Sunday, October 31, 2010

Inline Triples

Muncaster Mill Farm

Now that our competition is completed for the season, I don't expect Laddie to be in another event until next spring. At that time, I hope to run him in both Master Hunt Tests and Field Trial Qualifying Stakes. Since the latter are more challenging in most respects, we'll probably train predominantly on that sort of set-up. In addition, with overnight temps now in the 30s and daytime highs generally reaching only the 50s, we will probably do little if any water training between now and spring.

For this morning's session, we drove to the huge farm I discovered a few days ago off Muncaster Mill Road, behind Macgruder High School.

There, Laddie ran four inline triples. They were in four different locations in the complex of hay fields, but had a lot in common:
  • All were relatively long, varying from 200+ yards to 400+ yards for the longest memory-bird. The first series was the longest, the last series the shortest.
  • In each case, the three throwing stations were two BBs and an RL/WB, with the RL used for the short go-bird at distances of 100-120 yards.
  • A stickman was used at every throwing station of every mark.
  • The three stations were spaced fairly evenly and in a line, the spacing varying depending on the overall size of the set-up.
  • The throws were in line with the stations, and were all in the same direction. In some cases, they were all in the direction of the longest station toward the shortest station, while in other cases, they were all in the direction of shortest station toward the longest station.
  • Though an event could feature the inline triple on a vertical or horizontal line relative to the start line, none of today's triples were either vertical or horizontal. Instead, they all ran on a diagonal, extending outward either toward the left or the right.
  • In all cases, the marks were thrown longest first, shortest last, and in all cases I ran Laddie on them in the reverse sequence of the throws.
  • In most cases, I used geometric relations of the many hay bales to establish visual patterns in our set-ups. For example, for the fourth series, from the SL it appeared that the stickman for the longest gun was standing at a particular corner of two nearby hay bales, and the middle gun was standing at the same corner of two other nearby hay bales. My purpose was to challenge Laddie to remember the differences in pictures that were largely similar.
  • The first three set-ups also featured a blind (OB) that was longer than the longest gun and that was run after the triple. All three of the blinds were on a line that ran relatively close behind one of the guns, sometimes inside the boundary of the three marks and sometimes just outside. All three of the blinds also featured at least one narrow keyhole, either horizontal or diagonal, as well as other factors such as hills, an angle entry to high cover, or muddy terrain. Since Laddie had performed well every time I had handled him on the first three series, and had done a lot of running by the time we got to the fourth series, I didn't run him on a blind for that one.
In every series, Laddie nailed two of the marks — the short go-bird and one of the longer memory-birds — and required a hunt on one of the memory-birds. For the first two series, his hunt began to extend too far from the area of the fall and I transferred to handling him. For the third, he suddenly spotted the blind while hunting for the long mark and picked up the blind instead, then required handling when I sent him out again for the long mark. For the last series, he required a hunt on the longest mark but did not require handling.

Pros and Cons

I am not yet certain whether Laddie is benefitting from practicing inline triples. It's important that Laddie do well if he ever gets an inline triple in competition, and to me that suggests that we should practice more of them, perhaps reducing the size of the set-ups for awhile, perhaps avoiding the hay bales for awhile, until he is able to be more successful with them.

On the other hand, if Laddie doesn't begin nailing all three marks soon, especially when the three gun stations are all marked with a stickman, to say nothing of future training when one or more of the guns is retired, it's possible we should stop working on this kind of set-up to avoid damaging Laddie's confidence on this picture.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Laddie's First Master Hunt Test

