Sunday, December 19, 2010

Retired Guns

Mt. Ararat Farm

I'll begin with some notes about our current approach to training, and then describe today's session.


After using BBs extensively for private training with Laddie, I learned from Alice that for some skills, such as running long marks, I might actually be doing more harm to Laddie's marking than good. Since then, I've limited use of BBs and stickmen to the go-bird on multiples, when no thrower was available. I may also use BBs as hidden guns on short series if we practice Hunt Test set-ups, but I don't plan on using BBs, even with stickmen, to simulate stations other than a short go-bird for Field Trial set-ups.

As a result, our practice sessions now fall into two categories: private training, where we work only on blinds; or training with at least one other trainer, where we work on a variety of set-ups. In most cases recently, the other trainer is my good friend Gaby, who also trains her yellow Lab and her two Chessies in various combinations in different sessions. Today, for example, we trained at Gaby's dairy farm, and Gaby worked with the Lab and one of the Chessies.


Although I don't plan to compete Lumi again in the future, I often bring her with Laddie and me to training sessions and run her on some of the marks. My primary goal for this is to keep up her conditioning. Because blinds, difficult terrain, really long marks, and challenging elements such as retired guns don't seem enjoyable to Lumi, I don't run her on those. She enjoys multiples, so I modify the set-up to run her on those when possible. Other times, I limit her turn to running singles, and don't have her run those that I don't think would be enjoyable to her, for example a single that required running across a corn field.

Does Lumi enjoy our training sessions? Well, Lumi usually doesn't share Laddie's enthusiasm about getting in the van to leave home when I say "Want to TRAIN?", and she's sometimes excruciatingly slow coming back from a retrieve. But she's always excited coming to the SL and seems highly motivated on her outruns. I think she enjoys them when we're out there though she may not always look forward to them in advance, and I also think that keeping up her conditioning will improve her quality of life long-term as well as in the present.


As a matter of policy, I avoid using this blog as a training journal for other people's dogs, but of course Gaby has her own training objectives for her dogs, and modifies the set-ups as appropriate. For example, the Chessie she was running today has developed a head-swinging problem, so Gaby ran the series as singles with the dog running the long marks first. Gaby's Lab, Buster, is a little more advanced than Laddie thanks to months of almost daily training with a pro last summer, and they usually run the same series in our practices. But sometimes Gaby modifies the series for Buster. Today, for example, she had Buster run the long mark in Series B as a single before having him run the entire series as a triple.


Today, we were fortunate to have Gaby's two sons, and two of their friends, available as throwers, allowing us to man gun stations for two triples. Since Laddie and Gaby's dogs run plenty of blinds when each of us trains alone, and since blinds are typically not combined with marks in Qualifying Stakes, we decided that to save time today, we'd just have Laddie and Buster (Gaby's Lab) just run the triples.

Lumi and Gus (one of Gaby's Chessies) ran some of the same marks, but modified according to their levels. For example, Lumi ran all the marks of Series A as singles, and the two shorter marks of Series B as a double.

The weather has been subfreezing for several of our recent sessions with Gaby, including today's. But it was mostly sunny with a north wind at 6 mph, so conditions weren't too bad.

SERIES A. Land triple with retired gun

For Series A, the first mark (WB) was in the center, thrown left to right at 180 yards, with the gunner retiring to the woods behind the gun station while the dog was running the go-bird. The second mark (black bumper) was on the left, thrown left to right at 70 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the right, thrown left to right at 260 yards. The dogs were sent to the marks in the reverse order of the throws.

The intended challenges of this series were as follows:
  • Such a long go-bird is unusual, especially combined with such a short memory-bird thrown immediately beforehand. Aside from that, the go-bird was on the long side but with the thrower remaining visible, none of the dogs had any difficulty with it.
  • FT dogs sometimes have difficulty with short marks, and in Series A, the second mark was not only short but was a black bumper thrown onto the downslope behind a small crest in the terrain, making it invisible from the SL and on most of the outrun. I thought that Buster or Laddie, running the series as a triple, might overrun the short mark, but both seemed to have a clear memory of it, taking laser lines and pouncing directly on it once they cleared the crest.
  • The final memory bird, the retired gun in the center, had a number of challenges: First, from the SL, the thrower appeared to be standing to the left of two horse-jump standards, with the throw arcing over the standards. But actually, the standards were only half the distance of the thrower and fall from the SL, so the dog would have to push past the standards. Second, if the dog flared the right standard, that would put the dog line offline to the right. Third, the first mark combined with the short second one made up hip-pocket double. That is to say, they were tight and thrown in the same direction, with the short throw seeming from the SL to land just behind the long thrower, though actually the long thrower was actually another 110 yards further back. With the long gun retired, and after running two other marks first, that can make it difficult for the dog to remember that the long mark even exists, and some dogs will flare too wide to avoid running too close to the line of a previous mark.
Laddie did an excellent job on all three marks. He nailed the first two retrieves on a laser. For the retired gun, he took an initial line too far to the left, toward the still-visible short gun, but at 50 yards out he corrected his line, raced just to the right of the right jump standard, and from there straight to the fall.

SERIES B. Land triple with retired gun

For Series B, the first mark (WB) was in the center, thrown right to left at 350 yards, with the gunner retiring to a mound behind the gun station while the dog was running the go-bird. The second mark (black bumper) was on the left, thrown right to left at 170 yards. The third mark (WB) was on the right, thrown left to right at 90 yards.

The intended challenges of Series B were as follows:
  • The go-bird presented no challenges for dogs at the level of our dogs.
  • The memory-bird on the left was a black bumper, so the dog had to remember the fall without being able to see the bumper. A snow field was behind the thrower, and the sun, fairly low in the sky, was also behind the thrower, both of which made visibility of the thrower, even in his white jacket, somewhat difficult.
  • The long memory-bird in the center was difficult for several reasons: First, the thrower and the throw were both difficult to see against the background, and at that distance, the gunshot was faint. Second, the thrower stood in front of one of several visible mounds in that direction, increasing the difficulty of remembering the throw after the gunner retired. Third, the long mark was fairly tight to the second mark, and both were thrown in the same direction, with the potential making the longer retired mark even more difficult to remember. Fourth, the line to the long mark was across a corn field. Fifth, the area of the fall had several possible diversions, including the snow field on the left (a basin for a future pond), woods behind the fall on the left, the mounds behind the fall, and a barn to the right of the fall. And sixth, just the considerable distance. My estimate of 350 yards is conservative; it may have been more than 400 yards.
For Series B, Laddie was unable to spot the long gunner until I called for motion and a hey-hey. He seemed to get a good look at the throw, however, despite the difficulty of seeing both the thrower and the bumper. Once the other marks were down, he again nailed the first two retrieves. When I sent him on the long mark, he again veered toward the tight gun on the left at first, but again corrected his line and raced past the gunner. However, he popped twice, once just before entering the corn field, and again just after coming out of it, both times well over 200 yards from the SL, where he sometimes loses confidence that he's supposed to be that far out and is most likely to pop. As always, I just continued looking at him when he popped without moving a muscle, and he quickly spun back around and resumed his exuberant outrun. Once he reached the correct distance, he hunted for several seconds, but never left the area of the fall. I thought it was an excellent mark and excellent series, considering the challenges.

I don't always have time to describe our training sessions, but today's was fairly typical of our recent sessions with Gaby and her dogs these days.

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