Saturday, December 3, 2011

Lumi tracking

Laytonsville Park. Still sunny, 47 degrees, light wind.

Both dogs stayed in the van while I laid the track.   Laddie stayed in his crate when Lumi was working.

Track was aged 30 min.  Treats (pieces of sliced ham)  in footprints at irregular intervals, ranging 3-20 feet.  Lumi was on a 30 foot line, which I kept off the ground but not taut.

The track: 60y with serpentine at 10-20y. Right angle corner to left. 70y straight. Right angle corner to right. 20y to the glove.

The track crossed a paved walkway, passed near trees, a picnic bench, and an outdoor grill, went over lawn, leaves, bare patches under trees, and over a branch, which Lumi went around.

Lumi stated motivated, kept her head down, scented every footstep, found every treat, and took every turn, working the entire track without any guidance from me. This was her longest track yet.


Steady honoring a duck flyer at 20 yards

Rixeyville. Delightful sunny day, low forty's, light wind.

To make the training environment more realistic, I set up a holding blind at both start lines. Dave, as gunner, wore a white jacket. Dave's training buddy handled Lum in both series.

Laddie and Lumi both wore their tabs, but I never touched Laddie's.

A) Land triple. First,180y money bird thrown by a Bumper Boy with a stickman. Next, a duck thrown at 60 yards with shotgun blast. Finally, a duck flyer thrown and shot in the middle at 70 yards.

First Laddie ran the triple, marking poorly but steady as a rock.  Then he honored Lumi, making it look easy.

I'm not too worried about the marking. Laddie hasn't seen duck flyers in months. He was pumped. I think he can mark.

B) Another land triple similar to Series A, but new location and mirror image. Most importantly, the go-bird duck flyer was thrown in the middle at just 20 yards.

This time Laddie nailed all his marks, and was again steady both working and honoring.

Dude. Twenty yards.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Other people laying tracks for Lumi

I've found a few people lately to lay tracks for Lumi and me: nephew Evan, DW Renee, and today, son Eric.

Today's session, late this afternoon, consisted of two tracks: one that I laid, with Eric walking right behind me to watch (and I guess increase the scent), and then one laid by Eric alone while I played with Laddie and Lumi out of sight. 

With Laddie in his crate, Lumi and I ran Eric's track first.  Although Lumi missed the first corner and Eric had to call out some guidance, Lumi did a great job aside from that. 

Next we ran (ran?) the track I'd laid earlier, which was now nearly an hour old.  Lumi needed no help at all and made it look easy.  Eric, who'd never seen a dog track, found it kind of amazing that a dog can do that, and I think he's right,  it is amazing. Of course,  it's always great watching a dog work.

As I've mentioned before, once I and whoever else is laying the track started placing treats in the footsteps every few steps, Lumi soon developed a lovely heads-down, nose in every footstep, form. That's how she worked today also.

I think Lumi may be getting the concept of tracking now, even though I remain lost in my role as "handler".

Lumi's arthritis seems to discourage her from following me around in the house as much as she used to.  But I love the fact that she's started joining Laddie unbidden at the front door when I put on boots, etc., signaling that it's time to go training.  I guess the discomfort is worth it to her, especially when she's learned that either she's going to get to retrieve flyers (I don't have her pick up all the marks, just the flyers), or hunt for all those treats as she does when we go tracking. Today she got to do both.


Honoring flyers with remote handler

Rixeyville, VA.  Sunny day, 56 degrees, light wind.

Today, Dave brought four chukars, but no training buddy.  I had Lumi & Laddie with me, goal as always for our Sunday sessions was to work on Laddie's steadiness, especially on honor.

Possible configurations for Laddie honoring Lumi included running Lumi on a long line while standing in normal honor position with Laddie (which I considered risky to Lumi and too unnatural a picture for Laddie's event prep), and having Laddie on a long line while running Lumi on a tab (which I considered risky for Laddie). As a third option I discarded, I was pretty sure Lumi would break if I tried to depend on her to watch a triple with flyer go-bird.

So, based on Laddie's recent excellent history of steadiness, I decided to have him honor with no handler while I ran Lumi on her tab. Laddie, as usual at practice, was wearing his tab, but I never touched it all day.

We ran two triples, similar but different distances, orientations,  and positions. In each case, we used a Bumper Boy and stickman for the long memory-bird, Dave threw a pheasant for the second bird, and Dave shot a chukar for the go-bird.  Hilly terrain made all falls invisible from SL. The go-bird fell at 100y from Laddie in Series A, at 25y from Laddie in Series B.  Series B was a real breaking situation even for a normal honor, and this was a remote honor.

I think that for the honoring dog, it's difficult to watch the working dog run across your line of vision to the go-bird, and it's also difficult to watch the working dog run away from you toward the go-bird. We have seen both in trials and practice both.  Today, I had Laddie watch Lumi run away from him toward the flyer go-bird.

For each series, first I ran Laddie on the triple. Then I got Lumi out of the van.  I set up Laddie in honoring position 5y from the SL.  I stood in my normal honoring position at Laddie's right flank and said, "sit, just watch [our honoring cue]," several times. Leaving Laddie there, I then ran Lumi on the triple on her tab at the SL, though keeping my eye on Laddie the entire time.

Laddie was explosive as always on his marks, but he didn't even creep while working, much less break.  Honoring while sitting all by himself, he was alert but relaxed and never even stood up.  I'd even say he looked a bit bored when honoring in the second series.  Wow!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lumi tracking in corn field, rec area

Two locations within 10 mins of home.

Overcast, 60 degrees, wind calm, no precip.

After training with Laddie all morning, I dropped him at home and picked Lumi up so she and I could train a little by ourselves.

First we went to a corn field with gentle hills. I laid a track with a single 120 deg corner and a total of three treats (boiled ham) in the track, plus another on the glove. Lumi's been with my daughter Cookie for a week so this was her first track in a while, but she did great: nose down, deliberate pace, found all the treats,  took the turn, and of course found the glove, all without a hint from me.

Next we parked near a ball field, and I set up a track in the adjacent picnic area: hilly, grass not too long,  dead leaves, trees, a wooden bulletin board, and a paved walkway.  This track had two serpentine turns in opposite directions, then a square corner before the final leg to the glove. A total of 6-7 treats in the track, plus another three atop the glove. Lumi worked this track the same way as the first one, this time requiring no help after a little on the first leg.  Perhaps her beautiful tracking form is becoming a habit.

By the way, except for the first day or two of Lumi and me tracking together, I've been laying tracks with a shuffling gait, keeping both feet in contact with the ground the whole time, and turning around to place treats directly on the spot I'd been standing. After I place the glove the same way, I take some large steps in the same direction beyond the glove and then circle around without coming near the track again.  I'm not aging the tracks at all yet.

Also, except for the first couple of days when I tried using lining poles offset by a few feet to mark the corners, I'm no longer using any markers. I lay each leg by sighting a landmark in the distance, and look for a ground feature to remember the turns. I try to make the legs as variable as possible in length (though none too long yet), place the treats at irregular intervals, and never place them immediately before or after a corner.

I don't know how much of this is correct for AKC-style tracking, but it seems appropriate for Lumi at this stage. I'm pleased with her progress.


Just a blind

Close to home, 60 degrees, wind calm, light rain.

On the way home from training with Dave, I thought about somewhere I could set up a long blind for Laddie without much walking, since one of my ankles is swollen and the Achilles tendon in the other side is tender. I came up with a location, and placed an OB to be run as a 280y land blind.  I then drove Laddie to the SL atop a hill, put on a white jacket and Laddie's tab, and ran him down a hill, thru a break in a hedgerow, across a small creek, and up another hill thru medium-length cover.

Laddie needed no handling the first third of the line, then did a nice job on a few zigzag WSCs, including two at 250y+, to the blind. All his sits were prompt, he had that great Laddie alert posture as he awaited the cast, and all his casts were reasonably accurate.

Unfortunately, we had no diversions to speak of. Still, I felt it was a good confidence builder for both of us.


Breaking birds

Rixeyville, VA.  Overcast, high 40s, light wind.

Today, it was just Dave, Laddie and me. 

A) Bumper Boy with stickman used for #1 at 160y. Dave in white jacket threw a pheasant at 30y for #2. Then he shot a pheasant flyer at 30y for the go-bird. Laddie picked up the marks, then ran a blind at 240y.

I moved Laddie to the side of our previous SL, cued "sit, just watch," and Laddie watched as the same three marks were thrown. Then I took a step that placed me between Laddie and the flyer and heeled him back to the van for some chasing games with his softball. Dave picked up the birds.

B) Bumper Boy and stickman used for #1 at 90y. With the bumper lying there, I ran Laddie on a blind at 130y, the line just "behind the gun" of the first throw. Then Dave threw a pheasant at 30y and shot a pheasant flyer at 40y. Laddie picked up the two short marks, then the longer memory bird.

Laddie's performance: Laddie had a slow sit when racing downhill on the first blind, and a slipped whistle 20y from that blind when he had apparently scented or spotted the blind, which was marked with a lining pole. He also had a looping line to the bumper the final mark of the day, though on the outside, not getting behind the gun. Aside from that, his performance was excellent: nailing marks, taking whistles and casts, and steady both working and honoring each series. 

Today, Laddie wore his tab but I never touched it. Instead I leaned over Laddie enough that I'd be able to push him back down if he tried to stand, which he didn't. My intention is to gradually fade that stance till Laddie can honor a breaking bird with me standing erect several yards away. We have several months to work up to that before Laddie competes again in the spring. Since the tab is currently irrelevant to our training, I may eventually start running Laddie without it, but for now I'll continue having him wear it in case we need to go back to restraining him that way.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Germantown dog park

After Laddie was attacked in the holding blind at a trial this spring, he showed some signs of dog aggression on a couple of training days. He had a lot of socialization when he was a puppy, and I thought it might be time for a refresher. Therefore, we've been going to dog parks a few times a month for the last few months.

