Sunday, November 17, 2013

Distance work at Cheltenham

With temps in the high fifties and even some moments of sunshine, I picked up two assistants this morning and we drove to Cheltenham to train for a couple of hours.

First I set up a water double with both marks offering long swims and difficult cheats, and we ran it as singles. Laddie ran the first one without cheating, but needed handling on the second. Then he ran a big water blind across the point of an island on a line between the two marks. Laddie handled well on both the mark and the blind, but his vocalizing has gotten worse. He vocalized on almost every cast and also vocalized while swimming sometimes even when not being handled.

Although all of the retrieves in the first series were long, we then moved to a new location and set up another water double plus blind where the retrieves were even longer. The double was also a more difficult configuration, a hip pocket double with a cheaty water re-entry on the left and a long swim between two points on the right. And the blind was a channel crossing, a difficult angle water re-entry, and a long swim the length a stick pond channel with a key hole at mid point. All of this work was too difficult for Laddie. He needed to be handled on both marks and needed to try the blind three times, since I called him all the way back when he climbed up onto the point going thru the key hole the first two times. Interestingly, although he vocalized a great deal when handled in this series, he stopped vocalizing once thru the key hole even though he still needed additional handling. I wish I knew why he stopped vocalizing. I've always thought I noticed a pattern of Laddie vocalizing more when he's near me than at greater distances. Today was consistent with that pattern.

To end the day we ran a big reverse hip pocket land double followed by a big land blind that featured crossing the slope of a mound. Laddie ran reasonable marks but hooked the gun on the long memory bird. That was not ideal but, since it indicates he had some confusion, the good news is that he didn't pop but rather worked it out without help. On the blind, he took his initial line across the slope of the mound well and two-whistled the  blind.

Yes, Laddie needed more help than I would have planned for, but we trained on long and difficult retrieves, and he did the work with that characteristic all-out, never flagging enthusiasm I always find so inspiring. For me, it was a challenging but enjoyable session, and I hope for Laddie, too.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Winter starts

It's not really winter yet, but we've had some freezing temps, and I've pretty much decided to push Laddie's competition until next spring.

At that time, I plan to again limit our events to Master tests, hoping to earn three more passes and thereby a Master Hunter title for Laddie.

When we've met that goal, I plan to resume running Laddie in field trial stakes: definitely Quals, and possibly Ams as well. Those are the levels of competition I would expect to run Laddie in for the remainder of his career.

The last few months, all of our training has been geared for Master events, but beginning this morning, I decided to switch gears with our future plans in mind. So for most of this off-season, we'll train for field trials. Then as spring approaches, we'll switch back to Master-style training to prepare for the first events we'll be running.

Today, then, Laddie ran two big land doubles, each including a land blind on a line between the two marks. The retrieves were in the range 170-370y, the throwers wore white coats, and we used no duck calls.

Laddie did well. I can't explain why, but Laddie seemed more comfortable with today's big marks and blinds than he has been running Master set-ups, and I was also more comfortable.

As we begin the off-season, I'll miss competing, but hopefully the training will continue to be fun as it always has been.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Laddie and water

Some thoughts on Laddie and water:

- Laddie likes to cool off in water when he's hot. This has nothing to do with retrieving and is in fact a training challenge. I designed a drill a couple of years that seems to have put that issue behind us most of the time, though occasionally it still crops up.

- Laddie is so crazy about going out to a thrown article that he'd probably run thru a brick wall and look like he was enjoying it. It is a waste of time to judge Laddie's attitudes about water based on his send outs on marks, especially the go-bird.

- Although it's pleasant to think that Laddie's vocalizing is actually exuberance based on a love of water, it's hard to see the huge problem he used to have with LWL returns, and his new problem with going OOC at the line, in that light. Those clearly were and are avoidance behaviors. Not necessarily of water, but of something, and water looks like an excellent candidate.

- Eventually Laddie became able to perform LWL returns, and as I continue to strengthen his response to "heel", I may be able to eliminate going OOC at the line as a concern in competition. But should I ignore the underlying reason for the behavior in the first place, wherever it may be, perhaps water aversion?

- If I could somehow develop in Laddie a powerful affection for going to an unseen target, comparable to his attraction to a thrown target, it could conceivably solve both the OOC issue and the vocalizing. This is not to say I know how, but it seems to cover the data points on where Laddie is with water. He might still not like water per se, but it wouldn't matter.

More on that last point in future posts, hopefully.

Another near miss

For the second Master test two weekends in a row, Laddie has made it to the third (last) series, and most of the dogs who made it to that series passed the test, but Laddie didn't.

Frankly I don't enjoy writing posts when Laddie (or Lumi) is unsuccessful, and would rather discuss the matter in private correspondence. But in this case, I guess I should include some info in our training journal for the record.

First of all, the judges did not allow Laddie to complete the last retrieve of the test, the water blind, because he was vocalizing. As Laddie was swimming back, one of the judges offered some suggestions on how to fix the problem. Vocalizing in water is a problem Laddie has had since he was a puppy, though I never noticed it in the early years and then later saw that it was in his videos all along. I guess the judge felt his suggestions might enable me to solve the problem.

This incident reminds me of two things that one of my mentors told me. One was that some judges won't tolerate vocalizing, and Laddie's just not going to pass those tests. This is the first time it's happened, so hopefully we'll have more opportunities to pass with other judges, as we have in the past at every level we've competed. I guess I should make a note not to run Laddie under this judge again, perhaps either of these judges.

The other was that, in my mentor's experience, there are two kinds of trainers: those who have had a dog that vocalizes and tried everything, sometimes over a period of years, to fix it but never could; and those who have never had a dog that vocalizes, and are sure they know how to fix it.

I was actually both of those simultaneously at one time: I couldn't fix Laddie's vocalizing in water, but I was sure I knew how to fix vocalizing at the line if I ever were to have a dog with that issue. :0)

I've written in the past about my efforts to fix the problem and won't discuss it further in this post, other than to reiterate that I'm not working on it any more.

I do have an unrelated insight from today's test, however, that may not be unrelated at all. In several of our Master tests, especially this fall, Laddie has gone OOC at the line, nosing around in cover near the start line and strongly resisting my calls of "here" and "heel" for some time, just before running a second water mark or a water blind. You'd think I'd have seen that this was a pattern, but sadly, it wasn't till today that I realized it is. You'd also think I'd have noticed it in training, but for the last several months, virtually the only water retrieves Laddie has done were in Master tests. I simply don't have the time and money to bring him to water with several assistants I pay on an hourly rate on any regular basis. I don't actually know whether Laddie would go OOC near the line in training or not. Obviously it's not something I've noticed, and that may be because it's recent or because it only happens when we get to water in a Master test, which hasn't happened that many times. Of course I'll begin to watch for it in training, and hopefully get it fixed. Now that I see the pattern, it seems to me that it's some sort of avoidance behavior, whatever that implies as a possible point of departure for a solution.

