Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reverse Hip-pocket Doubles

Newcut Road, Clarksburg

I took Lumi and Laddie for a ride in the van to look for a good field for working on reverse hip-pocket doubles with Laddie. I wanted Field Trial distances, and I didn't want a flat sports field.

I decided to use a strategy I've used before: exploring new housing developments. I've had pretty good luck in the past finding good training areas that way. Today, I followed some new-development signs onto a twisting, almost invisible exit off Frederick Road and onto something called Newcut Road, and found several large fields that seemed good for training. Unfortunately, they don't have any ponds. Also, the fields seem to have been planted in various crops in the past, and I'm not sure how much discomfort they may cause dogs' feet when running in them. I would have preferred softer footing.

However, the fields have hills, variable cover, and distinctive backdrops for the dog to take note of when lining, so I think they'll be good for practices like today's.

The Reverse Hip-pocket Double

The reverse hip-pocket double (RHPD), also known as "off the heels", consists of two marks thrown the same direction, where the line to the longer mark runs just behind the thrower of the shorter mark.

I had planned to add some extra challenges to the RHPD in today's practice, such as having the marks thrown and retrieved out of order, or having them thrown and then having the dog run a blind before picking up the marks (an "interrupted" double).

However, I recalled that Laddie has had difficulty with the RHPD when we've run it using BBs on fields like the one we were using today, though he has no trouble with RHPDs on a flat field. Using BBs in variable cover has an effect similar to retiring the gun, and I knew that that also presented problems for Laddie.

So I decided not to use an unusual version of the RHPD, other than the fact that I used a stickman at the short BB but no marker at the long BB. In a way, this is even more difficult than a retired gun, because the long gun isn't visible even when the dog is watching the marks thrown. The dog has only the arc of the throw to gauge his run to the memory-bird.

SERIES A-E. Reverse hip-pocket doubles

Series A thru E were five RHPD set-ups, alternating direction with right-to-left throws for Series A, left-to-right throws for Series B, and so forth. I also moved the SL and orientation within the field from series to series. The long throws were in the range of 150-200 yards. The short throws were in the range 70-100 yards. I used a BB for both gun stations, with a stickman at the short BB in each set-up.

Series A thru C, the first three, also included a blind. For Series A, the blind was beyond the long mark, with the line to the mark running behind the long gun. For Series B, the blind was 180 yards, to the left of the left gun station, and thru a keyhole formed by hay bales. For Series C, the blind was beyond the long mark, and under the arc of the long mark.

Laddie pinned all the short marks (go-birds), and did a nice job running all the blinds.

As for the long marks, Laddie seemed to go thru a process of gradually learning how to get his bearings on the long marks, perhaps using a combination of the backdrop as well as the position of the stickman he needed to run "behind". For Series A, he took a line too wide off the stickman, hunted without success, and finally needed to be handled. For Series B, he took a line too close to the stickman and again needed a long hunt, though this time he didn't need to be handled. For Series C, he took a good line past the stickman but veered to the BB when he saw it, and then needed a short hunt the other way to find the bumper. For Series D, he took a good line past the stickman and nailed the long mark. For Series E, he took a good line past the stickman but veered a little afterwards and needed a short hunt.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Triple blind


Today, Laddie and I were driving around in the van exploring, looking for new possible training locations near home. At one location I found a space between two planted fields that had a few reasonably interesting lines for blinds. I set up a triple blind and brought Laddie out of the van to run it. The picture below shows the set-up.

The first blind was on the right at 140 yards, and ended beside the curved edge of a corn field. The second blind was on the left at 210 yards, and required Laddie to cut across the curved edge of a soybean field, entering on a sharp angle 130 yards from the SL. The third blind was on the right again at 250 yards, and was on the same line as the first blind, but extended another 110 yards to another edge of the corn field. The extended section of the third blind is shown in blue in the picture. All the blinds were OBs.

2010-09-24 Triple blind

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Land blinds

Rolling Ridge

As Laddie and I often do when we don't have time or opportunity for other field training on a particular day, today we went to a nearby field — in this case the field behind the Rolling Ridge housing development on nearby Goshen Road — to run blinds.

