Monday, May 23, 2011

De-vocalizing water blinds

[For now, this is another unedited concatenation of tweets on @LindsayRidgeway.]


Laddie and I trained with Gaby and Gus. Lumi also got to run some water retrieves, and I think Gaby ran Wes a little after I left for home. Laddie and Gus both having confidence issues on water retrieves. For Laddie, my main concern right now is his vocalizing on casts. To work on that, we ran at two venues, with two set-ups at each venue, one with shoreline on left and one with shoreline on right. For each setup, a pile of white bumpers was visible on the shore across a cove at approx 20y, and a duck was planted on the enclosed shoreline, so that the line to the duck was at least 15 degrees inside the line to the white bumpers. The handler had the working dog watch from the start line as the other trainer placed the bumpers and the duck. Then the handler brought the dog behind a holding blind, and then brought the dog back out to run the set-up. The dog was sent to pick up one of the WBs as a freebie (no handling) a random number of times, at least twice. Then the dog was sent in that direction again, but when the dog got about halfway across the cove, the handler blew whistle-sit and cast the dog to the duck. I used silent casts for Laddie. For all retrieves, we used the double-alignment line mechanics suggested to me by my friend Tony, and for retrieves with the duck, we worked on delivery mechanics by moving our hands around the duck as the dog held it for delivery before actually taking the duck, this to strengthen the dog's hold. We'd also touch the dog's muzzle and chest, and the duck itself, before taking the duck. Gaby would use Gus's verbal release cue ("leave it"). Laddie has a verbal release cue ("out"), but it wasn't necessary. In any case, despite the auxiliary parts of the process, our primary goal for both dogs was to instill confidence in running these blinds. In Laddie's case, the primary symptom I was focused on was Laddie vocalizing when I used a whistle sit and/or a cast. Since I'm operating on the assumption that Laddie's vocalizing is a classical rather than an operant response, I'm attempting to eliminate the classical stimulus (uncertainty, stress) from the context, in the hope that that will eliminate the vocalizing. On the first set-up, Laddie made a low whining sound when I blew whistle sit. But he didn't vocalize on any of the other whistle sits, nor any of the casts in any of the set-ups, so it was an encouraging session. Oh, another important part of this drill was that the duck was planted so that the dog had a difficult angle entry, and a tight shoreline swim, for the dog's return after picking up the duck. When Laddie would enter the water with the duck, I'd fire my pistol, which seems to be a high-value reinforcer for Laddie. In some cases, I'd also run away in mock terror, introducing a merry chase for Laddie when he reached shore. And in some cases, Gaby and I would throw the duck back in the water for the dog after taking delivery. All of this had several objectives: to improve the dog's attitude and performance on the returns and deliveries, and also to sweeten the pot for taking the cast to the duck after initially being sent to the WB. Gaby and I both felt our dogs benefitted from this drill and plan to run it some more, gradually transitioning over a series of incremental steps toward practicing cold blinds such as those the dogs will run in tests and trials in the future. Our intent is that if we can establish confident and unstressed performance in this drill, and we perform the transition gradually and slowly enough, we'll be able to resolve our dogs' confidence & performance issues in competition water series.

Laddie's Fifth Master Test

[At present, this is nothing more than the stream of my tweets on @LindsayRidgeway for the two days of the test, with a couple of minor spelling corrections. It requires a great deal of editing to be a satisfactory blog post, but I simply don't have time. I'm posting it in this form just as a starting point, and will attempt to edit it when I have more time. If I had known in advance that we wouldn't pass, I wouldn't have bothered with so much detail on the test description. I just tweeted it because I wanted the information for a detailed post if Laddie passed.]

MAY 21
Seaford, DE. Susquehanna Hunt Test,Master B. 125 dogs in Master. Laddie is #13. A) Land triple with flyer as go-bird, plus land blind. Walk-up. First mark on the right, throw with a winger on an angle back in tree grove. Second mark 180 deg to the left, thrown with a winger LTR onto front of a mound. Third mark 150 deg back to the right, a flyer thrown RTL to base of tree, in high cover, with to the fall past a mound on the left. No direct line from SL to the first fall, by the way, because of fallen tree. If dog goes around on the left (that's what most dogs did) dog is on line toward flyer station at same distance as the fall for #1. If dog goes around on right (Laddie only dog I saw do that), dog goes behind #1 station and also can see pond on right. This was relevant because Laddie had had his tongue lolling out for 20 mins, but had not been willing to drink water before his series. He has a history of detouring to ponds on returns when he's hot. First time to the line, the first bird was thrown into a tree, so judges called a no-bird. Second time, we got clean throws. Laddie nailed the flyer and#2. As mentioned, he took an unusual route to #1, but as one of the spectators commented, he knew where the bird was the whole time. He came back that same way, but it was a poor return because he was clearly tempted to take that last mark for a swim. However, he did finally bring me the bird without too much of a detour, though it was slow. The blind involved threading the needle thru a stand of trees, with the bird planted behind a dead shrub on the front of a mound. I did not attempt Tony's suggested new line mechanics, but I did try to minimize our time lining up. Laddie was only dog I saw who took such a good line from the SL (which was between the original SL and the first gun station) that he did not to be handled thru the stand of trees. He came even with the blind just a yard or two to the right, so I blew whistle sit and gave easy cast to the left. "You're all right. He marked the bird, he knew where it was." Laddie's heeling was pretty out of control, and he had that poor return so I'm not completely confident we'll be called back, but we'll see. Oh, one more thing: the diversion shot for the blind was made from the #1 gun station. For most dogs, this was heard behind the dog on the dog's return from the last memory bird. But for Laddie, Later, I saw other dogs go around the obstacle to #1 on the right, and other dogs get thru trees on blind without handling. So Laddie he was past the gun station and behind it, still thinking about going swimming, when the judge called for the diversion shot. I don't know whether that affected Laddie's performance differently than the shot affected other dogs, but to me it does suggest that the issues could prevent a call back. This is a long, slow series. I don't know whether they'll run Series B today. judge was impatient with Laddie's return route and reluctance to give up his intent to go swimming. I could imagine that some of those wasn't alone for either of those. I just heard from someone that the flyer's entrails were hanging out on Laddie's flyer. I'm sure that was from the shotguns. I was wondering why Laddie was standing over that bird until I blew a come-in whistle. I hope the judges don't blame Laddie for it. Laddie got called back to the second series...yay! Had a lot of company: 60 dogs ran, 55 were called back. They've started Series B, but they're rotating the running order, starting with #20 this afternoon, so Laddie at #13 won't run till midday tomorrow. I can describe Series B now: Water double with two water blinds. No flyers. The memory bird is winning water, the other three retrieves are swimming depth. Not much opportunity to cheat, one fairly wide keyhole for the shorter blind. The honor is fairly difficult, since the running dog runs in front of the honoring dog, but not that bad since no flyer. If Laddie has a problem on anything besides his returns, I'll be surprised. If course, I'm hoping his returns will be good, too.

MAY 22
I had a scary thought around 8:00 pm last night, and saw it was still fairly light out: What if the test organizers figured out a way to finish Series B last night, and already had callbacks?

We are headed home. Laddie dropped the bird several times on his returns from marks, had several cast refusals, and barked in seeming protest on every cast in water The judge did not let him run the second blind. I now feel he is not ready to run a Master water series. This was an easy one. Oh, I think the judges also said that Laddie had a pop. I didn't notice that with everything else he was doing.
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