Monday, December 3, 2012

Notes and more notes

Hi, Alice and Jody. I think I told you guys that the main reason Laddie was dropped after the third series in our previous trial was because the judges had noted that Laddie aired on several of his returns. By airing, they were referring to male-dog territorial marking, which is indeed one of Laddie's favorite hobbies.

Accordingly, in the weeks since then, I've immediately and unconditionally called Laddie any time he dawdles on any of his returns in practice, and I also came up with a sort of drill. Here it is:

I often throw hey-hey bumpers for Laddie to retrieve for fun, with or without steadiness, and in addition, I often toss a softball for him with the verbal cue "go potty" when I air him. Historically, he has aired when retrieving in any of those scenarios.

But starting after the last trial, I began to make a clear delineation. If I don't say "go potty" or "go play" (more or less synonymous), Laddie is not to dawdle on his returns. But if I do use those cues, he's free to eliminate, roll, sniff, explore, or any other kind of doggie activity he likes.

And here's the clincher: When I let him out of the van, or out of the house -- that is, times when he's especially like to have an urge to eliminate -- the first thing I do is throw a hey-hey bumper for him without a verbal "go potty" cue. In other words, even though he's likely to be feeling a pretty strong urge, he's required to bring the bumper back without delay. Of course, I cheer and immediately throw his softball, calling out "go potty". Thus I'm making a point of having him see the difference between the two scenarios -- cue or no cue -- even in the presence of a strong desire to air, and of course rewarding/reinforcing his correct response.

Results, Part A: Laddie did not air or otherwise dawdle a single time in this weekend's trial. Besides the above training, I also watched him closely on returns and blew a call-in whistle if I saw any hint that a delay was about to transpire.

Results, Part B: I had a nice conversation with the judges after ribbons, mentioning to them among other things that the reason I had used multiple call-in whistles on Laddie's returns was because of the previous judges' complaint about Laddie airing on returns. They seemed genuinely stunned. One of them commented, "I close the book as soon as the dog picks up the bird." They also barely remembered Laddie's vocalizing on the water blind, and said it played no part in their scoring. When I mentioned that the previous judges had also had a problem with Laddie's vocalizing, they suggested I make a note of who those judges were and avoid them in the future.  :0)

By the way, Laddie also didn't pop in the trial, and had quite a long hunt on the flyer in the water triple, so a pop would not have been surprising. I think the approach I've used, which turned out to be a good bit of training on 300y+ marks, with as many as three retired guns per series, might have paid off with respect to popping.

On the other hand, I think all those long, and retired, and long+retired guns might have hurt Laddie's marking a bit, so I think I'll go back to leaving some guns out more this winter, and running more Q-scale series than we have been.

One last note for now: I mentioned Laddie's hunts (one short, one long) on the flyers in this last trial to Milly in a phone call last night, and she said, "Well of course." She pointed out that the scent on the ground is more dispersed with flyers, and also that the dog is more excited (as Alice noted). When I described Laddie's long, deep hunt on the water series flyer, Milly said he might have been picking up scent back there, possibly from a previous stake on the same grounds, that the other dogs -- all Labs -- weren't as distracted by. She said that sometimes the Golden's superior nose is actually a disadvantage, and this might have been one of those cases.

Oh, well, one more note. As I mentioned to Jody when I spoke to her -- Saturday night, was it? -- I had forgotten that it's possible for a Q to go more than one day. So when one of my assistants asked to go to the trial on Friday, I didn't mention that possibility to him. Well, when we learned Saturday afternoon that the stake was being stopped for the day and I told my assistant we'd have to spend the night, he said flatly, "I can't."  He's a 16yo who's never been more than a few miles from home, and I didn't feel I could safely or fairly put him on a bus. So instead, I drove him the 370 miles back home, then slept a few hours and drove back to the grounds in the wee hours. For the weekend, Laddie and I drove 1500 miles and were in the van for 28 hours, including 700 miles and 14 hours of driving between the second and third series.

Ahem, well, this, too: You know all that work we've putting in on Laddie's water honesty on marks especially the last few months? Well, forget it. Sunday's triple was a marking test, not a cheating test, though it had the added feature of the flyer thrown first, something Laddie and I have never, ever seen before in a triple. Laddie's water honesty never came into play. On the other hand, that out-of-order flyer blew my mind. First I was afraid Laddie wouldn't turn to the #2 and #3 birds, though he had no problem turning with me and got a good look at every throw. And second, I was afraid he'd lie to me when I sent him to the go-bird and swerve over to the flyer, though again it was no problem and he nailed the go-bird. In our conversation later, the judges commented that I need to relax more at the line and learn to trust my dog.


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