Following thru on that idea brings to mind a new thought: What if Laddie actually finds water aversive, and maybe both the lifelong vocalizing, and the more recent line control issues, are actually manifestations of that same emotion? This thought is so alien and so unpleasant to me - a retriever with Laddie's superb pedigree uncomfortable with water? - that I can barely stand to consider it. Besides, what about his bold, crashing big air water entries? What about his many competitive successes? What about his lifelong attraction to water at times that I didn't want it, such as going swimming in a pond instead of completing a land retrieve, a training issue I had to contend with when Laddie was younger? Yet I must consider the possibility that something about water, if not everything about water, is a problem for Laddie and that some of his behaviors, maybe even others besides vocalizing and going OOC at the line, derive from that emotion.

For now, I plan to work on the control issue as a training problem and accept the vocalizing as a flaw that will block us from success in some situations. A more general understanding may come with time.

With respect to competition, I think we will end our season today, despite it being on an unsuccessful note. Any remaining tests would be a very long drive and would probably involve retrieving in very cold water, which doesn't seem like the wisest strategy at this time.

Then again, Laddie's pick-ups and returns have improved hugely the last couple of tests, he hasn't broken in a long time, and he's gotten thru all his honors his entire career without any apparent issues with the nearby presence of another dog despite all my worrying. In addition, we did make it to the third series in both our last two tests, and we did get two Master passes this year. Those are real positives to reflect upon as we enter the winter months. We can resume our pursuit of an MH title in the spring.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Socializing milestone

With as many as a dozen dogs at the dog park today, mostly the same size as Laddie and some of them pitch black, his ability to run around comfortably with them was of course a welcome reminder of the socialization progress he's made the last few weeks.

And having other dogs trying to steal his puppy bumper as he trotted back to me with it, one dog actually succeeding after a prolonged game of tug in getting the toy away from Laddie, all without any hint of aggression, was a great reprise of behavior I've been starting to see.

But today was a new milestone, when a big Goldendoodle put a paw on Laddie's back, and then attempted a full-blown tackle, complete with the snarling uproar of a all-out dog fight. Except that only one dog was interested in fighting. Laddie simply maneuvered out of harm's way while maintaining a casual interest in the engagement. "As soon as you get that out of your system," he seemed to be saying to the Goldendoodle, "we can get back to playing."

If this trend continues, I think a time could come where I could work with Laddie at an event, at the line or on honor, and not have to worry about some potential incident with another dog. Of course I'm not ready to let my guard down yet, but I really think we might be getting there.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Master ramp

Thanks to everyone for all your good wishes to Laddie on me on Friday's Master test. We made it to the third and last series on Saturday.  Laddie picked up all the birds without a handle (he had needed a handle in the first series triple), but he didn't get the pass. Final result was 76 dogs entered, 34 dogs qualified.

As we experienced in other levels of field events, we're on a ramp, and we've reached the stage where we're getting called back deeper into the test and even passing sometimes (Laddie has two Master legs), but we're not yet at the stage where we can pass every test.

We'll try to keep learning the countless nuances of handling. For example, in this test I learned (or re-learned), don't let the marshal tell you to "get your dog" to run out of turn and then stand around, while your dog gets more and more pumped up by the nearby gunfire, as more and more other handlers insist on running ahead of you. Let your dog relax in his/her crate until the marshal really has established a place for you in the line-up. The excitement of an event significantly deteriorates a dog 's performance under the best of circumstances. Don't let that excitement level be raised even higher by the marshal having you bring your dog out just to stand around waiting unnecessarily.

And we'll continue to strengthen Laddie's training -- for example, Laddie's ability to be controlled at the line under sometimes extremely compelling distractions (in this case a scent or perhaps the sound of movement in the cover in front of the line, especially while the dog is in a highly excited state). This is a proofing challenge -- I need to find ways to expose Laddie to an ever-widening range of really difficult distractions. Perhaps our continued visits to dog parks will help with this.

Being on a ramp like this is frustrating and discouraging, because of course you don't know what lies ahead. Will I continue to improve as a handler, and continue to strengthen Laddie's skills,  and as a result have better and better results in competition outcomes? Or are tests and trials so different from one another that the idea of a trend line is meaningless?

Only the future will tell. I see only two choices: Quit, or keep trying. At least for now, we'll keep trying.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Premac at dog park

Although I've been taking Laddie to dog parks lately primarily for socialization, turns out it's also a good opportunity for proofing line manners.

"Premac" is a type of positive reinforcement, in which a behavior being trained is rewarded by the opportunity to perform a different behavior the subject has a strong desire to do.

At the dog park, Laddie has a strong desire at times to sniff the grounds or interact with other dogs.

So periodically I call "heel". As soon as he complies, I reinforce with the release cue "go play". As a variation, I might have him retrieve a thrown or planted bumper or tennis ball first.

Compliance of course must be non-optional.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

More pick-ups, more socializing

Similar to our work a couple of days ago, today we had two training sessions, one focused on pick-up and delivery of birds, the second focused on Laddie once again getting along well with other dogs.

For the retrieve training, I used two assistants, throwing various combinations of a drake mallard, a hen mallard, and a rooster pheasant, all mostly thawed.

Laddie ran five doubles, then a triple with one of the gunners throwing a momma-poppa. Every pick-up and delivery was phenomenal. It's hard to believe the progress from our last event.

At the dog park, Laddie had no problems with any of the dogs who greeted him as we came in, including a Visla, a Golden, and a number of other dogs mostly around Laddie's size. Laddie also did fine as new dogs came in, with two exceptions: a large black male Shepherd, and a grey Chow whose sex I never did figure out.

In both cases, Laddie began to growl a little as the dog came in, and I immediately wrapped my arms around his neck, stoked his neck, face and shoulders and gently reminded him, "That's a nice doggy, that's a nice doggy." Then I slipped on his lead and walked around the park with him, repeatedly approaching the dog he'd had some problem with sometimes and letting the other dog approach Laddie sometimes. Each encounter was calm -- they'd sniff each other, then lose interest and head in different directions. After half a dozen such encounters, I slipped Laddie's lead off and followed him closely as he re-entered the mix of dog activities. Occasionally I'd throw his white puppy bumper for him.

Nothing close to a fight occurred at any time, even when other dogs growled at him, made contact with him, tried to steal his bumper, or made any other move that I feared might provoke aggression. It just didn't happen.

It's interesting that Laddie is learning, or re-learning, to play with other dogs again so easily. I had been led to expect that it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, for him to get over his fear and fear response after having twice been attacked. I'm hoping our progress continues until it ceases entirely to be an issue.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Practicing pick-ups and returns

Laddie is entered in another Master in two weeks. Since his performance last weekend was strong on marks and strong on handling, but weak on pick-ups and returns, I've decided to devote these next two weeks primarily to strengthening those skills.

This is not the first time we've done this, and you can probably find posts on the same subject in this blog if you go back a few years. But for the record, this is how I'm approaching it this time.

