Monday, June 25, 2012

Land multiples, land blind with video

Clarksburg Village

Weather conditions: partly sunny, low 80s, NW winds around 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph.  With little rain in our region over the last few weeks, the field was hard and dusty.

Since I've been running Laddie almost exclusively on water series for the last couple of weeks, and temps were fairly mild today, I thought I'd take him out with two assistants — William and his friend, whose name also happens to be Laddie — for some land work.

First we ran a double.  Then we ran a second double, except that I also threw a little mark from the start line so it was sort of a triple.  I don't know whether field trainers generally call that a double or a triple.  Anyway, it gave one of the guns a chance to retire.

When the two multiples were over, Laddie didn't seem tired, and we still had some time before we had to get home, so I ran him on a big land blind featuring a keyhole at the end.  William took a video of Laddie running the blind.  Then I had Laddie run the last few yards of the blind again so that William could video that as well, showing the keyhole a little better.

A little more detail is provided in the following descriptions, and the video is also included.

SERIES A. Land double

The first mark was on the left, thrown right to left into the wind and into a depression at 270 yards.  The line to that mark included hills and ridges plus two diagonal dirt road crossings.  A dirt road ran to the right of the gunner.  The wind and road were intended as factors to push Laddie behind the gunner.

The second mark was on the right, thrown right to left into the wind at 180 yards.  The intent was that it, too, should fall into a depression, but it was short and landed in plain sight on the ridge above.  Again a dirt road ran to the right of the gunner, with the wind and road again intended to attract Laddie behind the gunner.

Laddie nailed the short mark, of course, since it was visible the whole way.  Running the long mark, Laddie was on a line to run a little behind the gunner, but 50 yards short of the gunner, he suddenly cut left and ran over the road, over the ridge, and straight to the bumper.

SERIES B. Land triple with retired gun

The first mark was on the left, thrown right to left at 320 yards into a depression.  The line to the mark was down a steep hill, across a large field made up of hard dirt, sparse, medium-height cover, and criss-crossing dirt roads, and up a series of terraced rises.

The second mark was nearly 180 degrees to the right, thrown left to right at 80 yards.  The gunner was only partially visible, but gave an excellent throw so that Laddie could see the trajectory.  The bumper then fell out of sight behind the same stand of cover that hid most of the gunner.  The line to the fall was diagonally across a slope covered with sparse, high grass, down to an arcing dirt road, and then back up onto a rough embankment again covered with high grass.

The third "mark" was just me throwing a black bumper even further to the right, no gunshot.  As Laddie was retrieving that bumper as the go-bird, the long gun was retiring behind an umbrella.

Laddie nailed the unusual second mark, doing a nice job of holding the slope rather than squaring it to run to either the top or the bottom.  I couldn't see him pick up the bumper, but the gunner told me Laddie ran straight to it.

For the big, final mark, Laddie took a line too far to the right, I guess somewhat fooled by the similarity of that line to the one that would have taken him straight to the bumper.  However, he veered more to the left as he ran, which took him up behind the gunner within 20 yards.  I considered asking the gunner to help, but Laddie spotted the guy once he was behind him and the umbrella no longer concealed him, and Laddie then immediately changed direction and ran straight to the mark, even though it was in a depression and he couldn't see it until he got close.

I would have preferred if Laddie had stayed further left the entire time, but as I understand it, judges typically don't score a dog as behind (on the wrong side of) a gun if the gun is retired, and at that distance, with the tricky repeating pattern of the terrain, I thought it was a pretty good mark.

Also, the fact that he ran all day, including that big retired mark, without any hint of popping was excellent news.

SERIES C. Land blind

Series C consisted of a 350 yard blind.  The line to the blind was down a steep incline, across meadowland combining hard dirt and sparse, dry cover, over a gravel mound, across additional meadowland, thru a tight keyhole at 330 yards, and to a 2" orange bumper planted in front of an orange lining pole.  The keyhole actually consisted of three wooden construction stakes within a few feet of one another in a triangle.  On the ground within that triangle lay another stake and a large rock, both of which would tend to act as obstacles against entering the triangle.

I usually use lining poles only as diversions these days, but in this case, the challenge was that Laddie might spot the pole  from the near side of the keyhole, and go out of control, making it impossible to handle him thru the keyhole to get to the far side and the blind.  In this situation, I wanted him to spot the lining pole once he got fairly close.