Today, I set up three blinds while Lumi stayed near as I walked, and Laddie waited in the van. I didn't measure but estimate the distance of the blinds at 160, 220, and 300 yards. All of the terrain was medium to high cover with uneven footing.

First, Laddie ran the 160-yard blind on the right. The line to the blind was thru prickly undercover and fallen branches into a shadowy area surrounded by trees, to one of the trees furthest to the back of the area. Here's a picture:

20100919 300-yard blind
160-yard blind

Second, Laddie ran the 220-yard blind on the right. The line to the blind was across a ditch — currently dry because of the draught we are having in our area — then past the end of a line of trees, then uphill on a line diverging from the tree line, ending at the crest of the hill. If Laddie had run too far to the left, he would have gone out of sight behind the tree line, and if he'd gone past the blind, he'd have gone out of sight behind the hill. Here's a picture:

20100919 220-yard blind
220-yard blind

Third, Laddie ran the 300-yard blind in the center. The line to the blind included diagonally crossing a downhill slope, then diagonally crossing an uphill slope, with the blind planted in a featureless spot on the sloped area of the hill in high cover. I used orange tape to mark the blind so I could see where to handle Laddie to from the SL. Here's a picture:

20100919 160-yard blind
300-yard blind

Saturday, September 18, 2010

De-flaring Drill, Steps 1 and 2

Mt. Ararat Farm

After Gaby and I trained with Patty in the morning, we returned to her farm, where she helped Laddie and me on Steps 1 and 2 of the De-flaring Drill.

Today we made made a few changes from the last time we worked with Laddie (and also Buster) on the drill. Last time we were learning how to approach the problem. That led to a few set-ups and then, based on that experience, to a training plan, which I added to my reference blog, "The 2Q Retriever". Click here to see that post.

Today, we followed that training plan first for Step 1. Gaby didn't want to run Buster on the drill, so we just ran Laddie, with Gaby throwing the long gun. We used a BB with a chair behind it for the short gun, the chair in neutral position and a white coat draped on it. We ran Step 1 (two singles) twice, once to the left, once to the right, moving both the SL and the chair to create a new picture, as well as reversing the throws. Both times, I started Laddie at the SL for the first trial, since that's the litmus test for deciding whether the dog is ready for Step 2.

Laddie didn't push off the chair in the least as he ran his lines to the long fall, so I felt he was done with Step 1 and ready for Step 2. I had planned to go home at that point, but because it had gone so quickly, Gaby offered to help me try Laddie on Step 2 as well. Again, we moved the SL and chair for each set-up, and again we ran it on both sides. Step 2 uses the same kind of set-up as Step 1, but for Step 2, the set-up is run as a reverse hip-pocket double.

Again Laddie ran all the retrieves on a laser, not veering in the least as he ran past the chair on either side.

So I guess now Laddie's ready for Step 3, the next time Gaby and I get together to work on the drill. For Step 3, we'll be retiring the short gun, that is, hiding it behind a large camouflage umbrella. If we are again using a BB for the short throw, we'll place an umbrella in front of the BB and chair. I'm not sure the chair, draped with white coat, will add anything, since it will be behind an umbrella, but at least the dog will see it on the way back as he's running the long mark.

Building Confidence with Singles

Canal near Rebel Ridge Farm

This morning Laddie and I trained with Patty's group, as we do as often as possible, given my work and travel schedule. In this case, we trained with her group both yesterday (Friday) and today, in both case at a technical pond known as "Mitchell's Pond" at the canal in Elkton, MD, near Rebel Ridge Farm. This is one of Patty's favorite places to train her dogs, and we've trained with her there several other times before.

Gaby is often there with Buster, her Lab, and possibly Gus, her Chessie. When Gaby trains with Patty, Patty runs Buster, while Gaby runs Gus (if he's there) and takes turns throwing. For today's training, Gaby was there with Buster, while Gus, who is injured, was home. As usual, Patty ran Buster. Buster is entered in his third Qualifying Stake next weekend, and Patty will run him there again.