For Laddie at this time in his development, it seems that the optimum set-up is a short single mark with a gunner using an enthusiastic duck-call (for excitement), a high throw (for excitement), a gunshot (for excitement), and a fresh duck (for excitement). The handler then sends the dog, and as soon as the dog is on the bird, the handler whistles come-in, pauses a moment to see if the dog picks the bird-up, and if not, uses some cue with a known high assurance of getting the dog to pick the bird up. In Laddie's case, that's "pick it up." If the dog makes a quick pick-up, either after the come-in whistle or after the verbal cue, the handler then goes into a game of chase with the dog when the dog gets back to the line, finally takes the bird and instantly throws it again. Here again, as soon add the dog gets to the bird, it's tweet-tweet-tweet, slight pause, "pick it up," chase game, and another throw. After 2-3 of those happy throws, the handler sets up for another throw from the field.

If the dog does not respond with a quick pick-up even after the verbal cue, then the handler says "no, sit," walks out to the dog, slips on the dog's lead, walks back to the start line, and sends the dog again. If that still doesn't work, I wouldn't continue this drill, because at that point the dog should be highly motivated, and if the dog still isn't picking up the bird, the dog doesn't understand the game and needs a more basic level of training than I'm discussing here.

Some notes on the design of this drill:

- The mark is short so that the positive reinforcement for picking up the bird, namely the game of chase and the happy throws after delivery, occurs almost instantly after the pick-up. The longer time between a behavior and its intended +R, the less effective the +R trends to be.

- All of the excitement has two purposes. One is to make the training session as enjoyable as possible fir the dog. The other is to simulate as much as possible the emotional state of the dog in competition, which is high excitement, so that competition retrieves, to the greatest extent possible, are "like" these practice retrieves in the dog's perception.

- The mechanism of using a come-in whistle immediately followed (if necessary) by a cue that's known to work followed by a high value positive reinforcer is a general approach to transferring a known (or strong) cue to an unknown (or weak) one. What happens the first few times is that the dig hears the unknown cue, doesn't know how to respond, hears the known cue, responds correctly, and is quickly rewarded. After a few reps, the dog, wanting the reward as soon as possible, realizes that the first cue predicts the second one, and so begins to respond to the first one without even waiting for the second one. This is called anticipatory response, and is the same reason a tennis player looks away from the ball before the ball has made contact with the racquet. Anticipatory response is often a disadvantage in sports, but using it to transfer a dog's understanding of one cue to another is one situation where anticipatory response is a helpful mechanism.

- The reason to walk out and get the dog if the dog did not respond correctly to either the come-in whistle or the verbal cue is that that deprives the dog of something valuable, in this case, both the opportunity to carry the bird and the opportunity to play a game of chase. These are extremely valuable to the dog, and losing them is something the dog hopefully greatly wants to avoid the next time the dog is in that situation.

- The reason for running the dog again immediately after a failure is so that dog can immediately compare the outcome of an incorrect response versus a correct one.

A note about today's session: I am under the weather and did not feel up to doing all the running around that my training plan called for on the part of the handler. So I went out in the field and did the throwing, and let my assistant, Annette, do the handling. I think it's good for Laddie to have several handlers anyway because I think it strengthens his understanding of the skills by abstracting them from the handler/dog relationship. So having Annette handle hopefully strengthened Laddie's understanding of his pick-up and return skills, and at the same time let me be a bit less active. 

I think this is the kind of drill you won't read about in a traditional field-training program because the ecollar is such a powerful tool that traditional trainers don't need a drill like this one. It may also be that training these skills with an ecollar makes a more powerful impression, eliminating the need for remedial training later on in the dog's career. I  guess positive methods tend to be more work.

Anyway, now for a nap.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Laddie's second Master pass

After a two-day Master test that ended this afternoon, Laddie qualified for his second Master ribbon.

The judges were great and offered a number of suggestions, which I'll incorporate into Laddie's training immediately.

A brief description of the test:

Series A. Walk-up land triple, with long flyer go-bird on center; then double land blind, both blinds inside the outer marks

Series B. Land/water triple (throws land-water-water): then water blind

Series C. Momma-poppa (flower pot) water double with honor

56 dogs entered
51 dogs ran
44 dogs called back to Series B
42 dogs called back to Series C
40 dogs qualified

Laddie: No handles on marks. All blinds tight with few handles. Terrible pick-ups. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Another handler lesson, another training task

Laddie and I were out after the first series in today's Master test. :0(

Lessons learned:

Handling - Prepare yourself mentally in advance: If the dog is about to get into the same trouble you've seen several other dogs get into, don't let him get that far. Blow the whistle before he gets in trouble and spend the handle, live to see another series.

Training - You need to be able to use your come-in whistle when the dog gets into woods or high cover, he can't just wander around in there. Planned drill: plant a bird, have gunner blow duck call and fire shot but not swing arm, send dog past the fall into woods or high cover, use come-in whistle to bring dog back to fall.

So much to learn!


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Specialized socializing

Yesterday, Laddie was dropped from a Master test. I had the opportunity to ask one of the judges why, and he assured me that it wasn't Laddie's work. Rather, it was "trainability", specifically line manners. The judge commented, "For example, on the first series, you said 'here' to your dog 12 times before you got to the start line."

Well, as far as I know, we've never been dropped for line manners before, but it was certainly a legitimate criticism. Laddie had locked his eyes onto the honor dog while he was still on lead in the holding blind, and my wrist fear wasn't that he'd have trouble with the retrieving, but that he'd decide to visit, or even charge, the other dog. Obviously a dog fight would be far worse than getting dropped from the test, so as I always do these days, I focused with all my energy on keeping Laddie under control when another dog is nearby and taking my chances that the judges would allow it, and this time I lost. 

It may never come up again, but it is something new to work on, so I put some thought into how I might address it, and in correspondence, Jody made several excellent suggestions, including making use of a dog park.

Laddie has been j going to dig parks a few times a year all his life, and has never been in a fight at one. However, he tends to spend most of the time running around sniffing other dogs, especially females. Whatever learning is going on seems to have little to do with coming to the line in a competition with other dogs nearby.

However, I thought I might be able to set up a scenario more similar to competition. So I brought Laddie to a dog park with lots of dogs, including Labs, and brought him in in his lead with his favorite puppy bumper in my other hand. I did not try too char any dogs away, and told owners who asked that I didn't mind their dogs being near us, but I didn't let Laddie engage with any of them. If I thought he or another dog was getting tense, I hugged him close to me and held him immobile by the scruff, saying quietly, "It's ok, it's ok." Soon the other dogs lost interest and Laddie and I had a corner to ourselves.

I slipped off his lead, cued "sit",  tossed the bumper, and sent him. He faced to pick it up and brought it back, we played a little tug, and then repeat.

We played that way for about half an hour. Many variations occurred. For example, another dog might approach Laddie's toy or Laddie himself. If I saw any possible danger, I rushed to Laddie and got him under control as described above. Sometimes we didn't play tug, I just threw the bumper again. Sometimes: didn't keep him steady and let him run as soon as he saw I was throwing, which is more exciting for Laddie than having to watch the throw while sitting. We also moved to several different locations. And another variation was that sometimes Laddie would get distracted and not complete the retrieve. Again, I would rush to him, cue "pick it up" if he had dropped the toy, and get him involved in the game again.

