Monday, July 26, 2010

Steadiness Training

Mt. Ararat Farm

Today, Gaby and a couple of bird-boys (her son Jim and a friend of his, Dave) helped me work on steadiness with Lumi and Laddie.

Although Lumi participated in every step of the work, her performance was too inconsistent for confident skill development. For example, she repeatedly tried to take the flyers to a shady error to spend time alone with them, rather than bringing them back to Gaby, who was handling Lumi.

Therefore, today was primarily for working on Laddie steadiness.

As an aside, I had also hoped to give Laddie practice with out-of-order flyers (that is, the flyer as memory-bird rather than as go-bird), but it turns out that, at least for my dogs, you can't have an active, clipped-wing duck at 50 yards and a dead duck at 30 yards and expect the dog to pick up the dead bird first no matter what order they were thrown in. I'm sure it can be taught, but it wasn't worth it to me, so after the third throw, we had the flyer thrown as the go-bird for the remaining doubles.

We ran a total of eight doubles, alternating Laddie (who ran first) and Lumi as working dog, with the other dog honoring the working dog. We used no honor dog for Laddie's first double, and Lumi did not honor after her last double.

I handled Laddie the entire time, and Gaby handled Lumi the entire time. Jim threw the live ducks, firing live ammo at the ground where the duck would land while the duck was still in the air. For the dead ducks, Dave blew a duck call, then threw and fired a blank pistol while the bird was in the air. We used three live ducks for the whole series.

Jim was positioned with the bird crate behind a holding blind. Dave was in the open, on an angle 60° to the left of Jim. Both gunners threw left to right. As mentioned above, Jim threw first for the first three doubles, Dave threw first after that.

Our SL was an LP, with a holding blind on the right. For maximum excitement, I had Laddie honor between the holding blind and Lumi (the working dog), a few steps forward so that he was closer to the clip-wing duck as it was being thrown than Lumi was, and so that Lumi would walk behind him when coming to the line, then run past him on the way to the duck.

Both dogs wore yard collars with tabs. For Laddie;s last series of working and honoring, I removed the collar and substituted a loose slip-lead. By that time, I was confident that he wouldn't break, but I wanted to make sure that he wasn't wise to the collar and tab.

From what Gaby told me, Lumi's steadiness steadily improved, but I'm not sure of the details.

Laddie was steady working on all four of the doubles he ran. He may have tried to break from honor on the first double that Lumi ran — unfortunately, I can't remember — but he was steady at honor for the other three. He may have even been steady on the first one.

Following the style I've used with both dogs for at least a year, when Laddie was honoring I stood at his right flank, facing away from the field, and I cued the honor with "Just watch".

However, I made several changes to the honor compared to previous training:
  1. We did not run to the van to play after the honor. Instead, Laddie watched Lumi run to her clip-wing, and soon thereafter I walked Laddie to the holding blind to wait our turn to run again. While this is not the pattern that would occur in an event, I think it's high value reinforcement for a successful honor. We did go to throw some ducks away from Gaby and Wes after Lumi and Laddie completed their last series.
  2. I did not repeat "Just watch" over and over again as Laddie was honoring. I said it more than once on some of his honors when his body language suggested he might need a reminder, but I want to move toward Laddie honoring without me talking to him and I felt we were building duration successfully.
  3. I did not walk directly away from the field and call "Here" when releasing Laddie from his honor. Instead, I slowly turned, took a step toward the field, and crossed in front of him, saying "Here" while showing a target hand for him to follow as he turned away from the field. Those mechanics were based on a recommendation from another trainer some weeks ago, who had once had a dog break after being released. He told me that after that, he stepped in front of the dog after being released rather than stepping away and calling.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Water Work

Lakeside Boulevard

Today, Gaby and I again met at the Lakeside Boulevard pond in Edgewood. Gaby had Gus, her Chessie, who will be running in a Senior Hunt Test next weekend, and Buster, her yellow Lab, who will be running in his first Qualifying Stake next weekend. I had Laddie, who is not currently entered in any events but practices at about the same level as Buster.

For Gus, we ran him on two Senior-like water series — a double and a blind — and also ran a confidence drill on water with him at the end to work on his tendency to pop when the gun is retired and the fall is not visible from the start line.

For Buster, we had him run three shoreline marks of 100-150 yards, a 200-yard water blind, and a drill extracted from Alice Woodyard's Diversion drill to get Buster more comfortable with running to a long mark or blind behind the gunner for a shorter mark, since he had flared in that situation on the water blind.

Laddie ran two shoreline blinds similar to the lines he ran here yesterday, a 150-yard shoreline mark (one of the same ones Buster ran), a 200-yard water blind (the same one Buster ran).