Today's temps were in the 70s, with a few clouds and a good wind. The direction of the wind was variable and unpredictable.

For today's session, Patty had one of the other trainers, a guy named John, set up a water triple, and then later Patty set up a water blind. They may have run some other retrieves earlier. I was sick yesterday and slept in till 6:30 AM this morning. With the two hour drive, that made Laddie and me an hour late to the training.

John is an AKC Field Trial judge, and is notorious for his competition set-ups. I've heard that at one trial he judged, only four dogs made it thru the first series. He usually sets up something difficult for us at Patty's practices, also, when he's given the opportunity.

I don't know if today was one of his most difficult set-ups, but I decided that the individual retrieves were challenging enough that I wouldn't add to the challenge for Laddie by running any multiples. By contrast, Patty ran her Q dogs (those that she is currently running in Qualifying Stakes) on the set-up as a delayed triple, and even a couple of her younger dogs ran the outer retrieves as a double before running the long center gun as a single. She did run her younger dogs on singles, as I did with Laddie.

Here's a description of today's set-ups:

SERIES A. As run by Laddie, three singles

As run by Laddie (Patty used a different sequence), the first mark was on the right, a WB thrown left to right on an angle back at 200 yards. The line to the first single was a channel swim with points on both sides. The second mark was on the left, a WB thrown left to right to the end of a point at 170 yards. The second single was a LWLWL, with the bumper thrown into cover. The third mark was in the center, a duck thrown right to left at 210 yards into a mowed area surrounded by high cover. The line to the third mark was a channel swim, then crossing an island and back into water, then thru a stand of high cover known as "frag", to the bird.

Laddie ran all of the marks in Series A fairly well, though not as well as some of the other dogs and not well enough for a high score in a Q. For the first mark on the right, I needed to handle him to keep him off one point on the right, though he held his line without help the rest of the time. For the second mark, he ran an excellent line but, seeing that water still lay before him as arrived in the area of the fall, and not picking up the scent of the bumper, he leapt in the water and continued on his line. Patty, who was throwing, called hey-hey, and Laddie then came back, picked up the bumper, and brought it in. Laddie ran the third mark in the center without help.

Although Laddie didn't have the terrible problems with returns that he sometimes does, he did run the bank on some of his returns in situations where the other dogs took the same route back that they had taken out. I would have preferred that he not cheat, since it's a lost opportunity to practice a good line, but since I've heard that such returns would probably not be penalized in competition, in this case I preferred not to make an issue of Laddie's returns. I feel that doing so might create an impediment in his motivation to return at all, and since that's Laddie's greatest weakness, I feel that requiring him to take a straight line back on his returns is a low priority. I recognize that the more he does it, the harder it might be to prevent it in the future, but nonetheless it still seems a lower priority than strengthening his motivation on the returns.

Running singles for confidence

My primary goal in today's work was to improve Laddie's confidence, since he has been popping and showing other signs of confusion or stress when we've trained with Patty. I've tried other strategies in previous sessions which have not stopped such behaviors, but today I seem to have hit upon a strategy that was effective: running the marks as singles. Laddie neither popped nor even peeked on any of the marks, and came closer to showing off his skill as a marker than he has in most of our previous sessions with Patty.

So I think I can now say that for Laddie, a good approach to having him practice without popping when training with a Field Trial group such as Patty's, might be to have him run singles rather than multiples, at least on tight set-ups. Hopefully after more weeks of training on singles, his confidence will have built up enough that we can again begin running him on multiples.

SERIES B. Keyhole water blind

Patty set up a 160-yard water blind for the advanced dogs. The line started with a channel swim between two points. Then came the primary challenge of the blind, a 3-foot wide keyhole passage with an old sign on a metal pole on the left, and a point of land on the right. Once thru that passage, the line was across another inlet of water, thru a stand of high cover at water's edge, and to the blind behind the high cover.