However, from the distance the stakes making up the keyhole, and the lining pole, did not present a particularly salient target, because several other stakes and poles stood elsewhere on the field at various distances in the same general direction, and I don't think the orange lining pole was particularly visible to a dog at distance.

As mentioned earlier, William videotaped Laddie's blind.  I then had Laddie run the last few yards of the blind again so that William could videotape it at closer range, showing the keyhole and obstructions that Laddie had to navigate thru.  Both videos follow.

My thoughts on how Laddie did running the blind:
  • I was pleased all his handling, including his nice launch, his reasonably tight whistle sits (I don't require Laddie to actually sit as long as he stops and turns to face me), his accurate casts, and his good carries (rather than taking a cast and then scalloping back in the old direction).
  • I didn't want him running over the high sections of gravel and sand for fear of an injury, and was pleased with his comfort level in running thru that area when cast into it.
  • I thought he carried well when he was out of sight, so that when he reappeared he had not veered off line.
  • Seeing the video with improved detail because of the zooming, I see now that Laddie actually went thru the triangle on an angle back the first time I sent him back at the end.  When it was happening and without the benefit of a zoom lens, I couldn't see what had happened and thought that Laddie might have bypassed the triangle, so I stopped him, brought him back to the near side on the right, and then used small, silent "over" casts to send him first left a bit too far, then right, and finally on a straight back again.  That last time, he seemed to be lined up well but managed to dart around the left of the triangle before I could react.  I have no idea how a judge would score the overall blind, but to me, Laddie showed good control.  I'm glad he accepted a come-in whistle to get him back in front of the triangle, but actually, in competition, I'm not sure that would be a good idea.  The judge might think I was picking him up if I blew a come-in whistle.  I need more understanding of how to correctly handle in that situation.
Here's the video:

Monday, June 11, 2012

Water triple at last

Today, on a sunny day with temps in the 80s, three assistants came with Laddie and me to train at Cheltenham. Here's how it went:

Series A: Water blind

Since Laddie had slipped whistles in Friday's trial on the water blind, I wanted to run him on a blind this morning that had pretty good distance and that he would be likely to need some handling on.

The blind I set up was water all the way, except for the start line on shore and the blind (2"orange bumper) planted on the far shore. The distance was 160y, and it was a channel swim the entire length. However, the shoreline was not straight on either side, so at various locations, the line to the blind approached either shore fairly close. Most challenging was a point at 70y on the left. The line to the blind passed within two yards of that point. To increase the challenge, while the birdgirls were planting the blind as I watched from the start line, I had William, our lone birdboy, place a lining pole with a ribbon attached on that point at 70y, with a 3" white bumper in front of it, lying on the face of the embankment so that it was visible from the start line.  The white bumper was a diversion.  Laddie would not be retrieving it.

My intent was to let Laddie roll as much as possible, with minimum handling, till he got near the point. Then, if he want already on the left, I would handle him over the line toward the point. Then, before he got to the point, I would handle back into open water to the right off the point and send back the rest of the way to the blind. The idea was to make sure we "challenged the line", including crossing it.

As it happened, Laddie veered too far right early on, so when I handled him back toward the left, he crossed the line at that time, taking care of that objective. I then let him swim toward the white bumper without further handling until he was a few yards short of it. I blew the whistle and cast him on a right over, which he readily took.  I felt we had fully at that point met the "challenge the line" requirement.

It was not entirely clear sailing the rest if the way.  First, Laddie acted a bit reluctant to enter the big water I was casting him back and into, and ping ponged laterally a couple of times before finally taking a cast back toward the blind.  Secondly, near the end, I thought he had spotted the bumper since he was swimming straight at it, so I took my eyes off him to chat with the assistants, and when I looked back, he had veered and needed to be handled back on line and to the bumper.

In summary, I felt it was an nice blind for a Qual dog. Laddie never slipped a whistle, never popped, vocalized only a little early on, and mostly took and carried his casts well. Most important, I guess, from a judge's viewpoint, was his successful maneuver near the point.

Series B. Water triple

For Laddie's first big water triple in more than a year:

The first mark was on the left, 210y thrown RTL. The line was down a mound, across variable terrain on land most of the way, then a 10y swim across a channel to the bumper, which was not visible till the dog was almost to the water.  This was not intended as a difficult mark, but rather for building confidence as the final mark of the day.