As luck would have it, : found an excellent reinforcer for staying in the game. Temps today are in the high 80s, and someone had brought a child's wading pool and placed it near the faucet and host. It was ready teaching Laddie to step over the rim of the pool, and once in the pool, he lay down to cool his belly and lapped the water. Great way to cool off!

So after that, when Laddie would bring back the bumper, in a single motion, I'd grasp the rope, swing it away from Laddie as he released it, and toss it into the wading pool. He'd get in the pool, lie down, and sip a little water. In a few seconds, he was ready to bring the bumper back for another retrieve. This scenario was especially useful for immunizing Laddie to other dogs who might try to engage him or steal the bumper. He'd simply step out of the way, tiff his head away from them, and continue his jog back to me so I could throw the toy back into the pool.

I hope to have quite a few more such sessions with Laddie, with different locations and of course different mixes of dogs. One goal is to improve Laddie's behavior in these situations. But another goal is for me to learn to read the situations, so that I can trust him to perform well without my intervention whenever possible. Between those two processes, I think I may have a realistic shot at being able to bring him to the line in competitions with far less risk and tension than at present. That's the hope, anyway.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Laddie's first Master pass

Yesterday and today, Laddie ran in the Master stake of the Tidewater Retriever Club Fall 2013 Hunt Test.

I'm pleased to report that Laddie qualified.

That gave him his first leg toward an AKC Master Hunter (MH) title, which requires a total of five Master passes for dogs who, like Laddie, previously earned an AKC Senior Hunter (SH) title. It was the first Master pass for either of us. It may have also been the first Master pass ever by any retriever trained entirely without physical aversives.

The test consisted of three series, two yesterday (Saturday) and the third today. Descriptions of each series, together with the stake's statistics, follow:

59 dogs entered

Series A. Around-the-horn land triple with flyer go-bird and honor

6 dogs scratched
1 no-show
52 dogs ran
48 dogs called back

Series B. Walk-up water/land double, plus land and water blinds, which could be run in either order

38 dogs called back

Series C. Diversion shot and water blind, plus around-the-horn water triple with both memory-birds drifting downstream

38 dogs called back and qualified

(If possible, I'll add more detail later.)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Puzzler triples and working on popping

I was in the hospital for several days last week (pancreatitis), but I have a few moments, so I thought I'd describe the sort of land triples I've been running Laddie on the last few weeks. We go out several times a week, and we can run these with three assistants, or if I only have two, we can run the momma-poppa one.

When we run them, I often add one or two land blinds, which are usually longer, possibly much longer, than any of the marks, with the lines designed for maximum factors. Although this may be a fallacy, my feeling is that by practicing field trial-style blinds, we should be fine for the Master blinds Laddie will actually be seeing in competition this fall.

The high temperatures in our region the last few months have limited how much I'm willing to work Laddie. Plenty of days we don't go out at all, and not infrequently, we only run one triple when we do go out. At most, we run two triples, plus possibly some number of blinds.

I would put all of these kinds of triples in a category I'll call "puzzler triples", in that they all seem to have the potential to cause significantly more confusion on some particular mark in the configuration than most other configurations for triples would have.

An obvious goal of running Laddie on these puzzlers is to familiarize him with the configurations, rather than having him face them for the first time in some test some day.

But I have another goal as well: Laddie has developed a tendency to pop, and while I have never gotten a clear understanding of the trigger or triggers for his popping, I assume that at least one risk factor is confusion.

Meanwhile, after trying a number of other approaches to cure Laddie's popping, I've come up with an approach that I'm feeling optimistic about: my old standby for slipped whistles, the Walk Out (WO). In fact, perhaps the very fact that Laddie was trained not to slip whistles with the WO may perhaps be adding to its efficacy for popping, in much the same way that a clicker-trained dog like Lumi gets quicker and quicker at figuring out what she's being clicked for when learning a new skill. Or perhaps there is no such accelerating mechanism, but the WO is just an intrinsically powerful training tool.

In any case, by running Laddie on puzzlers, he gains experience with the configurations, and I get the opportunity to use a WO if he pops, thus hopefully making future pops less likely. I think it's working, but of course only time will tell.

I don't mix and match the puzzlers in any one session, and in fact, if the various fields we use permit, I try to run Laddie on any one type of puzzler repeatedly over several sessions until he becomes comfortable with it. If we run two triples that day, I generally use a mirror image of the first triple for the second triple.

I would say that the distances of the marks Laddie runs these days are generally in the range of 25-220 yards, which I think is about right for Master preparation, with an eye toward perhaps running Qualifying stakes again someday. I typically use the very short distances as the #1 throw when we're practicing walk-ups, but I don't use walk-ups for puzzlers, so the low end of the range for puzzlers is more like 50 yards.

I guess it goes without saying that I don't run Laddie on the same set-up in the same location and orientation more than once within a long period of time, probably a year or more if ever.

For these descriptions, I'll arbitrarily make the first throw left-to-right (LTR). In practice, we're equally likely run these configurations either as described, or in mirror image. I make the decision based on factors such as terrain and wind, as well as taking care not to run them one way too much more often than the other.

For these descriptions, I'll arbitrarily make the longest throw 100 yards, to give some sense of the proportions of the three marks. As mentioned above, we often run longer marks. In addition, the proportions also are not in concrete. It wouldn't be unusual for two of the marks to be about the same distance, and on occasion all three are.

I think somewhat more than half the time, I have the throwers throw the mark on a bit of an angle back, so that the dog must run past the thrower to reach the fall. I believe that's the best kind of mark for a dog to practice the most often. Most of the rest of the time, I have the marks thrown "flat"; that is, the distance from the start line to the fall is the same as the distance from the start line to the thrower. However, occasionally, I do have the thrower throw a "check-down" mark, that is, on an angle in. I don't like to Laddie to practice those very much, because I would not want him to get too comfortable with hunting short, which would hurt his scoring. But check-down marks do occasionally occur in competition, and I've seen that they can be extremely confusing for dogs who have never practiced them, and even dogs who have. So I do mix them into our practices occasionally, including sometimes using an angle-in for one of the memory-birds in some of the puzzler configurations. I've found they can definitely add to the challenge.

Since we are practicing for Master, we run our puzzlers with hidden guns and duck calls. If we were preparing for field trial events, I think the same configurations would be worth practicing, perhaps at longer distances, with white jackets and maybe one or more retired guns. However, I might add that some of the configurations are probably harder if certain guns do not retire than if they do.

I'm well aware that other puzzling triple configurations exist. For example, I believe that an "indent triple", in which the center mark is the shortest, is supposed to be confusing for dogs, but I'm not sure how to set it up to achieve the best puzzler effect.

Meanwhile, here are some puzzler triples that I have come up with:

Hip pocket with converging second mark

The first mark is in the center, thrown LTR at 100y. The second mark is on the right, thrown RTL at 60y. The third mark is on the left, thrown LTR at 50y. An imaginary line drawn from the start line thru the fall of the third mark would hit the first thrower's hip pocket, hence the name given to the configuration made up of the first and third marks.

