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.

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