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.


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