Sunday, January 23, 2011


Mt. Ararat Farm

While Lumi's with my daughter this weekend, Laddie and I trained alone yesterday, and with Gaby and two of her dogs this morning. The series I set up for Laddie yesterday was similar to the two series Gaby and I worked on today.

Temps were in the low 20s, but it was sunny with pretty light wind where we were training, so with long johns and plenty of layers, it wasn't too bad. The ground was a patchwork of snow and bent-over medium cover, making the bumpers almost invisible as they lay on the ground and requiring the dogs to rely primarily on scent to hunt them up.

All marks were WBs. All blinds were OBs. For both series, the thrower wearing a white jacket would fire a pistol and throw each mark, walk to each of the next throwing positions and throw again, and finally walk back to the SL while the dog was running the blind, so all marks were in effect "retired guns".

SERIES A. Interrupted triple

For Series A, the first mark was on the right, thrown right to left at 130 yards. The dog had to run between fence posts and across a dirt road to reach the fall. The second mark was in the center, thrown left to right at 80 yards so that the line to the second mark was only a few degrees to the left of the line to the first mark, essentially in front of the longer mark. The third mark was 90° to the left, thrown right to left at 90 yards.

For Laddie and Gaby's Buster, the dog watched the three marks thrown, then ran a 190-yard blind 90° to the right of the rightmost mark. After the dog returned with the blind, the dog was sent to the marks in reverse order thrown.

Gaby ran her young Chessie, Gus, on a modified version of Series A that fit in well with his training level.

The intended challenges of Series A were as follows:
  • The primary challenge of the blind was keeping the dog in control while marks were lying out there waiting to be picked up. I've found with Lumi and Laddie that even if the dog seems to understand that she's not supposed to be picking up one of the marks yet, her responsiveness to handling cues can be significantly reduced because of the distraction of having the marks thrown first.
  • The blind included a rather narrow keyhole between two fence posts at 100 yards, with wider-spaced fence posts on either side. Gaby and I agreed that the "judge's blind" would include getting the dog thru that keyhole.
  • The go-bird wasn't really a go-bird since the blind was run first, and the fall was on the other side of a crest from the SL, so the dog needed a good line to avoid a hunt.
  • A long delay separated watching the short, middle mark thrown from running it, giving the dog plenty of time and distraction to make remembering it difficult. In addition, it was in the middle of the field with no distinguishing land feature within 100 yards, on the patchy terrain that made the bumper invisible from any significant distance. The thrower was no longer present for the dog to judge direction or distance. And perhaps most difficult, the exciting long mark, which had been thrown first and was therefore perhaps more prominent in memory, was on nearly the same line only further back. All of these factors were intended to make the short center mark the most difficult challenge of the series.
  • The long mark wasn't a complete gimme, since the dog had to run thru a fence line (the fence itself is down, only the posts still stand) and across a dirt road, then find a bumper nearly invisible until the dog was almost on it.
Notes on Laddie's Performance in Series A

Laddie has run many interrupted series in his life. I give him extra information that he's running a blind before we get to the marks by having him watch the throws from one side of me, then bringing him to my other side to run the blind. Like many trainers, I also say "dead bird" as I'm setting him up on a blind, and send him with "Back" rather than his name when he's running a blind. So he has plenty of information that he's not to veer over to the marks, and these days he maintains excellent responsiveness as well as his patented after-burner exuberance.

In fact, Laddie ran all the retrieves well, except for what has turned out to be an on-going challenge for him: When I sent him for the middle mark after he'd picked up the blind and then the go-bird on the left, he took an excellent line but kept on running, apparently intending to pick up the longest mark. He's made this same mistake the last 3-4 times I've set up a series with short-in-front-of-long. Each time, I've blown WS and a come-in whistle, and each time he's responded well and quickly come in, picked up the mark, and brought it home. He's then run the long mark without difficulty, either nailing it or requiring only a small hunt.

I think it's important that he pick up the short mark first when the lines to two marks are tight. Several reasons might apply, but here's one: the dog might put down the article he's carrying back from the long mark, pick up the new article he's just come upon, and bring that one back first. That's a type of switch, and it's an immediate DQ in both Hunt Tests and Field Trials. Laddie did that once in at a training day, and I haven't forgotten.

Though Laddie has a good angle-in cast if needed, the question for me is how to train Laddie to pick up the short mark first without handling. For now, I'm just going to continue handling him if he overruns and doesn't quickly turn back by himself. Like most retrievers I guess, he'd rather complete the retrieve without handling, so hopefully he'll realize that the best way to obtain that outcome is to pick up the short mark first.

[Gaby's dogs had their own strengths and weaknesses in today's work. I don't feel it's appropriate to discuss other dogs' work in too much detail in this blog, so I only make occasional references.]