Today was typical: a well-socialized but rough-housing Pit Bull, a speedy young Weimie wanting to get Laddie's bumper and play keep-away, a grouchy Shibu Inu growling and baring her teeth at Laddie one time, a Shepard and a BC interested in the bumper for short periods, a growly Golden in a pinch collar more interested in shadowing Laddie than getting the toy.

I watch Laddie like a hawk, but it's been weeks since I've seen any hint of aggression from him. He pesters the females, parades his bumper in front of as many people and dogs as possible, engages in sniffing and chase rituals with new arrivals, shows good obedience skills in the face of major distractions, and is becoming increasing more interested in playing with me than activities with other dogs.

When Lumi was a pup, Renee and I took her to the dog park frequently. She had some regular doggie friends, became a sublimely adept diplomat, and then, after a few months,  she gradually changed. A time finally came where she just had no interest in other dogs, all she wanted to do was play with me. After awhile, we stopped bothering with trips to the dog park.

I think I'm seeing a similar trend with Laddie, though I'm not sure.  Even more,  I'm not sure this kind of socializing will transfer to being around other retrievers in a field training scenario. At least I hope it's not doing his field work skills any harm.


New honoring stance

Rixeyville, VA. Hazy, 58 degrees, variable wind.

Today Laddie & I trained with my friend Dave, his training buddy, and the training buddy's retriever for Laddie to honor.

Dave brought four live pheasants, and I brought two dead pheasants and my Bumper Boys. We both wore white jackets, and we didn't use duck calls.

We ran two series.  Location, distance,  orientation, and throwing order were different, but both series had a lot in common: The BB with a stickman was the long mark (thrown first or second), Dave threw a dead bird as the other memory bird, and he shot a pheasant flyer as the go-bird. He threw the two birds from the same gun station, which was within 40y of the SL. A hot blind was also planted.

For the first series, at Dave's suggestion, I ran Laddie without his collar and tab.  But I've gone to some trouble to negotiate Laddie to the tab by having him wear them whenever we train --honoring or not -- do for the second series, I put the tab back on.

However, I've been meaning for some time to experiment with a new honoring stance, which I've seen other handlers use occasionally in competition. Instead of standing at Laddie's right flank facing away from the field, today I kneeled at Laddie's right side, cueing "sit, just watch" as always.  For training, I placed my left hand a couple of inches from Laddie's back. If he started to stand,  he'd make contact and hopefully, I could immediately push him back down.  Of course, in competition I'd keep my left hand clear of him.

If this approach works, I like it better than the tab for several reasons.  The objective one is that it eliminates the issue of the dog becoming collar-wise. The other ones are more subjective, such as a heightened sense of companionship, and the ability to signal a relaxed state.

I don't know whether some judges would have a problem with it, either in Field Trials or in Hunt Tests. Something to look into.

It's also a little hard on my knees, the price for years of marathoning.  But well worth it if it adds more reliability to Laddie's honor.

Today, Laddie never came close to breaking, either from the line or honoring.  He also marked well-to-excellent, never getting behind a gun, even for the 310y BB/stickman memory bird in the first series. He lined the first hot blind, though unfortunately he was supposed to be running a mark at the time. I was more interested in seeing him run the mark without handling on a second send than worrying about a poorly placed hot blind.

For the second series' blind, on his one WS of the day, he sat pretty near the bird even though he had apparently scented it, which was good, I thought.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Water handling, land marking

Rolling Ridge. Sunny, blue skies, 58 degrees, light wind.

Lumi is visiting my daughter Cookie for the next week,  so today it was just Laddie and me.

With overnight temps near or below freezing, and daytime highs of 40-70 degrees, I don't think Laddie will be able to train in water much longer this year. But the day seemed warm enough for one series today, anyway.

For the water series, I threw an OB to the left, on a line with a difficult water entry, a shoreline swim, and through a tight keyhole between a metal structure and the shoreline. Next I threw an OB far out to the right. Finally I threw three WBs out into the middle.

First Laddie picked up one of the WBs as a freebie. Next I sent him toward another WB, but when he got close, I blew WS and cast him to the OB on the right. Next another freebie WB. Next we ran the OB on the left as a blind, since the bumper has drifted out of sight from the SL. Laddie did not carry his casts well, wanting to pick up the last WB, but he didn't vocalize. Finally, I sent him to the last WB, by now drifted nearly across the pond.

Agree those give water retrieves, we ran only land. First, I threw three poorman triples, all lines featuring steep hillsides and most featuring strips of heavy cover.  Those were all thrown from near the SL, so at HT distances.

Finally, I went out, planted a blind, and threw a long triple while Laddie watched from the SL. I then ran him on the triple, and lastly, ran the blind.

Laddie nailed nearly every mark all day, including all three of the long ones. He was also on the way to lining the blind, but sat when I whistled.

Without being trivial, this was a day well within Laddie's abilities, resulting in a 100% success rate. Good practice, good for endurance, good for confidence.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Laddie land quints, Lumi tracking

Field off MD-108. Sunny, low 60s.

Between my new job, the short days, and the end of Daylight Saving Time, I have less than an hour with Lumi & Laddie before it's too dark for training.

Today was typical of this week's sessions:

A) Lumi tracking

B) Laddie running poorman quintuple featuring one pair of teacup (near each other) marks and one pair of marks, short and long, on the same line, all guns "retired"

C) Lumi tracking (this time with treats in footprints every ten yards or so)

D) Laddie running poorman quintuple in a W shape, thrown right to left, sent to marks left to right; for #1 and #3, this meant running to a long fall not visible till the dog was close, past a short mark visible the entire time

E) Lumi tracking, again with treats in the track; the treats seemed to improve head-down and resulted in Lumi taking a rare unassisted turn.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Laddie frustration drill, Lumi tracking

Rolling Ridge. Blue skies, high 50s, light wind.

Today I alternated tracking with Lumi (five courses) with water handling drills for Laddie (three series).

For the tracking, I did not try to resume Schutzhund style, which Lumi and I trained in years ago. Instead we did our best approximation of AKC style, though I've forgotten most of what I used to know, which wasn't much.

Lumi kept her head down and did well on straight legs, but for the first four tracks, she missed all six turns, a total of six, and I used the line as a restraint till she found the next leg.

Since I wasn't sure I was using the line correctly anyway, I decided to have her wear her harness, but no line, for the fifth course. She rewarded me by taking her first turn of the day without help. She did over-run the second turn, so I called her back onto to the second leg and cued "find it".  This time she quickly found the third leg and followed it to the glove.

Each glove was rewarded with several high-value treats, and she also got to carry the glove back to the van, which she seemed to enjoy.

For Laddie's water drills, I would throw one or two 2" red bumpers way out into the pond, then two or three 3" white bumpers, which I can't throw quite as far, all of them in the same general direction. I would send Laddie to pick up the last WB as a freebie (no handling). Then I'd send him back out, headed for another WB. When he got close, I'd blow a whistle sit, then handle him past the WBs to one of the RBs. We alternated freebie WBs with handling RBs until they were all picked up.

Although this drill is hopefully beneficial in helping Laddie learn to deal with frustration when handling in water, it's easy enough that he can do it all day without vocalizing. I hope to evolve it to handling across points without vocalizing at some point, but it seems higher priority just to have him face any kind of frustration in water handling without vocalizing right now.

Lumi spent the time while Laddie was training, running long water retrieves to 2" WBs. Laddie spent the time while Lumi was tracking in his crate in the van.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Four flyers

Rixeyville, VA. Blue skies, 50s, light wind. Hilly, clumpy hay field ringed with trees. Just Dave, Laddie, and me, plus four live pheasants and two dead ones to start.

A) With hot blind  (pheasant) at 210y down the middle, brought Laddie with me to watch me throw another pheasant RTL from a stickman  on the right so he'd know where that one was. Then Laddie and I heeled back to the SL, so now that "memory-bird" was at 120y. I showed Laddie the stickman and said "sit, mark".  Then we turned to face Dave on the left at 20y. I blew a duck call enthusiastically,  but forgot to hold Laddie's tab. Dave threw a cock pheasant RTL. Laddie broke, I hollered, and he spun around and came to heel.  I hollered a bit more,  then walked out and picked up the flyer. I showed it to him, told him "This could have been yours" (he understands English,  you know), and tossed the bird in the back if the van.

Under Dave's  advice, I then removed Laddie's collar and tab, and we ran the same setup again. This time Laddie was steady as a rock. I sent him to the flyer, then to pick up the "memory-bird", and finally ran him on the blind.

B) On the right at 70y, Dave threw  and shot another pheasant flyer RTL. Then I walked out a little way toward the left and threw a dead bird mostly straight out, a little to the right for visibility. I walked back and called Laddie to heel, watching to see if he had a strong pull toward the flyer. If he had, I'd have sent him there first.  But he didn't, so I sent him to the short bird first, then to the flyer. I'm not sure whether Laddie being willing to run the flyer last spoke of mature patience, trust that he would get both birds eventually, high prey drive drawn to the closest and most recent throw, or a lower birdiness than a certain eight-year-old female Golden I could mention, or some combination. It was good to see, anyway.

C) Dave threw a dead bird on the left RTL at 50y, a dead bird in the center RTL at 50y, and a dead bird on the right RTL at 20y. Laddie picked them up on lasers in reverse order of the throws. Then I took a position a few feet from the SL with Laddie at heel, sat him, took up my honoring position facing away from the field off Laddie's right flank, and said, "sit, just watch," Laddie's honor cue. Now Dave threw the same series again, except that he threw the first two birds from closer in, and he used our last flyer for the go-bird. Laddie remained steady!