Laddie has been practicing hip pocket doubles practically all his life, but breaking up the double with a converging single apparently tends to dim, or entirely erase, a dog's memory of the long mark. Especially if the second mark is fairly tight, I guess the dog has the sense that he/she has already picked up a mark in that direction.

Reverse hip pocket with converging second mark

The first mark is on the left, thrown LTR at 100y. The second mark is on the right, thrown RTL at 70y. The third mark is in the center, thrown LTR at 50y. An imaginary line drawn from the start line thru the hip pocket of the third thrower would hit a few feet to the right (outside) of the fall of the first throw. Thus projected into 2D, in the "reverse hip pocket" double, the long thrower is seeming to land his throw nearly into the hip pocket of the short thrower, while in the "hip pocket" double described previously, the short thrower is seeming to land his throw into the hip pocket of the long thrower.

If the angle between the second and third gunners is too tight, their converging throws will cross, which I would not think is a desirable configuration to practice. Even if they don't cross, and depending on how far out the gunners are, the falls might be so close that the dog would have no way of knowing which one he/she is being sent to, which again I would not think would be good to practice. So I would say that that angle should not be too tight, and that the falls should be well away from one another.

Again, Laddie has been practicing reverse hip pocket doubles for years, but breaking the double up with a converging single seems to play havoc with his memory of the long mark. I guess any mark that takes the dog close to one of the shorter gunners, whether hidden, retired, or out, presents a special challenge anyway, and in this configuration, the dog must run just behind the third gunner to get to the long mark.

Momma-poppa with converging second mark

The first mark is in the center, thrown LTR at 100y. The second mark is on the right, thrown RTL at 70y, so the line to the fall is to the right of the line to the first fall. The third mark is also thrown from the center position, this time RTL at 100y.

Once again, this configuration seems to make the long memory-bird difficult to remember. I have no idea what would happen if the guns were on so tight an angle that the line to the second mark were to the left of the line to the first throw. I would not think that would be a good configuration to practice. I don't know if it ever occurs in competition.

I've previously written that momma-poppa triples and quads seem to be so confusing for Laddie that I had decided not to practice them, and hope for the best if they ever came up in a test. However, given my desire to challenge Laddie with situations in which he might be inclined to pop, so that he can learn from my Walk Out strategy not to do so, I've reintroduced this puzzler to our mix. It's especially handy to have available if you've only got two assistants. For an example, please see "Note on today's training" below.

Inline triple

I believe that some trainers use the term "inline" to mean that a line drawn from the start line goes thru both falls. I don't use the term that way. What I mean by an inline triple is that all three guns and all three falls are in a continuous line, and that line runs either across the field, or on a diagonal, with the middle gunner in the center of the field. The first and longest gunner throws away from the other two gunners. Then the center gunner throws toward the first gunner, with the fall about halfway between the two. Finally the shortest gunner throws toward the second gunner, with the fall again about halfway between the two. Variations would include spreading the gunners further apart, so that the falls are closer to gunner that threw them than to the gunner that the throw was toward.

I have heard that it's customary to require the dog to pick up the center mark second, rather than picking up outer-outer-inner. I don't think that judges would have the right to lower the dog's score if the handler chose to have the dog pick the marks up outer-outer-inner, but I just thought I'd mention that for some reason it seems to be a strong convention that the dog must pick up the marks in the reverse order of the throws for this configuration, at least in the minds of some trainers.

For some reason, dogs can have a great deal of difficulty with the second mark of an inline triple, even at fairly short distances, even with the guns out, and even with no other major factors in the configuration. If you are going to retire any of the guns, retiring the second gun while leaving the first gun out might actually be a harder test than retiring both of them.

Note on today's training

It so happens that today I had only two throwers, so we ran one of the puzzlers mentioned above, a momma-poppa with converging second mark. Laddie was indeed puzzled. He returned after his second retrieve with no idea how to line up for the third and final send out. It looked like an opportunity to test whether my anti-popping strategy has been working. I lined him up and launched him with his name, and he shot out in the direction he was aligned on as expected. But I was pretty sure that he had no idea of what the exact line was — I'd purposely given him only a quick lining indication with my hand — or how far to go, and the thrower was hidden. He had no choice but to use his problem-solving skills as best he could to estimate the area of the fall from the data available to him, and then put on a hunt. I felt it was exactly the situation in which he was likely to pop, and held my breath to see what he would do. Well, he took a line a bit too far to the right, but raced right thru the shorter fall and almost as far as he needed to go. He then hunted the short grass that was in front of the high cover that contained the fall, and finally quartered outward to the fall. I was quite pleased with his demonstration of retriever problem solving, and even more pleased that he never showed the slightest inclination to pop, for example by pausing or starting to look toward the start line.

Additional note on today's training

For completeness, I'll mention that before I picked up the two assistants and went to run Laddie on the momma-poppa triple mentioned above, I brought Laddie out to Cheltenham and ran him on three water blinds.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Land blinds in Vermont

During our two weeks on vacation in Vermont, we had lots of hikes and the dogs got to swim in ponds, lakes, and reservoirs half a dozen times or more. In addition, Laddie ran land blinds almost every day. However, we never did find a location for running water blinds, and we never had a chance to run any marks on land or water.

The land blinds were generally around 200y, plus or minus. It was during this trip that I realized to make a change in my handling (see When to Blow the Whistle). I needed to start blowing the whistle in anticipation of Laddie veering offline, rather than waiting for him to veer off, and also I had to occasionally blow the whistle even when no factors indicated that Laddie was likely to veer off, in order to avoid him beginning to anticipate a whistle when factors are present, which might result in an increase in popping, not only on blinds but also on marks that included similar factors.

Here's a video that Renee took for me using my phone's videocamera, showing me attempting to put those concepts into practice.

Friday, August 2, 2013

When to blow the whistle

Having a fast dog who lines well can apparently develop a type of handling error in blinds that in my case has taken a long time to recognize.

Consider this common scenario: the blind begins with a relatively easy line for some distance, then reaches a factor -- such as a diversion or an obstacle -- that makes it likely the dog will veer off-line, possibly quite suddenly.

It would be nice to let the dog roll to see whether the dog's training keeps the dog on a straight line, and then blow the whistle the moment the dog begins to veer. But if the dog is faster than the handler's reaction time, the result may be that the dog goes an unacceptable distance in the wrong direction. For example, the dog may go around a keyhole or wooden log that the judges expect the dog to go thru or over, and the judges will disqualify the dog if the handler tries to call the dog back. Or the dog may go out of sight behind a mound or over a crest, and thus be considered out of control (ooc) and again be disqualified.

The obvious solution is to blow the whistle as the dog approaches the factor without waiting to see whether the dog will veer off. But that has several arguments against it. One is that extra whistles potentially reduce scoring. Another is that stopping a dog unnecessarily potentially reduces the dog's motivation for running blinds. And a third is that if the dog is always stopped in a particular context, such as just as the dog gets out of the water while crossing a point, the dog may learn to anticipate the whistle and begin popping in that context before the whistle occurs, on blinds and even on marks.

I'll address each of those concerns.

