Sunday, November 27, 2011

Other people laying tracks for Lumi

I've found a few people lately to lay tracks for Lumi and me: nephew Evan, DW Renee, and today, son Eric.

Today's session, late this afternoon, consisted of two tracks: one that I laid, with Eric walking right behind me to watch (and I guess increase the scent), and then one laid by Eric alone while I played with Laddie and Lumi out of sight. 

With Laddie in his crate, Lumi and I ran Eric's track first.  Although Lumi missed the first corner and Eric had to call out some guidance, Lumi did a great job aside from that. 

Next we ran (ran?) the track I'd laid earlier, which was now nearly an hour old.  Lumi needed no help at all and made it look easy.  Eric, who'd never seen a dog track, found it kind of amazing that a dog can do that, and I think he's right,  it is amazing. Of course,  it's always great watching a dog work.

As I've mentioned before, once I and whoever else is laying the track started placing treats in the footsteps every few steps, Lumi soon developed a lovely heads-down, nose in every footstep, form. That's how she worked today also.

I think Lumi may be getting the concept of tracking now, even though I remain lost in my role as "handler".

Lumi's arthritis seems to discourage her from following me around in the house as much as she used to.  But I love the fact that she's started joining Laddie unbidden at the front door when I put on boots, etc., signaling that it's time to go training.  I guess the discomfort is worth it to her, especially when she's learned that either she's going to get to retrieve flyers (I don't have her pick up all the marks, just the flyers), or hunt for all those treats as she does when we go tracking. Today she got to do both.


Honoring flyers with remote handler

Rixeyville, VA.  Sunny day, 56 degrees, light wind.

Today, Dave brought four chukars, but no training buddy.  I had Lumi & Laddie with me, goal as always for our Sunday sessions was to work on Laddie's steadiness, especially on honor.

Possible configurations for Laddie honoring Lumi included running Lumi on a long line while standing in normal honor position with Laddie (which I considered risky to Lumi and too unnatural a picture for Laddie's event prep), and having Laddie on a long line while running Lumi on a tab (which I considered risky for Laddie). As a third option I discarded, I was pretty sure Lumi would break if I tried to depend on her to watch a triple with flyer go-bird.

So, based on Laddie's recent excellent history of steadiness, I decided to have him honor with no handler while I ran Lumi on her tab. Laddie, as usual at practice, was wearing his tab, but I never touched it all day.

We ran two triples, similar but different distances, orientations,  and positions. In each case, we used a Bumper Boy and stickman for the long memory-bird, Dave threw a pheasant for the second bird, and Dave shot a chukar for the go-bird.  Hilly terrain made all falls invisible from SL. The go-bird fell at 100y from Laddie in Series A, at 25y from Laddie in Series B.  Series B was a real breaking situation even for a normal honor, and this was a remote honor.

I think that for the honoring dog, it's difficult to watch the working dog run across your line of vision to the go-bird, and it's also difficult to watch the working dog run away from you toward the go-bird. We have seen both in trials and practice both.  Today, I had Laddie watch Lumi run away from him toward the flyer go-bird.

For each series, first I ran Laddie on the triple. Then I got Lumi out of the van.  I set up Laddie in honoring position 5y from the SL.  I stood in my normal honoring position at Laddie's right flank and said, "sit, just watch [our honoring cue]," several times. Leaving Laddie there, I then ran Lumi on the triple on her tab at the SL, though keeping my eye on Laddie the entire time.

Laddie was explosive as always on his marks, but he didn't even creep while working, much less break.  Honoring while sitting all by himself, he was alert but relaxed and never even stood up.  I'd even say he looked a bit bored when honoring in the second series.  Wow!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lumi tracking in corn field, rec area

Two locations within 10 mins of home.

Overcast, 60 degrees, wind calm, no precip.

After training with Laddie all morning, I dropped him at home and picked Lumi up so she and I could train a little by ourselves.

First we went to a corn field with gentle hills. I laid a track with a single 120 deg corner and a total of three treats (boiled ham) in the track, plus another on the glove. Lumi's been with my daughter Cookie for a week so this was her first track in a while, but she did great: nose down, deliberate pace, found all the treats,  took the turn, and of course found the glove, all without a hint from me.

Next we parked near a ball field, and I set up a track in the adjacent picnic area: hilly, grass not too long,  dead leaves, trees, a wooden bulletin board, and a paved walkway.  This track had two serpentine turns in opposite directions, then a square corner before the final leg to the glove. A total of 6-7 treats in the track, plus another three atop the glove. Lumi worked this track the same way as the first one, this time requiring no help after a little on the first leg.  Perhaps her beautiful tracking form is becoming a habit.