Below, I provide additional detail on the long water blind. Since it's the only series I'll describe in detail, I'll call it Series A, though it was actually about the seventh setup of the day.

SERIES A. Water single plus blind

I've gradually come to realize that the art of creating a challenging retrieve is not only to place so that various factors come into play, but also to arrange for as many of those factors as possible to influence the dog in the same direction. This is called stacking factors, I believe.

The satellite view below shows Series A, a 200-yard water blind. It was actually combined in Series A with a short mark intended to add to the stacking. Here's a description of the series.

The single mark was thrown from a position close to the shoreline, on a sharp angle back right to left into open water at 50 yards. After the dog picked up the mark, the dog was sent on the blind shown in the satellite view.

I attempted to stack several factors all of which were intended to push the dog to the right:
  1. To take the correct line into water, the dog had to run behind the gunner, who was seated facing to the left, coming within a a couple of yards. If the dog pushed off the gunner, it put the dog into the water on a line too far to the right.
  2. If the dog squared the water entry, that would aim the dog too far to the right.
  3. A light wind was blowing left to right.
  4. Perhaps because of the wind, the water also seemed to be moving left to right.
  5. The dog passed a point on the right a little more than halfway out.
  6. The point became more of a problem because the water became shallow enough for the dog's feet to touch bottom several yards out from the point. When a dog touches bottom, that tends to draw the dog more strongly to nearby land.
  7. Once the dog was past the point, a wide inlet opened up behind the point, with several patches of cattails to attract the dog, and several pieces of litter floating in the water acting as decoys.
  8. As the dog got closer to shore, a tendency to square the shoreline also pulled the dog to the right.
Gaby's Lab Buster in fact succumbed to the stacked factors toward the right, flaring around the short gunner on the water entry, then ending up on the point, and almost getting lost behind the point. But Gaby was able to keep Buster within control and he ended up climbing onto shore at the perfect exit point, then easily handled thru the keyhole to the blind.

The first time I sent Laddie on the blind, he took a line on the short gunner's left. Although he was not that far off line and I could have handled him back onto the correct line, I wanted to see whether he would flare off the gunner if he took the correct line so I called him back, carefully lined him up and got him locked in, and sent him again.

This time he took the correct line and did not flare off the gunner. He then took a good entry into the water and swam the first half of the outrun on a good line. As he approached the area of the point, he began to veer slightly right. I blew WS and cast him on an angle back to the left, which he took and carried well. That took him past the point on a good line, which he held halfway thru the open water on the far side of the point. Then he began to veer left for some reason, and it took two or three WSCs on an angle back to the right to get him going in the correct direction again. He came up on shore further to the left than he should have, but had no trouble pushing thru the shoreline cover, running up the embankment, running thru the middle of the keyhole formed by two trees, and picking up the blind.

Gaby and I were reasonably pleased with the performance of both our dogs on this blind, and were also happy to have them get practice with a big-water swim.

View 20100718 Water blind in a larger map

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Skimming Singles and Blinds

Edgewood, Maryland

This morning, Gaby with her Chessie Gus, and I with Laddie, explored an area between her place and mine, looking for places we could train today and also in the future. Gaby had heard of one location, which we were able to find after some driving around. In the course of driving around, we asked for directions at one point that took us to a completely different pond. We decided to continue looking until we found the planned destination, trained there, and then returned to the one that we had discovered by accident afterwards for some additional training.

At the first pond (Lakeside Boulevard), I ran Laddie on Series A, B, and C described below, while Gaby ran Gus on a completely different set-up, a water double and blind we set up to practice Gus for his Senior test next weekend.

At the second pond (Copenhaver Park), I ran Laddie on Series D described below, while Gaby ran Gus again on completely different set-ups, two water-double-plus-blind series again similar to what Gus might see in a Senior test.

While Gus's set-ups were intended as practice for Senior water series, all marks were thrown with visible falls to engender confidence in marking. I was pleased with Gus's performance, and I think Gaby was as well.

I haven't tried to describe Gus's series in detail in this post.

Lakeside Boulevard

This is the pond we originally looking for.

I've shown the three series Laddie ran today on this pond in the satellite views below. Gaby threw the marks. Note that I've attempted to show the arc of the throw for each mark with a small pink triangle.

SERIES A. Water single plus sight blind

For Series A, the mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 110 yards. On the mark, Laddie had to run thru cover at each water entry and exit, including a thick patch of high cattails on the final water exit. The sight blind was on a line 90° to the left of the line to the mark, an OB at 90 yards marked by an LP with a tape waving at the top. For the sight blind, I moved the start line to create the desired line to the LP and bumper. Laddie required handling on the mark, but no handling on the sight blind's shoreline swim.