As to the concern about scoring, I've come to the conclusion that the risk of being disqualified for missing a keyhole or going ooc is a greater concern than the risk of losing a little on scoringfor extra whistles. Therefore, if that's the only concern, blow the whistle and give the dog the extra guidance needed to complete the blind without getting knocked out.
With respect to motivation, I think that's a concern that some trainers will take more into consideration than others. For me, it is very real. But for that same reason, many of my training and handling decisions are influenced by an effort to maximize the dog's motivation for the work. That gives me a savings account, so to speak, especially with a dog who has had years of training devoted to maximizing motivation. And I've come to the conclusion that the situation described is an appropriate time to make a withdrawal from that savings account, and blow the whistle even if, in a parallel universe, the dog would have gone straight without it.

That leaves the third concern: accidentally training the dog to pop by consistently blowing the whistle in certain contexts until the dog begins to anticipate those whistles and turns to look at the handler even if the whistle isn't blown, such as when running a mark.

For a dog who is not a consistently good liner, that might not be a problem, because the dog would not learn that any particular context or contexts are any more likely to trigger a whistle than any other situation. But if the only times the dog generally hears a whistle are a relatively small number of specific situations -- the top of a crest, just past a stand of trees, an angled approach to high cover -- then I think the risk is real that those situations might begin causing pops when marking, or on blinds before the handler wants to blow the whistle.

After much consideration, I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that the only solution to that problem is for the trainer to begin blowing the whistle even more often, including situations that do not include a factor, and even if the dog is not veering off line. Yes, it might result in a lower score. Yes, it might slightly lower the dog's motivation for blinds. But if it allows you to take more control when factors are in play, without the dog learning to pop in those contexts when you don't blow the whistle, especially in marks, that seems a fair price to pay.

So this is the conclusion I've come to: In planning how I'll run Laddie (a fast dog who lines well) on a blind with a factor in the distance, (a) I'll plan to anticipate Laddie's possible reaction to the factor by stopping him before he has a chance to react, so that I can give him extra guidance; and (b) to avoid having Laddie learn that such contexts especially predict a whistle, I'll stop him sometime before he reaches that factor, even if he is on a good line.

I don't know how similar either element of this approach is to more experienced trainers with similar dogs. It would be interesting to know.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Water blind and land triples with flyers

I got to have Lumi with me last night, and this morning, I left the house at 5am with Laddie and her to pick up four ducks in Cheltenham.

Since my friend Tony had done such a nice job of having the ducks in a crate ready to be picked up, we had plenty of time for the next leg of our journey. So I asked Tony to suggest a Master water blind, and he pointed out a line to a peninsula with points tight on both sides. Turned out to be too easy. Laddie lined it and didn't even vocalize. Good for confidence anyway.

At 9am we met Dave and two assistants. First Laddie ran an xmas-tree land triple with the flyer as the go-bird. The memory birds were both under the arc of the flyer go-bird (Dave calls that a wipe-out bird), and formed a reverse hip-pocket, with the memory guns hidden behind hay bails. On top of that, the duck calls for the two dead birds thrown first weren't audible, and the pistol shots weren't much louder, so Laddie didn't get too much of a look at them, of course also much more interested in the flyer than the bumpers being thrown for the memory birds.

Yet he was steady for the throws, then nailed the flyer and the left bird, with a short hunt for the center long mark.

One of the assistants then ran Lumi while I honored with Laddie. We had a double made up of the long mark and the flyer, which landed 30y in front of Laddie. To increase difficulty on the honor, I stood on Laddie's left rather than where I usually stand when honoring, on his right, and that meant he was between me and Lumi, potentially reducing my influence compared to having me between them. Perhaps even more challenging, Lumi had to run across Laddie's field of vision, just a few yards away, when released for the flyer. I had cautioned the assistant that Lumi's personality would change when that flyer was thrown, but Lumi still got away from her as soon as the bird was down. Laddie just sat and watched like a good boy.

The second land triple was also an xmas-tree, this time with an out-of-order flyer as the second mark. The #1 and #3 formed a hip- pocket in the opposite direction as the flyer, so Laddie had to look well away from the flyer to watch the first throw, then watch the nearby flyer, then swing nearly 180 degrees to watch the go-bird. However, the assistants did a better job sounding their duck calls, and each fired twice before throwing, plus we used dead birds for those marks. Laddie got a good look at all the marks, remained steady till sent, and nailed all three marks in the reverse order of the throws.

Laddie again remained sitting for the honor, as Lumi watched an out-of-order double and then went straight for the flyer, ignoring the go-bird.

Of course the level of excitement is higher at an event, but I think we've fine a reasonable job of preparing Laddie to be steady at our Master test next Friday. We'll see.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Land blinds in the rain

For some time now, I've stopped recording most routine training sessions. However, this week, I just wanted to record our training in preparation for the Qual on Friday, so I or others can look back on it in the future.

Today I probably would have run Laddie on big land triples if I could have, but I was only able to line up one assistant. So I decided to run Laddie on Qual-level land blinds. I asked my assistant to watch our work closely, and let me know if she saw Laddie slip any whistles or go the wrong way on any casts. It's surprisingly difficult to remember those things when you look back on a blind, even just a few seconds after it's done. Videos are great, though a bit tricky at FT distances. Anyway, an assistant is one way to get the data, assuming she understood what I was asking her to do.

The first blind was 140y, with a tight keyhole thru a gap in a cluster of bushes at 120y out. The second blind was 220y, over diagonal inclines, declines, and ridges, then thru a line of shrubby cover. The third blind was 230y, diagonally crossing a dirt road and the aligned terrain on either side of it, with a wrap on the left at 180y that the dog could veer behind and out of sight.

Laddie, who is an excellent lining dog, had little difficulty with any of today's blinds. When I lined him up the keyhole and sent him "back", he did try to veer around the outside of the shrub cluster at the last moment, but I stopped him in time, repositioned him in front of the obstacle, and then he took the cast into the gap. He two-whistled the second blind. The wrap never became a factor in the third blind because he chose to stay on the other side of the line most of the time.

Unfortunately, neither I nor my assistant are proficient enough in the ways of Qual judges to know for sure that Laddie would have been called back from each of those blinds. That's another example of the fact that, no matter how good your dog is, training without experienced field trial trainers is such a huge disadvantage competing against the better dogs in a stake.


Sunday, June 9, 2013


This morning, Laddie had his third recent session with flyers, once again thanks to my friend Dave getting birds and then shooting
for us. In this case he got four pigeons, and also brought along an assistant to help us.

I ran Laddie on a tab, as I have for weeks, and today I brought along Lumi. That gave Laddie a dog to honor, and gave Lumi a chance to be excited out of her gourd and do her favorite thing in the world, retrieve flyers.

Series A was a flyer single at 25y, first Laddie, then Lumi with Laddie honoring.

