainers were going to meet at Park Heights in the morning to train on grounds where the hay had just been cut, providing practice for that kind of terrain for the dogs.

We're in the middle of a heat wave and temps would reach the mid-90s, so we met at 8:00 AM, ran two series with the dogs swimming on every retrieve, and finished by noon.

SERIES A. Five singles

All of the dogs ran this set-up the same way, as five singles all within a 30° angle:
  1. 110 yards to far right, a pheasant thrown right to left on a sharp angle back
  2. 120 yards to far left, a pheasant thrown right to left behind a tree
  3. 230 yards to middle right, a pheasant thrown right to left on an angle back
  4. 230 yards to middle left, a duck thrown left to right
  5. 270 yards center, a duck thrown right to left on an angle back
A busy rural road ran less than 50 yards to the right of #1 and #3, so if any dog got too far behind the throwers on those marks, the gunners immediately began to help them as a matter of safety.

The property's technical pond lay between the SL and all five marks. #1 and #3 had suction for the dog to run the bank to the right. #2 required the dog to go on-and-off a point.

The lines to #4 and #5 involved going past several trees on either side.

I think that for most dogs, the primary challenges of Series A were the size of the set-up (given the hot weather), and the fact that the dog would lose sight of the falls while crossing the pond, losing sight of the fall twice on #2, where the fall was already obscure because it was behind a tree. Another challenge was the suction to run the bank on #1, #2 (second water crossing), and #3. I believe that the Skimming Drill we have run nearly every day for several weeks in a variety of locations benefited Laddie on today's work, since he required no handling to get in the water and stay on line for any of these marks.

From what I saw, only three dogs ran all five marks without requiring help or handling on any of them. They were Timmy's dog; another dog who regularly trains on FT set-ups on Timmy's property; and Laddie, who pinned every mark with little or no hunting.

Tony told me later that Laddie had done a nice job. Tony is an AKC HT and FT judge as well as an experienced hunter and trainer, so that was nice to hear.

However, Laddie exhibited one behavior pattern that could get us into trouble in an event. On the positive side, as he entered the water with the birds on three of his returns, he simply swam across the pond, climbed out, and delivered the birds. But on two of the returns, he dropped the birds at the far side of the pond and began floating around and lapping water. In each case he responded to "Fetch" by picking up the bird and completing his return, but a bird might have escaped if he'd done that with a "cripple". The good news was that he entered the water without hesitation, something we struggled with for much of Laddie's life, but the bad news was those two delays completing his returns once he was in.

Here's a satellite view of Series A:

View 20100627 Series A in a larger map

SERIES B. Two water singles

After watching how tired some of the dogs had gotten running Series A, the guys setting up Series B decided to limit it to two retrieves, after which we would quit for the day.

The ten or so dogs that ran Series B did so in a wide variety of ways, using several different start lines. Most of them ran it as two singles, but at least one ran it as a double. I'll describe the series as Laddie ran it. I believe he was one of only two dogs who ran it with a retired gun.

The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left across the end of the pond into a clump of high grass at 120 yards. The entry was on a very sharp angle that invited the dog to run the right side of the pond, and several of the dogs tried to do so, but Laddie entered the water on line to the bird and completed the swim to the end of the pond without handling. When he reached the end of the pond, he came out where the thrower was rather than where the bird had been thrown, but he immediately darted left, picked the bird up, and re-entered the water. During his return, I had to repeatedly handle him to the left to keep him from getting out of the water, the only time all day I handled him.

The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left from in front of a tree onto the grassy area past the pond at 140 yards. I used a different SL for this mark, such that Laddie had a shorter swim compared to the first mark but a longer run before entering water. The run from the SL to the water entry was down into a depression and then back up over the dike at the edge of the pond, and the gunner retired behind a camouflage umbrella as the dog traversed that depression.

Thick, 8' high grass grew in a large clump at the edge of the water and lay on the line for the second mark, but until the end of the series, none of the dogs, including Laddie, tried to run thru it, instead skirting it by detouring a little to the right, or in one case skirting it to the left. Finally, Timmy ran his dog next to last and handled his dog to run thru the cover, and at that point I realized I should have done the same thing with Laddie. The cover looked impenetrable, but Timmy's dog had no trouble running thru it, so if this kind of situation comes up again, I'll check out the cover before assuming that Laddie can't run thru it.