SERIES B. Interrupted double

Series B was basically a mirror image of Series A, with these differences:
  • The blind was longer, and featured a keyhole between two trees closer to the blind than the fence posts of Series A.
  • Because Laddie had run past the short mark on the short-in-front-of-long set-up in Series A, I didn't want to add more delay by having him run a go-bird off to the side in addition to the blind in Series B, so Series B was an interrupted double rather than an interrupted triple. Gaby's dogs had not had trouble with the short bird in Series A, but she was fine running a double-plus-blind on this series as well.
  • The long mark for Series B was thrown in the midst of a triangular configuration of trees. Similarly spaced trees grew in a couple of groupings some distance behind the trees where the mark was thrown. Advanced dogs might reasonably expect to run past some of the trees to get to the area of the fall, but in this case, the fall was near the first tree the dog would reach. That turned out to fool Laddie and Gus, who both overran the long mark some distance and then apparently expected to find the mark near one of the further trees.
Notes on Laddie's Performance in Series B

Laddie again ran an excellent blind. When I then sent him on the line to the short mark, he seemed to have a clear picture of where it was, and did not attempt to veer slightly left onto the line for the long mark. Better still, though he overran the short mark by a few yards, he put on the brakes without any help from me (remember Gaby wasn't out there to help either), spun back, and quickly homed in on the mark. That was the highlight of the day for me.

Unfortunately, his performance was weaker on the long mark. He took a great line, nearly stepping on the bumper as he ran past it, but overran to a similar looking configuration of trees 50 yards further back. That might not have been too bad, since I recognize that Laddie isn't going to nail every mark, but he then "popped" (turned toward me and sat down as if I'd blown a WS). I didn't move a muscle, my normal response to a pop, and he quickly got moving again. But apparently he was soon confused again, and popped a second time. Once he came out of that, he started quartering toward home and quickly found the bumper.

Popping and Reinforcement

I don't seem to have yet developed a successful strategy for ending Laddie's occasional popping. I can only hope that it repairs itself as we work on other things, or that it doesn't cost us too much in competition. I'm trying my best not to reinforce it by interacting with him in any way when he does it, but unfortunately, it may borrow its reinforcement from running blinds, where a WS is rewarded with a cast that brings the dog closer to the bird. It may take some time, or forever, before Laddie realizes that such reinforcement is flat not available when running a mark, that is, when no whistle sounds. We'll see how his learning in this area progresses over time, I guess.

Friday, January 21, 2011

OOO Indent Triple, ILT

Mt. Ararat Farm

Training with Gaby. She ran two of her field dogs, I ran Lumi and Laddie.

Temps in low 30s. Windy at first site, wind mostly calm at second site, making it more comfortable. Ground was covered in a thin layer of fresh, soft snow.

Each series run with one trainer running her/his dogs, while other trainer walked to each throwing position, fired pistol, and threw. All throws were black bumpers.

SERIES A. Out-of-order indent triple

First mark was on the right, thrown LTR at 130 yards. Second mark was in middle, them RTL at 70 yards. Third mark was on the left, thrown RTL at 100 yards. The first two falls were not visible from SL.

SERIES B. In-line triple

First mark was on the right, thrown LTR at 210 yards, with thrower standing in sunlight but fall in shadow near the corner of two lines of trees. Second mark was in the middle, thrown LTR at 140 yards in direction of first throwing position. Third mark was on the left in line with previous two throwing positions, thrown LTR at 80 yards in direction of earlier throwing positions. The center throwing position was midway between the other two.

Lumi nailed all six marks today. Laddie nailed or nearly nailed all but his last retrieve, the long mark on the right in Series B, which required a brief hunt. However, with Gaby as thrower wearing dark clothes, and throwing a black bumper on a relatively low arc with a background of trees and into shadow, Laddie might not have seen the throw, in which case I'd say it was a nice bit of deductive marking, with Laddie making an educated guess where the fall was likely to be, taking a good line, and confidently hunting it down.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Muncaster Mill Farm

For the fourth session in a row, Laddie and I again worked alone, and again worked on poorman land quintuples. That is, with Laddie waiting at the SL, I go out and throw five marks from different locations, then return to the SL and run Laddie on all five of them.

Today I again wore a white jacket, and fired a starter pistol when throwing. I used black bumpers for all throws, and the distances ranged from 80 to 320 yards. Temps were in the low 40s, so the ground was damp and a bit slick from melting snow.