SERIES B. Water single

For Series B, Gaby threw a 70-yard mark right to left down the embankment to water's edge. As with the Series A mark, Laddie required handling on this mark. Here's a satellite view:

View 20100717 Series B. Water single in a larger map

SERIES C. Water single

For Series C, Gaby threw a 100-yard mark left to right down the embankment to water's edge. Here's a satellite view, showing that Laddie needed to take a sharp angle entry into water, then a sharp angle exit, then a second sharp angle entry into water again, before getting to the fall at the final shoreline. Laddie required no handling on this mark.

View 20100717 Series C. Water single in a larger map

Copenhaver Park

This is the pond someone directed us to when we were trying to find the other one. The pond was nestled in woods and covered with large patches of lily pads, one of the most picturesque venues Gaby and I have trained or tested at. In addition, the microclimate here was significantly cooler than the high 80s temps we were experiencing at Lakeside Boulevard.

SERIES D. Water blind

I've shown the 90-yard water blind Laddie ran here in the satellite view below (running from top to bottom in the view). The line to the blind required two sharp angle entries into water thru shoreline foliage. Based on Laddie's performance, it was evident that Laddie was taking a line based on the direction he was sent from the SL, and could not see the bumper until he had gotten up on the final shoreline.

View 20100717 Series D. Water blind in a larger map

Notes on Laddie's performance

Laddie's set-ups were all intended to challenge his ability to take difficult angle entries into water, one of the obstacles we've been working on with the Skimming Drill. Today was a great opportunity to try his skill out in new locations, and with Gaby and her dog present for added excitement and distraction proofing, rather than in private practice as we usually work. I would have preferred that Laddie take each water entry without handling, and in fact he did not require handling for either the shoreline sight blind in Series A nor for the water mark in Series C. However, he did require handling for the marks in Series A and B. I felt that the fact that he didn't require handling for Series C showed good short-term learning, which hopefully will continue to develop Laddie's long-term learning.

With Series D, the first time I sent Laddie, he tried to run the bank at the mid-point and handled poorly when I tried to get him back on a good line. So I called him all the way back and ran him from the SL again. This time he took an excellent line and got past all the trouble without handling, requiring only a minor adjustment in the open water in the last third of the outrun.

Gaby told me several times how pleased she was with Laddie's work on today's retrieves. That was great to hear.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Interrupted Single, Skimming Drill, Offline Drill


SERIES A. Interrupted Single (Lumi)

Since Lumi seemed interested in getting in some work, I set up the BB for a 50-yard angle-in into medium cover in open meadow. Then I had Lumi run a 90-yard blind (OB) 90° to the right, before sending her to pick up the mark. She ran the blind well, without any attempt to detour over to the mark, then nailed the mark. I thought it was a nice job on a pretty difficult memory-bird.

SERIES B. Land triple and blind (Laddie)

For Series B, the first mark was in the middle, thrown left to right on an angle-out at 140 yards. The second mark was on the right, thrown left to right on a sharp angle into medium cover in open meadow at 70 yards. The third mark was on the left, thrown right to left on an angle-in at 110 yards. All three marks were thrown by BBs. After Laddie picked up the three marks in the reverse order they were thrown, he ran a 180-yard blind (OB) on a line that ran just to the right of the line to the middle mark.

The third mark, the go-bird, was the kind of retrieve we've been practicing in the Skimming Drill, with a sharp angle entry into high cover to take a straight line to the fall. The second mark was challenging because it was an angle-in and because the dog had no reference points near the fall. The first mark was fairly easy. The challenge on the blind was that the dog had just run in that approximate direction to pick up the final memory-bird and dogs with Laddie's level of experience have learned not to return to old falls.

Laddie did marvelously on Series B. He took the angle entry into cover on the go-bird in both directions, and he nailed all the marks, including the second mark on the right, the location of which I had forgotten but Laddie had not. After picking up the marks, he then ran the blind without difficulty, taking WSCs to stay within a narrow corridor.

SERIES C. Offline Drill

For some time, Laddie has been running blinds successfully but has taken longer to stop on his WSs than I would like, so today I thought I'd break out a drill we trained with quite some time ago: the Offline Drill. Because Laddie is more advanced now, today's version was longer than we've trained with in the past, and the offline blinds were both further from the SL, rather than evenly spaced.

