Sunday, March 20, 2011

Competition tune-up

Since Laddie's going to be running in a Qualifying stake (his first) and Master test in a couple of weeks, I've been looking for ways to get him tuned-up for those.  The best way would be to train with groups of experienced trainers preparing for similar events, but since none of those are available to us, I've tried to come up with reasonable substitutions:
  • Train with any field group available, and where possible, modify the set-ups to practice more advanced skills
  • Travel to properties where other trainers might be training, and ask whether they'd like to train together
  • Hire my friend Dave Altman to shoot flyers and use his knowledge as an AKC Hunt Test judge to help me get Laddie tuned-up
  • Daily private practice
Here are some recent tweets (edited) from those kinds of sessions:
  • 3-16-2011: Cheltenham. Training with Jean, who trains her Golden for FTs. For the triples, we used Bumper Boys and stickmen, with a human thrower for the long retired marks. Overcast, high 40s. A) Big land/water triple, long gun on left retired. B) Tough Master water blind. C) 200y land blind, keyhole between tree and mound. D) Big water triple. Performance notes on today's work: I couldn't keep Laddie off the points in Series B, but good work, I thought, on everything else. I think we need more work on tough water blinds before our next Master.
  • 3-17-2011: Rolling Ridge. Triple land blind 200-230-260y. Later same day: Newcut Road. Humongous cleared construction site, many earthwork hills and embankments, even some small "ponds". Laddie ran several big poorman marks with me using a remote send from my throwing position. Also, two shoreline water blinds and one poorman double. Laddie did a great job on everything.
  • 3-18-2011: Cheltenham. Nice early spring morning. Trainer Peter reconvening his group after winter layoff, one other trainer today. Laddie more advanced than other dogs, so I modified the series for him. Here's what he ran: A) Interrupted triple: After all birds thrown, pick up go-bird, run long blind in center, pick up both birds of hip-pocket double.  B) Same as (A) with different start line & retrieve lines. C) Retired delayed land triple plus water blind: Watch long mark on right and mid-distance mark on left thrown, pick up mark on left while right gunner retires, watch short mark on right thrown in line with longer mark previously thrown on right, pick up short mark on right, pick up long retired mark on right, run big water blind requiring entry to pond at 250+y with inviting cheat around the pond available. Performance notes on today's work: Except for trying to run 2nd mark instead of blind and needing to be called back to run the blind first in Series A, Laddie had an excellent day, nailing every mark and handling well on every blind. Lumi also ran, running two singles or a double in each series with her usual dead-aim marking plus excellent pick-ups on every bird, both ducks & pheasants.
  • 3-20-3011: Near Warrenton, VA. Sunny, 55 degs. Asked Dave Altman to help tune up Laddie for Master & Qual. A) Walk-up, flyer with gunner at 30y not visible till we reached corner of woods. I blew duck-call, Dave just becoming visible around the corner blew duck-call, Laddie sat without being told to, Dave threw chukar flyer and shot. Laddie steady till sent.  Good boy. B) With Laddie on my right and Dave a few yards farther to my right, I blew duck-call, then Dave blew duck-call, threw chukar flyer and shot. Laddie again steady till sent. Good boy again. C) I put Laddie in sit, cued "just watch", moved five yards to Laddie's right, held Lumi by check cord. I blew duck-call, Dave at 50y blew duck-call, threw & shot chukar flyer to left (in front of Laddie), threw and "shot" dead bird 30y in front of Lumi. With Laddie steady in remote honor, I lined Lumi toward the dead bird but she crossed in front to the flyer. I watched a few secs to make sure Laddie wouldn't break for closer bird, then walked to him, heeled him a few yards, and slipped on his lead. This was Laddie's first remote honor of a flyer. Great job! D) Set-up includes 300+y blind with narrow keyhole at 200+y. Dave fired shotgun and threw bird at 150y, I hand-threw another bird to the side, then ran Laddie on the blind. Not good enough control on blind, would not have passed, but nailed both marks. E) 100y hillside blind, excellent control. Note on the quick casts I use with Laddie: Dave commented on the fact that I don't give Laddie much time to settle down after sitting on a whistle sit, but cast him immediately.  He said this is a common mistake and can lead to auto-casting, where the dog learns to anticipate the cast and releases without the handler's cue.  Letting the dog settle in the sit before casting produces better results for most dogs.  I express thought that without ecollar for negative reinforcement, Laddie's only reinforcement for sitting is the cast, and if I were to generally use a slow cast, as a result of that delayed reinforcement, Laddie might tend to develop a slower and/or weaker response to the whistle sit. Dave reconsiders in that light, agrees.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Shoe leather and despair

