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.

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