Here's a description of the drill:
  • I placed B1 (WB) at an LP with a tape waving at the top, 210 yards from the SL.
  • I placed B2 (OB) 30 yards to the right of the line to B1, 150 yards from the SL.
  • I placed B3 (OB) 30 yards to the left of the line to B1, 120 yards from the SL.
  • At the SL, I lined Laddie up on B1 and sent him with "Back". When he was out 120 yards on line to B1, I blew WS, then cast him over to B3.
  • Again at the SL, I again lined Laddie up on B1 and sent him with "Back". When he was out 150 yards on line to B1, I blew WS, then cast him over to B2.
  • Finally, I ran him to B1 without handling.
Laddie ran the drill perfectly, stopping quickly on each of the two WSs and taking each "Over" with enthusiasm and accuracy.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Skimming Drill, Cool-off Drill


Laddie ran four skimming drills with high cover, in four different directions, two with the cover on his left, two with the cover on his right. Each was a double, with the go-bird requiring a sharp angle entry into cover.

In terms of short-term learning, he did very well, running the second, third, and fourth drills perfectly.

In terms of long-term learning, he didn't do as well, because he tried to "cheat" around the cover on his first mark.

On the other hand, we haven't practiced skimming drills in some time, since I decided to stay away in the days before his Senior test last weekend. Now that that's out of the way, we're going to be running them again and hopefully get Laddie fluent with running them correctly.

Rolling Ridge

Although Laddie had had plenty of water during and after the work at Fairhill, it was a hot day and he was hot. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to try a Cool-off Drill, so we drove over to Rolling Ridge. I planted an LP with an orange tape waving from the top a couple of feet from the edge of the pond, and placed a white puppy bumper in front of it. Then I ran Laddie to it as a sight blind from the top of the embankment 40 yards from the LP, with Laddie to run almost parallel to the edge of the pond never more than a few yards from the edge.

The goal was for Laddie to pick up the bumper and bring it directly back to me rather than taking it into the pond first. If he did it correctly, I would throw it for him far out into the pond and send him even before the bumper landed, much more exciting than a mere dip.

This time, Laddie showed excellent long-term learning. Even though we haven't practiced the Cool-off Drill in several days, Laddie executed it perfectly. Great way to end the day's work.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Laddie's Senior Hunter Title

[Here's the republication of a post to DogTrek and PGD on July 11, 2010. Edits to the post for this republication are shown in blue to save reading time for those who may have already read the story once on the lists.]

Hi, everyone. Laddie here. Lumi, Daddy and I are back in Maryland this morning, since driving down from Newburgh, NY, after my final Senior Hunt Test yesterday. I say "final" because I qualified in the test and got my fourth Senior ribbon, which means now I have my Senior Hunter (SH) title. The next time I compete, it will be in either a Master test or a Field Trial Qualifying Stake.

Some people wrote to Daddy today and asked for details on the test, but he's got other things on his mind, so he said I could tell you about it. I'm sure you'd rather hear my perspective anyway.

As is usual in Senior tests, yesterday's test consisted of a land series followed by a water series. They had "callbacks" after the land series, so you had to do well enough in that series to get called back to water. With 25 entries, the test had two scratches, and 18 dogs were called back to water. Fourteen dogs qualified overall.

Temperatures in New York had reached 104 degrees earlier in the week, but the day of the test was a radical change in weather. Rain came down in torrents throughout the land series, soaking everyone and, more relevant to us retrievers, virtually eliminating the scent cones which normally play such a helpful role in finding our birds. Though the rain finally stopped just about the time the first series ended, in this test, our sense of scent didn't help us very much.

Now in the descriptions that follow, I'm going to use some jargon. If anyone reading this doesn't know what a term means and would like to know, please ask and I'll be happy to explain it. Also, using Daddy's approach to writing distance estimates, all distances are approximate and conservative; that is, the distances were more likely longer than I've written than shorter.

OK, here goes:

SERIES A. Land double with land blind

For Series A, the first mark of the double was on the left, a duck thrown left to right on a sharp angle-back, and thrown from behind a holding blind and a hedgerow. The fall was at 80 yards. The second mark was 90 degrees to the right, a duck flyer thrown left to right from behind a holding blind, with the fall also at 80 yards. Both throws were preceded by duck calls from the judge and then the gunner's station, and both throws were accompanied by one or more shotgun blasts. A winger was used for both throws.

The field was covered in thick cover, varying from knee-high to chest-high on humans. The ground was uneven, and a depression ran across the entire field, so that we ran slightly downhill from the startline and then slightly uphill to the marks. A dirt road, invisible from the start line, ran up the left of the field and then across the back, so that both birds were thrown from inside the road and landed outside it, requiring us dogs to remember our training and push over the roads, rather than treating them as barriers as comes naturally.

