Thursday, April 21, 2011

Walk-ups, water blind, and land triple plus double blind

Rolling Ridge

Sunny, 60°, training with Nate.

SERIES A. Walk-up diversion with water blind

As Laddie and I came from behind a holding blind, Nate was hiding behind a nearby stand of trees. Without warning, he fired pistol and threw a white bumper. Trajectory of throw was behind another tree, then into a depression. I then cued "sit", swung Laddie to my other side, and ran him on a big water blind, which he lined without popping. Then he picked up the diversion mark.

SERIES B. Walk-up land triple plus two blinds

First mark was thrown RTL on a walk-up from behind trees at the right edge of the field and into a ditch, with the thrower on my right and Laddie on my left. I had planned to have Laddie facing in Nate's direction by the time he threw, but he threw too soon.  Laddie heard the pistol shot but did not look past my knees fast enough to see the throw, which though not planned was actually a good thing for us to work on, since an unseen first throw of a triple was the same situation that led to our being dropped in our last test. The Bumper Boy for the second throw was in line with the first mark, thrown RTL like the first throw, so that the first two marks were a hip pocket double. The third mark was the longest, thrown LTR across a ditch 90° to the left of the second fall. I ran Laddie in reverse order of the throws, which also had unusual result of being longest first, shortest last.  After Laddie picked up #3 and #2, I lined him up carefully for #1, the mark he had not seen, and sent him on "back" rather than his name as though it were a blind, but he nailed it without a need for handling.

The line to the first blind ran near the fall of the first mark, then a little behind the Bumper Boy used for second mark.  Just past the BB, the line ran to the left of a tree, forming a diagonal keyhole with the BB, then across an old driveway.

The second blind was on a line between the second and third marks, across a ditch, then to the right of a pile of downed trees. Just past the pile, the dog had to be stopped and cast left behind the pile and thru underbrush in front of a tree, making it a sideways keyhole. Coming out of the underbrush, the dog had to be stopped again and cast straight back, keeping to the left of the tree, then across a dirt road. The blind was in a depression beyond the road.

I tried my best to create challenging situations in this session, but Laddie made everything look easy all day.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

De-popping on water marks

Rolling Ridge

Today was sunny with temps in the 70s, though the ground was soaked from torrential rain last night.

I decided to start Laddie's session with a big water triple.  I thought the marks might be a bit challenging, and Laddie would also get in some conditioning.  I even brought Lumi along for some water retrieves with one of her puppy bumpers.  She was injured recently and shouldn't be doing much land activity, but I thought the swimming would be good for her.

It turned out, however, that Laddie's work turned into one of our most intense sessions, while Lumi was primarily interested in playing tug with me when I had a spare moment.  :0)

The reason for the intensity was that the set-up I designed happened to trigger pops on two of the retrieves. I didn't plan it that way, but once it happened, I decided to take advantage of the situation to really work with Laddie on it.

The strategy I chose was somewhat controversial based on conversations I've had with others on the subject of popping in the past.  The problem was that I've already tried freezing when Laddie looks at me, and I've also tried calling "back" when he turns or, if possible, just as he's starting to turn.  I haven't noticed either strategy causing Laddie's popping to diminish.  I don't think either one set up a structure of operant outcomes that produced changes in behavior.  Worse, I was and am concerned that the behavior was becoming somewhat habitual because it has gone on for so long, however rarely.

So I decided on this strategy: At the moment that Laddie turned to face me, I would call him back to me.  In some cases, I'd then leave him at the SL, run/walk around the pond to where the mark was, show it to him or re-throw it, run/walk back to the SL, and send him again.  In other cases, I'd just spend some time with him lining him up and chatting to him for encouragement, and then send him out again.

The reason that's a controversial strategy is that a trainer might be concerned that being called back — quitting and returning to Daddy's side — is exactly what the dog is hoping for when the dog pops, so calling the dog back would act as reinforcement for popping.  Today's work showed in no uncertain terms that that is not the case with Laddie. To Laddie, it meant having to come back without the bumper, which is highly undesirable to him, and worse, it meant having to make another long swim back, and then another long swim out, just to get back to where he was when he popped.