My plan was to walk away from Laddie without saying another word and pick up the first two birds, then walk back to the SL. If Laddie stayed in place, I'd let him pick up the flyer when I got back. But he broke toward the flyer once I was a few feet away in another direction. Again he allowed me to call him back to heel, and again I went out and picked up the flyer myself.

Dave commented that Laddie is what's called "controlled chaos," and said, "You can see the gears turning, he's putting it together."

I recognize that a high energy outrun has the potential to be reinforcing even without getting the bird, but Alice once told me that a controlled break can also be a good teaching tool for steadiness because the dog sees almost instantly the futility in breaking. Laddie's steadiness is obviously not complete, but his work today felt pretty good.


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steadiness training with pheasant flyers

(This is the same farm previously identified as "near Warrenton" and "Clevenger's Corner".)

Sunny, no clouds, 45 degrees, light wind.

Two doubles with Dave throwing all marks and a stickman at the memory-bird: A) With both guns at 130y, the go-bird pheasant flyer landing the far side of a crest. B) With both find at 20y, the go-bird pheasant flyer down a steep hill.

In each case, Laddie ran first, then honored Lumi, who was being handled by Dave's training buddy. In each case, I honored Laddie from the flyer side, and closer to the gun than the working dog (Lumi) so that she would run past Laddie when sent to the flyer.

Laddie stood for the flyers in the short series, but his tab never became taut. He was a bit OOC heeling off the line, so that's something for us to work more on, but I feel his steadiness training is coming along well.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Steadiness work with pheasant cocks

Near Warrenton

Beautiful day, light wind, low 60s. Training Laddie with Dave and a training buddy, plus Lumi and the training buddy's retriever.

Dave threw all marks. He fired a shotgun and used no duck calls, and wore a white jacket. All birds were large, colorful, fragile pheasant cocks.

A) Land double. First mark (pheasant) on the left at a stickman, thrown RTL at 120y, the fall over a crest and invisible from SL.  Second throw (pheasant flyer) on the right at an LP, thrown LTR at 90y, area of fall visible from SL. Dave remained at the go-bird station, while the stickman showed the first station.
Laddie ran first, then honored Lumi with Dave's training buddy handling Lumi. As always at training these days, Laddie wore a tab, but I didn't hold it for the marks. I did hold it, hopefully without him being aware of it, for the honor. He was rock steady both working and honoring. As an added bonus, Laddie's flyer was a "cripple" and he brought it back while it was still active when I called him in, rather than ignoring me and trying to crush it first. Also, Laddie nailed both marks.

Lumi's first mark was dead on,  but she was so slow on her return with the flyer that she wasn't sent to the memory bird. Dave just picked it up.

B) Identical setup to (A), including same throwing stations, but with SL moved up to half the distances and on a different line to change the picture somewhat. I held Laddie's tab both working and honoring. After Laddie ran series, Dave's training buddy ran own dog for Laddie to honor, and unfortunately released the dog after Dave threw the dead bird, so that Laddie had to hang around to wait for the dog to get the flyer mark as a single. Perhaps this was to some extent a simulation of a"no bird" while honoring, but in my opinion it wasn't ideal training. Laddie actually seemed uninterested in the flyer when honoring it, and seemed primarily interested in heading back to the van to play. That's a good attitude for him to have on an honor, I think, but I'd like to see him have that attitude in a sequence that wasn't broken up by sending the working dog at the wrong time.

Dave suggested that I continue to hold Laddie's tab (loosely) as we continue working on steadiness thru the winter. We can see how his steadiness is without the tab next spring when we're actually running in an event.  That's consistent with the advice Jody and Alice have always given me.


Friday, October 14, 2011

Water T-drill

Rolling Ridge, cloudy, 50s.

Progress! After four easier setups, Laddie was able to handle to an invisible (OB) water blind over a point with a WB as a diversion at a 90 degree angle in open water.

Granted, he had run the line to the OB at least a dozen times in last few days, and granted, he had significant difficulty with his carries, taking a cast for a stroke or two and then veering back toward the WB.  But the important point, for me, is that he never vocalized.

This setup is almost easy for Laddie now. Let's not stop on it til it's all the way easy. Then we can start over at a different location.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Land blinds, intermediate water T-drill

Back field of church, then Rolling Ridge

Light rain, mid-60s.

A) Triple land blind.  150-60-130y. Found a good-sized  grassy field with lots of bowl-shaped depressions, some nested, plus other obstacles such as gravel areas, sandy areas, and trees for keyholes. Tried to come up with challenging lines, but Laddie lined or nearly lined all of them.

B) Water T-drill. Yesterday I found one combo Laddie has been able to do for years, but as of yesterday could not do without vocalizing: a cold blind (OB) across a point with a WB diversion in the water on a line 90 degrees to the side.

So today I broke it down with various easier versions. Final version today: sight blind to a WB on a familiar line across a point, with a diversion OB far out in the water on a 135 degree angle.

Tomorrow I hope to run Laddie on several more versions in same location, perhaps ultimately getting back to the original combo, now more familiar, and hopefully now without vocalizing.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Club training day, solo steadying with triples, water T-drill


Sunny, temps in 50s and 60s.

All marks were ducks, all blinds were bumpers.  Duck calls and shotgun fire (blanks) for all marks.  Dark clothing, holding blinds at all gun stations.  Some wingers, some hand-throws.

A) Group land triple and two blinds.  Master triple, one Senior blind, one Qual blind.  Factors for all retrieves were primarily hills, and strips or large patches of high cover.  Laddie did a nice job on all five retrieves.

B) Solo steadying with triples.  Between series, I worked alone with Laddie in a meadow, using an idea recommended to me by Dave, the guy who shoots flyers for us sometimes.

In today's drill, first I would throw a triple from the area of the SL, and have Laddie pick up those marks.  Then I'd put him in a sit, position myself as I do when we're honoring (standing at his right flank facing backwards) and say "sit . . . just watch" a few times.  Then I'd re-throw the same triple, and then go out and pick up all the bumpers myself.  While picking them up, I'd throw bumpers around in the field and pick those up as well.  I used duck-call, hopefully adding some excitement.  We did at least a half dozen of these drills in various locations.

Laddie never broke, so I don't know how much benefit this was, but he did stand on a couple of the honors, and I immediately cued sit, so he may have been getting at least a little useful steadiness preparation.  

C) Group water triple with blind.  Master water triple, Qual water blind.  Laddie and I, however, did not run the group version of the marks.  Instead, I had Laddie run singles from three different SLs some distance away from the group SL and with more difficult lines.  All four retrieves were difficult enough for Laddie to get some learning in (I hope).  However, one of the marks required handling to keep Laddie off a point, and he vocalized.  He then vocalized again on the blind.  I don't know whether a judge in the various FT stakes would tolerate that much vocalizing.  I've heard there's significant variation in FT judges' tolerance for vocalizing in water, but we've only run three Qual water blinds.  Laddie was called back from two of them, at least one of which included vocalizing.  He was not called back from the third, but I don't think it was because of the vocalizing.

In any case, since my goal is to give Laddie several consecutive months of no vocalizing in water, it turned out to be a mistake to modify today's marks, since perhaps he would not have vocalized on the smaller group setup, which might not have required any handling.  Then, since no point was involved in the blind, he might have been calmer and not vocalized on the blind, either.  Sigh.

D) Water T-drill.  With group training completed, this was some additional solo work.  Laddie and I worked on the same drill I've described recently, and which we have been practicing (along with some land blinds and poorman marks, land and water) pretty much every day recently at nearby Rolling Ridge.  The original drill involved sending Laddie down the middle on all five retrieves.  #1-3-5 were freebies (no handling), while #2-4 required handling to left and right.  However, the more recent version of the drill replaces either #2 or #4 with a blind across a point.  Although such a blind would almost invariably result in vocalizing if done by itself, Laddie does not vocalize on these blinds when run within the context of the 5-retrieve T-drill.  Today wee ran this drill in at least a half dozen locations without Laddie vocalizing a single time.

It is encouraging that we are able to practice water blinds without Laddie vocalizing, but as today's group work shows, it remains to be seen whether doing so over a period of time will ever have the effect of ending his vocalizing in a group situation.  I guess we'll keep at it, and we'll know more in the spring.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Land and water work

Rolling Ridge, overcast with intermittent showers,40s. Not exactly typical late summer weather in this region.

A) Poorman land triple. Xmas-tree configuration, 280y RTL in middle (retired), 210y  LTR on left with stickman, 110y LTR on right with stickman. White bumpers, pistol shots. Thrown longest to shortest, retrieved shortest to longest. Hilly terrain with various obstacles such as ditch filled with underbrush, fallen shrubs on lines to marks, patches of high, thick cover.

After Laddie picked up the marks, 190y blind.

B) Five bumper water T-drill as described in previous post, but increasing distances. The first set was all open water. For the second, the second retrieve did not start with a send down the middle, but instead was straight to one of the side bumpers, required Laddie to touch a point 10y from the SL.  No handling needed. For the third set, again the second retrieve was directly at a side bumper, and again crossed a point, this time at 90y. This one required significant handling to keep Laddie from going to one of the center bumpers, which had drifted close to that side of the pond.

Laddie did not make a sound for a single retrieve all day, land or water. This seems good. Apparently mixing the on-point retrieve in with the high-value T-drill (high value in part because of all the freebies, I suspect) seems to enable Laddie to do the work without feeling a need to vocalize.

The plan now is to do as much water handling as possible over the next few months, maintaining conditions where no vocalizing occurs, and hopefully instill that as Laddie's new model for how to perform water work. 


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Water T-drill

Although Laddie and I have run the On/off drill in various locations nearly every day over the last few weeks, Laddie is still vocalizing on water casts too often, and even occasionally on land casts these days.

