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.

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