Here's a satellite view of Series B:

View 20100627 Series B in a larger map

Monday, June 14, 2010

Land Triple

Rolling Ridge

I had originally planned to run a land triple and a water triple with both dogs today at Hunt Test distances, just for the fun of it. But the gnats were so bad during the land triple that I just decided to throw some bumpers in the pond for them afterwards and then call it a day.

Temps were in the high 80s. The fields at Rolling Ridge have not been mowed in several weeks, so all the cover is at least waist high. For the triple, all three throws were made with our two BBs.

SERIES A. Interrupted triple with blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

The first throw was on the left, right to left at 100 yards. The BB was behind a fallen tree, and the throw was into a large area of shoulder-high cover the edge of which ran roughly parallel to the line to the fall, creating a uniform wall of cover difficult to see differences in along its length. The throw was made after I cued "Sit, mark," but without any other information until the gunshot went off and launched the bumper across the somewhat lower cover and into the higher stuff.

The second throw was in the middle, right to left at 60 yards, again from an area of somewhat lower cover into an area of shoulder-high cover. I sounded the BB's duck call before firing this mark. The line to the mark was thru the corner of an area of higher cover, which the dog could skirt by veering slightly to the right. I allowed Lumi to do so, whereas I called Laddie back when he tried to and had him go thru the triangle of high cover.

The third throw was on the right, thrown left to right at 20 yards and behind a large tree. The dog had to run well around to the left to get to the fall.

After all the dog had watched all three throws, I sent the dog to pick up the 20-yard mark on the right. Next, I had the dog run an 80-yard blind under the arc of the mark the dog had just picked up. Then I had the dog pick up the 60-yard middle mark. And finally, we turned in the direction of the 100-yard mark, which was 120° to the left of the middle mark, and I sent the dog to pick up the last mark, which had been the first mark down.

I had done everything I could think of to make the last mark difficult for the dog to remember. However, both dogs seemed to have a clear memory of it when I sent them to it, running out to the area of the fall at full speed. At that stage, both dogs had a moderate-length hunt, trying to find the correct place to enter the high cover and then trying to find the bumper inside. However, both dogs had the necessary persistence and eventually emerged from the high cover with the bumper without any attempt to interact with me.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Challenging Lines


I'd hoped to get some group training in with Laddie today, but only one other guy showed up at the property, and he was doing different things with his dog than I wanted to work on with Laddie.

So instead, I set up a series of single retrieves, sometimes a WB or OB planted, sometimes a WB thrown. Some of them are shown in the satellite view below. Because temps reached the high 80s, most of the work included some swimming.

I ran Lumi on a few retrieves as well, just for fun.

If you click the blue link at the bottom of the map, you'll see a page that gives the approximate sequence Laddie ran the retrieves, the distances, and an indication of which direction the retrieve went. You can also click the blue lines on the map to see which line is which.

Notes on Laddie's Performance

[I'm referring to these as blinds, but I made the WB or OB clearly visible on all of them. In today's drills, I was interested in Laddie's lines, not in control for situations where he doesn't know where the bird is.]

A (200-yard channel blind). Laddie has run this blind from shorter distances several times before. This was the first time we've run it from the mound near the barn. Laddie stayed away from the points on both sides on his own, without handling.

B (220-yard land blind). Laddie has also run this blind before. It goes from the mound near the barn, down into a depression, across a swim-depth ditch that narrows to the left, uphill across another wet area, and further uphill to the blind near the crest. If the dog gets off line to the right or goes too far, she can get out of sight. In the past, Laddie has required multiple casts to prevent him from cheating around the big ditch to the left. Today, I only needed a single cast "back", just as he started to veer left.

C and D (two skimming blinds). Our work on the Skimming Drill is paying off! Laddie required no handling on either of these retrieves.

E (180-yard channel blind). I had Laddie run (swim) this retrieve twice. The first time he got out of the water on the left 30 yards from the blind. The second time, he still required some handling, but he stayed in the water the whole way out.

F (340 yard land/water blind). Laddie has swum the water portion of this retrieve before, but that was from inside the road. Today, we ran it from the top of the hill near the barn. Laddie required handling to get past the first point, and also to get onto the second point, but he responded in both cases, which I think was good work at those distances.