By the way, except for the first day or two of Lumi and me tracking together, I've been laying tracks with a shuffling gait, keeping both feet in contact with the ground the whole time, and turning around to place treats directly on the spot I'd been standing. After I place the glove the same way, I take some large steps in the same direction beyond the glove and then circle around without coming near the track again.  I'm not aging the tracks at all yet.

Also, except for the first couple of days when I tried using lining poles offset by a few feet to mark the corners, I'm no longer using any markers. I lay each leg by sighting a landmark in the distance, and look for a ground feature to remember the turns. I try to make the legs as variable as possible in length (though none too long yet), place the treats at irregular intervals, and never place them immediately before or after a corner.

I don't know how much of this is correct for AKC-style tracking, but it seems appropriate for Lumi at this stage. I'm pleased with her progress.


Just a blind

Close to home, 60 degrees, wind calm, light rain.

On the way home from training with Dave, I thought about somewhere I could set up a long blind for Laddie without much walking, since one of my ankles is swollen and the Achilles tendon in the other side is tender. I came up with a location, and placed an OB to be run as a 280y land blind.  I then drove Laddie to the SL atop a hill, put on a white jacket and Laddie's tab, and ran him down a hill, thru a break in a hedgerow, across a small creek, and up another hill thru medium-length cover.

Laddie needed no handling the first third of the line, then did a nice job on a few zigzag WSCs, including two at 250y+, to the blind. All his sits were prompt, he had that great Laddie alert posture as he awaited the cast, and all his casts were reasonably accurate.

Unfortunately, we had no diversions to speak of. Still, I felt it was a good confidence builder for both of us.


Breaking birds

Rixeyville, VA.  Overcast, high 40s, light wind.

Today, it was just Dave, Laddie and me. 

A) Bumper Boy with stickman used for #1 at 160y. Dave in white jacket threw a pheasant at 30y for #2. Then he shot a pheasant flyer at 30y for the go-bird. Laddie picked up the marks, then ran a blind at 240y.

I moved Laddie to the side of our previous SL, cued "sit, just watch," and Laddie watched as the same three marks were thrown. Then I took a step that placed me between Laddie and the flyer and heeled him back to the van for some chasing games with his softball. Dave picked up the birds.

B) Bumper Boy and stickman used for #1 at 90y. With the bumper lying there, I ran Laddie on a blind at 130y, the line just "behind the gun" of the first throw. Then Dave threw a pheasant at 30y and shot a pheasant flyer at 40y. Laddie picked up the two short marks, then the longer memory bird.

Laddie's performance: Laddie had a slow sit when racing downhill on the first blind, and a slipped whistle 20y from that blind when he had apparently scented or spotted the blind, which was marked with a lining pole. He also had a looping line to the bumper the final mark of the day, though on the outside, not getting behind the gun. Aside from that, his performance was excellent: nailing marks, taking whistles and casts, and steady both working and honoring each series. 

Today, Laddie wore his tab but I never touched it. Instead I leaned over Laddie enough that I'd be able to push him back down if he tried to stand, which he didn't. My intention is to gradually fade that stance till Laddie can honor a breaking bird with me standing erect several yards away. We have several months to work up to that before Laddie competes again in the spring. Since the tab is currently irrelevant to our training, I may eventually start running Laddie without it, but for now I'll continue having him wear it in case we need to go back to restraining him that way.


Sunday, November 13, 2011


Germantown dog park

After Laddie was attacked in the holding blind at a trial this spring, he showed some signs of dog aggression on a couple of training days. He had a lot of socialization when he was a puppy, and I thought it might be time for a refresher. Therefore, we've been going to dog parks a few times a month for the last few months.

Today was typical: a well-socialized but rough-housing Pit Bull, a speedy young Weimie wanting to get Laddie's bumper and play keep-away, a grouchy Shibu Inu growling and baring her teeth at Laddie one time, a Shepard and a BC interested in the bumper for short periods, a growly Golden in a pinch collar more interested in shadowing Laddie than getting the toy.

I watch Laddie like a hawk, but it's been weeks since I've seen any hint of aggression from him. He pesters the females, parades his bumper in front of as many people and dogs as possible, engages in sniffing and chase rituals with new arrivals, shows good obedience skills in the face of major distractions, and is becoming increasing more interested in playing with me than activities with other dogs.

When Lumi was a pup, Renee and I took her to the dog park frequently. She had some regular doggie friends, became a sublimely adept diplomat, and then, after a few months,  she gradually changed. A time finally came where she just had no interest in other dogs, all she wanted to do was play with me. After awhile, we stopped bothering with trips to the dog park.

I think I'm seeing a similar trend with Laddie, though I'm not sure.  Even more,  I'm not sure this kind of socializing will transfer to being around other retrievers in a field training scenario. At least I hope it's not doing his field work skills any harm.


