Sunday, March 25, 2012

Breaking on honor

Nearly a year ago, I pulled Laddie from competition so we could work on his breaking problem.

Since then, we've trained with flyers nearly every weekend, right thru the winter. Yes, we've had some good sessions, with Laddie steady on seemingly difficult setups.

But today, Laddie broke on honor, one week before our first trial of the year.  Here was the setup:

Land triple plus blind

This was an indent configuration. The first mark was on the right, thrown right to left by Carol's friend Chris at 170y along the tree line.  Chris would later retire into the woods once Laddie was on his way back from the first retrieve. The second mark was on the left, thrown right to left by a Bumper Boy/stickman at 130y, with a duck planted near where the bumper would land so that Laddie could bring back a bird. The third mark was in the center, with Dave throwing and shooting a chukar flyer right to left at 60y.

We also had a blind set up at 240y, on a line to the right of the right gun station. Since that was a hot blind (the bird was planted before the marks were thrown), that's why I had Chris throw right to left, to minimize the chance of Laddie finding the blind while trying to hunt up the retired mark.  I actually would have preferred to throw the retired mark in the opposite direction of the other two marks to see if Laddie would make that adjustment in his memory, but I felt it was still a reasonably challenging triple.

Although the blind was planted, I decided to have Laddie honor Carol's dog on the marks immediately after he ran his triple, and then run him on the blind. I felt he'd be more pumped up, and a little better rested, if we didn't run the blind first, increasing his likelihood of him breaking on honor.

Also, to perhaps increase Laddie's temptation of breaking from the start line when he was the working dog, I had Carol stand with her dog in a "cold honor" a little closer to us than the usual honor, and closer to where the flyer would fall than Laddie's position.

Laddie did fine on his triple. He was steady; he nailed the flyer; he nailed the bumper and then, experience telling him there was a bird nearby, he spotted the duck and left the bumper to pick up the duck; he needed a bit of a hunt on the retired mark (including a visit to Chris in the woods) but never got behind (on the wrong side of) the spot where Chris had thrown from.  I've seen Laddie run better lines to a retired gun, but with all the variations in slope he had to traverse, and the basically featureless backdrop of trees, and running as the #1 dog without the benefit of drag scent, and with no other dogs running the same retired mark to compare it to, I felt it was a reasonable job.

Now it was time to honor. I set Laddie a bit further back than I had Carol and her dog, so that again the other dog would be closer to the flyer's fall. I had intended that Carol have her dog watch the big triple (to build Laddie's excitement) even though the dog would only be picking up the flyer, but I forgot to tell Carol, so she called for the flyer immediately.  Dave, a skilled hunter, aimed his shot in such a way that the bird might glide a bit (to increase excitement and perhaps trigger a break), but it worked even better than he planned, with the bird soaring in a big circle around to Dave's other side and then landing behind a small crest. An out of sight fall, too, increases excitement.  Meanwhile, Carol was waiting for the bird to land to send her dog.

I was standing at Laddie's right flank, facing away from the field with my eyes on Laddie, our standard honor mechanics, so I couldn't see what was going on. I glanced away from Laddie to see why Carol hadn't sent her dog, and at that instant Laddie broke. I yelled "here" repeatedly and chased after him, but he didn't respond and I didn't catch up to him till we were in the area of the fall.  Before he could find the bird, I yelled "sit", he did, and I grabbed him by his shoulders, rolled him onto his back, and held him pinned while reviewing with him the guidelines about how to honor in a somewhat elevated tone of voice. We then heeled to the van and Laddie could see Carol's dog running to pick up the bird. Finally, I heeled Laddie back to an honor position while Dave threw two more singles for Carol's dog. Dave used the chukars again and tried to create as much excitement as possible, and Laddie was steady, which was good, but I doubt he thought the birds were alive. 

Dave and Carol both felt it was a valuable lesson for Laddie, and I grant his heeling was noticeably more attentive after the correction than before it.  However, I'd have been a lot happier to see Laddie fall sleep during the honor, showing a true comprehension that it flat wasn't his bird,  than have to hope that today's correction will matter much next weekend.

To end the session, I fired the Bumper Boy again as a poison bird and then ran Laddie on the blind. He handled well, which may say more about the difficulty of creating challenging factors for Laddie on that field than necessarily predicting success running land blinds in our upcoming trial.

Five more days to train before the trial, less really since I'll rest Laddie at least one of those days. We'll run land blinds and poorman multiples for sure, and get in some water blinds if possible. I see no opportunity for water marks, which means Laddie will be seeing big water marks at the trial, assuming we get that far on call-backs, for the first time in nearly a year. What a terrible disadvantage that puts him at compared to the professionally-trained dogs we'll be competing against, some of whom have been training with real humans throwing event-like water series for them right thru the winter at training facilities in the south.  This is the curse of not having a group to train with.  Well, we'll just have to see how Laddie fares.


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