The second mark was in the middle, thrown LTR on an angle back into the water behind a strip of land at 110y. The line to the mark was the most difficult of the day: down a mound, past a tree, across a small inlet with a easy cheat around the left, over the strip of land, and into the water to pick up the bumper. From the start line, the gunner was visible on one side of the tree, whereas the mark was thrown to the other side if the tree, which I've found to be a confusing concept for Laddie. Adding to the difficulty, it was not a good throw, and disappeared below the embankment while still visible on the gunner's side of the tree.  The dog would have to assume the gunner was strong enough to have thrown the bumper further than was visible.

The third mark, the go-bird, was on the right, thrown RTL up-the-shore at 120y.  This was also a difficult line: down the mound, a long land entry, an angle water entry, and a swim past the gunner to the fall just up on land, with an easy cheat around to the right as well as the risk that dog would enter the water but bail out early and come to shore behind the gunner.

For that go-bird, Laddie took a great line almost to the water, then started to veer right.  I did not feel it would be productive to watch and see if he darted further right, because he's so fast that by the time I would then blow the whistle, he would be clear of the water and I'd have to cast him on a left "over" rather than to the fall. That wasn't the point of this mark.  Also, the gunner would not be able to help, because Laddie might still run the bank: after all, he knew where the fall was. So rather than wait, I immediately blew the whistle and cast Laddie into water. That allowed him to take exactly the right line, with no inclination to bail out early.  OF course, because of the handle it would have scored badly in a trial.

Next Laddie ran the indent middle mark. He ran past the tree on the wrong side, so I knew he would need to be handled, unless he veered right into the inlet rather than taking the cheat.  When I saw that he was unlikely to do that, I again blew the whistle and cast him into the water, again allowing him to run the correct line though of course again requiring a handle.

Laddie then nailed the final mark easily as expected.  I was relieved to see that he did not pop despite having to clear a ridge without being able to see the bumper, a situation that sometimes produces a pop.

Though I rarely run Laddie on the same retrieve even months later, with modifications this seemed like a good setup to run Laddie on again immediately, to cement the lessons. So I moved the stay line off the mound and forward forty yards and brought in Liza, who had thrown the long mark. That left us with the two shorter, more difficult marks as a double. It also took the tree out of the picture in what had been the center mark.  It also changed the angles into the water a little, making the cheats a little less tempting. Also improving things, we had good throws for both marks.

Laddie nailed both of these marks, showing no inclination to run the bank or bail out early on either one.

I thought it was a great finish for the session. We packed up and headed out for the hour drive home.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Another JAM for Laddie

Not great, but it beats being dropped. Sixteen dogs were entered, fourteen ran, seven finished., one of the seven had one handle on a mark. Laddie finished, thus, in Sixth Place, which of course is a JAM, not a placement.


* Laddie nailed the #2 bird on the land series.

* Laddie nailed the #1 bird on the land series, long, difficult,  and effectively retired until the dog got out there.

* Laddie's superb initial line on the land blind took him across a slope and thru a keyhole, one of the only dogs to get that keyhole and the only one to do it without handling.

* Laddie readily accepted casting into two water entries on the water blind, and swam the long shoreline to the end without bailing.

* Laddie honored on the final water double without breaking.

* I never lapsed in maintaining control of Laddie when he was off-lead near other dogs in each series.

Major negatives:

* Laddie slipped at least three whistles on the water blind.

* Laddie cheated around water twice on the long, difficult, "bridge" water mark of the final double.  Only the test dog (best Derby dog in the country) and the eventual First Place took the second of those entries, however, and of the others, Laddie was the only one not fooled by the bridge, running the bank to the correct side rather than the thrower side.

Finishing two trials in a row is nice, but we still haven't run a big water triple in a year.  Hopefully we can fix that before our next trial.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Tune up for trial

To summarize our week since our trial last Saturday:

* On Sunday, I took one assistant (William) with me to Cheltenham, and we worked on only one thing: up-the-shore marks, on which Laddie had gotten out of the water early on twice the previous day. Working on both left and right banks, I would have William stand at water's edge along one bank, Laddie and I would stand at the end of the pond, I'd have Laddie at heel on the opposite side of me as the bank, I'd call for the throw, and William would fire a pistol and throw a puppy bumper (2" white) further up along the bank. The bumper would fall on land just a few feet from water's edge, often with reeds between the shoreline and the fall. The challenge was for Laddie to run straight at the fall, taking a sharp angle entry into the water, rather than "cheating" by running the bank. We did around 15 of these. I didn't use handling at all. If Laddie started to run the bank, I called, "No, here". If Laddie took a nice entry, I applauded. He made steady improvement, and a couple of times entered the water wide, exaggerating the lesson. I guess some judges would not like that, but it could work in Laddie's favor if a strong wind were blowing toward shore. In our first Field Trial ever, the winner was a dog who took just such a wide arc, keeping the dog clear of a point that many of the other dogs, including Laddie, were blown onto. Laddie made good progress, but the key question is, what would he do on an up-the-shore at the beginning of a session, with no corrections preceding it that day? We need to get to the stage where Laddie would consistently be successful on the first such mark of the day. We also need to build more distance for both the land entry and the swim, but it was a good start, I thought. And today, we did get one answer to that question (see below).