Laddie handled reasonably well until I got him thru the keyhole. Then he ran up onto the point of land and turning toward the SL, crouched to eliminate. As soon as he finished and began to kick dirt back with his front paws, I whistled, hoping to cast him back into the channel where I could keep him in sight, but he turned, leapt into the channel behind the point and out of sight, and then completed his run to the blind on a straight line but out of my control. Patty later told me that from a judging point of view, it wouldn't have mattered that he went OOC, since he would have been disqualified earlier for eliminating during the outrun. A dog might not be penalized for eliminating on the way back with a bird, but is disqualified if the dog eliminates on the way out.

Practicing with Singles versus Multiples

In today's practice, I ran Laddie on John's set-up as three singles, as did Patty with some of her young dogs. For her more advanced dogs, Patty ran the set-up as a double and a single, or as a delayed triple.

I might mention that running a dog on singles in a multiple-gun set-up is not a strategy limited to young dogs. I know of several trainers who believe that once a dog "understands" what a multiple is, the dog should be run primarily on singles in multiple-gun set-ups.

However, Patty does not follow that practice, and I'm under the impression that Alice does not, either.

I think the primary advantage of running singles is that it strengthens the dog's marking, which will be the primary consideration in scoring.

On the other hand, even if the dog has a good memory, there's more of a challenge to running multiples than simple memory. For example, when multiple marks are down, they can act as diversions for one another, which can be especially challenging if the go-bird is longer than one of more of the memory-birds, or if a flyer is used as a memory-bird while the g0-bird is a dead bird. As another example, the dog may see one picture when a multiple is thrown, but then if one or more guns retire, the dog sees an entirely different picture when she's lining up to run the memory-birds after she's returned with the go-bird.

I suppose that here, as in other areas of dog training, maintaining a balance is best. I guess my goal with Laddie will be plenty of singles, balanced by plenty of multiples.

Monday, September 13, 2010

De-flaring Drill

Mt. Ararat Farm

Because both Buster and Laddie had difficulty with flaring on yesterday's work, Gaby and I decided to work on that problem today. The idea is that once the dog no longer attempts to flare around a short gun, the other skills we were attempting to work on -- out-of-order indent triples, retired guns -- can then become the focus of the training, without allowing the dog to self-reinforce on flaring, and also without having the dog trying to learn multiple skills at the same time.

Gaby and I tried a number of set-ups to work on flaring today, thinking at first that we could start at a fairly advanced level, such as with a double or with a retired gun. We found that we were not able to sufficiently focus on flaring if we started at that level. We also learned that a BB is not accurate enough to throw the long mark, and we also realized that instead of using a stickman for the short gun, a chair with a white coat would be more appropriate.

Based upon our experiments today, I've written up a complete training plan that I call the De-flaring Drill. Click here to view the entry in my reference blog, "The 2Q Retriever".

In future sessions, Gaby and I plan to work our way thru the steps of the De-flaring Drill. Based upon how quickly both dogs seemed to grasp the concept of not flaring today, once Gaby and I worked out a good way to practice, hopefully the dogs will soon learn the more advanced pictures as well.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Out-of-order Indent Triples with Middle Gun Retired

Mt. Ararat Farm

Today, Gaby worked with Buster, her yellow Lab, while I worked with Laddie. Lumi came along, which made me happy, and Gaby also threw some marks for Lumi, but Lumi did run the big set-ups that Buster and Laddie did.

Series A and Series B were identical, with the exception of terrain. We ran Series A on a flat, rectangular field with ankle-length alfafa. Then we ran Series B with our SL at the top of a steep hill in knee-high cover, with trees in the picture for the longest mark. The idea was incremental experience with a particular picture, first in easy terrain, then with added factors such as the hill.

For both series, the first mark was on the left at 180 yards, thrown left-to-right by a BB with a stickman next to it. The second mark was in the center at 70 yards, thrown left-to-right by a real thrower, who then retired behind an umbrella while the dog was returning on the go-bird. The third mark was on the right at 140 yards, thrown left-to-right by a BB with a stickman next to it.