Manorville, NY

Brief summary of Laddie's first Master test today, given by the Long Island Golden Retriever Club:
  • Of 29 dogs running Series A, 17 were called back, including Laddie. He nailed the 20-yard go-bird, was one of the only dogs to line the 50-yard blind run after first mark was picked up, was one of the only dogs to pick up the 70-yard inline memory-bird flyer (behind the go-bird) without handling, and ran the final 80-yard blind nicely.
  • I don't have exact figures, but I think most of the dogs who made it to the unusual second series passed it. I thought it would be easy for Laddie, too, but he went out on the first retrieve, a 50-yard mark thrown into running water among a bunch of decoys. Laddie ran up onto the shore behind the decoys and duck and hunted there, after a few passes suddenly catching wind of the hot blind 30 yards further along the shoreline and picking it up without me being able to stop him with my whistle. As far as I know Laddie was the only dog to have trouble with that mark, which seemed strange at first. But then I got to thinking: Of all the water marks Laddie has seen in FT practice, HT practice, private practice, or AKC or GRCA events, how many of them have ben thrown into water the last couple of years? Only a tiny fraction. Because of Laddie's longtime difficulty with returns on LWL retrieves, I virtually always throw or place water retrieves on land. The FT groups we train with also virtually always throw marks and plant blinds on land. I don't think it occurred to Laddie that the bird might be in the water, and the decoys sealed the deal.
Despite the DQ, I am encouraged by Laddie's performance. I was told this was considered a difficult test, and it seemed well within Laddie's ability level to me, other than my training error of letting him get over-balanced on expecting a water retrieve to be beyond the water and up on land.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Singles with Multiple Gun Stations, Narrow Blinds

Muncaster Mill Farm

Today we returned to the huge network of hay fields north of Muncaster Mill Road for some light preparation for Laddie's first Master test on Friday.

Series A was set up as an xmas-tree land triple with two blinds, but I ran Laddie on all the marks as singles. The marks (two BBs and an RL) were 50-70-90 yards. The first blind (OB) was 120 yards, with the line to the blind featuring a diagonal keyhole formed by two closely-spaced hay bales. The blind was placed 10 yards into an area of high cover. The second blind was 410 yards. The line to the second blind was 15° to the right of the first blind and a few degrees to the left of the fall for the center mark, and required an angle entry into a corner of high cover at 280 yards.

Series B was a triple land blind, with all the retrieves at 120 yards or less. The first blind was on the right thru a pair of hay bales. The second blind was on the left, in open meadow except for a hay bale a few feet to the right. The third blind was in the center and the longest, another keyhole between two hay bales and then a few feet into the woods. The left hay bale for the first blind was the same bale as the right bale for the second blind, so those blinds were quite tight.

My focus on Series B was having Laddie run in a tight corridor, with plenty of WSs to keep the line tight and a couple of WSs even when Laddie was already on line. In the past, I've tried to balance control with motivation by holding off as long as possible on whistling, giving Laddie a chance to maintain momentum as long as he wasn't too far off line, but not for this series. I especially wanted to be sure Laddie would sit when whistled fairly close to the blind, what I call the danger zone. For some reason, Laddie sometimes veers sharply off line as he gets within 30 yards of a blind. When I whistle to stop him, he realizes that the whistle must mean he's veered the wrong direction, so he instantly turns the other way and wants to hunt up the bird. I feel that in a test, it's essential that he sit and let me cast him that last few yards. Patty, the Field Trial pro I sometimes train with, once told me that FT blinds are often failed because of cast refusals just a few yards from the bird.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Singles with Multiple Gun Stations, Short Blinds

Leesburg Pike School

During my first few weeks working at my new job in Reston, VA, I've been bringing Laddie, and sometimes Lumi, with me to work. The temperatures have been mild enough that they can stay in the van with the windows rolled down, and me coming out to walk them every couple of hours.

At lunch time, I've been taking them for drives to look for possible training venues, and last Friday I found something special: an abandoned private school off Leesburg Pike. Besides a large sports field, the property includes three meadows just big enough for a wide variety of Hunt Test set-ups, a few lines of sight of over 200 yards, plenty of hills with knolls for start lines, cover in the meadows at a nice height for training, some large sections of high cover, hedgerows, and a tree-lined dirt road.