Laddie and I worked on this for a long time, I'd estimate six attempts on each of the two retrieves where he popped before he made it all the way across without popping.  The swim was a good hundred yards, so Laddie got in a great deal of swimming, more than I had planned on and enough that by the end, I think he was starting to be a bit tired.

He was also frustrated enough to yelp a few of the later times I sent him.  And as he started his long swim, a couple of times he barked, as if talking to himself and reminding himself not to look around this time.

It was fascinating watching Laddie fight his urge to turn around and look at me.  In the later outruns, getting closer and closer to a full traversal of the pond, he would start to turn, then catch himself and turn back toward his destination.  These visible displays showed how habitual the popping behavior has become, and it showed how effective today's callbacks were in training him not to pop.  Apparently he figured out fairly early in the day that it was the pop that was causing me to call him back and repeat the send-out, but then the urge to pop would take precedence and he'd lose that battle.  As with any extinction process, he also needed to learn that I was being 100% consistent, and that no pop would result in being permitted to continue that outrun.

The fact that he finally made it across for the first retrieve, but then had to relearn not to pop all over again on the second one immediately afterwards, shows how ingrained this behavior has become and how difficult it was for Laddie to combat it.  I looked for every way to further reward his eventual success, running around to meet him on the side of the pond so that he didn't have to swim all the way back, and of course lots of extrinsic reinforcement as he reached me.

But before those successes, the amount of swimming and frustration were clearly grueling for Laddie, not the kind of day I'd want him to have very often. It was also grueling for me, first because I felt deeply for the frustration Laddie was experiencing, and second, because of my own physical exertion when I sped out to show him the marks and back again to re-run him.

By the way, apparently the trigger for popping on today's marks was a combination of two factors.  One factor was the fact that the fall was either invisible (one of the marks was behind a stretch of reeds) or had a confusing picture (the second mark was among a repetitious assortment of saplings and debris on the hillside beyond the pond).   The other factor was the big water.

I'm not sure that a confusing fall and distance are what cause popping when Laddie does it on land, but it's a working hypothesis.

I'm also not certain that a callback on land would work as well to discourage popping, since that's a lot easier for Laddie to carry out.  However, a Walk Out, the same mechanism I've used to discourage refused whistle sits and delayed water entries on returns, might be the ticket for land popping if we can find a set-up that triggers it.

Meanwhile, over the next few days, I'll try Laddie out on more set-ups like today's, though not every day in a row, lest he suffer any damage to his motivation.  I'd certainly like to stamp out this problem entirely, and get Laddie to the point where the habit is gone, and he can just focus on carrying out the retrieve without having to fight an urge that costs him.  But I just have to remind myself that we don't have to keep working on such an uncomfortable project day after day, we can spread the training out and have some easier sessions in between.


On Apr 19, 2011, at 9:15 AM, Jody wrote:

My thought is the fact that you "forced" him to do it correctly is a good thing.  Laddie hasn't had much force work (or you could call it pressure) of any kind.  This should help him understand that he is to do what he's "told" to do.

Good job in my opinion.

On Apr 19, 2011, at 9:30 AM, Lindsay wrote:

Hi, Jody.  In terms of OC, I think it's no different from interrupting an unsuccessful trial -- the no-reward marker was "Nope, come on back".  However, it shows that +R training can be unpleasant at times, no matter how much we try to make it a positive experience.  Frustration, and in this case some physical exertion, still occur.  I saw no way to obtain a high success rate on this particular session once we started, though ordinarily that's a mainstay of our training.

I didn't mention in the post -- I probably should -- that there wasn't the least recrimination when I would call Laddie back, and I praised him when he would get back for responding.  To be honest, I was immensely proud of the spirit Laddie brought to this session.  I wish the learning could have been easier for him.

If I had had access to more variety of water, and if I had anticipated the popping, it's possible I could have found a smaller crossing to work on first.  But I don't know that that would have triggered the pop, and I also would not have want to quit venue A, to switch to easier venue B, once he did pop at venue A.  I think switching might have reinforced the pop -- "Oh, if it's too hard, you can give up on it and we'll find something easier and more fun for you to do instead."  Nope, we'll just have to keep trying -- it was getting dark and I was soaked from Laddie's shaking off by the time we quit -- until you can do the job.