When we were at Cheltenham this morning for the club training day (previous post), while waiting for others to arrive, I  tried an On/off drill with Laddie, and he again vocalized. So I decided to try something different: a single T-drill, but on water rather than the usual version on land.

First, I threw one WB to the left and one to the right. Then I threw three more straight in front as far as I could throw them. I had Laddie pick up one of the freebies (no handling) down the middle, then sent him that same direction but used a WSC to send him to one of the sides, then another freebie, then another straight ahead plus a WSC to the other side, and ending with the last freebie. Laddie never made a sounds the entire time. Yay!

After we ran the three series with group and helped pick up the equipment, I took Laddie to another part of the pond and ran him on two more Water T-drills. Again, he performed calmly, confidently, and without a sound.

This is what I've been looking for, a way to handle Laddie in water without him vocalizing so that we have a foundation to build on. My new plan is to run Laddie on a few more of these with unobstructed lines to the bumpers, then begin to run him in setups where he has to cross a point, or bypass a point, to pick up one of the side throws. Hopefully his confidence will carry over and he'll be able to negotiate the points without vocalizing.


Land triples, water double

Cheltenham, light rain, 50s.

Today was another club training day, with nine dogs in the advanced group, giving us enough time for two land series and a water series and still finishing up in early afternoon.

Since these were mostly Hunt Test trainers, we used duck calls and hidden guns, except for the two go-birds where I asked the throwers to stay out (see below).  All today's training was done with bumpers.

Laddie and I didn't run these setups like any of the other dogs, so I'll just describe how we ran them.

For the first series, I asked for the throws to be made around the horn, starting on the right. I requested the final thrower to stay out. After all the marks were down, I ran Laddie on a blind between the second and third marks. Then I had Laddie pick up the marks outer-outer-inner, that is, shortest to longest, go-bird first. Finally, I ran him on a blind outside of the first mark.

For the second series, I asked for the throws to be made around the horn again, this time left mark first. For the first mark, I started with Laddie in the holding blind and asked the thrower to place his bumper in cover where it would have landed if thrown. Then I brought Laddie to the line and asked that that thrower pretend to make a big throw, complete with gunshot, but not actually throw anything. Next the middle gun threw, and then the short mark across a road on the right. Once again I asked the last thrower to stay out. I then ran laddie on a blind between the two guns on the right, and then had him pick up the marks in the reverse order thrown, again shortest to longest. For the middle mark, he ended up picking up one of the bumpers that had been placed on a mound 30y to the right of the second mark, the same place he had picked up his second blind earlier and now being used as a senior/master blind for some of the other dogs. I decided not to interfere with his completing that retrieve, trading it as though that was the actual throw. I was pleased with Laddie's nice line on the money bird. The fake throw didn't seem to have confused him at all.

Laddie ran the water series as a double followed by a longish blind. The  first mark down required the dog to run a short land segment, take a difficult angle entry into the water, swim a wide channel to the end, run across a narrow strip of land, and then re-enter water into a cove where the bumper had been thrown on an angle back, not visible after it landed until the dog was on the strip of land. The second mark was also thrown on an angle back. It was thrown into open water, with the line to the mark passing close to the point of the peninsula from which the throw had been made. Strong wind and current quickly pushed that bumper toward the peninsula, so even though that was the go-bird, the line to the mark got tighter and tighter to the point as Laddie was swimming.  Although Laddie remained clear if the point, I decided to handle him once it appeared to me that he was uncertain whether to go on or off the point, my intent being to eliminate the uncertainty and perhaps reinforce his previous training and current inclination to stay off points on marks.

Laddie then picked up the memory-bird, taking the angle entry into the first water nicely, bailing out a bit early on the channel swim, and immediately launching into the far cove to the bumper. Finally I ran Laddie on a blind under the arc of the go-bird. I was pleased with how he did. He took an initial line onto the point, sat when I whistled, took an "over"  off the point directly into the wind, stopped in the water after a few yards and looked at me when I again blew a sit whistle, and took a good "back" cast across a relatively big expanse of water straight to the blind.

It was great getting some group training in. I couldn't compare Laddie's work to the other dogs because we were running the setups differently, but I thought Laddie did a fairly good job all day.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Two groups in two days

Given the difficulties I've had finding groups to train with, this weekend was a good one. On Saturday, we participated in a club training day, and on Sunday, we trained with a new training buddy, and eventually a third trainer showed up and kindly threw some marks for us.

Because time is short, I won't provide complete detail about these sessions, but here were some of the highlights for Laddie and me.

On Saturday at the club training day, I was given the honor of setting up the series for the advanced dogs. I love that job, and I got some good advice from others in the group that improved the setups further. First we set up a land triple with a blind, providing four different possible blinds that each handler could choose among. Next, we set up a water double, with a choice of two blinds.

As it turned out, every trainer from most to least advanced chose to run all the marks as singles Some trainers did this to focus on marking skill rather than the issues that running a multiple calls upon. I did it mostly because several trainers I respect have suggested running dogs -- not just Laddie, all dogs -- on a large proportion of singles in multiple setups. I ran this setup a little different than the others in the group when I ran Laddie: I had two of the throwers stand out of their holding blinds, with the station's white bird bags placed in front of each holding blind to improve visibility of the stations, and I even asked that those two throwers wave their arms as I heeled Laddie to the start line. At the line, I showed those two gun stations to Laddie, before lining him up on the third station, where the thrower was hidden behind a holding blind and further partially hidden by the curve of the tree line, since all the dogs besides Laddie were preparing for Hunt Tests. I then called for that mark, while asking the other gunners to stay out. Laddie watched the first mark, but quickly turned away to look for another throw. I used hand gestures to call him back to that first throw and sent him.

The goal was to strengthen Laddie's focus on the individual marks that make up multiples, rather than swinging his head while one throw is in progress to search for more throws. Laddie had excellent focus on multiples when he was younger, and still does most of the time, but on a few occasions the last couple of months, he's missed one of the throws on triples, looking for another throw rather than carefully watching the throw in progress. I think the primary remedy to this would be more group training, but my hope is that running some singles may be the best way to take advantage of those opportunities that we do get. Of course, I could have this backwards. It might be that running multiples would be the best way to take advantage of those opportunities.

In any case, on Sunday Laddie and I traveled to a private property near Baltimore to train with a guy I've talked to at club training days in the past. He was kind enough to send me an email invitation to train on Sunday a few days ago. The property has a technical pond, and we ended up limiting ourselves exclusively to water series, both singles and multiples, and a few blinds. Since his dog hasn't competed in Senior tests yet, we modified the setups to accommodate the differing requirements of his dog versus Laddie. As mentioned earlier, a third trainer eventually showed up and threw some marks for us, broadening our options for interesting setups.

For example, to wrap up the session, Laddie ran a triple with a 180y mark on the left, and a hip-pocket double on the right, the longer throw made by a remote launcher. With no stickman at the launcher, that was effectively a retired middle gun, and it was thrown into thick reeds at water's edge, with a difficult line to the mark featuring 60y land entry, an angle entry into the water thru thick reeds making the water invisible as the dog launched, a point on the right most of the way to the mark for the dog to bypass, and several decoys in that part of the pond. Laddie ended up running the middle mark as the final memory-bird, and nearly nailed it, the only off-line segment being when he veered fat around the point, before veering back and driving straight into the reeds. After the triple, Laddie ran a 170y blind that took him over the outer slope of a mound, then across a thin slice of a small cove, then an 80y swim across the pond touching a point midway, and finally to the OB halfway up a steep embankment on the far edge of the pond.

On that particular series, Laddie apparently never saw the first throw on the left, perhaps as a result of head swinging, and as a result needed to be handled to that mark, which he ran after picking up the shorter go-bird. Though not great for building marking confidence, a dog does need the ability to switch from marking mode to handling mode in the middle of a mark, so I think it's good to practice it once in a while. In any case, I felt Laddie did an exceptional job on the short go-bird, which was thrown over a large cluster of reeds and was invisible from the shore, the difficult "retired" middle mark, and the blind.

I would say that in each of the weekend's sessions, Laddie achieved the sort of 80% success rate we aim for. He ran some great marks and handled well on most of the blinds. But he also had difficulty a small number of times, and those were learning experiences for both of us. If not a perfect weekend of training, which would have featured training with an experienced field trial group, it was nonetheless a pretty good one.


About group training

As I've mentioned before in this journal, the greatest challenge to training a retriever for competition may not be training the dog per se, but rather finding groups to train with.

Based on my experience, training with groups is not optional, it is absolutely requisite to training a retriever for competition. The more advanced the competition, the more critical group training becomes.

One example is that a dog required to honor flyers off-lead in an event cannot be prepared for that skill without practicing in circumstances as similar as possible to event conditions on a continuing basis. Even highly proficient 4Q dogs, even field champion dogs, occasionally break from the line or from honor in trials. If those dogs cannot be made 100% reliable, with all the resources available to professional trainers, imagine how much greater the challenge is for a 2Q trainer, still trying to discover satisfactory 2Q methods, who doesn't even have an opportunity to train with flyers, throwers, other dogs, and the other contextual elements the dog will experience in competition.

Another example of the importance of group training is that group training provides exposure to training setups that a solo trainer, especially an inexperienced one, may not come up with alone. It's not unusual for a beginning trainer, or even an experienced one, to have no idea what problems the dogs will have on a particular setup until dogs are actually run on it. The more experienced the group leaders are, the more useful their setups will be.

And another advantage of group training is that 4Q trainers can often provide invaluable feedback that is as useful to a 2Q trainer as it would be to a 4Q trainer. For example, I didn't realize until just this weekend that on some of my casts, I was moving my non-casting arm as well as my casting one, which one can imagine might be quite confusing to a dog. I wouldn't know I was doing it even now if a friend hadn't pointed it out at a group training event a couple of days ago. Even videos never showed it to me, because the camera's on the dog, not on me.

