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.

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