G (180-yard land blind over a mound). For this retrieve, the dog runs from one mound near the barn, down a hill, across a road, over a second mound, and then picks up the blind on a third mound, all in a straight line. Laddie had considerable difficulty with this retrieve, repeatedly trying to round the middle mound to the left or right. After several tries, I shortened it up enough for him to succeed, and then had him rerun it from increasing distances till he finally ran the full route. However, I am not happy with how many times I expected him to be able to take the middle mound on his own when he wasn't ready, and had to call him back to try again. As a result, on the last retrieve he popped three times, clearly not confident in his understanding of what was required to avoid being called back. Hopefully we can work on this or something similar soon, and rebuild his confidence on this picture.

View 20100613 Challenging lines in a larger map

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cheating singles at Rebel Ridge

Rebel Ridge Farm

Today the dogs and I needed to travel to New York for my biweekly on-site work schedule. As we did a couple of weeks ago, I planned to stop at Rebel Ridge Farm, about halfway between home and my place in Brooklyn, to train with Patty's FT group, including Gaby.

However, when I arrived at Rebel Ridge, no other trainers were there, so I took the opportunity to work with Laddie on some of the retrieves we'd had the last time we trained with Patty, which was at this same location. Lumi, who's been with me instead of my daughter the last week, was "pick-up dog" for a couple of retrieves I didn't want Laddie to do, but mostly I was concerned with continued preparation of Laddie to run in Qualifying Stakes some day.

SERIES A. Swim-by pond

For Series A, Laddie ran four retrieves, two to an LP with a WB placed at the base, then two more thrown by a BB left to right from the corner of the last pond, angling back to the same position where the LP had been.

Series A was run at a pair of small rectangular ponds referred to as the swim-by ponds by some of the other trainers. The first retrieve to the LP was run from a point between the two ponds. The second retrieve to the LP was run over both ponds. The first retrieve with the BB was run from the same point between the two ponds. And the last retrieve, also with the BB, was run across a road and then over both ponds.

Here's a satellite view of Series A (the marks were run right to left in this view):

View 20100607 Series A in a larger map

SERIES B. Cheater with bridge concept

Series B was based on a set-up Patty had used for one of the marks in a triple the last time we trained together. The throw was a "bridge" mark, left to right across a neck in a technical pond, with the thrower on the left point and the fall on the right point. The position of the SL required the dog to take a sharp angle entering a pond, assuming the dog didn't run the bank. If the dog squared the entry, she would be swimming toward the thrower. Bridges are a difficult concept for many dogs anyway, and this entry made it even more likely that the dog would swim to the left point instead of the right one. To make it even worse, two decoys were floating near the left point.

For the version that Laddie ran today, I tried a BB with a stickman on the left bank, but the BB was not able to launch either of the bumpers all the way across to the right bank. After launching both of the BB bumpers, I let Laddie pick up one of them and sent Lumi for the other.

I then put Laddie in a stay at the same SL, walked to the left point, fired a pistol, threw a WB across to the right point, and walked back to the SL to run Laddie.

Laddie did so well on the earlier water entries that I decided to have him run it again, but raising criteria on the skimming picture. We walked to a new SL across the road and past a hay bale, left him at the new SL so I could throw for him again, and returned to run him. Again he took the water entry well. This time, although he did not square the bank on his water entry, he swam to one of the decoys near the left point. He then began a hunt which took in the left point and the water near that point, but he never crossed to the right point on his own. After letting him hunt unsuccessfully for some time, I blew a WS and cast him toward the right point, and he went almost directly to the WB without the need for further handling.

Here's a satellite view of Series B (the marks were run right to left in this view):

View 20100607 Series B in a larger map

SERIES C. Past a point, cheater on second pond

Series C was a 240-yard mark based on one Patty had used for one of the triples during our previous session training with her group. Today I used a BB with a stickman as our thrower. The BB was set near the top of a rise, and as with Patty's version, was aimed to throw left to right on a diagonal to the slope of the hill so that it landed at a low point in the terrain. The line to the fall was across one section of a technical pond that included swimming past a point on the left, then onto land, then across a second section of the pond, and finally back onto land to the fall.