I don't know whether the problem of finding a group is greater for a 2Q trainer than for a 4Q trainer, but I think that does make it even harder to find groups, which can nonetheless also be extremely difficult for a 4Q trainer. The additional problems the 2Q trainer faces aren't only because the 2Q trainer's methods are unfamiliar to the 4Q trainer, though that is one factor. Many 2Q methods are more experimental than 4Q methods and may even be freshly minted as an experiment the day of the training, experiments probably of no interest to the 4Q trainers and irritating for their unfamiliarity. But in addition, 2Q methods can annoy the group regulars because 2Q methods may be more time-consuming than 4Q methods on training day, wasted time from the regular's perspective. And 2Q dogs may develop their skills over a significantly longer period of time than 4Q dogs, disheartening the regulars who may feel they're watching a good dog's natural talents go to waste.

2Q methods can be irritating in other ways as well. For example, a 2Q trainer is likely to use voice, both for cues and for reinforcement, significantly more than a 4Q trainer, disrupting the auditory ecology of the session.  If I could start over bringing Lumi and Laddie with all of us as beginners to group training again, I would do many things differently.  My dogs would wear check cords until their recall was satisfactory, they would wear a tab until their steadiness was reliable if ever, I would have used less voice, I would not have repeatedly called a dog that wasn't coming, I'd have been more cautious about trying retrieves that were too hard and therefore too time consuming for the other trainers, and probably many other changes.

It's not always easy to know whether a retrieve will be too difficult for your dog.  You need to take into account group-training discount factor, similar to event discount factor, the fact that dogs sometimes don't perform as well in a group environment as they do when training alone.  Besides annoying the other trainers, another reason for not running retrieves that are too hard is that the dog can learn bad habits.  For example, running a non-handling dog on a cheating water mark results in the dog running the bank, and learning that that's a good strategy.  Actually, this also can affect your relationship with the group, because training mistakes can also annoy other handlers.

Another barrier to obtaining a long-term placement in a training group is that the 2Q trainers don't participate in the same kind of give and take of training ideas that the other group members do, forcing the 2Q trainer into a self-imposed social status of perpetual outsider. Perhaps a 2Q trainers with better social skills than mine -- that would be pretty much anyone -- might find ways to solve this problem, and the other problems mentioned, that I haven't found.

I can't provide guaranteed solutions to these difficulties, because after four years of active participation in the sport, I still struggle every day to find anyone to train with, much less a group, to say nothing of an ongoing group placement. But some ideas you might try if you also face this challenge:

  • Many retriever clubs run training days during the training session. The more clubs you join, the more such training days you'll have access to. In some cases, you don't actually need to join the club, but that may be the best way of learning when the training days are scheduled. I have not found this provides enough group training to prepare a dog for competition, but it's a start.
  • You can hire neighborhood kids to throw marks for you. It misses the key advantages of training with experienced trainers, and it may be expensive, but it might be better than nothing, especially for the dog's early training.
  • You may be able to find pros, or others with suitable skills, who run day training sessions. They might be group sessions, a regular part of the pro's activities. Or this may involve setting up something just for yourself, as I have in the past with friends such as Bob, Dave, and Tony, arranging for a skilled trainer to shoot flyers for my dogs to help us work on steadiness training. Again, day training might have some disadvantages, such as significant time and monetary expense, and perhaps the social cost of imposing on a friend, but it's one more possible resource.
  • You could try advertising for training buddies. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm thinking of putting up notices in nearby pet stores.
  • Every time you're around other trainers, you can make it clear you'd like to train with them, and make sure to provide contact information. This is simply networking. You're probably already better at it than I am, I'm just suggesting that you put those skills to use for this particular issue.

It's heartbreaking to me that I can no longer run Laddie in competition. But the fact is that without a group to train with, it's impossible to prepare him for the challenges he faces in events. Trying to compete him under those circumstances just wastes money, time, and credibility for me, my dog, and my methods, as the poor showings rack up. I can only hope that someday, somehow, we'll be able to solve this problem, get Laddie ready, and begin competing again.


Sunday, September 18, 2011


My analysis here may be faulty, but I was thinking about Lumi and Laddie's competition history. At most of the levels we have competed, the story was the same: a series of unsuccessful attempts, ongoing training, and finally success.

Along the way, I'd occasionally receive advice that my 2Q approach would never succeed, and I certainly had bouts of discouragement, even despair. But in the end, my dogs earned one title after another.  Some of the problems that seemed insurmountable at one time are now but faint memories.

I cannot be objective, nor do I have the experience to accurately evaluate Laddie's ability, but to me it appears that he has not yet reached his full potential as a 2Q retriever. I think I owe it to him to continue our efforts together, both training, and competing when I feel we're ready for the next try.


Finding water

Still wanting to give Laddie a little water work this morning, I used a technology strategy to find a suitable pond.

I needed gas, and I knew a  station more or less on the way home to get a good price. secret getting the gas, I went to my Android phone's "map" application, entered "Burtonsville, MD" (our location at the time), adjusted the zoom, and looked for a blue patch representing water, with promising contours. I then placed a marker on the map and clicked a few controls to request navigation directions there. I was there in 5 minutes, a location I'd never have found just driving around.

Finding a legal parking spot in a mostly reserved-parking residential area, I leashed Laddie and we walked less than 100y to a community walking trail that skirted the pond I'd seen on the map.

I tossed an OB into the water at one end, then ran Laddie on a 180y shoreline water blind from the other. It wasn't an ideal setup for my purposes, since it had no points. But it was a good, long swim, with the advantages of conditioning and overtraining, that is, making more likely shorter event swims seem less imposing. And at least it did have one "factor", the diversion of  a flock of ducks, including babies, swimming only a short distance from Laddie's line to the blind.

Now I'll try to remember to use this same on-phone mapping strategy to find other ponds for us to work on, closer to home than the training properties we usually go to.


Hillside blinds

Mattawoman Drive. 56 degs, overcast, with a light wind that I think was irrelevant to this session.

I currently feel that Laddie and I have two primary issues to overcome in order for him to be successful in Qualifying stakes: 1) Steadiness with flyers, especially honoring but also from the line. 2) Calming of nerves on all blinds, especially water blinds that require him to cross a point.

However, we do have other things to work on as well, of course in addition to maintaining his current skills at or above their current levels.  Two issues that have come up recently, one in a pair of trials, the other at a training day I have not previously written about: 3) Difficult blinds in an event context, twice leading to refused casts he would not have refused if we were training alone. 4) Socialization with other male dogs.

Each of the issues listed above, and all field training in general, has one particular challenge that I have not been able to solve: The need to train with a group. I cannot overstate how serious a handicap it is that we have no one to train with.

However, while I continue to make every effort to resolve that difficulty, my only choices at present are to give up on Laddie's career, or continue our training as best I can alone. Well, I'm not ready to give up yet, though I often think it would be the wisest course.

Today, Laddie and I made the one hour drive to Cheltenham for some water work, only to find a field event scheduled there for today. So I drove us to a nearby industrial area where I knew a small pond to be available, but the water there appeared stagnant and unusable.

However, another feature of this field is a large, rectangular bowl, with steep, grassy embankments more than 100y the length of each slope. The grass is currently somewhat overgrown with weeds, but suitable for field training, in fact perhaps more trial-like than if mowed short.

So Laddie and I hiked around the bowl, and as we walked, I placed an OB at mid-point on the slope at one end, then ran him from the other end, with our start line midway down the slope.

In general, I would prefer not to use my whistle a lot on practice blinds, because I feel it could lead to popping or even the dreaded no-go. However, for this drill, I needed Laddie to run a tight line along the slope, and stopped him every time he tried to veer to the top or bottom of the slope.

It was interesting to watch his progress as we ran each of these hillside blinds. The first one required a lot of corrections, including a couple of resets with a complete call-back and resend. The second, however, was much better, the third better still, and the fourth the best of all with just one correction at 30y. Throughout the session, Laddie was visibly developing a growing comprehension of the idea to maintain his line along the mid-point of the slope and not ascend nor descend as he dashed ahead.

I'd rather have trained on water or with flyers today, or most of all with a training group or even a training buddy, but failing those, this seemed a worthwhile exercise for Laddie's development.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Laddie at Rock Creek, Part 2

It turns out that the first dog finally ran a little after 11am. Laddie, running last at #14, came up a couple of hours later.

I didn't realize it earlier, but the judges had set up a blind on the same field. The dog would run the triple from the mat, then move to another start line 20y to the left, and run the blind.

The blind was 220y diagonally across a muddy road, thru a diagonal keyhole formed by two trees, over a crest past the fall from the second mark (which I thought would be a diversion to the right but it didn't seem to affect any dogs that way), and straight on to a thick, black, leaning, lining pole.

Though Laddie's marks weren't lasers, he did a fine job on all of them. I wasn't sure he had seen the flyer, which several dogs seemed to have missed. But I had spent a lot of time at the line making sure he saw the long gun before calling for the throws, and when he got back to the line after picking up #2, he lined up on the long mark perfectly. After launching, he veered right on a line that would have taken him behind the gun, as many dogs had, but unlike the others who did that, he swerved left and back onto the correct line 2/3 of the way out. Also, unlike the last several dogs who ran before him, he didn't hunt short, in the area where a loose flyer had been running around for a while toward the end of the test. While Laddie needed a short hunt in the flyer, he never got behind the gun.

On the blind, he took a perfect line across the road and thru the keyhole, and I thought we were home free.  But he veered left toward a large bean field on the left of the road, and refused several casts to the right.  The bean field, for some reason, was just too much of a magnet. He ended up going for an OOC romp there, then coming back under control and finishing the blind easily.