* We didn't train on Monday. I wanted to, but I couldn't put together a good team of assistants for what I would have liked to be our hardest day of training for the week, so Monday was our rest day.

* On Tuesday, which I would have preferred as a rest day instead of Monday, I had three assistants available, so we ran two big triples at the future site of Clarksburg Village, my favorite nearby, recently discovered training area. Each triple featured a retired gun, and every mark was planned to present significant challenges. Laddie had three good retrieves, needed help on two, and got way behind the gun on one. That might sound bad, but these were long, difficult marks, and at this stage in Laddie's development, I welcome opportunities for Laddie to use Plan B. Plan B is, if you didn't see the throw, or have forgotten the line to it, or have gotten lost on the way out, then guess where the bird is by spotting the gunner; the bird is nearby. I've trained the assistants to help without me saying anything if Laddie gets behind them (except if retired) -- "behind" meaning on the wrong side -- but on the last and one of the more difficult marks on Tuesday, I got on the radio and said, "Don't help, I want to see what he does." I was pleased to see that Laddie seems to have learned Plan B from earlier training over the last few weeks where we've been working on it by calling for early help from the thrower rather than having Laddie hunt. On that last mark, Laddie spotted the girl, and I guess remembered which side the throw had been on, because once he saw her, he immediately ran past her to the bumper. This was a long, difficult mark with half a dozen factors stacked to push him behind the gunner, so it was not surprising to see the factors do their job. But it was great to see Laddie get himself out of trouble without needing to be helped or handled. And after all, he had nailed the other two marks on that series, including a tough retired gun that I was sure would fool him but didn't.

* On Wednesday (yesterday), we had what I'd call a confidence session, meaning I hoped that Laddie would have 100% success rather than the 80% we'd normally aim for. The session, which again took place at the huge cluster of fields that will someday be Clarksburg Village, consisted of two setups. The first was a triple with a retired gun, and with factors pushing Laddie to the wrong side of every gun, but shorter distances than the previous day. The factors did their job and prevented Laddie from running straight to the bumpers on two of the marks, but he cut back early and didn't get behind ("hook") either of those guns, and he flat nailed the tough retired mark, which for an extra challenge was thrown into a depression. After that, I set up a combination single and blind. For the mark, I had both of the teenage girls stand at their station and throw one bumper into a depression to their right, then sit down facing the fall. At 120 yards, that was a gimme for Laddie and he nailed it, as expected. Next came the blind. The line to the blind, at 140y, was a few degrees to the left of the girls (that is, it passed a few yards behind them), and also involved two diagonal road crossings and getting thru some medium-high cover without cheating around it. Laddie took a great line over both road crossings and into the cover, then veered left, away from the girls. Since I was mindful of the rule I learned a couple of weeks ago -- challenging the line = crossing the line -- I stopped him and cast him on an angle back to the right. While that took him back toward the line and then over it, which was good, it also meant that I was sending him right at the girls. This is a Golden, you understand, and he's crazy about those girls. Anyway, I stopped him and cast him back toward the blind again, and he took the cast. We needed one last safety whistle to prevent him from running too far back, since he had not spotted the bumper at first as he was racing out. I was pleased with all five of the day's retrieves, and felt it was a good way to complete our week's preparation for the trial tomorrow (Friday).