For both series, the set-up had a different challenge on each mark:
  • For the go-bird, that is, the 140-yard mark on the right, the dog had to accept postponing the nearer center retrieve and instead run past it 30 degrees to the right.
  • For the center mark at 70 yards, the dog had to get his bearings without depending on a visible gun station.
  • For the final 180-yard memory-bird on the left, the dog had to take a line only a little to the left of the retired gun (that is, the umbrella), since flaring it would put the dog on a line too far to the left.
Buster's Performance

I don't usually include performance of other dogs besides Lumi and Laddie in this blog, but in this case I'll describe Buster's performance as I saw it.

In Series A on the flat field, Buster had no difficulty with the 140-yard mark on the right nor the retired 70-yard center mark, and the only difficulty he had with the 180-yard mark on the left was that he flared around the thrower (me) behind the umbrella and had to veer back to the right to get back on target. However, he did so at top speed, ending up nailing all three marks without difficulty.

In Series B, he again nailed the first two marks, and again flared the umbrella in the center when running the 180-yard mark on the left. But this time, he didn't veer back on line well enough and ended up behind (to the left of) the left gun station. Gaby watched him for a few moments, decided that he seemed to have little idea that the bumper was in the shadows at the foot of a tree 30 yards to the right, and chose to handle him. Although Buster's marking wasn't as strong as it had been on the other marks, he handled nicely and was soon at the fall. I commented to Gaby that accepting handling when necessary during a mark is a key skill for an advanced retriever, and Buster had performed that skill beautifully.

Laddie's Performance

My goal recently has been to create set-ups that let Laddie build confidence while somewhat pushing the envelope on his learning. Today's session definitely pushed the envelope, hopefully not too much, but actually more than I would have preferred. However, he didn't exhibit any avoidance behavior that I noticed, so perhaps today's work was at about the correct level.

In Series A, Laddie attempted to run to the center mark when I sent him to the go-bird. I called him back, and I was pleased that I was able to do so. I then again sent him to the 140-yard mark on the right, and this time he sped out to the correct area. However, he needed a long hunt to find the bumper.

I think this shows the problem that a dog can have with an out-of-order series, that is, one in which the throws are not in the order longest-to-shortest. In such a series, once the dog sees the shortest mark thrown, the dog's experience may tell him that that is normally the final throw, and he may fail to properly focus on any marks that are thrown afterwards. That seems to have been the case here with Laddie.

Once Laddie was back with the go-bird, he then ran the center mark. He overran it but came back to it without difficulty, just as Buster had. I think that's about what one would expect for an indent configuration (that is, with the shortest mark in the center) and the center gun retired, especially for hard charging dogs like Buster and Laddie.

Finally in Series A, Laddie flared the umbrella while running the left mark, but veered back without difficulty toward the fall and nailed the mark. In retrospect, I feel that I should have called him back and re-sent him when he pushed off the umbrella, and that I missed a training opportunity by not doing so. On the other hand, I'll reiterate that my primary goal at this time is building Laddie's confidence, so I was disinclined to interfere with his momentum. But unfortunately that decision means that Laddie was reinforced for flaring, making it more likely that he'll do it again in the future, when it may not work out as well in a more difficult set-up.

In Series B, I felt that Laddie showed he had learned from Series A on the first mark. He probably still didn't get a good enough look at the 140-yard mark, since he needed a small hunt rather than nailing it, but he made no effort to divert to the center fall once sent. To me, that was the highlight of the day.

On the 70-yard center mark, Laddie seemed to have a good sense of where he was going, but with Gaby hiding behind the umbrella, his line was a little off and he ended up blowing past it. He stopped himself fairly soon and began a hunt, but after a few moments, I felt there was too much likelihood he would spin around and switch to the left mark, and I didn't want to have to stop him if he did so. So I blew a WS and handled him to the center fall. He handled well and raced in with the bumper.

On the 180-yard left mark of Series B, Laddie again flared the umbrella, and I again missed the training opportunity to call him back in. However, he corrected fairly well, stayed on the correct side of the BB and stickman, overran the immediate area of the fall, stopped himself quickly, and turning back toward the SL, rapidly quartered to the bumper.