Today, I began winding down the complexity on Laddie's preparation for his Master test on Friday. I set up multiple guns (BBs and RTs), but ran every mark as a single. Since Laddie has mostly been running Field Trial blinds up to 500+ yards in the last few weeks, today I also had Laddie run several blinds (OBs) of less than 100 yards, just in case his test includes a short blind.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Training with a Small Group

Mt. Ararat Farm

As I attempt to prepare Laddie for his first Master test this Friday, I planned today as our last day of complex set-ups before the test. Training at Mt. Ararat Farms with Gaby and her friend Jessi, Laddie ran five series consisting of various combinations of Hunt Test marks (hidden guns) and Field Trial blinds:
  • An open xmas-tree triple (two BBs and Gaby as throwers) interrupted by a 120-yard open-field blind to the side, plus a 400-yard+ blind behind the middle gun
  • A widely-spaced land and water quadruple mark in a corn field (two BBs, two throwers) using a thawed duck for the longest retrieve, a 130-yard LWL mark thrown into high cover from behind a stand of cattails by Jessi
  • An unusually tight xmas-tree water triple with a cheater on the right (WB), a channel swim on the left (duck), and an on-and-off across a peninsula in the center (WB)
  • A channel swim single with a duck, to give Laddie a little more practice returning with a duck on an LWL retrieve
  • A 200-yard blind consisting of a duck thrown into swamp grass, the duck mostly submerged, with a cheating water entry at 150 yards, a channel swim, and an on-and-off point
Even with a fairly long hunt for the 40-yard BB go-bird into high cover on the quad, I felt Laddie performed well on every set-up.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interrupted Out-of-order Indent Triples

Muncaster Mill Farm

Today, while driving on Muncaster Mill Road, I discovered the driveway to an old, burned out building, and behind that, an entry to a network of massive hay fields. The hay had been recently cut, providing a good training surface and dozens of hay bales scattered around. Other features included hills, road tracks, areas of woods, and areas of high cover. With sight lines of hundreds of yards in many directions, the fields seem to offer countless set-up opportunities.

I've been gradually increasing the difficulty level of Laddie's practice Hunt Test land triples, and today's were some of the most difficult he's ever run, if not the most difficult.

We ran three triples. All were the same configuration, though in different locations, with different orientations, and with the throws in a variety of directions: some angled in, some angled back, and most flat. The configuration they had in common is called an indent: the first throw was the longest mark (80-100 yards), the second throw was the shortest mark (40-50 yards) and was in the center, and the last throw — the go-bird — was of middle distance (60-70 yards). Because the shortest throw was not thrown last, these were out-of-order triples in addition to being indent triples.

In addition, each of the three series included two blinds:
  • For Series A, the first blind was run after the three marks were thrown, but before they were picked up, making Series A an interrupted triple. The second blind, 420 yards, was run after the three marks were picked up.
  • For Series B, the two blinds were run before the three marks were thrown and picked up.
  • For Series C, the first blind was again run after the three marks were thrown, but before they were picked up, making Series C another interrupted triple. The second blind, 380 yards, was run after the three marks were picked up.
All the triples were run with two BBs and a RL. Before each throw, I blew a duck call at the SL, then sounded the BB's duck call if the gun was a BB, and finally fired. The blinds were OBs. I used no stickmen or any other marker for any gun station nor any blind.


Laddie nailed nearly every mark, though he did need handling on the go-bird for Series A (not like a true go-bird, however, since Series A was an interrupted triple). He also handled well on most of the blinds, though twice in the early going, I didn't feel he responded quickly enough to the WS and walked out to pick him up, then reran him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interrupted Triples

Sundown Road Park

Now that Laddie seems comfortable with the concept of a triple, I wanted to add one more complexity he may run into in a Master test: running a blind after the marks have been thrown, but before they've been picked up. That's called an interrupted triple.

Because I wanted to isolate that concept, I chose a sports complex to run our first two interrupted triples on, with a mowed and mostly flat surface. With no hills, high cover, water, etc., Laddie was able to have a clear example of the sequence:
  • Watch throws
  • Run a blind
  • Pick up the marks
In addition, I also had him run a second blind after he had picked up the marks.