Series A was run as a walk-up. The go-bird was the flyer, and although the flyers fell in a wide area, they all landed in thick, high cover. With no scent, some dogs, including me, ran good lines to the falls but missed the bird, and then had to run around and hunt for awhile before finding it. I was running #6, fairly early. For some reason, some of the later dogs seemed to have an easier time finding their birds. I don't know why, maybe that happens in other tests, too.

The memory-bird was the mark on the left. The line to the memory-bird was past the end of the hedgerow on the left, and I did the same thing almost every other dog did, again except for some dogs toward the end. As I ran thru past the point of the hedgerow and saw the gunner's station behind it, I was drawn to the station instead of continuing straight. It wasn't the station itself, but rather some strong attraction on the ground in that immediate area that got to so many dogs. So I began hunting short, but after a little while, I realized my mistake and went longer, got across the road, and there was the bird.

It's a good thing I didn't get too far to the left, because that was where the blind was. It was a hot blind, also at 80 yards, and also on the far side of the road. A hot blind isn't supposed to be in play unless the dog is really off course on the mark, but in this case, the suction on the line to the memory-bird was toward the blind, and in fact one dog (sadly, a Golden) did pick up the blind when she was hunting too far left for the memory-bird.

For the rest of us, the blind had enough factors to both left and right to require some handling for most dogs, but I and a few of the others lined it. When I was running back, I heard the judge say mournfully to the other judge, his wife, "He lined my blind, honey."

SERIES B. Water double with water blind

For Series B, the first mark of the converging double was on the right, a duck hand-thrown right to left at 50 yards down an embankment and a foot or two into the water, splashing among the lily pads growing there. The second mark was 75° to the left, a flyer duck thrown by a winger left to right so that it landed at 40 yards among lily pads on the left side of the pond. Both calls were preceded by duck calls from the gunner's station, and both throws were accompanied by one or more shotgun blasts.

The go-bird flyer on the left presented few problems other than having to find the bird among the lily pads. However, the memory-bird off the point on the right did cause problems. We dogs would start swimming out on a good line, but as we got closer and closer to the bird, we were also getting closer and closer to the point, and finally, for most of us including me, we would detour right and climb up on the point. Then we would hunt around on the point for awhile, however illogical that might sound, before finally getting back in the water to find the duck. Well, that's how it would go if things went reasonably well. Some dogs got out on the point and then ended up too far inland and needed help in the form of handling to get back in the water in the right place. Because of the high cover, the likelihood the dog would go out of sight on the far side of the point or in the nearby woods further up the embankment, and perhaps other factors, it was apparently quite difficult to handle dogs who needed to be handled off that point. I guess Daddy didn't want to have that happen to us after seeing it happen to several other teams who ran before us.

So Daddy made an error. I think it must have hurt my "trainability" scoring, but luckily, I still passed.

Here's what happened. When Daddy saw me veering right toward the point when running the memory-bird, he decided to handle me to the bird while I was still in the water. He had heard the judge commenting at a break that that's what he thought most Master handlers would have done, so Daddy thought he ought to do it. Actually, none of the other handlers ever did it, but of course Daddy didn't know that when he tried it. I guess it looked like a good idea, and besides, the judge had made the remark while Daddy was standing right there in earshot. I don't think Daddy wanted to look like he was blowing off the judge's expressed opinion.

Nothing wrong with handling me, and in fact I took Daddy's first cast correctly, but I didn't carry it very far, and before you knew it, I was headed back to the point.

Now I'm only a dog, so I can only guess at what happened next, but here's my best shot.

When Daddy saw me scallop back toward the point, he had a decision to make. On the one hand, he could handle me all the way to the bird. On the other hand, he could regret that he'd ever tried to handle me and let me find the bird the rest of the way myself.

The argument for taking the first option was, that's what you're supposed to do. Daddy was supposed to handle me all the way to the bird once he blew the whistle. However, when he saw me turn off from the first cast so quickly, he knew there was a good chance that the suction of the point, the poor handling conditions once I was on the point, and my accurate assessment that the bird was very close and could easily be hunted up without help from Daddy, all conspired to make it likely that I wouldn't be responsive to his attempts to handle me. So should Daddy attempt to handle me and make it obvious that I wasn't responsive in that situation, or should he just forget about it? Well, he didn't blow the whistle again until I had the bird, so I guess he felt that was the best course of action. Three people came over at separate times and lectured him about it later. :0)

After we dogs picked up both birds, we ran the second hot blind of the day, this time the water blind at 50 yards on a line 75° to the right of the memory-bird. The line to the blind cut a chord across a circular inlet, inviting the dog to run the bank on the right rather than staying in the water and swimming thru the thick patch of lily pads to the blind, and in fact some dogs were sucked to the right. Others veered left where the more open water was. As far as I know, only one dog took a good initial line and then followed it straight to the bird on the other side of the inlet, and that one dog was moi. Since this was my last Senior test, that was fitting. I don't know why, but Lumi and/or I were the only dogs to line our blinds in several of the Senior tests we've taken.