Thanks for your feedback, Jody.  It always means so much to me.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Laddie's Third Master Test

Remington, VA

I'm afraid Laddie is now 0 for 3 in Master Hunt Tests.  I see little advantage on dwelling on yesterday's event, but for the record, here's a brief description.

Basically, Laddie had no trouble with the first series, a land triple plus honor, though one clue about what was eventually to come did appear: During the honor, Laddie was far more interested in sniffing the ground around him than in the test that the working dog was about to run. He did look up when the guns started firing, but by Laddie standards, it was practically an afterthought.

Because of test logistics, we had a long delay between the first and second series, and Laddie was one of the last dogs in the running order when the lengthy second series did begin. As a result, I took Laddie out of his crate several times that morning. He exhibited similarly distracted behavior whenever I aired him: Instead of his usual ball/bumper obsession, all he wanted to do was follow scents, and in certain locations that he found, intensely sniff and even lick the ground.

Talking to the other handlers, I learned that one of the female dogs had been in heat recently, though was supposedly past that. Apparently someone forgot to tell Laddie.

The second series was a land/water triple with a walk-up and a flyer, plus two blinds. Although it was not a gimme, I didn't expect Laddie to have trouble with it

However, during the walk-up, he caught a scent and rushed forward ahead of me, nose to the ground. When he reached the start line tape a split second later, the judge called for the first bird, an angle back LTR from a nearby hidden gun way to the left of the field, thrown with a winger into reeds just beyond the embankment of the closest shoreline at 20y. This mark was intended to take the dog by surprise and happen very quickly.  Laddie looked up too late and never saw the fall. He then watched the center throw across the pond, thrown LTR at 90y from a gun station 30 degrees to the right of the first mark, and a flyer 180 degrees from the first mark and thrown from behind a sprawling stand of trees RTL at 60y.

Laddie picked up the flyer, and then, like all the previous handlers, I lined him up on the very short first mark. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Although I couldn't tell from Laddie's body language — perhaps a more experienced handler could have — Laddie had not seen that bird and did not know where it was, while he actually did know where the long mark was. Therefore, I now think I should have run him on the long mark first, though no previous handler had run the series that way. Once that was out of the way, and Laddie's mind was cleared about the long mark, I should have treated the short bird as a blind, cueing "dead bird" and sending him with "back".  Laddie and I had actually had a similar situation at a training day a few weeks ago, and I had come to the same conclusion of how to handle such a situation, but I didn't recognize that that's what I was seeing during yesterday's test, and didn't follow my earlier advice to myself.

Instead, I lined Laddie up on the short mark, saw that he was locked in, and sent him on his name. He ran the correct line till he got near the shoreline, and if the bird had been visible, we'd have been OK. But he neither saw it nor scented it, and immediately veered right and leapt into the water. I let him go for awhile, but he seemed confused, apparently struggling with whether to loop back to the mystery bird I'd sent him toward, or take matters into his own hands and go out to pick up the long bird. It was beginning to look like he might get called for a switch, since he had already been pretty close to the short fall, so I decided I better handle him.

Now of course Laddie has had a ton of handling, and I've often handled him on marks without difficulty when needed. But this situation where he's sent to a bird that he apparently knows he was supposed to have seen but doesn't know where it is seems to really mess with his mind, and he handled poorly. He just didn't seem able to believe I knew where the bird was. He eventually did pick up the bird, and then ran a nice mark to the center bird, as good as any dog had done on that rather difficult mark, which had knocked several dogs out. But the judges wouldn't let Laddie run the blind, because of the refusals during handling to the short mark.

I won't describe the land and water blinds, but I don't think Laddie would have had any trouble with them. I don't recall any dog going out because of the blinds.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Interrupted land triple, blinds with bulldogs

[Transcribed from @LindsayRidgeway tweets]

Rolling Ridge

Hazy, 86°, SW wind at 11 mph. Training with Nate again. With Master test coming up on Friday, today was mostly tune-up for that. My plan was to come up with something difficult, see what problems Laddie had, and use that info to plan work for rest of week. It didn't work. Laddie made mincemeat of both today's series