New honoring stance

Rixeyville, VA. Hazy, 58 degrees, variable wind.

Today Laddie & I trained with my friend Dave, his training buddy, and the training buddy's retriever for Laddie to honor.

Dave brought four live pheasants, and I brought two dead pheasants and my Bumper Boys. We both wore white jackets, and we didn't use duck calls.

We ran two series.  Location, distance,  orientation, and throwing order were different, but both series had a lot in common: The BB with a stickman was the long mark (thrown first or second), Dave threw a dead bird as the other memory bird, and he shot a pheasant flyer as the go-bird. He threw the two birds from the same gun station, which was within 40y of the SL. A hot blind was also planted.

For the first series, at Dave's suggestion, I ran Laddie without his collar and tab.  But I've gone to some trouble to negotiate Laddie to the tab by having him wear them whenever we train --honoring or not -- do for the second series, I put the tab back on.

However, I've been meaning for some time to experiment with a new honoring stance, which I've seen other handlers use occasionally in competition. Instead of standing at Laddie's right flank facing away from the field, today I kneeled at Laddie's right side, cueing "sit, just watch" as always.  For training, I placed my left hand a couple of inches from Laddie's back. If he started to stand,  he'd make contact and hopefully, I could immediately push him back down.  Of course, in competition I'd keep my left hand clear of him.

If this approach works, I like it better than the tab for several reasons.  The objective one is that it eliminates the issue of the dog becoming collar-wise. The other ones are more subjective, such as a heightened sense of companionship, and the ability to signal a relaxed state.

I don't know whether some judges would have a problem with it, either in Field Trials or in Hunt Tests. Something to look into.

It's also a little hard on my knees, the price for years of marathoning.  But well worth it if it adds more reliability to Laddie's honor.

Today, Laddie never came close to breaking, either from the line or honoring.  He also marked well-to-excellent, never getting behind a gun, even for the 310y BB/stickman memory bird in the first series. He lined the first hot blind, though unfortunately he was supposed to be running a mark at the time. I was more interested in seeing him run the mark without handling on a second send than worrying about a poorly placed hot blind.

For the second series' blind, on his one WS of the day, he sat pretty near the bird even though he had apparently scented it, which was good, I thought.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Water handling, land marking

Rolling Ridge. Sunny, blue skies, 58 degrees, light wind.

Lumi is visiting my daughter Cookie for the next week,  so today it was just Laddie and me.

With overnight temps near or below freezing, and daytime highs of 40-70 degrees, I don't think Laddie will be able to train in water much longer this year. But the day seemed warm enough for one series today, anyway.

For the water series, I threw an OB to the left, on a line with a difficult water entry, a shoreline swim, and through a tight keyhole between a metal structure and the shoreline. Next I threw an OB far out to the right. Finally I threw three WBs out into the middle.

First Laddie picked up one of the WBs as a freebie. Next I sent him toward another WB, but when he got close, I blew WS and cast him to the OB on the right. Next another freebie WB. Next we ran the OB on the left as a blind, since the bumper has drifted out of sight from the SL. Laddie did not carry his casts well, wanting to pick up the last WB, but he didn't vocalize. Finally, I sent him to the last WB, by now drifted nearly across the pond.

Agree those give water retrieves, we ran only land. First, I threw three poorman triples, all lines featuring steep hillsides and most featuring strips of heavy cover.  Those were all thrown from near the SL, so at HT distances.

Finally, I went out, planted a blind, and threw a long triple while Laddie watched from the SL. I then ran him on the triple, and lastly, ran the blind.

Laddie nailed nearly every mark all day, including all three of the long ones. He was also on the way to lining the blind, but sat when I whistled.

Without being trivial, this was a day well within Laddie's abilities, resulting in a 100% success rate. Good practice, good for endurance, good for confidence.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Laddie land quints, Lumi tracking

Field off MD-108. Sunny, low 60s.

Between my new job, the short days, and the end of Daylight Saving Time, I have less than an hour with Lumi & Laddie before it's too dark for training.

Today was typical of this week's sessions:

A) Lumi tracking

B) Laddie running poorman quintuple featuring one pair of teacup (near each other) marks and one pair of marks, short and long, on the same line, all guns "retired"

C) Lumi tracking (this time with treats in footprints every ten yards or so)

D) Laddie running poorman quintuple in a W shape, thrown right to left, sent to marks left to right; for #1 and #3, this meant running to a long fall not visible till the dog was close, past a short mark visible the entire time

E) Lumi tracking, again with treats in the track; the treats seemed to improve head-down and resulted in Lumi taking a rare unassisted turn.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Laddie frustration drill, Lumi tracking

Rolling Ridge. Blue skies, high 50s, light wind.