Final stats for our time at the trial: 14 dogs entered, 12 dogs ran, 7 dogs called back to water.

This probably couldn't have been a better situation for Laddie: Only one flyer, and that a long way away, making a break unlikely. No flyer planned for the water, where the honor would be. No dog behind us in the holding blind as we were running. A triple difficult enough that Laddie's typically fine marking probably put him near the top in scoring. And a land blind easier than most we practice on.

Yet we were defeated by a bean field.  Sigh.


Laddie at Rock Creek

Buckeye Field Trial, Qualifying stake. Overcast, 50 degs, wind calm.

Series A. Land triple

The first mark was in the center, a duck flyer thrown RTL at 260y. The second mark was on the left, a duck thrown RTL at 100y. The third mark was on the right, a duck throw LTR at 50y. The terrain was gently rolling, and the go-bird was on the far side of a small water crossing, the triangular corner of a pond on the right. The only cover in the series was at water's edge on the go-bird. No retired guns, no honor in this series.

My understanding from one of the judges is that the water series later in the day will have an honor, but no flyer.

Although start time was scheduled for 8am, as of 9:20am, it was evident it would still be a while before the test would start.

To be continued . . .


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tune up for Saturday

Cheltenham, low 80s, blue skies, wind calm. Just Laddie & me.

A) 140y water blind with point. Handled well, no sign of nerves.

B) Big poorman triple (this all guns"retired"). Solid marking.

C) 180y poorman water mark with point as suction at mid-point. Did not require handling to stay off point despite big water before and after. No popping nor any other sign of nerves. Fairly big hunt, but systematic and confident.

D) Small, easy, well-practiced On/off drill, just for fun.


Laddie's OFA evaluation

A few weeks ago, I had Laddie's OFA X-rays taken for hips and elbows and mailed them in. Today I got the certificates back:

* Elbows: NORMAL

I'm pleased, especially because at 4yo, Laddie was older than dogs sometimes are at the time they get their OFA X-rays. I've heard that it's more common to get the X-rays when the dog is 2yo, because the joints are sometimes in better shape when the dog is younger, resulting in a higher rating.


[Jody Baker provided additional information about this:]

The reason, usually, for getting the x-rays done at a younger age, often times getting a prelim any time after 6 mo or so, is if there is a problem the person won't spend time and money with a dog who "might not, or can't" do the desired sport.  The early ones are sometimes only evaluated by the vet who took the pictures, sometimes by OFA (with no certificate).

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Steadiness training

Hay field dotted with hay bales near Warrenton, VA. Blue skies, high 70s, wind calm.

My friend Dave brought four live ducks and another trainer to run Lumi. I brought two dead ducks so Dave could throw flower pot doubles. Dave wore a white jacket. Not a perfect Qual land setup, but as close as we could get. No technical water available.

We ran doubles from two different locations. For the first, Dave was at 100y. For the second he was at 80y. For both, he threw the dead bird first, then shot the flyer, throwing it so it would land out of sight over a crest, increasing suction. For each double, I ran Laddie first, then had him honor Lumi as she ran the same series.

Both dogs wore tabs. Laddie has been wearing a tab whenever practicing for several weeks, hopefully somewhat habitualizing to it. In addition, I held the tab slack for every retrieve. I can't say whether he was aware of it or not. I hope not.

Lumi's handler did a nice job, except for releasing Lumi after the first throw in the second series, so that Dave ended up shooting the flyer while Lumi was picking up the dead bird. Lumi abandoned the dead bird and went after the flyer.

In any case, Laddie was steady all day. On the marks, he moved around between the throws, but made no attempt to break, even though I used a long delay after both birds were down before releasing him. On the honors, he was rock steady.

After the second series, we finished the session with Dave setting up a nice mid-size land blind for Laddie. Dave in his white jacket, the bird crate, and several ducks were positioned a little off the line as a diversion. Laddie ignored them completely.

Except for Lumi's early send on the second series, this was probably about as good a practice session as we could hope for, given available resources. It would appear that Laddie has recovered enough steadiness to get thru a Qual, unless he has become wise to the tab or other contextual elements. I'm hoping we'll have at least one more session with flyers before our next event on Saturday, but if not, I'll just have to hope for the best.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Judged Pee Wee stake, land blinds, On/Off drill

Cheltenham, MD. After days of drenching rain, today was clear and warm.

The day started early so that I could meet with my co-judge to set up the land series for the Pee Wee stakes we were judging together at a WC/WCX event. It was the first time judging a field event for both of us. We set up two land singles, and later two water singles. In each setup, we ran the older puppies first at a longer distance, and then the younger dogs from the same start line but with shorter throws.

Neither of us knew how to record our observations in a way that we'd be able to make comparisons later, but together we evolved a method of drawing diagrams, recording the line that the dog took, making notations of any additional observations (for example, "hesitated before entering water"), and adding a numeric score 0-10 immediately after each retrieve, which we might modify on second thought later, but which somehow seemed to make it easier to remember what we'd seen. We also compared notes after the land, and then again at the end (of course), bringing our scores into sync and then using the totals to assign placements. Of course, we'd rather have just given a blue ribbon to all the puppies.

Of the older dogs, the dog who would have taken First place was a few inches from picking up her last water mark when she suddenly barked and jetted back to shore. We never found out what happened, and she didn't appear to be injured. But I know they have fish and turtles, including dangerous snapping turtles, on the property. The puppy was spooked and wouldn't get back in the water again for a while, but later that morning, some of the trainers worked with the owner, and the puppy seemed to be performing normally again. However, we felt we had to give the dog a zero for that retrieve.

We finished the puppy stakes around noon, and it would be hours before the WC/WCX competition would be complete, so I took Laddie to a part of the property away from the competition for some training. First he ran three land blinds, 100-200-300y. The 100 and 200 included tight keyholes near the end of the outrun, while the 300 included a canal crossing on a diagonal. The field for all the retrieves was swampy with large swaths of high cover. I'd like Laddie to sit faster when I blow the whistle, but aside from that, he was responsive on both sits and casts, and in each case ran the "judge's blind" as I had defined it to myself when I set the blinds up. I didn't want to require extremely narrow corridors for this session, because I feel that too much of that can hurt motivation and/or lead to popping, but he got all the obstacles I'd planned for.

After the land blinds, we ran an On/Off drill, a total of four retrieves, at a new location. I set up an orange lining pole, which Laddie didn't appear able to see till he was fairly close. However, he ran every retrieve correctly, off the point or on the point alternately. They all required at least a little handling in the tight configuration and thick, high cover of the land entry, and I was pleased that Laddie never made a peep, he just took the WSCs as called for and in high spirits. I'm not sure whether it might have been a factor that a couple of trainers were throwing bumpers in the water for 4 or 5 young dogs nearby. I thought it was advantageous as a diversion, and possibly to increase excitement level (the better to simulate event conditions), but I could imagine that it also reduced or overwhelmed whatever internal factors produce the vocalizing. Or perhaps Laddie wouldn't have vocalized even if the others hadn't been there.

After that, we ran a variety of additional water retrieves: a few poorman marks that required shoreline swims, a sight blind requiring Laddie to go over a point 2/3 of the way to the blind, and plenty of happy throws into open water and the overgrown meadow. For this later sight blind, I didn't have my whistle with me, so I needed to use verbal cues ("sit", "over", "back") to get Laddie onto and then off of the point. Again, other (different) dogs were running open water retrieves nearby while Laddie was running his blind, and again Laddie responded to my cues enthusiastically, accurately and silently.

We still had a substantial wait before the awards ceremony and unfortunate picture taking ritual (my request to wait for the pictures until I'd lost 20 pounds was roundly ignored). Nonetheless, having the opportunity to get in a nice training session, where Laddie seemed to perform well, made for a satisfying day.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On/of drill with call-back

Cheltenham, blue skies, 76 degrees, light breeze.

Today was another day of all water blinds. First, Laddie did On/off drills on four different setups (eight retrieves total). Then he ran one cold water blind we've never run before, an 80y land entry off a mound plus a 70y swim, then thru reeds to the blind set 10y inland.

Every retrieve was with Laddie's 2" white puppy bumpers, since I think they act as +R for completing the blind.  All of the On/off drills were run as sight blinds, with an LP and a white plastic bag as the target.  The sequence was always the no-point retrieve first, then the point retrieve.  Most of the setups were repeats of setups we've used recently. In other words, except for the fact that these were all medium length rather than any short setups, my entire focus was on minimizing confusion, maximizing confidence, and reducing the likelihood of any vocalizing.

My ultimate goal with these sessions is to have day after day of no vocalizing until that becomes Laddie's normal behavior. Unfortunately, although I feel Laddie is significantly more familiar now with the On/off concept, I still haven't found a way to have a productive session with no vocalizing.

So today I added one more element: the three times that Laddie vocalized, I <i>immediately</i> called him back. The first time was a plaintive yelp, while the other two were tentative, perhaps experimental.

I am reluctant to use a call-back on blinds, since it would be terribly disheartening if I accidentally trained a no-go, or added to Laddie's anxiety and actually made the vocalizing worse.

On the other hand, call-backs seemed to be effective a few months ago in greatly improving Laddie's popping.

So perhaps now that Laddie's understanding of points is hopefully clearer, a mild +P for yelping will help Laddie make another step of progress.

I just need to watch carefully to see whether the problem is getting worse or better, and also to watch carefully for possible side-effects. That's assuming that I have enough skill to recognize them if they appear, not necessarily a sound assumption.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

On/off drill and Hurricane Irene

Cheltenham, low 70s.