SERIES A. Interrupted land triple

First mark was on the right, a white bumper thrown by Nate RTL at 180y. Second mark was on the left, thrown by a Bumper Boy RTL at 80y. The third mark was on a line slightly to the left of the line to the second mark, thrown by a BB RTL at 30y. After the three marks were thrown but before any retrieves, I ran Laddie on a 170y blind on a line midway between the first and second marks. When Laddie returned with the blind, I sent him to the three marks in reverse order thrown. Nate retired behind a tree while Laddie was running the short mark on the left

The terrain on this field is hilly with uneven footing. in addition, each of the four retrieves had individual challenges:
  • The blind was run after Laddie had seen three marks, and included an extremely tight keyhole near the end. Running a blind when marks are waiting to be picked can erode control, but Laddie did great.
  • The short mark was thrown into high cover halfway up a steep slope, but its real challenge was to act as a diversion for the blind, to challenge Laddie's steadiness, and to act as a wiper-bird for the second mark. Laddie nailed it.
  • The line to the second mark was up a steep hill, over a crest, and into a field of thick cover. The line was slightly to the right of the line to the first mark picked up. The BB was visible from the start line, but the fall was in high cover. Perhaps the most difficult part was that as Laddie was running up the slope, he could see only the crest of the hill above him. Laddie took a great line and absolutely nailed it.
  • The long mark was fairly long, it was retired, and it was across a valley. Perhaps most difficult, it was a "bridge": Nate stood on one side of the wide ditch to throw to the other side, and Laddie needed to cross that ditch thru thick, high cover despite the picture of Nate in his memory being on the near side of the ditch. The configuration did not fool Laddie. He ran a beeline to the fall.

SERIES B. Land blind with bulldog

For the second series, I decided to try something Laddie and I have never practiced before, as far as I can remember: a "bulldog" thrown while Laddie was running a blind. A bulldog, as I understand it, is an article thrown while the dog is running another retrieve.  In the past, we've practiced bulldogs thrown while Laddie was returning from a mark.  A blind combined with a bulldog was new to us, but Alice mentioned it as a Master test possibility in recent correspondence, so I thought we'd give Laddie, and me, a chance to get a little experience with it.  In Series B, I just wanted to show Laddie the concept.  Then in Series C, we'd do it with a more difficult blind.

With Laddie in the crate and unable to see the set-up, I positioned Nate behind an old shed on the left and 30y from the start line. I then ran Laddie on an easy 40y blind toward the right and halfway up an embankment. As soon as Laddie had taken a few steps, Nate blew the duck-call fired a shot, and threw a white bumper LTR toward Laddie, so that it fell about 20y from Laddie. Laddie turned to look, took a couple of steps toward the bumper, them froze. I blew a sit-whistle, which I should have done sooner, then cast him up the hill to the blind, a cast he took without hesitation and with his usual exuberance. When he returned with the blind, I sent him to pick up the bulldog Nate had thrown.

TODAY'S LESSON. I don't know whether Laddie really needed this practice, but I'm glad I didn't wait for a test to try it out.  After seeing what happened, I realized that if we ever get one of these, I need to get myself ready to blow the whistle as soon as required, and not wait till Rocket Dog darts toward the diversion to think about getting my whistle ready.

SERIES C. Water blind with bulldog

Now we were ready to try a more realistic series. Again with Laddie in the crate and unable to watch, I set Nate up behind a holding blind at the top of the embankment on the right of the pond. I then ran Laddie on a water blind with a land segment, an angle entry, and the wind blowing straight into our faces. Laddie made a great entry, and after he had swum a short distance, Nate blew the duck-call, fired the pistol, and threw a white bumper down the embankment toward Laddie. It was supposed to splash but landed on the grass at water's edge. Laddie barely took notice of it.

A short time later, near the end of the blind and 80y from the start line, Laddie had to take handling thru a 3' wide keyhole, consisting of an aluminum pumping unit on the left, and a patch of reeds on the right, with the shoreline just the other side of the reeds. Laddie zigzagged a couple of times, trying to avoid swimming so close to the aluminum pump-housing, but he stayed in control and soon took a "back" cast thru the keyhole, to shore, and up the embankment to the blind. He also did a nice job of getting back in the water and swimming back, detouring around the pump on the water side.