Fortunately, my son Eric was available to help, so I had him throw the long mark (WB) on each triple, then sit in a chair and hide behind a camouflage umbrella. The other marks were thrown by BBs. The blinds were OBs.

SERIES A. Interrupted triple, two blinds

The first mark was in the middle, thrown left to right at 100 yards. The second mark was on the left, thrown left to right at 70 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 40 yards. After the marks were down, Laddie was run on a 180-yard blind behind (just to the right) of the right thrower, diagonally up a small incline, and thru a narrow diagonal keyhole formed by two large conifers. When Laddie returned from the blind, he was sent to pick up the three marks in reverse order they were thrown. Finally, he was run on a 190-yard blind further to the right, which required crossing the terrain changes of two baseball diamonds.

SERIES B. Interrupted triple, two blinds

The first mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 100 yards. The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 70 yards. The third mark was on the right, thrown left to right on an angle-in at 30 yards. After the marks were down, Laddie was run on a 190-yard blind behind (just to the right) of the middle thrower, under the bough of a large tree, across a depression in the field, and up a hill. When Laddie returned from the blind, he was sent to pick up the three marks in reverse order they were thrown. Finally, he was run on a 180-yard blind on a line between the left and middle guns and thru a diagonal keyhole formed by a fence and a tree.

Laddie nailed every mark in both series, and handled thru every keyhole, which I think is especially good in the situation where three marks are waiting for him.

However, he continues to have a somewhat looping whistle sit. I don't know whether that will be a problem in a Master test or not.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Triples, Triples, Triples

Oaks Area 2

Today was a dreary, overcast day with temps in mid-50s and wind calm.

I hoped today to reap the rewards of yesterday's session. My objective today was to transition Laddie from easy, poorman triples and higher multiples to legitimate Hunt Test triples, and find out whether he still requires long hunts on the final memory-bird.

SERIES A. Poorman triple

These easy marks were 50-40-30 yards in an xmas-tree configuration.

SERIES B. Poorman triple

These easy marks were 70-55-40 yards in an xmas-tree configuration.

SERIES C. Poorman quintuple

These easy marks were 80-70-60-50-40 yards scattered over the field, with the middle mark the longest.


For all of Series A, B, and C, Laddie needed only one hunt, the #4 bird (second picked up) under the boughs of a tree and in line with a longer fall. That was a short hunt.

SERIES D, E, and F. Land triples

The next three series were similar to one another, each a triple run with two BBs and an RL.

Series D was 80-60-40 yards. Laddie nailed all three marks. This was a watershed, given Laddie's long string of similar triples before yesterday's session of poorman multiples in which he had needed a long hunt on the final memory-bird of one series after another for several days.

Series E was 110-70-50 yards. After picking up the marks, Laddie also ran a 120-yard keyhole blind to the left of the marks and a 540-yard blind, with a keyhole at 450 yards. On the marks, Laddie nailed the 50-yard mark, then overran the 70-yard mark. He had taken a good line, but I think he was trying to switch to the long mark before I handled him back (with one cast) to the mark I'd sent him to. Ordinarily, I wouldn't be happy with a switch, but in this case, I think it represented a good sign, that Laddie was keeping the final, first-thrown memory-bird in mind while running the later-thrown marks. After racing back (as always) with the second pick-up, Laddie flat nailed the final memory bird, which was on the same line as the go-bird, adding a small difficulty factor.

Series F was a wide triple at 90-70-30 yards. Laddie nailed every mark. I especially liked the way he came back from #2 and come to heel locked in on line to #1. Laddie automatically locking in on the next bird upon his return from a retrieve has always been a hallmark of his doubles, including interrupted doubles, and I hope to see that behavior now applied to triples, quads, and quints as well.

Rolling Ridge

We had a little time in the afternoon so I drove Laddie over to the hilly fields at Rolling Ridge, as another incremental increase in criteria after this morning's work on the flat fields at Oaks Area 2. I was pleased to see that someone has mowed the Rolling Ridge fields. They still have rough, uneven footing, but the weeds are cut and Laddie didn't come back from his retrieves covered with sticky hitchhikers.

