Sunday, August 15, 2010

Current Training Activities

Laddie and I continue to train nearly every day. I'll add detailed journal entries when I have time, but here's a brief summary of what we're working on at this time:

Training with Patty Jordan's Group

When we train with Patty Jordan's group, we run some version of whatever the set-up is. For the first few sessions, I attempted to run Laddie on series that I thought were at his level, but I've gradually realized that in that context, his performance is significantly below my expectations, resulting in an unacceptably high percentage of unsuccessful series. I have been trying to modify the set-ups appropriately, and will continue to do so, aiming to find the level where Laddie can run at near 100% success rate.

Private Training

In addition to training with Patty, Laddie and I train with Gaby and one or both of her dogs whenever possible, or alone when we have no one to train with.

We run a large variety of marks and blinds, too much variety for me to catalog at this time. However, some particular areas we're currently working on are as follows:
  • Retired guns. Currently we're working on retiring the long gun on Xmas-tree triples, where the middle mark is the longest and thrown first. Over time, we'll also practice that configuration and throwing sequence but with other guns retired instead of or in addition to the long gun, and also with around-the-horn throws with various guns retired. In addition, we'll work with other configurations, such as indents triples, with various guns retired.
  • Inline triples. This is a triple where the three gunners are all in the same line and all throwing the same direction, which is also along that line. The dog tends to forget the middle gun even when it's not retired. We're working on Laddie gaining an improved mental picture of the inline triple, with the ultimate goal of Laddie being able to run a big inline triple, with the SL far to one side resulting in a tight angle for the three lines, and with one or both of the middle and long guns retired.
  • Hip-pocket doubles. This is a double with the two marks in a tight angle, both thrown the same direction, such that the short mark falls on a line which if extended would run a little behind the long gunner, making the long mark more difficult than for a more widely spaced set-up. I would prefer to run this as part of a triple, with perhaps a flyer as the go-bird off to one side. But when we work on this alone, I usually use a BB for the long gun, a BB and stickman for the short gun, and a long blind which I have Laddie run after the two BBs have fired, but before Laddie has picked up the bumpers. This is called an interrupted double. Because BBs are almost invisible when placed in cover, the long gun is effectively "retired", adding to the difficulty of the dog remembering that mark.
  • Sharp angle entries. Laddie has made significant progress on this skill, for both water and high cover, thanks to our weeks of work on the Skimming Drill. I continue to include work on angle entries in many of our set-ups.
  • Steadiness, especially honoring. Whenever Gaby and I can train with live birds, we set up series for Laddie (and also Gaby's Chessie, Gus) to work on steadiness, both at the line as the working dog, and honoring. We use a variety of set-ups. For example, we might have one of Gaby's sons throwing a clip-wing duck at 50 yards as the go-bird after launching a BB at 70-yards as the memory-bird. When I have Laddie honor, I try to choose the most difficult position for honoring, that is, closest to the flyer and positioned so that the working dog runs past Laddie on the way to the flyer.

Currently, I have no expectation that Laddie will run in a Field Trial this year. I believe he's as skillful or more so than some of the dogs I've seen entered in Qualifying Stakes, but those dogs are not successful on the more difficult retrieves, and I assume Laddie would not be, either.

I believe that running Laddie in Quals under those circumstances could result in him developing some undesirable habits that he associated specifically with the context of a trial. That's called "test wise", and it's a difficult problem to repair if it occurs.

In addition, I don't think running Laddie in series that are currently too difficult for him, without being able to incorporate training procedures such as moving our SL, calling for help from a gunner, or running the series as singles, is good for his confidence or development of his skills. I don't intend that he be 100% successful in all our work together, since that would mean I wasn't putting him in new areas of learning, but I do want to maintain a higher rate of reinforcement (ROR) than I think we'd have running Quals.

Hopefully, Laddie will be ready to run his first Qual next spring. Once that begins, our goals will be as follows:
  • For Laddie to run without getting DQed for poor returns, poor line manners, or other foundation skills.
  • For Laddie to have a successful land series, getting called back to the land blind.
  • For Laddie to pass the land blind and get called back to the water blind.
  • For Laddie to pass the water blind and get called back to the water series.
  • For Laddie to have a successful water series.
  • For Laddie to get a Judges Award of Merit (JAM).
  • For Laddie to get a placement.
  • For Laddie to get a First Place.
When Laddie meets all those goals, he'll have earned the designation Qualified All-Age (QAA), which for Goldens and Chessies is shown as three asterisks behind the dog's name.

Thereafter, I'll begin running Laddie in the all-age Field Trial events, the Amateur and Open Stakes. Of course, it's way premature to plan that far ahead of where we are now.

While running in Field Trials is my primary goal for Laddie, I will also probably run him in one or more Master Hunt Tests this fall. How many we do will depend on how he does on the first ones we try. If it turns out that he is successful, and eventually qualifies in five Master tests, he'll earn the title of Master Hunter (MH).

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