Back in 2004, Lumi and I once practiced water retrieves in the rain and wind on the fringe of a hurricane. Today it was Laddie's turn. As Hurricane Irene was wending its way up the coast from North Carolina, Laddie and I took what may be our last training opportunity of the weekend to work on a set of six On/off drills here at the Cheltenham property in Maryland, southeast of Washington, DC.

Each On/off setup was run with OBs and no LP.  Each was two retrieves, the first no-point, the second point.  The first setup was short and familiar, while Laddie had never run any of the others as an On/off drill before. Few if any required handling on the no-point retrieve, all required at least a little handling on the point retrieve.

Although Laddie had some vocalizing today on the point retrieves (never on the no-point retrieves), it only occurred on blinds of over 100y.  The first setup, which was familiar, and the last setup, which Laddie has never seen before, were only about 40y. For those two, Laddie required a little handling to get him onto the point, but he took the casts quietly and confidently. For some of the longer retrieves, Laddie vocalized when handled onto the point.

It's hard to see this as a boldness issue associated with big water, since Laddie had no difficulty with no-point retrieves as much as 140y. Yet it also doesn't correlate exactly to handling. The only model that seems to cover today's data points seems to be handling over a point on a fairly big retrieve.

What's the best Rx to address this issue?  Ideally we would gradually work our way up from small to big setups, backing off as soon as we hit one that was a bit too big. However, its not easy to know what the correct distances are on any given day, and an On/off setup for that particular distance may not be available at the venue we're using that day.

In that case, do we err on the short side, and risk wasting a session (that is, four hours, at least one calendar day, and upwards of $50 in expenses)? Or do we err going too long, and risk strengthening the vocalizing habit? For this dog, I think the answer is the latter, since it's fairly clear that Laddie does not vocalize when confident, and a return to longer swims, which used to be fairly routine in our practices, might be the shortest path to gaining that confidence.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beating the rain

Cheltenham, low 80s, overcast.

Today Laddie and I ran our three most recent On/off drill courses on this property, from shortest to longest. I planted two OBs, and used no LPs, in each case. For each setup, I had Laddie run the point line first, then the no-point line.

Laddie ran the first setup exactly as I would have wanted him to: For the point retrieve, he started to skirt the point, quietly accepted a cast onto the point, and lined the retrieve the rest of the way. He then lined the no-point retrieve.

For the second setup, Laddie tried to go too far inland on the first point, and made a quiet yelp when I cast him back outward toward the end of the point. But aside from that, no handling was required on this setup.

For the third and longest setup, Laddie again tried to aim too far inland on the point retrieve, and again yelped when cast. On the no-point retrieve, which on previous days he has run without handling, he headed for the point, and when it didn't look like he'd self-correct, I cast him horizontally toward the correct line.  This produced Laddie's most pronounced yelp of the day.

As a test of whether handling on a water blind when no point was in the picture produced vocalizing, I had Laddie run a Master-like water blind: 20y land entry, sharp angle entry, 30y swim with a keyhole between two decoys amongst a group of about six decoys, angle exit onto shore thru thick cover, and a diagonal slope climb halfway up a 20y embankment. Laddie took a good line almost to the decoys and I was afraid he was going to line the whole blind, defeating the experiment, but then he veered a little and I got a chance to use three WSCs in the water, and one on shore, to keep him on a tight line. He took every whistle and every cast quietly, accurately, and with confident, enthusiastic demeanor.

I tossed a few happy bumpers for him, and ran him on a couple of little "singles" for fun. But then the sky opened up and we headed for home thru the downpour.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On/off drill, poorman marks

Cheltenham, 6:30am, 55 degrees, sunny, wind calm.

Retrieve A. 80y cold water blind, no points in the picture. Though intended as a confidence builder, this was the only retrieve today that triggered yelping. I have no definitive explanation. Perhaps the relatively big water compared to most of the work we've been doing lately bothered him. Or maybe he found it confusing that there was no point in the picture.

Retrieves B-C. On/off drill in same location as A-D yesterday, but with no LP. Laddie ran the no-point retrieve exactly as I would want him to run a cold blind with a point in the picture: He swam toward the point, then calmly accepted a WSC bypassing the point when he was a couple of yards from the point. He also ran a good line over the point, but needed a cast off the point because he started munching grass.

Retrieves D-E. Poorman land skimming marks through large patches of thick, high cover with swampy footing, with an easy, obvious cheat available, one on the left, one on the right. Laddie needed to be handled on both.

Retrieve F. A big, mostly land single, but with three water crossings. I put Laddie in a sit, walked out to throw the mark, then called his name from my throwing position as a remote send. Because of a crest, we could not see each other, but my high throw, preceded by a gunshot, must have been visible. A few seconds after my remote send, Laddie appeared over the crest, then completed the retrieve on an excellent line, stepping on the bumper.

Retrieves G-H. On/off drill at a location we used a few days ago, but this time with an LP and white plastic bag. No-point line was 110y, point was at 70y. I had Laddie run the point line first. He tried to square the point's shoreline too much, so I needed to handle him more to the end of the point. Then I stopped him as soon as he started onto the point, and cast him horizontally.  He took both casts well, and did not need to be stopped again to put him back on line after the second cast. He just made the turn himself once he was clear of the point. He required no handling at all on the no-point retrieve, and this time the big water did not seem to bother him.

Retrieves I-K. Short poorman skimming water singles. No problem on any of these.

Retrieves L-N. A fairly difficult poorman land triple, all guns "retired", featuring a 140y mark on the right as the first throw, a 220y mark on left as the second throw, and a 40y mark in line with the first throw as the third throw. The line to the first throw included a diagonal slope ascent and a keyhole between a mound and a barn. I had Laddie pick up the marks in reverse order of the throws, trying to make the 140y memory bird, which had been thrown first and had possibly been erased in Laddie's memory by the short throw on the same line, as difficult as possible by waiting the longest to retrieve it. It was also unusual for the second-longest mark to be thrown first and picked up last. However, Laddie nailed that mark and of course the short one, and required only a small hunt on the long mark after taking a good line to the immediate area of the fall.

Hopefully this was a fun way for Laddie to wrap up the session.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Cooler temps, a little more work

Cheltenham, starting at 6:30am, high 60s.

Retrieves A-B: On/off drill at same location as retrieves E-H yesterday, with LP and white plastic bag. Handling needed to keep Laddie off point on the bypass retrieve, no handling needed for the retrieve across the point. No vocalizing.

Retrieves C-D: ON/off drill at same location, this time no LP. No handling needed on either retrieve, no vocalizing, no popping.

Retrieves E-G: A poorman triple with WBs and pistol. First throw a big "bridge", also featuring a point, that is, LWLWLWL. Second throw all land, almost as long as the first one, with a road crossing. Third throw fairly short, across a cove into a patch of reeds, dog not visible after going down embankment to the cove on outrun until he comes back with the bumper. With all guns "retired", Laddie did a nice job.

Retrieve H: An LWLWL retrieve featuring a tempting cheat from the middle land crossing. When Laddie attempted to run that bank, I decided to call him back rather than handling him, though I would have handled him if he had done it again. However, he ran it nicely the second time.

Retrieves I-F: Similar to the On/off drill, but with throws rather than planted bumpers. Perfect lines, no hint of nerves.

Retrieve G: A poorman mark featuring a swim between two points, one of which he had just crossed, and then across another point further out. Again, Laddie nailed it with no hint of nerves.

For me, today was primarily about the first four retrieves. The rest was to maintain motivation, build confidence on pictures similar to the On/off drill but run as marks, and perhaps remind Laddie what a triple is.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Laddie's tab

By the way, I don't think I've mentioned this before.

For the last several weeks, and for the foreseeable future, Laddie is wearing a collar with a tab, a 9" lead.

If we ever have a chance to train with flyers, I'll keep a firm grip on the tab, but keeping slack unless Laddie attempts to break. Because Laddie wears the tab all the time, he won't associate it particularly with flyers. He'll just re-discover that breaking doesn't work.

Beckie we can compete again, it's essential that we practice in situations that look as much like events as possible to the dog. If Laddie figures out that an event context predicts the availability of a self-reinforcing break -- at the minimum, the immediate pleasure of a high-energy outrun -- we may never dig out of that hole.

I don't know whether we'll ever have an opportunity to give Laddie that training. But at least we're laying the groundwork by habituating Laddie to the tab in the meantime.


A time for training

It is, of course, sad to think that Laddie's competitive career is over because we have no group to train with and therefore no way to work on steadiness in an event-like context.

However, it does have a silver lining. If not for the steadiness issue, I would be tempted to run Laddie in many of the continuous string of Qualifying stakes being run over the next few months in our region. After all, his vocalizing hasn't actually cost us, as far as I know, in any event, and it might have taken more discipline than I had to forego competition, and a reasonable chance of Laddie getting QAA, with all those opportunities available.

However, it probably would not have been good for Laddie's vocalizing, which then might have become a more serious issue in All-Age stakes.

This way, we can work on the vocalizing issue, and any related issues of nerves, without any temptation to run in competitions as well.

Perhaps someday we'll find an opportunity to train regularly with a group, work on steadiness with flyers in an event-like context, and be able to compete once again. To be honest, I don't actually feel hopeful about this, I think it's more likely we'll never compete again. But it's at least theoretically possible.


More nerves

Cheltenham, low 80s.

Today, a Weimeraner group was training near the part of the property I had planned to use, but rather than sending Laddie and me away, they said it would be ok for us to train on the other side of the property.

Laddie ran a total of eight water blinds as our On/off drill, all 2" bumpers, some white some orange (irrelevant, since in cover), and all with an LP and white plastic bag as the target. In each pair, we ran from the bypass SL first, then the crossing SL.

We used two setups, four retrieves each.  I wasn't that happy with the first one, since it had significant amounts of high, thick cover at both the water entry and exit, which I felt distracted from the lesson. The second setup was longer but visually clearer.