SERIES G. Land triple with two blinds

For Series G, I reverted to the kind of set-ups with which I had begun our Master-test preparation: an HT-scale triple and two difficult blinds.

SERIES H. Land triple

For Series H, I used a configuration that Laddie has had trouble with in the past, a long mark and a hip-pocket double.


For Series G and H, Laddie pinned every mark, with great initial lines on every bird. A diagonal crossing of the large, dry ditch got Laddie off line on the long memory-bird of both series, but once he got level with the fall, he turned and ran directly to the fall without a hunt. I'd rather Laddie hadn't partially squared the ditch, but at more than 100 yards, I felt he still ran these marks well.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Memory Work and "Just Watch"

Various Locations

Triples and Blinds

I've signed Laddie up for his first Master Hunt Test on October 29, 2010, in Manorville, NY. Therefore, I've temporarily stopped running Laddie on long set-ups in our private practice. At least until the test, I plan to set up HT-scale triples combined with the most difficult blinds I can come up with. For the triples, I use my two BBs and one RL with a weighted streamer and a pre-positioned WB.

When I began that pattern a few sessions ago, Laddie nailed the go-bird and first memory-bird, but had a long hunt on the final memory-bird (that is, the first bird thrown) on all four series. In our next series the following day, he followed the identical pattern on another four series, no matter how easy I tried to make the final memory-bird.

However, today I set up two more easy triples with big blinds. He still had more difficulty than I expected on the final memory-bird marks.

I've concluded that after years of training on doubles, Laddie hasn't had enough triples in his experience, and has developed an internal rhythm that cadences with the second mark.


So this afternoon, in two separate sessions, we went to a small field near work and I threw poorman triples, quads, and even quints with WBs. These were quick series, where I'd sit Laddie at the SL, walk out a short distance and throw the WBs in various directions and distances, then come back and let him get quickly into action. At first, every fall was visible, and Laddie still required small hunts after the first two marks. But soon, he was nailing every one. After that, I used the slope of the land to throw an early mark out of sight. That required Laddie to hunt again the first couple of times, but once again, he soon adjusted and was taking a good line to the hidden falls as well. These fast-paced drills seemed to be great fun for Laddie.

In our next session, I'll run another poorman triple or two, then try using the BBs and RL for another more event-like triple, and see whether the poorman drills have helped prepare Laddie for more success with his final memory-bird mark.

"Just Watch"

I'm afraid that Laddie's most vulnerable area for the Master test will be whether he can honor a flyer, and unfortunately, I have not been able to arrange for us to practice with live birds. At most, Laddie has seen one or two flyers, if any, since his last Senior test in the spring.

The best I've been able to come up with is to run Laddie on his series, and then have him sit at the side in an honor location while I run Lumi on a similar series. Because of Lumi's limited soundness, she doesn't seem to enjoy long retrieves, and she's often very slow on her returns. However, I walk over to Laddie, say very distinctly "Just watch" (our honor cue), and then I leave his side and go over to run Lumi on her series. I try to use maximum excitement for Lumi's throws — hey-heys, duck calls, high throws, gunshots — I often make them very short, and I position Laddie so that Lumi will run right in front of him for her go-bird.

So far, Laddie has never broken in those situations. If he stands up to him, I walk over to him and clearly say, "Sit!" But if he stays rock steady, as he usually does, I throw a bumper for him. I've also begun bringing out a jar of PB, and if he's steady, I give him a taste of that as an additional treat.

I don't know how beneficial this procedure will be in preparing him to honor flyers. The sequence should help — first you run your series, then you watch the next dog — and hopefully the fact that I'll be standing next to him in an event will make honoring easier for him than having me standing five yards away running another dog. But I can't duplicate the level of ambient excitement of an event, I can't duplicate the excitement of a live bird being shot with a real shotgun, and the different context of me running Lumi, rather than standing with Laddie, may actually be disadvantageous in preparing Laddie for a particular response to a particular set of stimuli.