As frosting on the cake, he then took a thin slice of water with a very sharp angle entry, rather than running the bank, when I sent him to pick up the bulldog

Laddie did a nice job today, IMO.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Walk-up diversions, de-popping

[Transcribed from @LindsayRidgeway tweets]

Rolling Ridge

Nate came out to throw for us (yay!). Overcast, 53°, wind calm.

First, a couple of walk-up diversions, then, for balance, a couple of de-popping marks. Details:

A) Using my van as a holding blind, began walking toward right of field. Nate, from behind holding blind on the right at 30y, blows duck-call excitedly, fires pistol twice and throws white bumper LTR into open area in clear sight of dog. Instead of sending dog to that mark, I run Laddie on difficult 110y water blind to the left, featuring sharp angle entry after steep descent down embankment, shoreline suction, and several geese on water who are giving ground only reluctantly. After blind, Laddie is sent to diversion.

Judging by Laddie's vocalizations, this was a frustrating set-up for Laddie, but he showed excellent control on the blind.

LESSON: In this series, I learned that the key to keeping Laddie from breaking to the diversion bird when I'm trying to swing him to my other side to run the blind first, is the same as preventing a dog from breaking after a no-bird is called, namely, an emphatic "sit" as many times as needed for dog's body language to show he/she is in control.

B) Again using the van as a holding blind for the walk-up, this time the diversion mark was thrown on the left side of the field, LTR at 60y. Then I ran Laddie on a difficult land blind on the right side of the field, on a line 45° to the right of the line to the diversion bird. The line to the blind featured two angle entries into high cover, rough footing, and wet, swampy terrain at the second area of high cover, with the blind planted on the far side of a shallow creek. I sent Laddie to pick up the diversion bird (white bumper) after running the blind.

C) 350y mark thrown first, then a short throw to the side. Long gunner retires while dog picks up the short mark. Line to long mark hilly, includes run along side slope, and ends in large field of high cover. Design intended to maximize uncertainty, requiring dog not to pop despite that uncertainty. Laddie did nice job, needed longish hunt in high cover without leaving area of the fall, and most importantly for this exercise, never looked toward start line, that is, never popped.

D) Similar set-up to (C) but mirror image, 320y. This time, the line to the mark crossed a creek and thick underbrush. Laddie ran this with great confidence, seemingly completely unconcerned, possibly unaware, that gunner was retired. Nice ending to an excellent session.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Angle entries, shoreline blinds, de-popping

[Transcribed from @LindsayRidgeway tweets]

Rolling Ridge

Overcast, 50°.

Six retrieves total, in pairs, each pair made up of mirror images:
  • Pair 1: Poorman water marks with pistol shot, very sharp angle entry after land segment, easy and obvious cheat. This was the goal of our skimming drills last year, and Laddie did fine, as he had in last weekend's Master test on a similar entry.
  • Pair 2: Shoreline water blinds.
  • Pair 3: De-popping drill, one retrieve at 400y, the other at 270y. Set up as follows: I planted stickman, with white bumper 10y to the side. I then walked with Laddie to our start line and brought him to heel on the same side as the bumper was to the stickman. I stepped away, fired pistol, holstered it and stepped back next to Laddie. I lined him up, got him locked into the stickman, and sent him on his name. For each retrieve, the line took him across a steep valley and thru high cover and ditches with run-depth water, and more importantly, thru long segments where the stickman was not visible on other side of a crest. The intent was for Laddie to face uncertainty as he ran -- he hadn't seen a throw, and now he couldn't even see the "thrower" -- without turning to me for guidance.
Laddie did an outstanding job all day, including Pair 3, where he not only did not pop, but also never got "behind" the gun. That is, he kept to the same side of the imaginary line running from me to the stickman, from the time he left the start line till he had picked up the bumper.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Laddie's second Master test

Cullen, Virginia

The Tidewater event in which Laddie JAM'ed yesterday also included a Master test today.  I entered Laddie in the Master test as well, making it his second Master test after his first one last fall.

Here's a description I sent responding to an email inquiry:

In the Master test, Laddie went out on the first series, on something I've never seen before, and of course never practiced: a walk-up diversion bird (at 50y or so).  The judge even called Laddie's number to make it more like a mark.  When I tried to signal Laddie to swing around for a water blind, he broke to the diversion bird, and wouldn't stop when I called "Here" repeatedly.  Eventually he did come back without the bird.  I had turned away and didn't see, but knowing Laddie, he probably wanted to satisfy his curiosity that he knew where it was before he came back.