Series B was an out-of-order double, with Dave shooting the flyer at 25y and then the assistant throwing a white bumper at 45y. Dave significantly added to the level of difficulty, by watching the pigeon as circled and the bringing it down 10y in front of Laddie. Laddie was still able to pick up the go-bird bumper first - a good job with his flyer lying just a few yards away. I then ran Laddie on a 200+y blind featuring a cast over a steeplechase fence in the last 20y. He then honored Lumi running the flyer as a single (we only had one assistant), Dave again patiently dropping the only a few yards from both dogs.

In both series, I had Laddie run the more difficult honor, between me and the working dog so that I was out of his field of vision when the working dog was sent, rather than with me between them.

Today Laddie showed what I wanted with the flyers: the intensity needed for high quality marking, yet an ability to stay seated till sent as working dog, and to stay seated and not break as honor dog.

A few more sessions like this, and I think Laddie will be ready to try another Master test.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Land triples

Although I've decided to focus on Master tests for Laddie, I did enter him in a Qual for next Friday. In preparation, we went out with three assistants to a nearby new construction site to run a couple if land triples.

The terrain for both series was similar: hilly, large patches of high cover, steep inclines and declines, diagonal ridges, ditches, and diagonal dirt road crossings. However, the triples had two different characters.

Series A was big and wide open, with all the guns left out. Laddie nailed the first and third, while needing a big hunt for the difficult center mark. I did not call for help, giving him an opportunity to hunt up the bumper himself, hopefully reinforcing a frustrating performance carried out without a pop.

Series B was completely different. The distances were shorter, the angles were tighter, and the picture was more difficult, with the memory birds converging and both retired. Laddie nailed the gop-bird and the center mark, then took a wide line to the long mark and circled right in on it.

This seemed like good prep for our Qual next Friday. I hope so. Laddie seemed to be having a great time, anyway.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Active weekend

Between long hours of work and temps in the 90s, Laddie and I had little opportunity to train this last week. But we made up for it on the weekend.

On Saturday (yesterday), we participated at club training day. I got to lead the advanced group, and we ran two setups. They were intended for dogs training for Master, but some of the blinds may have been a bit harder than typical Master blinds.

The first series was a walk-up land triple, with the second two marks 180 degrees apart and thrown into high cover. The setup had three blinds available: (1) 40y into cover, to the right of the rightmost mark, (2) 160y on a line between the center mark and the mark on the right, with an angle entry into high conver at the end, and (3) a difficult 110y blind with the line across a corner of high cover on the left, then under the arc of the leftmost mark, then diagonally across a mowed strip with an angle entry into high cover on the right.

The second series was a water triple. The first mark, in the center, was on a line past a point on the right, then past a point on the left, then to the vicinity in the water of a third point. The throw was supposed to be in reeds, but neither the original thrower, nor I when I relieved him, managed to put a single bird into the reeds, we always overthrew. After that mark was thrown, the second bird splashed down between the near shoreline and reeds 20y from the start line, an unusual competition fall worth giving the dogs some experience with. Finally, the go-bird was a cheaty mark on the left with a sharp angle entry.

The water series had two available blinds. One was to the right of the cheaty go-bird, so still a bit cheaty. The longer blind was the most difficult blind of the day; one of the trainers said it was more like an all-age blind than a Master or Qual blind. The start line was on the same shore as the one for the triple, but some distance to the side. The line was between the same two points as the long first mark of the triple, then thru the area of that fall (that is, past another point on the right), then up onto a fourth point, and finally another ten yards inland. So the blind featured several chances to lose the dog on either side of the narrow corridor.

After yesterday's work, Laddie and I got home after 6pm, and this morning we were back on the road before 5am. Arriving at our group location before the other teams, I ran Laddie on a 180y blind that required him to jump over an overturned canoe at 50y, then make a difficult water entry at 140y.

When the group leader arrived, he set up a triple intended to be run as three singles and modified as appropriate for each dog. Each mark was up-the-shore at the right edge of one of the ponds, with the wind blowing LTR. Because I had another training appointment (see below), I ran Laddie on the two outer marks, shortening them and changing the angle on the last one, which featured a swim diagonally across a channel, then a re-entry to a pond for the up-the-shore throw.

After I ran Laddie on those two marks, I made my apologies and drove Laddie half an hour to a steeplechase course. There I had arranged to meet my friend Dave, who brought two ducks and two assistants. We ran two triples with the flyer at close range, Laddie as usual wearing a tab, which enabled me to prevent him from breaking. For the first triple, the flyer was thrown as the go-bird. For the second triple, the flyer was thrown second, while the go-bird was thrown 180 degrees away on the left. The center mark, thrown first from behind a tree, on a line only a few degrees to the left of the gunner with the flyer, was difficult because Laddie, naturally, was focused on the guy with the live duck. In fact, I wasn't sure Laddie had seen the first throw, so I stopped the series and requested that we start again. It turns out that at least the second time, he did watch the throw, then quickly shifted his gaze to the flyer. Maybe that's what he had done the first time as well.

After we completed our training with Dave and his friends, Laddie and I drove back to the earlier location, where they were running the last dog on the series I described above. At my request, they let me run Laddie on the last mark again.

To end the day, the group leader set up three marks, all about 200y, again to be run as singles but with all the throwers standing the entire time. They were all within a 30 degree angle, but presented three separate concepts: the first was an obvious land single run to the left of the edge of a pond. The third was an obvious water mark, run across the center of the pond. In between was a cheaty water mark, featuring a run thru high cover so that when the dog emerged, she had to choose immediately whether to take the water entry in front of her or veer off and run the bank on the left.

After our three hour drive home, I rinsed Laddie off with the hose and dried him with the power drier, and at last our weekend of work was over.


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trained with four birds

Despite Laddie's previous steadiness training and the fact that he is training for Master, we trained today as with a young dog just beginning to train for Senior: pigeon flyer at 25y (ducks not available), Laddie on tab runs one mark, then honors Lumi (being run by an assistant) for same mark (again Laddie on tab). Move start line and gun station, again 25y flyer mark, again Laddie runs first, then honors Lumi.

Without the tab, I think Laddie would have been steady on second mark as working dog, would have broken on other three, but hard to be sure.

Dave, my shooter, made clear he was amenable to continued work together on upcoming weekends, so I'm optimistic we can get this problem, at least, out of the way in preparing Laddie to run in Master again later this season.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Broke on flyer

As an unsurprising follow-up to last weekend's events, Laddie broke on the flyer in today's Master.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Smiley face not

With Laddie entered in a Master next weekend, I thought it would be prudent to work on his steadiness this weekend. Tomorrow being Mother's Day, I was unable to arrange for a shooter, so our only shot, so to speak, was today.

The logistics were complex. Besides making arrangements with the shooter, I needed three assistants (two to throw dead birds for the triples and one to run Lumi while Laddie honored), four flyers (for two triples, two dogs), and a venue with land and water at a location acceptable to my shooter. I also needed to arrange to pick up Lumi at my daughter's house, where Lumi lives now.

Lumi was half an hour south of me. The venue was two hours south of me. The birds were three and a half hours south of me. Not all in a straight line, but you get the idea.

To get to the venue with the birds at 2pm as arranged, I had to leave the house with the helpers at 9am. Since I can usually knock a good bit of time off GPS estimates on Interstates, 930 actually seemed reasonable, but to play it safe, I left at 830.