However, it's the best preparation I've been able to arrange for. Hopefully, on top of previous preparation that got Laddie thru his Senior tests, it will be enough.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Land triples and blinds

Rolling Ridge

I'm considering running Laddie in a Master test in a couple of weeks. Sometime back, Alice suggested that the best way to prepare for a Master test is to run lots of triples, so today I set up a couple of them.

However, my primary focus remains on running Laddie in Qualifying stakes, so today's triples were longer than are used in Master tests. In addition, I used stickmen with white coats at all the gun stations. For each triple, two of the marks were thrown by BBs, and one was a weighted streamer thrown by a remote launcher, with a WB pre-positioned in the area where the streamer would land.

The hilly field at Rolling Ridge has not been mowed in months, so the grass is thick and long, interspersed with a variety of weeds, some thorny. The footing is uneven, and most of today's retrieves included a diagonal crossing of a dry ditch. The day was blustery, with temps in the low 60s.

SERIES A. Out-of-order indent triple and two blinds

The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 180 yards. The second mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 110 yards. The first two marks were on a tight angle, forming a reverse hip-pocket double. The third mark was on the left, thrown left to right at 130 yards. The line to the third mark was 60° to the left of the line to the middle mark.

I had Laddie pick up the third mark as the go-bird. Although it was "out-of-order" in that it was somewhat longer than the second mark, it wasn't much longer and a wide angle separated the two, so Laddie had no difficulty picking it up first. He also had no difficulty with the second mark, nailing both of the first two marks. For the final mark, the 180-yard mark on the right, he veered left around a shrub before crossing the ditch, then stayed on that line before veering increasingly left, getting so far away from the area of the fall that I had to handle him.

The first blind (OB) was on the right at 200 yards, with the line to the blind tight behind the "thrower" (BB and stickman) for the 180-yard mark on the right.

The second blind (OB) was on the left at 280 yards, with the line to the blind under the arc of the 130-yard mark on the left, then thru a keyhole formed by a gap in a tree line, then thru an additional keyhole formed by a shrub and a survey marker.

SERIES B. Out-of-order indent triple

The first mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 170 yards. The second mark was in the middle, thrown right to left at 130 yards. The first two marks were on a tight angle, forming a hip pocket double. The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 220 yards. The line to the third mark was 60° to the right of the line to the middle mark.

Laddie had no trouble being sent to the long third mark on the right first, and while he didn't nail it, he required only a short hunt. He nailed the second mark, 130 yards in the center. He took a good initial line to the final 170-yard mark on the left, but veered right, went out of sight in an area of high cover, and finally appeared a few seconds later right behind the fall. He picked it up and ran it straight in.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Blind, Out-of-order Double, and Pre-retired Single

Cattail River Drive

Today we practiced on a large field in the midst of an incomplete housing development in Howard County I happened to notice on a recent drive. The cover was low but rough, the footing was good, the terrain was hilly, and the field was dotted with hay bales. The field was surrounded on three sides by high, impenetrable cover, with a dry ditch and a residential street called Cattail River Drive along the north edge.

The day was sunny with temps in low 70s and light wind. The wind came from the west, acting as a headwind for Series A and C.

All three series were run from the same SL, at the top of one of the rises in the terrain.

SERIES A. Land blind

Series A was a 270-yard blind (hen pheasant), with a 10-yard wide keyhole at 250 yards formed by high, impenetrable cover on the left and a hay bale on the right.


I walked out and placed a chair and white coat as the "gun station" we'd use for Series C.

SERIES B. Out-of-order land double

The first mark of Series B was in the opposite direction as the blind in Series A. It was thrown by a BB left to right at 120 yards. It had no white coat, but the BB was placed in front of a hay bale.

The second mark was 60° to the right, thrown by a BB and stickman left to right at 150 yards.

Laddie was sent to the longer go-bird first, then the shorter memory-bird. He nailed both retrieves.