Aside from that, Laddie did an excellent job on the complex but rather easy series.  It started with a land-water double with a flyer.  He nailed the flyer go-bird, then nailed the water memory-bird, which included 60 yards of land with a terrain change, a sharp angle water entry with an easy and obvious cheat to the left, onto a peninsula, and then off the peninsula back into the water to a fall that was not visible from the start line.  To me, Laddie's performance on that water mark was one of the highlights of his competitive career, even though he did go out on the diversion bird.

For completeness, I'll describe the rest of the series.  After the land water double, you received the bird in the holding blind.  Then you came out for the walk-up diversion and then ran a water blind that was almost the same line as the previous water mark, except this time you pushed all the way across the second cove and picked up the bird on the far shoreline.  When you got back with that bird, you had a choice of order on the last two retrieves: picking up the diversion bird (which everyone did first), and a small land blind 15 degrees to the left of the diversion bird.  Finally, you honored the land-water double for the next dog.

After Laddie broke on the diversion bird, the judge was kind enough to let me run him on the rest of the series, before honoring on lead.  Laddie did everything well.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Laddie's First Field Trial

Cullen, Virginia

Today Laddie ran in the Tidewater Owner/Handler Qualifying Stake, the first Field Trial event Laddie or I has ever participated in.  During the day, I tweeted descriptions of each series and summarized the performance of the field in general and Laddie in particular on my Twitter feed @LindsayRidgeway.  This post is an edited version of those tweets, with additional detail added.

Weather today: Temps  were high 30s to low 50s, with the wind making it feel even colder.  That's rather cold for running a dog in water, and the field's performance in Series C and D reflected it.  The sky was overcast in the morning, and it felt like we might have snow, though we didn't. By afternoon, it was mostly cloudy with a little sun.

The trial was run at an excellent property called the Virginia Retriever Benefit Grounds.  It was difficult for me because the ground there is uneven and I'm dealing with a sprained ankle, but I enjoyed the opportunity to run Laddie there.

For this event, mallards were used for all marks and blinds.  Laddie hasn't trained with a duck since last fall, so I anticipated we might have some problems, but except for him spitting his flyer out 10 yards in front of the start line in the first series, and having to be cued to pick it back up to deliver, the birds didn't seem to present much problem.

For those who have followed Laddie's development, you'll know that returns have been a major challenge.  We seem perhaps to be over that phase.

I might mention that Laddie was not the only dog in today's Q to do that.  In his case, the way he was working his mouth seemed to indicate that he was having trouble with loose feathers, but he responded well when I called him to me.  During the rest of the event, I cued "Hold" as he returned on most of the other retrieves — no one else was doing that with their dogs, but I felt it prudent for Laddie — and he didn't drop any other birds.

SERIES A. Land triple

All throws were left-to-right. The first mark was on the right at 150y, and was a retired gun.  The second mark was in the center at 140y.  The third mark, the go-bird, was a flyer at 70y.

The shooters for the flyer were excellent.  Not only didn't they lose a single bird, they also dropped almost all of them in a small patch of high cover as the judges had requested.  Despite the fall in cover, this was a pretty easy mark for most of the dogs including Laddie, but at least one dog had a controlled break — 70y is on the short side for a Field Trial mark — and the owner withdrew rather than let the dog be reinforced for breaking by getting to retrieve the flyer.  That was good discipline by the handler, I thought.  It's not easy to walk away if the judges haven't disqualified you. 

Once the dogs had picked up the go-bird, the series presented the handler with a quandary — whether to run the marks in the exact reverse order thrown, or in the sequence outer-outer-center, often used when the two memory birds are about the same distance.  The field of handlers split about evenly on this.  I've thought about what to do in such situations if I ever ran Laddie in a Field Trial, and decided that my rule is: If the dog really wants a particular mark as the second retrieve, let the dog choose.  If not, run the easier mark first.  If they seem equally difficult, run them in the reverse order thrown.  Since this was our first Field Trial, it was my first chance to try those rules out.  Laddie didn't care which mark to run second, and they looked equally difficult to me, in different ways.  So the last rule applied in this case.