First, if you're interested in Laddie's training sessions and haven't tried following @LindsayRidgeway on Twitter, you can still see all our tweets here:
For example, here's a compilation of our tweets (edited) this month:
  • 3-1-2011: Last few days, have run big, tight blinds and poorman multiples, plus a new configuration we've never used before, poorman remote singles: leaving Laddie in a sit, I walk out in white jacket, fire pistol, throw, and call "Laddie" from my throwing position.  Laddie runs mark, then delivers to me at the throwing position. Then I leave him there and go out to a new throwing position. This is a fast way to run a battery of big, difficult non-retired singles, though one risk is that dog learns to deliver to thrower. Today: Zion Park, 46 deg, sunny, snow all melted. Six big remote poorman singles. Excellent marking by Laddie.
  • 3-2-2011: Cheltenham. Sunny, 64 deg. First chance to train with a group in weeks, first water retrieves since fall. A) Land triple, xmas tree config, using Bumper Boy for big mark in center. Laddie nailed first two retrieves, needed handling on long one, which I doubt he saw. B) Triple with one poison-bird blind and one water blind. The long mark also required a short swim. C) Long retired water single, with short throw to side while long gunner retired. Included wide channel crossing plus short ditch crossing. D) Similar to C, but only one water crossing. Laddie's performance today: Some excellent marking, handled well, needed help on BB mark in A (which he didn't see), mark in high grass in B (all the dogs did), and retired mark in D. Most important, never stalled on any return, including returns across ice-cold channels. Yippee!
  • 3-5-2011: Remington, VA. Club training day, flyers for the short mark in first series, both series on land. Lumi ran three singles in each series, did fine both directions on all, even on her 200+y final retrieve. Laddie ran a triple plus a land blind in each series, and honored a triple with a flyer on first series. Laddie had good performance all day, including outstanding marking on second series.
  • 3-7-2011: Rolling Ridge west. Sunny, 49 deg. An in-line-triple (ILT), all throws in cover, two big blinds, three big poorman remote singles, and one more blind (tight keyhole thru brush). Laddie did great on every retrieve today.
  • 3-8-2011: Riggs Road Farm. No obstacles, just distance. Double land blind: A) 310y, intentionally wrong-lined a few degrees to the left to assure opportunity to handle at distance, then whistle sit & hard right cast at 310y. B) 390y.
  • 3-9-2011: Riggs Road. Overcast, 42 deg. Black bumpers, pistol. A) Big poorman xmas-tree triple B) Big poorman indent triple
  • 3-10-2011: Oaks Area 3. Torrential rain produced areas of standing water. We used them for a dozen skimming retrieves, that is, dog needs to take straight line thru water rather than run the bank. These were poorman marks with pistols, black bumpers.
  • 3-12-2011: Mt. Ararat Farm. Laddie & me training with Gaby & Gus, her Senior-level Chessie. We ran the dogs in similar series, modified as appropriate for each dog. Laddie's series: A) Long water blind past points on both sides, with blind in center of a clump of cattails B) Long flower-pot water double, hidden thrower (in retrospect, not appropriate for long marks, since Field Trials never use hidden throwers) C) Long double land blind, featuring one very tight keyhole requiring leap over fallen tree trunk on down-slope after getting thru keyhole D) Long single land blind, very tight diagonal keyhole combined with diagonal road crossing at 100y.
  • 3-13-2011: Rolling Ridge. Sunny, 59 deg. A) Water triple, all retrieves requiring 100+y swims. B) Uphill indent land triple. C) Big xmas-tree land triple over rough, hilly terrain, thorny in places. Training alone so all poorman marks. Pistol, black bumpers.
I might add that those tweets are a somewhat incomplete record.  In reality, Laddie and I rarely miss a day of training, even in bad weather.  But since I don't know whether anyone actually has any interest in the tweets, sometimes I don't bother to post them.  Other times, I think that given Laddie's level of performance, especially for a 2Q dog, a record of his training might someday be of interest to someone.

Meanwhile, for any reader interested in what the biggest challenges of field training might be, I'll add a personal note.  My single most difficult challenge turns out to be finding anyone who is willing to train with me.  Granted, I've met a small number of people that I don't want to train with, but those can be counted on one hand (two individuals, I think).  By contrast, at this time, other than club training days, no one seems willing to train with me except on rare occasions.  I have no idea how to fix the problem.  I hope you have never been shunned in this way.  It's crushing.

I watch Laddie's enthusiasm for the sport — his all-out sprints on every retrieve, year after year — and I feel despair that he'll be at such a disadvantage in Field Trial competition. Our first entry is less than three weeks away, and at this time I know of not a single individual, much less group, willing to train with Laddie and me.  I wish that I could give him the kind of experiences he needs to reach his potential, with courses designed by experienced trainers, human throwers, birds, the occasional flyer, and the simulated ambience of an event. Yet no matter how hard I am willing to work, no matter how much I reach out, I cannot give him those things except on those rare occasions.  Poor Laddie, he picked the wrong owner.
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