Friday, April 27, 2012

Reducing workload

As Alice and Jody have pointed out to me, now that Laddie has turned five, and most of his work consists of physically and mentally demanding simulations of Field Trial setups, experience with generations of competition retriever suggests that Laddie no longer benefits from intense daily training.
Accordingly, despite my own preference for being out training at every opportunity, I am trying to significantly scale back our work. For example, after our competition last Saturday, I rested Laddie on Sunday and Monday. We then ran a couple of big singles and a couple of blinds on Tuesday, one big double and a blind on Wednesday, and two big triples plus one blind on Thursday. Today, Friday, will be another rest day.

All of these were land retrieves because of the cold weather, and also because Laddie has not been successful on land in competition yet this year, so I'm comfortable with focusing on land retrieves while we await arrival of warmer weather.

To give a sense of the work, here's a description of our last setup yesterday.

We were working at the huge new construction area someday to be known as Clarksburg Village, an area 20 minutes from home that a few weeks ago I discovered to now be suitable for training.  I had already positioned Jenny and Annette at their gun stations, but I wanted to run Lumi on a short triple before I ran Laddie.

Lumi, who is eight and who no longer competes because of physical issues, usually lives with daughter Brooke these days, but this week she's staying with me.  I don't run her at distance, but she is still an extraordinary marker.

I had run her on an earlier short triple before Laddie's first triple, and Laddie had doubled back during his retrieve of the retired mark to search the area where one of Lumi's marks had been thrown.  So hopefully learning my lesson, I threw the three marks for Lumi on this second setup so that they would be well off the lines Laddie would be running. I has Liza, one of our three new assistants, run Lumi, then take her position in the field for Laddie's triple.

I should mention that for all Laddie's work this week, I've had him rest in his crate in the van while the girls took their positions and while Lumi ran her series. For Laddie, this meant not only more rest than when he was running around, but it also meant that he had only a few second to grasp each setup, as happens in a real event, and it meant that he had to deal with the excitement of gunfire and another dog working while he awaited his turn, again simulating event conditions.

Here's the setup I used for Laddie's second triple:

The first mark was in the center, thrown left to right into cover behind a small ridge at 260y.  Annette, the thrower, would retire into a ditch behind the gun station when Laddie was later sent to the go-bird.

The second mark was on the left, thrown left to right by Genny into a depression at 190y.

The third mark was on the right, thrown right to left by Liza to a fall behind a ridge at 40y.

The line to the the first, retired mark ran close to the last fall.  This meant Laddie would have to pick up the short go-bird, run the second, longish retrieve several degrees to the left, and then run the big, retired memory-bird in the same direction as the first mark, running thru the area of an old fall to get to the last mark more than 200y beyond.  My experience is that dogs sometimes have difficulty remembering two marks that are both in the same direction, or at least resist running the second one because of the sense that the dog is "returning to an old fall", something they are taught all their competitive lives will not succeed, despite their instincts as young dogs that if one bird is at a particular location, perhaps more birds are there as well.

The lines to all three marks included diagonal slopes, diagonal crossings of changes in terrain, and for the two longer marks, obstacles forcing the dog temporarily off line.  We ran from level ground rather than a mound, making it somewhat more difficult for Laddie to see the gunners than it might have been.

In summary, I made this triple as difficult a setup as I could come up with for the particular start line I'd chosen. Perhaps it would have been marginally more difficult if I had also retired the second gun, but I've never seen a Qual with two retired guns, and my goal, after all, is preparing Laddie for Quals.

Historically, I've followed a practice of carefully pointing out all the guns to the dog, in reverse order of the throws, before calling for the first throw, and I still frequently take that approach. But lately, I've been starting our line mechanics by just standing by and letting Laddie pick out gunners himself. If he finds them all, then I just line him up on the first gunner, cue "sit, mark", and begin calling for the throws.

That's how it went on this series. Laddie immediately picked out the long gun, then looked around on either side and found the other two. When it was clear that he knew where all three stations were, I lined up on the first one and raised my arm to signal the thrower.

When all three throws had been made, I sent Laddie to the short mark. Not surprisingly since it was so short, he nailed it, even though he couldn't see it until he had gotten over the small ridge.

I then sent him to the second mark on the left side. He nailed that one, too.

When I sent Laddie to the final mark, the gunner now retired, he veered offline a little to the right, in effect running "under the arc" of the first mark rather than thru the old fall. Once he was past the old fall, he arced back onto the correct line. From the distance, I thought Laddie had a small hunt when he got to the area if the fall in that last mark, but Annette, who could see Laddie from her hiding place once he was in the area, said that he ran straight to the bumper and picked it up immediately, then ran around for a little while carrying the bumper, for reasons known only to Laddie, before turning around and heading back for home.

In summary, on the hardest triple I knew how to set up in that location, Laddie nailed all three marks. 
Laddie doesn't perform that well in every setup we practice, but if he performs that way at one of our trials, I think he'll get a good score.


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