I had Laddie ran this single twice. The first time, he started to run around the second section of the pond on the left. I stopped him with a WS, cast him right so that he was back on his original line, and then cast him "back", which took him across the water. He needed a hunt but soon found the bumper and brought it back. He ran around the far section of the pond on his return and I decided not to stop him, since most of Patty's dogs, even if they took the far section of water on their outrun — some did, some ran around it — they nearly all ran around it on their returns.

The second time Laddie ran this single, he took the second section of the pond on his own and also ran straight to the bumper. I was pleased to see that he had learned from the first time and didn't need to be handled to stay on his line and get into the second section of water.

Laddie made no attempt to swim to the point in the first section of pond either time.

Here's a satellite view of Series C (the marks were run top to bottom in this view):

View 20100607 Series C in a larger map

SERIES D. Two blinds

I decided not to run Laddie on the blind that Patty had set up for a few of her dogs last time, because I felt the blind would be less interesting this time because it wouldn't have the influence of flyers from a previous series that the dog had run earlier the same day last time. I decided instead to set up two of my own blinds intended to exercise skills Laddie has been working on lately.

The line for the first blind, 120 yards, was at a slight diagonal thru both of the swim-by ponds. Laddie didn't swim them on a diagonal but squared up when swimming inside each of them. The only time he needed to be handled was on the small strip of land between the two ponds, where he started to run around to the right before I blew WS, cast him over to the left, then quickly stopped him again and cast him into the second pond. He lined the blind from there.

The line for the second blind, 170 yards, was into the technical pond, past a point on the right, then on and off a second point to the blind on the far bank. Laddie needed a little handling to get past the first point, but lined the blind from there, taking the on-and-off without handling. He also needed handling past the closer point on the return, because I wanted him to return on the same line he'd taken out.

Here's a satellite view of Series D (the blinds were run right to left in this view):

View 20100607 Series D in a larger map

Friday, June 4, 2010

Skimming Drills with Time-outs

Rolling Ridge

For the last three days, Laddie and I have continued to work on the Skimming Drill, using our Bumper Boy for setups with both high cover and water as obstacles.

Each day, I've experimented with increasing distance to the entry point of the obstacle, and narrowing the width of the section cut off, the two factors that seem to have the most effect on difficulty. Laddie has been making steady progress for both kinds of increase in criteria.

I've done little handling. If Laddie attempts to skirt the obstacle, in most cases I call him back. Today, for example, I used no handling at all.

In today's Series A, Laddie did a great job on two retrieves running thru a corner of high cover. The distance to the entry was relatively short compared to some of our earlier set-ups, but the amount of cover to be cut off was smaller. In other words, I relaxed one criterion while raising another.

For Series B, we moved to the pond. Again, our distance was a little shorter than yesterday's at the pond (50 yards to the entry versus 70 yards yesterday), but today's slice of water was narrower than yesterday's.

As Series B progressed, I ended up making one change to our procedure that I had not planned in advance.

For the first three throws of Series B, Laddie tried to run the bank the first time I sent him, then took a good entry when I called him back and sent him again. When he tried that two-try pattern again and attempted to run the bank on the first send-out of the fourth throw, I called him back and made the snap decision not to give him a second opportunity to perform that particular retrieve. Instead, I walked him quietly to the van, put him in his crate, and closed the back gate. All the windows and a side door were still open for ventilation, but I wanted him to have a clear sense of a time-out, a procedure with which he has almost no experience, but which seemed appropriate in these circumstances.

After reloading the BB, I brought Laddie back out and we ran the same challenging retrieve again. This time he took the correct entry the first time I sent him after the throw, breaking the chain at last. Yay!

However, when I fired another bumper and sent him again, he again tried to run the bank. So for the second time today, I called him back, we walked to the van together, I had him get in his crate, and I closed the back gate of the van.

After reloading the BB one more time, I brought Laddie out and we ran the retrieve once more. Again he took the correct entry the first time I sent him after the throw. And then I fired the other bumper and sent him again, the only difference that I ran him from my other side, the more difficult side. It did no harm. This time, too, he took the correct entry.

I was pleased with the results of using the time-out for this situation. I think I could have taken a different approach, which would have been to move closer once I saw that he wasn't ready to run the first send out correctly four times in a row.