Believe it or not, now that I had run all three land retrieves and all three water retrieves, the hardest part of the test still lay before me. I had to honor the next dog, that is, I had to watch her work from a position a few yards off her right flank. I didn't have a great view of the marks, which believe it or not stoked my curiosity and actually made it more difficult for me to remain steady. But somehow I got thru it: The duck calls and shotguns sounded, the ducks splashed into the water, and the working dog was sent to pick up the go-bird. Then one of the judges said, "Honor dog released," and within the next few seconds, Daddy had my slip lead on me and we were racing thru the high cover back to the road that our van was parked on. I welcome any opportunity to run, and sometimes Daddy runs with me. This was one of those times. I think he was just too excited to walk. Since the judges had had me honor off-lead, Daddy was pretty sure I'd qualified and that I was now a Senior Hunter. We just had to wait for the formality of the ribbon ceremony later.

So that's it, that's the test, but I haven't told you the best part yet. Since we were coming from Daddy's work in New York, and would be heading back to Maryland when the test was over, naturally Lumi was in the van, too. But because she already had her SH, and isn't running in Master tests at least right now, she wasn't entered in any tests at this event. From the time we arrived in the morning, it looked like Lumi would just have to wait around all day while I took my turns running.

But when it was time for Series A to begin, the judges asked, "Does anyone have a test dog?" Daddy immediately volunteered Lumi, and they said, "Go get her, Lindsay," so Lumi got to run as test dog. Lumi hasn't been training very much and didn't do particularly well, but I was very happy for her, because she loves-loves-loves birds, and here she was getting to pick up three of them, including a flyer.

Later, when it was time for Series B to get started, Daddy brought Lumi up to the area where handlers were gathering, assuming that Lumi would be test dog for the water series, too. But they had decided to use that Golden who picked up the hot blind in Series A as the test dog for Series B, so Daddy shrugged and brought Lumi back to the van. When he came back to watch the beginning of the test, the judges told him, "We got another test dog, Lindsay, but if you like, Lumi could run as 'bye' dog. That will give the last entered dog a dog to honor."

Sure enough, Lumi, who had been the first dog to run that morning, was also the last dog to run that afternoon. They didn't need her to run the blind, but she still got to pick up two ducks, including her second flyer of the day. She was a happy dog.

Now for the best part of the best part. Lumi has only run one other test in her life in lily pads, and in that test she picked up the short go-bird, then flat refused to swim thru another patch of lily pads to get to the memory-bird. It turns out that swimming thru lily pads can be painful for a dog with arthritic hips and an arthritic wrist like Lumi.

So when Daddy saw that the water Lumi had been invited to run as bye dog on was covered in lily pads, he wondered whether the same thing would happen again. Sure enough, when she started out for the memory-bird and reached the first patch of lily pads in her way, she started to come around in a circle. Uh, oh, she's giving up, she's coming back in. But then, without any cue from Daddy, she righted her direction again and plunged thru the lily pads right back on line. Brave girl, braver than I needed to be. It doesn't hurt me to swim thru lily pads.

Now remember how I said that almost every dog had been sucked onto the point once they got close to the bird? Well, as far as I know only one dog stayed on a good line, pushed thru the last patch of lily pads, never touched the point, and swam straight to the location where the bird had splashed down. Guess which dog that was? That's right, it was the bye-dog, gentle Lumi.

I don't know which made Daddy happier: me getting my fourth Senior ribbon, or Lumi getting a chance to run all those retrieves when he'd expected her to have to spend the whole day in the van.

Sometimes fortune comes in waves. It was a good day for all of us.

Feathery wags and play bows,
Topbrass Lad of the Lakes SH WCX (Laddie)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Land Series, Cool-off Drills

Rolling Ridge

Today's focus was on tuning Laddie up for his Senior Hunt Test on Saturday. I wanted to exercise his memory for multiples, and I wanted to add reinforcement history for bringing me the retrieval article quickly even when tempted to cool off in nearby water.

In scorching 94° heat, we ran a land double and a land triple each combined with a Cool-off Drill retrieve, plus we ran a water blind with the double, and a land blind with the triple. I didn't let Laddie in the water until after the first Cool-off Drill, but after that, Laddie spent most of his spare minutes in the pond.