SERIES C. Pre-retired land single

A "pre-retired" mark is the name I've come up with for the approach I used for Series B yesterday and again for Series C today. In both cases, the pre-retired mark was run as follows:
  1. An SL is selected, and a white coat, with a chair or stickman, is positioned at the intended gun station.
  2. The dog is then run on some other series from the same SL in a different part of the field.
  3. With the dog in a "down", the handler goes out to place a BB and retire the white coat.
  4. The handler returns to the SL, launches the bumper from the BB, and sends the dog.
Today's pre-retired mark was thrown left to right at 170 yards.

Notes on the two pre-retired marks Laddie has run

For both Series B yesterday and Series C today, Laddie ran on a laser-straight line to the fall, with no under-run nor over-run. This seems to indicate that pre-retired singles, at least at these distances with minimal factors, are reasonably easy for Laddie.

In our next session, I'll run another pre-retired mark as a single. Hopefully Laddie will have no difficulty with that mark, either.

If that's the case, the next time after that, I'll add one more element: After I launch the pre-retired mark, I'll hand-throw a bumper to the side. I'll have him pick up that bumper, then run him on the long mark. It will be interesting to see whether he can still run a pre-retired mark well when it's a memory-bird rather than a single.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Practicing Retired Guns without a Bird Boy

I've been corresponding with Alice Woodyard on the subject of trying to practice retired guns when Laddie and I are training alone. The issue is not yet resolved for me. I think these are the main issues:
  • I am under the impression that Laddie is probably about average in terms of his ability to run a retired-gun mark for a young dog ready, or almost ready, to compete in Qualifying Stakes.
  • However, Laddie has one significant difference from other dogs at a similar level of marking and handling skill: His returns are sometimes much worse than other dogs at that level.
  • It's not entirely clear to me exactly why Laddie's returns sometimes fall apart. It may be a combination of reasons, all of which are intermittent.
  • One theory I have, which is not necessarily shared by anyone else, is that Laddie's poor returns are, at least sometimes, an avoidance behavior because he is uncomfortable with the difficulty level he perceives awaiting him in the remaining marks when he returns from an earlier one.
  • As a part of that theory, I believe that retired guns make Laddie uncomfortable.
  • It's been many months since I have seen poor returns when Laddie and I train alone together, nor when we train with hired bird boys or with Gaby and her dogs, our occasional training partners. To me, this isn't necessarily inconsistent with my theory. The combination of a training group plus a difficult series, especially one involving water marks, may be the trigger for Laddie's intermittent poor returns.
  • So as a way of addressing Laddie's comfort level, in the hope of both reducing the likelihood of a poor return and increasing the likelihood of a high quality mark, I've wanted to figure out a way to practice retired guns when we're practicing together.
  • I've tried a number of possibilities. For example, for several sessions, I used a BB without a stickman for the long mark of a reverse hip-pocket double, with a stickman at the BB of the short gun. In those set-ups, while Laddie couldn't see the long gun-station at any time, and could only see the arc of the throw, the line to the long mark passed just behind the short gun, giving Laddie a visual reference point for remembering that line.
  • I had thought of expanding that approach to a variety of hip-pocket and reverse-hip-pocket configurations, varying: directions of the throws; which gun would have the stickman; and the order of throws. However, correspondence with Alice has made me rethink that plan. In addition, in a phone conversation with my friend Tony Hunt, who has trained with BBs extensively, I learned that he always places a white coat near the BB.
  • The problem is that using a BB without a white coat is not a retired gun, it's a hidden gun, and hidden guns are illegal in Field Trials. Therefore practicing them is not practicing something the dog will ever see in a trial. In addition, it may be that practicing them does not enable the dog to get any better at running them. In fact, practicing hidden guns, or even retired guns, may actually result in deterioration of a good marking dog's marking skill.
  • Obviously, these considerations are making me cautious. My thought is that if I can come up with a training plan where Laddie performs well, or at least improves over a series of several similar sessions and performs well at the end, then I would think that will improve Laddie's comfort level with retired guns and hopefully decrease the likelihood of a poor return in group training or competition.
Applying all of that to today's Series B (click here to view), I tentatively feel that this was a good approach, on the grounds that Laddie's mark was so good. He took a perfect line from the SL and held it without veering until he reached the fall, seeming to gauge the distance as well as he had the line.