The second mark thrown, and thus for Laddie also the second mark retrieved, was thrown downhill and on an angle back into high cover.  The line to the fall was along the side of a slope, and at least half the dogs veered left to the top of that slope and ran along the crest, toward the gun rather than the fall.  In most cases, they then turned right to run down the hill and pick up the bird, though a few got further left behind the gun and at least one ended up returning to the fall of the first mark and had to be called in without completing the retrieve.  Laddie ran this mark, which I guess most handlers thought was the most difficult of the three, exceptionally well, carrying the slope without veering offline, entering the high cover without hesitation, and "stepping on the bird," as they say.

The last mark for Laddie to retrieve, the retired gun on the right, was challenging for all the dogs because the picture was of a repeating pattern of evenly spaced trees, with lots of open space behind and to the right of the fall.  With few exceptions, dogs ran too far to the right, and of those, the more successful ones winded the bird as they came even with it and hunted it up.  Laddie was one of the dogs who ran it that way, coming even with the fall about 10y to the right, winding it and hunting it up.  I saw one dog nail that mark, maybe one or two others did when I wasn't watching.

Before ending my description of Series A, I might mention that the configuration of the two marks on the left was a "hip-pocket double".  This means that both marks are thrown in the same direction, and the closer mark, thrown from a wider position, looks as though it's being thrown into the hip pocket of the thrower for the longer mark if viewed in two dimensions.  Of course actually the thrower for the longer mark is much further back than the shorter fall.  This can be a confusing picture for a dog, but Laddie has been practicing it periodically since he was a puppy so it didn't seem to be a problem for him.  I'm not sure that in this series, with this field, it was a problem for any of the dogs.

Summary of the field's and Laddie's performance for Series A: Thirty-two dogs were entered in this stake, 28 ran Series A, and 22 were "called back", that is, still in contention and carried to the next series.  Laddie was one of those 22.  He had been called back in his first Field Trial series.  Yay!

SERIES B. Land blind

Series B was a 160y land blind.  I gather it was fairly typical for a Q land blind, crossing a steep valley and running beside underbrush and other suction to the left.  One feature Laddie and I have never seen before, in an event nor in group or club training, was an obstacle making it impossible for the dog to hold a line straight to the blind, in this case a fallen shrub about 15y in front of the start line.  Another feature, much more common but nonetheless challenging, was a keyhole, in this case formed by a narrow gap in a stand of saplings, an unusually close keyhole at 30y.  The combination of the closely spaced obstacle and keyhole was a bit tricky and a couple of dogs did skirt the keyhole and were eliminated.  I'd say Laddie was about middle of the pack in his performance on this blind.

Summary of the field's and Laddie's performance for Series B: Twenty of the 22 dogs that ran Series B were called back for Series C, including Laddie.

SERIES C. Water blind

Series C was a 120y shoreline water blind, with 50 yards of land and a sharply angled water entry thru high reeds at water's edge, plus an on-and-off point mid-way that the judges had said was non-optional.  I think those features alone made it a fairly challenging blind, though not highly unusual for an advanced stake.  However, today's weather conditions — the icy cold water of early spring, and a strong wind blowing off the water onto the shoreline — raised the difficulty level significantly.  In fact, so many dogs went out-of-control behind a stand of reeds on the back of the point without a single dog qualifying that at one point, as I understand it, the judges considered scrapping the test.

However, eventually several dogs did run this blind satisfactorily, perhaps none better than Laddie.  We had the advantage of running late in the rotation in this series (the running order is rotated in a Field Trial), so by the time I ran Laddie, I had watched the problems other dogs had and had made up my mind that no "back" cast would pass my lips.  Living solely by "over", Laddie didn't have much trouble with it.

Summary of the field's and Laddie's performance for Series C: Ten of the 20 dogs that ran Series C were called back for Series D, including Laddie.

SERIES D. Water double

Series D was another hip-pocket double, a tight double with both marks thrown right to left.  The first mark was on the left, 130y with a short, easy land entry and a long, arduous swim in that icy cold water.  The second mark, the go-bird, was on the right, thrown by a winger into the open water of a cove at 40y.

