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.

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