Monday, September 26, 2011

Two groups in two days

Given the difficulties I've had finding groups to train with, this weekend was a good one. On Saturday, we participated in a club training day, and on Sunday, we trained with a new training buddy, and eventually a third trainer showed up and kindly threw some marks for us.

Because time is short, I won't provide complete detail about these sessions, but here were some of the highlights for Laddie and me.

On Saturday at the club training day, I was given the honor of setting up the series for the advanced dogs. I love that job, and I got some good advice from others in the group that improved the setups further. First we set up a land triple with a blind, providing four different possible blinds that each handler could choose among. Next, we set up a water double, with a choice of two blinds.

As it turned out, every trainer from most to least advanced chose to run all the marks as singles Some trainers did this to focus on marking skill rather than the issues that running a multiple calls upon. I did it mostly because several trainers I respect have suggested running dogs -- not just Laddie, all dogs -- on a large proportion of singles in multiple setups. I ran this setup a little different than the others in the group when I ran Laddie: I had two of the throwers stand out of their holding blinds, with the station's white bird bags placed in front of each holding blind to improve visibility of the stations, and I even asked that those two throwers wave their arms as I heeled Laddie to the start line. At the line, I showed those two gun stations to Laddie, before lining him up on the third station, where the thrower was hidden behind a holding blind and further partially hidden by the curve of the tree line, since all the dogs besides Laddie were preparing for Hunt Tests. I then called for that mark, while asking the other gunners to stay out. Laddie watched the first mark, but quickly turned away to look for another throw. I used hand gestures to call him back to that first throw and sent him.

The goal was to strengthen Laddie's focus on the individual marks that make up multiples, rather than swinging his head while one throw is in progress to search for more throws. Laddie had excellent focus on multiples when he was younger, and still does most of the time, but on a few occasions the last couple of months, he's missed one of the throws on triples, looking for another throw rather than carefully watching the throw in progress. I think the primary remedy to this would be more group training, but my hope is that running some singles may be the best way to take advantage of those opportunities that we do get. Of course, I could have this backwards. It might be that running multiples would be the best way to take advantage of those opportunities.

In any case, on Sunday Laddie and I traveled to a private property near Baltimore to train with a guy I've talked to at club training days in the past. He was kind enough to send me an email invitation to train on Sunday a few days ago. The property has a technical pond, and we ended up limiting ourselves exclusively to water series, both singles and multiples, and a few blinds. Since his dog hasn't competed in Senior tests yet, we modified the setups to accommodate the differing requirements of his dog versus Laddie. As mentioned earlier, a third trainer eventually showed up and threw some marks for us, broadening our options for interesting setups.

For example, to wrap up the session, Laddie ran a triple with a 180y mark on the left, and a hip-pocket double on the right, the longer throw made by a remote launcher. With no stickman at the launcher, that was effectively a retired middle gun, and it was thrown into thick reeds at water's edge, with a difficult line to the mark featuring 60y land entry, an angle entry into the water thru thick reeds making the water invisible as the dog launched, a point on the right most of the way to the mark for the dog to bypass, and several decoys in that part of the pond. Laddie ended up running the middle mark as the final memory-bird, and nearly nailed it, the only off-line segment being when he veered fat around the point, before veering back and driving straight into the reeds. After the triple, Laddie ran a 170y blind that took him over the outer slope of a mound, then across a thin slice of a small cove, then an 80y swim across the pond touching a point midway, and finally to the OB halfway up a steep embankment on the far edge of the pond.

On that particular series, Laddie apparently never saw the first throw on the left, perhaps as a result of head swinging, and as a result needed to be handled to that mark, which he ran after picking up the shorter go-bird. Though not great for building marking confidence, a dog does need the ability to switch from marking mode to handling mode in the middle of a mark, so I think it's good to practice it once in a while. In any case, I felt Laddie did an exceptional job on the short go-bird, which was thrown over a large cluster of reeds and was invisible from the shore, the difficult "retired" middle mark, and the blind.

I would say that in each of the weekend's sessions, Laddie achieved the sort of 80% success rate we aim for. He ran some great marks and handled well on most of the blinds. But he also had difficulty a small number of times, and those were learning experiences for both of us. If not a perfect weekend of training, which would have featured training with an experienced field trial group, it was nonetheless a pretty good one.


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