SERIES A. Land double, Cool-off Drill, and water blind

For Series A, I used a BB to throw one mark on a sharp angle-in at 40 yards, the other on a sharp angle-back at 100 yards, so that the two throws were almost in line with one another. Although such a set-up would not be likely to occur in a Senior test, it seems that for two marks on the same line, the closer mark tends to make it more difficult to remember the longer one. Challenging memory tests hopefully improve the dog's concentration and marking performance over time.

Laddie nailed the short mark, then took a line too far to the left for the long mark and needed a short hunt to find it. When he returned with the second mark, I ran him to a 40-yard sight blind (LP and white puppy bumper) next to the pond as a Cool-off Drill. Since he'd been out in the field walking with me while I was setting up the course, and had just run two marks in the parched field, I knew he'd be in need of cooling off, but hoped he'd come straight back with the bumper. Unfortunately, he picked up and carried it into the water. However, he came running back immediately when I called "Here", so I still threw the bumper out in the middle of the pond for him. I may have been unintentionally reinforcing his cooling-off detour, but I did not want to miss the opportunity to reinforce his prompt response to the recall.

Finally, I ran him on a 110-yard blind (OB) diagonally across the pond. He needed two handles, an angle-back-left and an over-right, and was responsive for both WSCs.

SERIES B. Interrupted land triple and blind, Cool-off Drill

For Series B, I did everything I could think of to make the long mark difficult to remember. Here's a description of the set-up:

The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left by the BB on a long arc angling in, with the fall at 130 yards in open meadow away from any distinctive features. The bumper was not visible once it landed in the medium cover. In addition, I had loaded the BB with only one bumper so that it was nearly invisible and "retired" after the throw.

The second mark and third marks were thrown by a second BB on the left, with a stickman (retired gun rack and white overalls) placed just behind it. The second mark was thrown left to right an an angle back so that it landed at 60 yards almost inline with the first mark. The third mark was thrown right to left on an angle in at 40 yards.

Although even the second and third marks were invisible lying in middle cover in featureless areas of the field, Laddie nailed both of them. He then ran an 80-yard blind (OB) through a diagonal keyhole formed by a shrub on the left and a metal fence pole a bit further back on the right. Laddie had no difficulty with the keyhole and lined this blind, his only problem being that he was racing past it until I whistled, since we usually practice on longer blinds.

Finally, I lined Laddie up for the long mark and sent him. He nailed it, running an almost perfect line despite my best efforts to challenge his memory.

With four land retrieves under his belt, I again ran him to his puppy bumper, which I had tossed next to water's edge. This time, he ran to the bumper, picked it up, and flew back to me on my CIW, turning away from the pond as soon as I whistled. Of course, we had a rousing game of water fetch after that excellent recall, to say nothing of the superb series he'd just run.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Steadiness Training

Warrenton, Virginia

Yesterday, I made some phone calls and arranged for my old friend Dave Altman to get some birds for Lumi and Laddie to train with, and for a neighborhood kid named Austin to join us once again for a training session. I picked him up at 7:15 AM, we drove an hour and a half to a farm near Warrenton, VA, to meet Dave, and there we ran two series designed to help prepare Laddie for his Senior test next week.

SERIES A. Land double and blind

For Series A, Dave threw a duck I had brought in a cooler right to left as the memory-bird, then shot a pheasant which he had thrown left to right as the go-bird. Both falls were at 40 yards. After the dog picked up both birds, the dog ran a blind (unmarked OB) to the right of the line to the flyer. Although a light wind may have pushed the dog somewhat right to left, a steep downward slope ran left to right. In addition, the line to the blind passed a large tree with a wide-open field behind it on the right, the line passing thru the tree's dark shadow. Finally, the dog honored the next dog.

Laddie ran Series A as described above. Lumi, who is not currently in training, came after Laddie and ran only the two marks, acting as a bye-dog so that Laddie had a dog to honor. I handled Laddie, while Austin handled Lumi.

Both dogs were on yard collars and slackly-held tabs to assist with steadiness. Laddie did not try to break when he was working, but he did make a faint-hearted attempt to break on honor when Lumi was released. The tab came taught and held him in place.

This was the primary goal of today's work: Either Laddie would remain steady at honor, giving both him and me confidence in his steadiness in that situation, or he would try to break and learn that it wouldn't work.

The next series might give us information on whether any learning had taken place.

SERIES B. Land triple and blind

Series B was set up across the field from Series A, and in a different orientation.