Laddie showed behavior that I interpret as nerves in each setup: not only quiet vocalizing, but also a few pops and also eating grass when he was on the point. In each setup, the nervous behaviors were most prevalent on the first pair of retrieves, and were minimal or disappeared entirely on the second pair.

I liked the second setup a lot. Besides providing clear optics and nice deep water for the On/off drill, it also had a relatively narrow cove behind the point, helping Laddie practice a good re-entry rather than running the bank when presented with that picture. If possible, we'll use the same setup for several more On/off sessions, until he can run both retrieves, in either order, eventually with no LP, and with no display of nerves.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lengthening the On/off drill

Cheltenham, mid-80s.

Because of the on-going heat, I'm reluctant to run Laddie much on land, and even on water, I feel I should keep down the distance.  So today was all water blinds, all 2" bumpers, and none too long.

Retrieves A-D were at the same location as last time, about 35y, all orange bumpers. A & D were off the point, B & C were across the point. Laddie ran all of them silently. I liked the way he ran B & C: He took a wide line, then accepted a cast onto the point.

Retrieve E was 180y.  I set up an LP with a WB, then ran him from the other side of the pond. The line was wide of one point on the right, then across the next point on the right. Laddie stayed responsive to the whistle and took every cast correctly, but he didn't carry them well so we needed a lot of WSCs. I felt it was a reasonable performance. The best news is that he didn't vocalize on any cast.

Retrieves F &G were at a new location. I lay two WBs where they'd be visible from the SLs. The distance was 45y. F was on a line wide of the point, G was on a line across the point. Again Laddie required no handling on the bypass, a little handling on the line across the point, and we had no vocalizing.

Retrieves H & I were once more with white 2" bumpers, but at 90y, I now think they were not sufficiently visible from the start line. In any case, H was across the point, and unfortunately included one bark, when I cast Laddie horizontally off the point. But other WSCs were also needed to get him into the correct location on the point, and he took those silently. No handling was needed for the final retrieve bypassing the point.

I'd like to try this again next time we're here, with better visibility of the destination, and see if Laddie can take that cast without vocalizing. Then, in another session, we'd do it as cold blinds.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On/off drill at Twin Ponds

Training at sunrise on a gorgeous morning, temps in high 50s, blue skies, in Monrovia, MD.

Besides lots of happy bumpers, Laddie did a total of 13 water blinds, as follows:

A. 30y, LP with white plastic bag, to a pile with two white 2" bumpers and two 2" orange bumpers, past a point on the right. Laddie easily lined it without touching the point and without a sound, picking up one of the white bumpers.

B. Identical setup except that I moved the SL so that the line was across the end of the point. Again Laddie lined it easily, running over the point and making no effort to veer around the point, again picking up a white puppy bumper. He did bark when he leapt into the water on the initial entry, but made no sound after that.

C. Same as A, except that I took down the LP, and only orange bumpers were left. Identical performance to A.

D. Same as B, except with no LP and now only one orange bumper remaining. Laddie again lined it, running over the point,  without vocalizing.

E-H.  New setup, 60y, point on the right.  Otherwise identical pattern and performance as A-D, except no vocalizing at any time.

I-J. New setup, 70y. Point on the left, 10y shoreline swim on the right, creating a sort of keyhole 10y from the far shore. No LP, but white bumpers placed so as to be clearly visible. First retrieve was on a line thru the keyhole, second retrieve was on a line over the end of the point. Laddie lined both without a sound.

K. 110y swim on diagonal across stick pond, with no point but a tight keyhole between two stumps a few yards from far shore. Orange bumper on hillside, not visible to Laddie till he was close to it. Laddie took excellent line, started to square the shore about halfway across, took a WSC on an angle back, which he carried the rest of the way, including thru the keyhole.  He vocalized on the cast, possibly because of the somewhat big water remaining.

L-M. 30y, point on the left, two white puppy bumpers visible from both SLs. First retrieve was on a line over the point, second bypassed the point. Laddie lined both without vocalizing.

To me, today's work showed excellent progress. It appears that Laddie now understands that some retrieves are past points, and some are across them. He also now has one way of knowing which is which: line of sight.  Eventually he'll have to learn a second way of discriminating between them, which is to comfortably accept handling, but for now I'm just trying to lay a foundation. Both of these ideas seem to be important new concepts for Laddie compared to just a few days ago.

I don't think Laddie is "learning" not to vocalize per se. Rather, my feeling is that as his understanding and confidence increase, his nerves steady and the vocalizing subsides.

With respect to the question of why Laddie sometimes vocalizes, using only today's data points, a reasonable theory is simply that Laddie vocalizes when handled in water. However, I don't think that matches all the recent data.  We'll learn more in future sessions.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Training at Mt. Ararat Farm

As previously arranged, Laddie and I made an early-morning drive to Gaby's farm to run our On/off drill on her technical pond.

As it turned out, Laddie also ran three singles (two that included water) in a triple-style configuration, ran one land single where the bumper was pre-planted and the throw was faked, and ran one land blind.

Laddie ran the On/off drill in the same location as we used in previous sessions, with the high-visibility LP in place. He ran the drill twice, once before the group work, once after. In each case, he ran one retrieve on a line that bypassed the point and one on a line that crossed the point. In each case, he lined both retrieves without vocalizing.

Taking advantage of this rare opportunities to train on multiples with throwers, I ran these as singles, but showing Laddie all of the gun stations, then calling for a bird, and then sending him on that first mark.  The idea is for him to learn not to swing his head after watching a bird thrown, but to stay locked in unless and until he hears another gunshot (or duck call, in the case of a Hunt Test setup).

On one of the water singles, Laddie cheated both the entry to and exit from water, so that's something we'll need some tune-up work on.

However, my primary focus at this time is Laddie's nerves on water blinds with points, and in that regard, I'm pleased with our progress.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Second day of On/off drill at Cheltenham

Today I ran Laddie on a wide open water blind and used two WSCs to make minor adjustments in his direction. Not a peep.

Then I ran him four times to the same target as yesterday, from the same two SLs. The only difference from yesterday was that today I used two white bumpers, which, predictably, he picked up first, and two orange bumpers.

The two times I ran him down the middle (the first and third retrieves), he lined it with no vocalization.

The two times I ran him in a line across a point (the second and fourth retrieves), he veered wide and I used a WSC to correct his line. He vocalized a little when cast, but took the casts without difficulty.

Today's work suggests to me, not that Laddie considers a WSC aversive, but that he considers crossing a point, or being directed to cross a point, aversive.

In any case, the vocalizations were minor, little whines rather than yelps. Hopefully that represents a diminished level of anxiety compared to earlier, more emphatic vocalizations, and a trend in the right direction, though a backsliding from yesterday.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On/off drill at Cheltenham

Today, Laddie & I drove to Cheltenham. Temps were mild, in the high 60s, but we were training in a driving rain.

I found a perfect spot for our On/off drill.  Rather than bothering with an LP, which would have involved a lot of driving to get to, I just tossed four white bumpers to the far shore. I then ran Laddie to each of them, alternating between an open line between two points (and between two decoys), and a line across the point on the right.

With respect to what side I was running Laddie from, during the last three sessions, I've also taken to running him on the inside if he's to cross the point, on the outside if he's to bypass it.  I recognize this is a temporary measure since it often won't provide enough information in advanced blinds with multiple points, but since our immediate goal is to develop a habit of running water blinds involving points with no nerves/yelping, it seems like a reasonable addition for now.

Laddie ran all four sight blinds perfectly, without any need for a whistle.  Yay!

Is he starting to understand some approximation of "go straight"? Well, here's an interesting data point:

On the fourth run of the blind, the second across the point, Laddie took a somewhat fat initial line, as though he were planning to bypass the point.  Under ordinary circumstances, I would have blown a WS and cast him on angle back to the point.  But I decided to watch for awhile and see what he would do.

The answer: As he got even with the point, he suddenly veered right.  Lightly prancing across the end of the point, he then swung left again and leapt into the water directly toward the final bumper.  Wow, I thought, what an interesting way to run that line.

I recognize that that wasn't necessarily a perfect approach.  If the requirement were a keyhole off the end of the point, I'd want him approaching the point from the inside, not the outside.

But in terms of Laddie running a confident, non-yelping water blind with a point, apparently figuring out some way to know whether or not to touch the point without needing to be handled, I felt this was excellent progress.

While we were there, we also ran a few fun, somewhat challenging poorman water marks, complete with pistol, to help keep up Laddie's motivation for the training game.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Second day of On/off drill at Gaby's

I felt I had seen a good trend working on Laddie's nerves/yelping with our On/off drill at Gaby's farm yesterday.

Today we returned to the same location to run the drill again, after crashing at today's trial.  I expected a little back-sliding, but hoped for the same positive trend.  Instead, Laddie was back at Square One on the point-crossing line, and began having increasing difficulty with the bypassing line.

I concluded from his behavior that this was not nervousness but rather that he was not enjoying it.  Boredom, perhaps.

Anyway, I stopped the session and went to chat with Gaby.  Among other topics was Trouble, her good-looking and wonderfully affectionate new 4mo Chessie, whom Laddie seemed to be having fun playing with there in the kitchen.

After a couple of hours, I wanted to head for home, but I had an idea and asked if Gaby would be willing to come out with one or more of her dogs to watch Laddie run the On/off drill.  I speculated that having a human and canine audience might perk up his motivation.  She grabbed the puppy and we headed for the pond.

Sure enough, Laddie ran both blinds perfectly: no veering, no yelping, no popping.  As a bonus, Gaby threw a few long water marks for Laddie, surely more fun for him than all those blinds.
[Note that entries are displayed from newest to oldest.]