However, the fact that Laddie ran correctly the second time in each case seemed significant to me, as though he were learning a behavior chain of running the obstacle incorrectly on his first try, and then running it correctly after being called back. Not efficient, but not so easy for him to fix himself because of his strong impulse to run the bank and get to the fall that much faster. I felt that showing him a specific undesirable outcome for the two-try pattern, the lost opportunity to complete that retrieve at all, might be more appropriate in this case than simply lowering criteria by backing off on distance or increasing the width of the slice.

Why? Because I sensed a risk that if I didn't show him an undesirable outcome, the two-try pattern would remain in his system only to reappear in less convenient circumstances, such as group training or an event. In group training, the chain would probably be reinforced because I'd be reluctant to give up the entire series, and would be more likely to call him back and run him again. In an event, I wouldn't take any action at all and would hope that he could correct his line and complete the mark despite running the bank. If I was going to try to put an end to the two-try pattern, this seemed to be the right time to do it.

I don't know whether making it easier would have been better in this case, or if the time-out was better. I would not want to use time-outs very often. I can imagine undesirable side-effects of a time-out, such as Laddie someday intentionally running a bank if he was tired and wanted a break. But today, as a novel procedure, it seemed to work well.


It occurred to me later that perhaps another way of addressing the two-try chain would have been to use a Walk Out rather than calling him back. WOs have been quite effective for other difficulties in the past, and they appeal to me much more than using a time-out. I think that's what I'll try if it comes up again in the future.

Perhaps I shied away from it today because I'm currently suffering with a gout attack, which makes walking difficult. It's just something I'll have to deal with.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Skimming Drill with Remote Launcher

Rolling Ridge

Once again, Laddie and I worked at Rolling Ridge today on the Skimming Drill.

Since the drill is intended eventually to make skimming automatic for marks, I thought I'd try using our Bumper Boy as a "gunner". In addition, since I hope the drill will promote ease of handling in the same picture, I also ran a couple of blinds thru a corner of high cover without an LP at the blind.

As we have in most of our other Skimming Drill practice sessions, we trained both with corners of high cover, and with the curved sections of a pond. I'd have preferred an easier water picture, such as an angular corner, but curved shorelines are what we have available at this location.

As I usually try to, I used set-ups we've never used before on this property.

We ran six marks thru corners of high cover with the BB, six marks across a curved shoreline with the BB, two blinds thru a corner of high cover with WBs, and four more marks across a curved shoreline with the BB. For the first and second series with the BB, the BB was behind the obstacle and launching toward the open edge. For the last series, the BB was at the open edge and launching behind the obstacle. I didn't realize it until I tried it, but I thought the latter set-up turned out to present an easier picture.

Laddie continued to improve despite the addition of the BB, and also despite the removal of the LP for blinds. That is, he was able to take the edges of obstacles without handling from greater distance than in any previous session.

Actually, I used no handling today. If Laddie didn't take the obstacle correctly, I called him back.

Altogether, he needed to be called back only once on land and only twice on water. For the rest of his retrieves, he took the obstacle automatically. He lined both blinds.

Another area of improvement is that as recently as yesterday, he was taking the edges of water too fat. That is, he would square the entry and veer off line too far into the pond. From the standpoint of getting off line and possibly ending up lost, that would seem to be just as much a problem as running the bank. I worked with him extensively on not doing it the last few sessions, and today it was a non-issue.

It's possible that, prior training aside, the excitement caused by the BB helped pull Laddie into a straighter line. He always practices with great enthusiasm, but I still sensed that the BB — with its duck call, gunfire, and flying bumper — made the Skimming Drill even more fun for him.

Based on correspondence with Alice, one issue I've become concerned with is that the Skimming Drill could, in theory, cause a dog's marking to deteriorate, specifically if the dog became more concerned with taking the obstacles than with getting to the area of the fall and to the retrieval article itself. Several things made me think that that isn't happening with Laddie, at least not yet:
  1. He tried to cheat the obstacles those three times.
  2. When the bumper fell in mid-high cover on the land marks, he had no hesitation to dive in and hunt it up.
  3. When the bumper fell behind the embankment on the water marks, he flew over the embankment and disappeared from sight, then appeared a moment later, tail high and the bumper in hand.
In summary, to me he didn't seem to have lost any keenness for the mark.

One additional side note: I noticed today that Laddie doesn't merely race into high cover, he leaps and pounces on it as he enters. What style! :0)
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