* However, I got a text from William this morning asking whether we were training today, and decided to go out for one last tune-up. We'd keep it short, and like yesterday aim primarily to build confidence. First, we went to the oval pond at nearby Rolling Ridge. I had William throw an up-the-shore mark while Laddie and I watched from a longer land entry than we'd been using last Sunday. The water entry was very sharp, but the shape of the shoreline and placement of the throw was such that Laddie didn't have as tight a shoreline swim to the far shore, once he was in the water, as he had in Sunday's work. I was prepared to call him back and resend him if he tried to run the bank, and to handle him if he did it a second time, but I was pleased to see a great angle water entry right at the fall, which landed on the backside of the far embankment and not visible after the bumper was down. Tremendously happy with that water entry, I clapped for Laddie for some time as he swam the rest of the way across. He then ran up the embankment and out of sight to the far side, and appeared a moment later with the bumper. Laddie has been taught that he is allowed to run the bank on his returns, and he raced to me without re-entering the water so that we could celebrate his fabulous mark. Next, we drove to the nearby group of three fields I call Oaks where we've been training for years, but I set up a blind Laddie's never run before. It was only 130y, but I stacked up several factors (by "stack", I mean that the factors all pushed the dog the same direction, in this case, to the right): (1) We had a stiff left-to-right wind. A dog can always fade with the wind, but especially a wet dog. (2) At 150y, on a line a few degrees to the right of the blind, was a white pole that's always there, and looks like a lining pole. (3) At 90y, a wide trench/depression swept across the field on a diagonal and then arced back toward the pole, later continuing to sweep around in a U-turn. A naive dog entering that near leg of the trench would tend to follow it around toward the right. (4) Inside the arc of the trench was a hillside, with a hedgerow at the top. The line to the blind was diagonally over that slope, and gravity would tend to pull a dog down and to the right. As an added risk but on the left, you could also lose the dog behind that hedgerow. Since a dog sometimes squares a slope by going uphill, that was not such a remote risk, but it was in the opposite direction of the other factors. (5) Once the dog has crossed the slope, he would be back down in the trench. If he were to square the far embankment, he'd be aimed at the white pole again. Or he could follow the trench further left and behind the hill. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good tune-up blind. Well, Laddie took a great initial line thru some rough terrain, including a diagonal ridge crossing early on. As he approached the trench, he began to veer toward the pole. One strategy would have been to let him continue in that direction, then stop him when he was even with the blind and cast him "over" to the left. However, that would have meant not crossing the line, which as I mentioned I've been cautioned about. So I stopped Laddie as soon as he veered right and cast him on an angle back to the left, sending him over the line and up the hill in front of the hedgerow. Next I had to stop him and cast him back toward the line, which I did, but that meant sending him straight toward the white pole. It was not problem, however. After he crossed the line again, I stopped him and cast him back toward the blind. He took a new line away from the pole but not quite at the blind, sat on one last whistle, and took an over to the blind. I don't know whether an all-age judge would have had a problem with the work -- such concerns are far in our future -- but to me it looked like a nice, workman-like Qual blind.

Look, I'm well aware that no one needs to read such detailed descriptions of Laddie's work. I mean, a competition retriever runs zillions of retrieves like the two Laddie ran today, and there are several good ways to run many of them. But given where we happen to be in Laddie's development, I thought it would be worth recording his performance on these particular retrieves as an indication of his current level of progress.

We still haven't trained on a big water triple in more than a year, but aside from that, I think this was a good week of preparation. Tomorrow morning, we'll leave the house at 4:30am, drive three hours to the Swamp Dog Qual, and see how Laddie (running as #3 of 16 entries) does.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Laddie earns Reserve JAM at Ft. Pitt Qual

[Posted to the DogTrek and PositiveGunDogs lists this evening]

Laddie has been running in AKC Retriever Field Trials this spring.  Yesterday, he ran in the Qualifying stake at the Ft. Pitt 2012 Spring Trial and came home with Reserve JAM.

This was not Laddie's best performance.  His water marking has deteriorated sharply as a result of our inability to find a field trial group to train with for the last 12+ months.  Just think, despite our active training schedule, Laddie hasn't run a big water triple in a YEAR, while many dogs competing in these events have run several dozen in that time.   But Laddie survived the cuts from the first three series and brought back all the birds in the last series, so the judges were kind enough to give him the green ribbon.

This was Laddie's second field trial ribbon, after earning a JAM in the Tidewater 2011 Spring O/H Qual, Laddie's first trial ever.  As far as I know, no other dog trained without physical force has ever taken a ribbon in a retriever field trial.  Very gradually, I guess we are learning.

Leaving the house at 4am yesterday, Laddie rode in the van for twelve hours of driving round trip, besides running the trial.  But he was on fire as usual for some water drills this morning, probably not noticing the new ribbon on his bulletin board.

Lindsay, with Lumi & Laddie (Goldens)
Gaithersburg, Maryland

[Note that entries are displayed from newest to oldest.]