Despite the fact that Series B was really a hidden gun, not a retired gun, it seemed to have most elements in common with a retired gun:
  • The dog had plenty of time to see the field with the gun station visible. In fact, he had more time than he normally would with a retired gun.
  • The dog saw the arc of the throw.
  • The dog was sent immediately after the throw.
  • The gunner was not visible while the dog was running the mark.
The primary difference between today's hidden gun arrangement and a retired gun was that the gunner was not visible at the moment of the throw as he would be with a retired gun. The set-up of course also had secondary differences, such as the dog watching me walk out to the gun station while waiting at the SL. I cannot judge to what extent all these differences invalidate the value of this sort of set-up for meeting my objective of making Laddie more comfortable and/or skillful with retired guns.

For the immediate future, I plan to run several more long singles like today's. If Laddie continues to run them with the same level of accuracy, I'll begin to insert other retrieves in front of the send-out to the long gun. For example, after launching the BB, I'll try throwing a bumper to the side and having him pick that up, then sending him to the long mark. If that continues to go well, I'll add a short mark, thus incorporating the hidden gun into a double. And if that goes well, I'll add a couple of additional marks, thus incorporating the hidden gun into a triple.

For all of those, I'll follow the practice of pre-positioning a white coat (on a chair or stickman) at the long mark, running some other series, then walking out and "retiring" the white coat, walking straight back to the SL, and running Laddie on the series immediately.

This may or may not help Laddie become more comfortable and/or skillful with retired guns, but as long as he's running high quality marks, I guess it won't be doing any harm.

Out-of-order Double, Blind, and Retired-gun Single

Oaks Area 2

The cover at Oaks has been too long for training for several months, but today I discovered that the park service has finally mowed. Oaks is our closest field, and good for land training when time is short. In this case, I was squeezing in a training session with Laddie after returning from a day of work. At this time of year, sunset has begun coming pretty early.


I placed an LP as our SL, and a chair with my white coat at 200 yards to the far left of the field we'd be facing. That would give Laddie plenty of time to notice the position of the gun station for Series B.

SERIES A. Out-of-order land double and blind

For Series A, the first mark was on the right, a BB throwing left to right at 70 yards. The second mark was well to the left of the first one, a BB and stickman throwing right to left at 120 yards. The second mark was thrown from under one tree into an area near two other trees, one closer to the SL, the other further. The ground in that area of the field was somewhat marshy, with soft, uneven footing.

Laddie picked up the long mark on the left — the one with the stickman — as the go-bird first, requiring a small hunt. He then nailed the short mark on the right — no white coat — as the memory-bird.

After Laddie had picked up both bumpers, I ran him on a blind at 180 yards, even further to the left. This blind was placed at the foot of the rearmost tree among a group of trees in that area of the field, requiring Laddie to enter an area that by that time was deep in shadows.

After Laddie ran the blind, I had Lumi run the long mark for fun, since she has seemed interested in doing a little retrieving lately. She also required a small hunt on that mark. I'm not sure why neither dog was able to pin that mark. Maybe it was the unusual fall among trees.

SERIES B. Land single with hidden gun

When both dogs were done with Series A, I walked out to get the BB on the right that still had an unfired bumper and carried it out to the chair and coat I had positioned far to the left earlier. When I got to that station, I positioned the BB, lay the chair flat on the ground, picked the coat up to carry with me, and walked straight back to the SL, where Laddie was in a down waiting for me. As I walked, I put on the jacket.

When I got to the SL, I fired the BB and sent Laddie. He ran a laser mark with no under-run nor over-run.

See discussion of this series in a separate post: Practicing Retired Guns without a Bird Boy
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