Today I alternated tracking with Lumi (five courses) with water handling drills for Laddie (three series).

For the tracking, I did not try to resume Schutzhund style, which Lumi and I trained in years ago. Instead we did our best approximation of AKC style, though I've forgotten most of what I used to know, which wasn't much.

Lumi kept her head down and did well on straight legs, but for the first four tracks, she missed all six turns, a total of six, and I used the line as a restraint till she found the next leg.

Since I wasn't sure I was using the line correctly anyway, I decided to have her wear her harness, but no line, for the fifth course. She rewarded me by taking her first turn of the day without help. She did over-run the second turn, so I called her back onto to the second leg and cued "find it".  This time she quickly found the third leg and followed it to the glove.

Each glove was rewarded with several high-value treats, and she also got to carry the glove back to the van, which she seemed to enjoy.

For Laddie's water drills, I would throw one or two 2" red bumpers way out into the pond, then two or three 3" white bumpers, which I can't throw quite as far, all of them in the same general direction. I would send Laddie to pick up the last WB as a freebie (no handling). Then I'd send him back out, headed for another WB. When he got close, I'd blow a whistle sit, then handle him past the WBs to one of the RBs. We alternated freebie WBs with handling RBs until they were all picked up.

Although this drill is hopefully beneficial in helping Laddie learn to deal with frustration when handling in water, it's easy enough that he can do it all day without vocalizing. I hope to evolve it to handling across points without vocalizing at some point, but it seems higher priority just to have him face any kind of frustration in water handling without vocalizing right now.

Lumi spent the time while Laddie was training, running long water retrieves to 2" WBs. Laddie spent the time while Lumi was tracking in his crate in the van.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Four flyers

Rixeyville, VA. Blue skies, 50s, light wind. Hilly, clumpy hay field ringed with trees. Just Dave, Laddie, and me, plus four live pheasants and two dead ones to start.

A) With hot blind  (pheasant) at 210y down the middle, brought Laddie with me to watch me throw another pheasant RTL from a stickman  on the right so he'd know where that one was. Then Laddie and I heeled back to the SL, so now that "memory-bird" was at 120y. I showed Laddie the stickman and said "sit, mark".  Then we turned to face Dave on the left at 20y. I blew a duck call enthusiastically,  but forgot to hold Laddie's tab. Dave threw a cock pheasant RTL. Laddie broke, I hollered, and he spun around and came to heel.  I hollered a bit more,  then walked out and picked up the flyer. I showed it to him, told him "This could have been yours" (he understands English,  you know), and tossed the bird in the back if the van.

Under Dave's  advice, I then removed Laddie's collar and tab, and we ran the same setup again. This time Laddie was steady as a rock. I sent him to the flyer, then to pick up the "memory-bird", and finally ran him on the blind.

B) On the right at 70y, Dave threw  and shot another pheasant flyer RTL. Then I walked out a little way toward the left and threw a dead bird mostly straight out, a little to the right for visibility. I walked back and called Laddie to heel, watching to see if he had a strong pull toward the flyer. If he had, I'd have sent him there first.  But he didn't, so I sent him to the short bird first, then to the flyer. I'm not sure whether Laddie being willing to run the flyer last spoke of mature patience, trust that he would get both birds eventually, high prey drive drawn to the closest and most recent throw, or a lower birdiness than a certain eight-year-old female Golden I could mention, or some combination. It was good to see, anyway.

C) Dave threw a dead bird on the left RTL at 50y, a dead bird in the center RTL at 50y, and a dead bird on the right RTL at 20y. Laddie picked them up on lasers in reverse order of the throws. Then I took a position a few feet from the SL with Laddie at heel, sat him, took up my honoring position facing away from the field off Laddie's right flank, and said, "sit, just watch," Laddie's honor cue. Now Dave threw the same series again, except that he threw the first two birds from closer in, and he used our last flyer for the go-bird. Laddie remained steady!

My plan was to walk away from Laddie without saying another word and pick up the first two birds, then walk back to the SL. If Laddie stayed in place, I'd let him pick up the flyer when I got back. But he broke toward the flyer once I was a few feet away in another direction. Again he allowed me to call him back to heel, and again I went out and picked up the flyer myself.

Dave commented that Laddie is what's called "controlled chaos," and said, "You can see the gears turning, he's putting it together."

I recognize that a high energy outrun has the potential to be reinforcing even without getting the bird, but Alice once told me that a controlled break can also be a good teaching tool for steadiness because the dog sees almost instantly the futility in breaking. Laddie's steadiness is obviously not complete, but his work today felt pretty good.


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