The go-bird presented little challenge except to steadiness for a few dogs, but the line to that mark perhaps established an undesirable precedent for swimming toward the reed-bordered point of land that formed the back shore of that front cove.

The memory-bird was more challenging.  First, the thrower was barely visible on the back shore, appearing just left of the stand of reeds at the end of the point of land midway across.  Second, as mentioned previously, the water was intensely cold, and a strong wind was blowing across the water, so that both wind and waves pushed the dog hard toward that point.  With such a long swim for water that cold, most dogs ran that mark by starting on a line toward the fall, then veering with the wind and waves to the point, and finally running the bank around a second cove not visible from the start line to finally run past the thrower on the far shore and pick up the bird.  At that point, most handlers attempted to whistle the dog into the water for the return with the bird, but I don't know if a single dog took that cast, most or all of them running the bank again in the opposite direction to get around that back cove.

The owner of the ultimate winner of this stake told me that the dog has a habitual "banana" running pattern which sometimes causes problems, but in this case was beneficial, as the dog safely rounded the point to the left and homed in on the fall without ever going near the thrower.  I didn't see all the dogs run, but I take it that at least two others also swam past that point, though they ended up too far inside and required a little more hunt than the ultimate winner had.

Though it wasn't the best performance of the day on that last mark overall, Laddie's performance on that mark showed courage.  He took a line into the water that gave him a reasonable chance of getting past the point, and then shouldered the wind and waves valiantly, visibly fighting to push left with every stroke.  I heard one of the judges quietly urging him on.  I don't think Laddie ever did give into the cold, but the current was just too strong on this day, and it finally pushed him onto the point.  But listen to this:  Once on land, he didn't run the bank around to the right as the others had once on land, but rather got back into the water to swim across the back cove.  Unfortunately, he was too far to the right, which brought him to shore behind the thrower, but from that landing he ran immediately to the bird and picked it up, ready to complete the retrieve.  I felt it was a brave performance, though not quite good enough for a placement in the final standings.

I'll just mention one last point.  I was perhaps the only handler on Series C or D who did not attempt to whistle my dog into the water on the return.  As far as I know, it in no way hurts your score if the dog runs the bank on the return.  That's not always possible, and I guess many trainers believe that it hurts the dog's understanding of how to perform around water, but for me, it was a way of reinforcing Laddie for a job well done on getting to the bird thru the water in the first place.  "You needed to stay in the water on the way out, Sweetie, but take the faster, warmer, drier route back."  Considering that most dogs insisted on doing that in contradiction to the cues they were receiving anyway, I thought just cueing Laddie to do it from the outset made sense.  I think it could pay off in future performance, removing a disincentive to complete the outrun, then quickly pick up the bird and start back.  Perhaps this is more useful for a 2Q dog than it would be for a traditionally trained dog.

Summary of the field's and Laddie's performance for Series D: All ten of the dogs that ran Series D completed both retrieves, but with enough separation in quality of performance that the judges were able to award placements with little doubt of the outcome once all the dogs had run. The result was placements of First thru Fourth Place, plus a Reserve JAM, plus five JAMs.

The winner of today's Q was a 10-year-old Lab who years ago had become Qualified All-Age, but who had only won a Q that once and so was still eligible to run.  Ten years old!  Very cool.

Laddie was one of the dogs who received a JAM.

A Final Note on Laddie's Performance Today

If you're a retriever, getting past the first series, to say nothing of winning a JAM in your first Q, while not earth-shattering, is pretty cool. In addition, Labradors are historically more successful in Field Trials than other breeds — I've heard that 98% of FC/AFCs are Labs — and Laddie, not yet four years old, was the only Golden receiving a ribbon in this event.

Beyond that, Laddie is not only a retriever but also a 2Q-trained retriever.  That is, he has never been trained with physical aversives such as an ecollar, even for recall.  From that perspective, I believe he was in unchartered territory as soon as he got his first call-back in today's Q.  That was followed by two more call-backs, and finally a JAM.  In other words, Laddie completed every retrieve of his first Field Trial stake without a disqualifying error.  At that point, Laddie was even more steps down a road heretofore unvisited by positive field retrievers.

I believe the general consensus among experienced field trainers would be that a 2Q retriever couldn't do such a thing, so here's to Laddie for showing he could.

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