Though I think Laddie would clearly benefit more from training with a group, simulating event conditions as much as possible, I do feel that given the fact that I don't have anyone else to train with right now, running poorman quintuples isn't a bad way to practice:
  • The drill is a challenge to his memory, with every mark featuring a "retired gunner". By comparison, remembering all the marks of a triple, more typical in competition, will hopefully seem pretty easy, especially if some or all of the marks feature visible throwers while Laddie is running them.
  • At distances like today's, a session of ten marks help keep up his conditioning over the winter, especially at the all-out sprint speeds he brings to every retrieve.
  • Laddie generally takes a good line when sent, but occasionally on these drills he veers off line once out in the field, apparently not remembering where the fall is and switching to hunt mode. This gives me an opportunity to blow WS, and switch him into handling mode. I'd rather he run every mark without handling in an event, but if handling does become necessary — for example, to avoid a switch or picking up a hot blind — it's important that he be able to make the transition out of hunt mode and begin to respond to handling instead.
  • It's fun for both of us.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Rolling Ridge

Today's series were similar to our previous session, except I again increased distances. Today's 10 marks (two series of five marks each) were 120-220 yards.

Another difference was that our previous session was run on the relatively flat field at Oaks Area 2, whereas today's session was run at Rolling Ridge, with its steep hills and underbrush-filled ditch. Today, the ditch carried a shallow stream from the melting snow.


After the two quintuples, today's work also featured about a dozen poorman bulldogs as we walked from the second SL back to the van. What I mean by a "poorman bulldog" is that I throw a happy bumper for Laddie, and as he's on his way back with it, I throw another. His job is to complete the return while noting where the new one fell, then race out to get the new one after delivering the first one. On his way back with the new one, I throw yet another one.

A true "bulldog", as I understand it, sometimes occurs in a Master Hunt Test. As the dog is returning with one retrieve, a thrower out in the field throws a mark that the dog is to be sent on after completing the earlier delivery.

Hopefully, the poorman bulldogs provide some learning that Laddie could benefit from if he ever runs a test that includes a true bulldog. But even if we never see a bulldog in an event, the game seems to be great fun for him and great exercise. I also think it benefits his general marking to practice this more difficult version, where he's on the move and carrying out an earlier task rather than sitting still and able to put his full attention on the throw. And I also think it may strengthen his returns, since it adds a pleasant association of excitement to the delivery process.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Oaks Area 2

More quintuples. Today's session was similar to yesterday's, with these differences:
  • No pistol, because I felt like I was getting frostbite reloading the pistol yesterday. I called "hey-hey-hey" when throwing today.
  • I increased the distances. Today's marks were 70-180 yards each.
  • I wore a white jacket.
  • I only had Laddie run two series of five marks each.
One reason I reduced the number of series from four to two was because of the increased distances, not wanting to risk injuring Laddie by pushing him too hard.

A second reason was the frigid cold, which didn't appear to be a problem for Laddie but was making me uncomfortable.

A third reason was acute pain in my left knee. I'm not sure what's causing it, possibly my gout. I'm treating it with ibuprofen, and that seems to be helping, but I don't think a lot of walking on uneven ground is good for it, above and beyond the discomfort.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Oaks Area 3

With my friend Gaby on a trip, Laddie and I have no one to train with, and lately we've been sticking with blinds.

For a change today, I ran Laddie on four series of five marks each, run from each of four positions at Oaks Area 3. That field is relatively small --about 100x100 yards, but dotted and crisscrossed with trees, hedgerows with gaps, depressions, and ridges.

Each of the four series was run as follows:

* Place Laddie in a sit/stay next to an LP being used for that SL

* Walk out to the longest planned mark, fire a pistol or call "bang", throw a black bumper to left or right, sometimes so that the arc was behind a tree, always so that the bumper landed in a depression or in cover making it invisible from the SL

* Walk to another position for the next throw and throw again

* Continue zigzagging across the field until every throw was completed. Some of the marks were intended as "wipers", where a shorter, later mark is intended to make an earlier, longer mark on the same line more difficult to remember

* Return to the SL and run Laddie on each of the five marks, handling only if he swerved off line to a different mark than the one I had lined him up on. I generally ran him from shortest to longest, not necessarily in the exact reverse order of the throws, except that the last, shortest mark was always run first and the first, longest mark was always run last.

I was pleased to see that Laddie seemed to have a good memory of every mark. He only needed handling for swerving on three of the 20 retrieves.

Land blinds

Rolling Ridge

Triple land blind with OBs, all approx 200 yards down a hillside, across wide dry ditch filled with underbrush, up slope on other side, and past trees and other obstacles. None of the blinds were in line with trees, so Laddie had to take lines toward open areas.

Laddie lined the first blind, then handled well on both of the others.

The photos below show the last 80 yards or so of the line to each blind. The bumpers, in the center of each photo, are too small to be seen beyond the trees.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Land blinds

[Beginning with this post, I'm experimenting with sending posts to this blog from my cell phone. The initial post has rough content, which I'll refine as time permits using the website. The photos are unedited. They would benefit from cropping and addition of lines to show retrieves, but time may not be available for such editing.]

Sundown Road Park

Freezing temps, but sunny.