I think today's session was more of a learning experience for Laddie than for Buster, who has been training with a Pro nearly daily since last spring. I would have preferred that I had designed a set-up where Laddie could have been a bit more successful, perhaps by widening the left gun so that flaring off the umbrella in the center wasn't an issue and enabling Laddie, as well as Buster, to nail the long memory-bird in both series. However, hopefully it was still a productive session for both dogs.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Out-of-order Reverse Hip-Pocket Double

Rolling Ridge

Conditions: Gorgeous day: blue skies, 72 degrees, light wind

SERIES A. Out-of-order reverse hip-pocket double with blind (Lumi, then Laddie)

Lumi ran first and ran only the double. Laddie ran second and ran the whole series, first the double, then the blind.

The first mark of the double was on the left at 70 yards, thrown right-to-left and angled back so that it landed in cover on the far side of a rise, making the area of the fall hidden from the start line. The second mark was on the right at 140 yards, thrown right-to-left from a stickman and angled back across a ditch into cover. The line to the longer mark on the right passed a little to the right of the shorter "thrower", making this a reverse hip pocket double. The fact that the long mark was thrown as the go-bird made this an out-of-order double. Both throws were with BBs.

After Laddie picked up both marks, he ran the 260-yard blind. The line to the blind ran downhill just to the right of the stickman for the long mark, across a ditch, uphill and thru a line of trees, and across an old paved driveway.

Notes on Performance

I am more concerned these days with building Laddie's confidence than I am with pushing the envelope, but I guess this set-up was too easy. Both Lumi and Laddie nailed both marks, and Laddie ran a nice tight blind, with two clean casts.

Here's a photo of Series A:

20100910 Series A Out-of-order reverse hip-pocket double plus blind

Current Training Activities

We continue to train daily, and I often keep notes on each session, but I don't currently have time to keep up our online journal.

Here are some of the things we work on:
  • In Patty's Field Trial group, we work on whatever her set-ups are, but my primary concern is trying to build Laddie's confidence in that context. I've come to believe that a lot of his problems on returns, which only seem to happen in group settings, come from an emotional response to the situation. I'm not sure yet whether the root cause is: Laddie picking up stress from me (which Alice and others suspect to be the case); or he is affected by the presence of other trainers, dogs, and field training gear; or, as I'm inclined to believe based on some experimentation, he's affected by set-ups that he considers too far over his head. One of his symptoms is popping. I'm hoping to use his frequency of pops as a yardstick for measuring my success in simplifying set-ups to increase Laddie's success rate, with the goal of course to eliminate popping, as well as poor returns, entirely.
  • In private training and training with Gaby, we're working on a variety of concepts, varying from day to day: inline triples, hip pocket doubles in combination with a third retrieve (either a third mark or a blind run after the double is down before one or both of the marks are picked up), reverse hip pocket doubles run with a third retrieve, and out of order doubles or triples (that is, having the go-bird not be the shortest mark). In addition, we run land and water blinds, practicing things like angled water and cover entries and exits, on-and-off the point, keyholes, wraps (such as running past a hedgerow that has a field opening up behind it, tending to suck the dog behind the hedgerow), and hills. Distances of our marks are in the range of 40-300 yards. Distances of our blinds are in the range of 150-300 yards, occasionally even bigger.
  • Sometimes we run drills. For example, yesterday, out of curiosity, I ran Laddie on an out-of-order double with a long blind, and then I had him do a session of pile work. For the pile work, I set up a pile of 10 bumpers (5 white, 5 black) at an LP, and ran him to it from an SL 90 yards away. He ran both directions with great enthusiasm on every retrieve. In addition, I was pleased to see that he almost never dawdled or shopped on the pick-ups. I think he may have started to shop maybe twice, and as soon as I called "Here", he immediately grabbed the bumper he'd originally picked up and streaked back to me. Other drills we've run from time to time over the last few months are the Skimming Drill with both high cover and water as the obstacles, the Cool-off Drill, and variations on the Offline Drill.
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