With the dog at the SL, Dave, standing at the bottom of a depression, threw a pheasant left to right on an angle back with the fall uphill from Dave and at 60 yards from the SL. Next, the handler at the line threw a duck 20 yards to the right, on a line that ran behind the honoring dog. Then Dave shot a pheasant, throwing it left to right on angle in with the fall also uphill from Dave and at 30 yards from the SL. The dog was sent to pick up the flyer, then the short throw the handler had thrown, and finally the longer memory-bird on the same line as the flyer but further back. After the dog picked up all three birds, the dog ran a 200-yard blind (OB) on a line a little to the right of the line to the flyer, with the blind planted just before the crest of a hill, so that if the dog went too far, she'd be lost to sight for the handler. After picking up the blind, the dog honored the next dog from a position to the right of the SL and a little forward, so that the working dog would create an additional challenge to the honoring dog by running right across the honoring dog's line of sight when sent to the go-bird flyer.

With me handling, Laddie ran Series B as described above. He nailed all the marks, but I made a handling error and tried to cast him "Over" when he was level with the blind but too far to the left. He interpreted the cast as an angle back and in a flash was over the crest and out of sight. I blew a CIW and after a moment Laddie did come back into sight on the other side of the blind, then, without sitting on my immediate WS, ran to the blind and picked up the bumper. It wasn't a good job of running the blind, but fortunately this blind was probably harder than any Laddie would see in a Senior Hunt Test.

After Laddie completed his retrieves and we took our position to honor, me cueing "just watch" while standing off Laddie's right flank and facing backwards as I do when I have Laddie honor, Austin brought Lumi to the line. Lumi watched the three throws and then ran to pick up her flyer, but unfortunately the shotgun had opened the bird up and instead of Lumi picking the bird up and delivering it, she began to eat it.

Meanwhile, Laddie, who had remained steady when his birds were being thrown, also remained steady at honor. I was very pleased, and Dave, who's a professional trainer and an AKC Hunt Test judge, later said that Series B was harder than Series A and if a dog was going to break, the dog would have done so on Series B.

This makes me optimistic that Laddie learned something from being held by the tab on Series A, and applied his new skill on Series B. I should say "re-learned" and "renewed skill", since Laddie had similar steadiness training last summer and was steady in several tests last fall. Steadiness appears to be a skill that deteriorates over time if not practiced, at least for a 2Q dog, or at least for my 2Q dogs.

After Laddie had honored and I had taken him back to the van to play, I saw what Lumi was up to and sent Austin to take the pheasant away from Lumi. I decided that her retrieving was best ended for the day at that point, and sent Laddie to pick up the short bird that had been thrown behind him and the longer memory-bird, saving me from having to go out and pick them up. I hadn't set up a blind for Lumi, so that completed the retrieves.

Although I felt good about Laddie's restored honoring steadiness as exhibited in Series B, I'm not confident he's quite ready for a test that would require honoring a flyer, which may come up in his test next weekend. So I arranged with Dave and Austin for a repeat of today's agenda tomorrow morning. It will be interesting to see how Laddie does at that time, especially on the first series, since of course we won't get a do-over in the test if he breaks.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Land Series, Cool-off Drill

Rolling Ridge

For today's session with temps in low 80s, I started by taking Laddie to a field away from the water and set up a short double and longer blind, using a BB for the double. The go-bird required Laddie to make a difficult angle entry into the end section of an area of high cover, the sort of picture we've been practicing in our Skimming Drill. The memory-bird was in thigh-high cover but otherwise undistinguished. The blind was diagonally across rolling hills and over a dry ditch filled with underbrush, on a line just outside the line to the memory-bird.

Laddie did nicely. He required no handling to take the sharp angle entry into the high cover on the go-bird, he nailed both marks, and he was responsive on the three routine WSCs needed for the blind because of the hills and the ditch.

Although I wanted Laddie to run the double to some extent as preparation for his Senior test next weekend in New York, and also as a practical application of our Skimming Drill, I also wanted him to be ready for a swim after running a land series in warm weather. That set us up for the Cool-off Drill, which we ran next.

For the Cool-off Drill, I had Laddie run another reasonably long land blind at a 30° angle away from the pond, then, using the same SL, had him run to an LP with a length of tape attached at the top for maximum visibility, to pick up a puppy WB, his favorite. The LP was right next to the pond, and was 60 yards from the SL, representing a raise in criteria from the two previous times we've run the Cool-off Drill. Laddie's tendency would be to pick up the puppy bumper and take it into the water to cool off before completing his return. Our goal has been to get him to bring the bumper to me first, and then I'd immediately throw it for him into the water.

Laddie performed well on this second series, also. After running the long blind, he took the easy line to the LP and grabbed the WB. I had no sense of it crossing his mind to go for a swim before returning the bumper to me, but he happily welcomed the reward — the bumper thrown into the pond — that he'd earned.
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