Triple land blind, all three blinds (OB) at approximately 200 yards. All three bumpers were visible from the SL.

The line to the first blind on the right (photo at far right) crossed two baseball fields, ran a few yards to the left of a white sports pole, went down a depression between a stand of trees on the left and an area of underbrush on the right that the dog crossed thru while out of sight, and back up to the blind, which lay in an open area to the right of a picnic pavilion.

The line to the second blind in the center (photo at left) crossed two baseball fields and a baseball diamond, ran between a baseball fence on the left and a tree on the right, to the blind which was positioned at the base of a small tree in front of the woods.

The line to the third blind on the left (photo at near right) crossed two baseball fields, ran thru a narrow keyhole formed by a tree on the left and a baseball fence on the left, continued past two other trees on the left, to the blind that was planted at the base of a shrub a little inside the woods.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Reverse Hip-pocket Doubles

Mt. Ararat Farm

With light snow on the ground, in freezing temps and cold winds, Gaby and I began working on how to train Laddie not to flare around the short gun when the line to the long gun runs right behind the short gun, a configuration that occurs in a reverse hip-pocket double, especially if the short gun is a real person rather than just a stickman.

We may have made some progress in learning how to train this, I'm not sure yet. We'll continue work on this in future sessions.

Gaby plans to work with her dogs on this, too, but she felt the ground today might be too hard on the joints of her dogs, who are heavier than Laddie, so she didn't run them today.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Land blinds, retired mark

Mt. Ararat Farm

SERIES A. Four land blinds

Series A consisted of four blinds, at 60-90-130-370 yards.

I had Laddie run all four. Next Gaby ran Gus, one of her Chessies (her Lab is having some soreness so Gaby's resting him for a few days, and the other Chessies is recovering from surgery). Finally, I had Lumi run all but the 370-yard blind. I didn't run Lumi on the long blind not only because of the distance, but also because it traversed two corn fields, which I thought might be hard on her sensitive feet and joints.

For Laddie and Gus, our primary interest in Series A was quick responses to whistle sits. Gaby and I were prepared to use Walk Outs if either of our dogs did not sit promptly, but it wasn't necessary. In Laddie's case, that even included a nice whistle sit at the edge of an embankment at 360 yards. Laddie was on a good line, but I wanted to sit him so that I could send him straight back with a final cast down the embankment and out of sight, where he would need to cross a dirt road and run partly up a second embankment to the blind.

As I've mentioned in the past, Lumi is now retired from competition. I run her only to keep up her conditioning, and hopefully to give her some pleasure. She is exempt from any pressure to sit on a whistle, remain steady on marks, or otherwise perform according to event requirements.

SERIES B. Land double with retired mark

For Series B, the first mark was on the right, thrown left to right at 350 yards. The second mark was thrown by the handler to the left side. While the dog was picking up the short mark, the long gunner retired behind a tree.

Before running the dogs, Gaby and I tried throwing both a white and black bumper for the long mark. Even with streamers, the black bumper was invisible in flight from the SL. The white bumper was slightly more visible so we used that.

Challenges of the long mark were as follows:
  • The gunner's position was in front of a tree in a diagonal row of trees, so that without being able to see the gunner after the gunner had retired, the dog had to remember which tree the gunner had been throwing from.
  • At that distance, the gunshot was relatively faint, giving the dog limited help in finding the correct direction to look in order to mark the throw.
  • The ground was covered in patches of white from a light snowfall that morning. In addition, the backdrop for the throw was the speckled pattern of winter tree foliage against grey sky. As a result, the thrower was difficult to spot at that distance, the arc of the throw was barely visible, and the thrown bumper was also barely visible lying on the ground. In addition, the freezing temps reduced the strength of the bumper's scent.
Despite these difficulties, Laddie ran an excellent line, not at the gunner's position but slightly to the right, toward the fall. He passed a few yards inside the fall and overran the distance slightly, suddenly swung around to the fall, scooped up the bumper on the run, and raced home with it.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Retired marks

Rolling Ridge

With limited time but son Eric available to throw for us, I thought this would be a good day for Laddie to get in some more practice with retired marks.

For each of three series, Eric fired and pistol and threw a WB, then I threw a WB to the side. I sent Laddie to pick up the short mark on the side, and while Laddie was coming back, Eric would hide ("retire"). Then I'd send Laddie to pick up the long mark.

Series A: The long mark was 290 yards and thrown into a depression, the arc of the throw crossing in front of a large tree. The line to the fall required Laddie to detour around a pile of debris.

Series B: The long mark was 310 yards and thrown across a large ditch, currently dry but filled with underbrush. The line to the fall crossed the ditch on a sharp diagonal.

Series C: The long mark was 170 yards, thrown into open meadow. The line to the fall again crossed the ditch on a diagonal, though at a different point of crossing.
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