I'll leave it as an exercise to compute the costs, including gas and wear on the van, but that would be completely incorrect. It turns out that a combination of multi-vehicle collisions en route and heavy traffic added four hours to the trip, and we didn't arrive at the venue with the birds till after 5.

The shooter had a date so he wasn't willing to wait past 430, but he was angry -- or as he said, very disappointed -- because he said it cost him both the fee I would have paid and another that he canceled in an attempt to accommodate me.
Of course I will send him a check to cover his losses.

We still ran triples (both water), but that meant paying the helpers more, since they ended up being out much longer than I had originally planned on.

Without a shooter, the dogs saw no flyers, so no steadiness work for Laddie, the while point of the arrangements lost. But I have no place to keep ducks, so I gave them to the owner of the training property. I also paid for two dogs training.

Plus breakfast and dinner for the helpers.

Today cost hundreds of dollars, and much more if you consider the fact that I couldn't work and bill for my consulting gig.

Did I mention we didn't get to work on steadiness?


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Retired center marks with converging pairs

With freezing temps overnight this week, I still find it too cold to train in water, despite Laddie being entered in a trial next weekend. But we went out with three assistants and ran two land triples.

Conditions: bright sunlight but cold and breezy. Terrain: rolling hills, large patches of high but sparse grass. Dirt road crossings on every mark, various angles, including suction to run on or along the road on two of the marks.

Series A. Land triple with center gun retired

First mark was on the left, LTR from the edge of the road into a large patch of high cover at 270y. Second mark was in the center, RTL on an angle back at 190y. Throw was along edge of a large patch of high cover, so that the gunner (retired) was inside the patch, and the fall was also well inside the patch. Third mark was on the right, thrown by a prominent gun LTR into a patch of high cover at 60y.

Some of the challenges:

- Line mechanics: Though go-bird thrown to right, had to run Laddie on my left so that I could block him from turning too far after the first throw and never seeing the center throw.

- Memory-birds were converging throws.

- Center gun was retired, while long gun stayed out, increasing risk of confusion and a pop, or a switch if dog needed to hunt the second mark.

- Easiest trip to long gun would have been to run along the road to the gunner, then cut right to the fall, rather than take a straight line on a sharp diagonal across the road and into high cover.

How Laddie did:

- Watched all the throws

- Nailed right mark

- Took good line to center mark well back in high cover, but then needed hunt. Though hunt took Laddie toward gunner on left at one point, he turned back to the center fall, never switching or popping (yay)

- Nailed left mark, including sharp diagonal road crossing and angle entry into cover

Series B. Indent land triple with center gun retired

First mark was on the left, thrown LTR behind high cover at 290y. Second mark was in the center, thrown RTL into high cover at 70y. Third mark was on the right, thrown RTL behind large patch of high cover at 240y.


- Nearly 180 degrees from first to third throw, with center mark halfway, unusually wide angles for us

- Line mechanics again: This time the risk would be that Laddie would keep his gaze on the second throw and never see the third throw, so although go-bird was thrown to left, I ran Laddie on my right so I could visually push him, if necessary, to the go-bird

- Another risk was that he would "lie", that is, take an initial line to the go-bird but then veer over to the center bird

- Easiest trip to go-bird would have been to run along road to gunner, then turn left to the fall, whereas desirable straight trip was on a sharp angle across road and into high cover. This was a mirror image of the long memory-bird in Series A.

- Converging memory-birds probably not too confusing because of wide angles, but center bird the shortest and retired, still a potentially confusing configuration

- View of long memory-bird was thru branches of a small tree 50y out, making gunner a bit difficult to find

- Trip to long memory-bird included run thru cleared area, then entry into patch of cover and small trees. Would have been easiest to cheat around that last patch of cover.

How Laddie did: Watched all the throws, nailed every mark, not succumbing to any of the challenges mentioned above.

A good day of work.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Laddie's confidence improving

Laddie has now run eight triples in a row, over about two weeks, without a pop. Every one featured a retired gun, a 300+y mark, or both, and every one was run on rough, variable terrain with irregular crests, depressions, and embankments. Some of the marks were difficult enough to require a hunt, thus difficult enough to challenge Laddie's confidence. So I'm pleased that none resulted in a pop. That has been my greatest concern over the winter.

As an example of our current training sessions, today we ran two series. The first was an around-the-horn indent with the 110y center gun retired and a big memory-bird. The second was an xmas tree with the big center gun retired and the memory marks converging.

The money bird on the last one was the center memory mark: It was over 300y, angling into a head wind and the late afternoon sun, uphill, across a dirt road, a boulder-filled drainage ditch, and another dirt road, and over any number of ridges and depressions, some steep-banked. The fall was in a large, featureless patch of thick, long, dead, bent-over grass, while the gunner was retired behind a mound well to the right of where he'd thrown RTL from. When I sent Laddie, he looked at first like he might be headed too far right, but he was just navigating the terran and angled back left onto a good line once he's crossed the drainage ditch. He needed a hunt once he got to the area of the fall, and I was ready to call for help if he popped or got lost, but in a few seconds he picked up the bumper and headed back.

I always enjoy Laddie nailing a mark, as he had all the others today. But it was also good to see him needing a hunt and yet not popping.

Tonight I think I'll be entering Laddie in our first trial of the season. I haven't decided which one yet.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Re-throwing memory-birds

At the suggestion of a training buddy, and based as I understand it on something that Alan Pleasant and perhaps other trainers frequently do, I'm experimenting with using re-throws on memory birds for Laddie's marking series, starting in today's sessions (three triples; that is, doubles plus a side throw).

The way I'm doing it is this: Laddie watches the throws as usual, and picks up the go-bird as usual. Then, before each of the memory-birds, I have the gunner silently throw another bumper before sending Laddie to pick up that one.

I'm working on converging memory marks these days, which I realized two or three weeks ago can be quite confusing. We haven't had a lot of practice sessions since then, though, because of time and financial constraints. Another reason was that Carol, our holistic vet, suspected that Laddie might have a slight muscle tear somewhere, and the next day after she said that, Laddie had a poor training session. With all those factors conspiring, it seemed like a good time to take a week off, difficult as that is for Laddie and me.

Anyway, today we did converging memory marks with re-throws, and Laddie had zero problem with them. He ran a good line to every fall, and showed no sign of the confusion that seems to lead to popping.

Since the goal was to improve marking and confidence, while making popping less likely, the approach seemed to be working. However, I'm not so sure it really was. Those marks seemed awfully easy.

While I can see the potential for improved performance by using re-throws, I can also see some possible downsides:

* It could be that training that way is just a waste of time, "aerobics" as Alice says. Laddie might not actually be learning anything that will help him in a trial.

* It could be worse than that: I could imagine that for some dogs, they could gradually become somewhat lackadaisical about watching the early throws, with the result that their focus, drive, and marking would actually diminish, especially under trial conditions where they didn't get the re-throw.

* It could be even worse still: I could also imagine that if the dog came to expect the pattern of throw-then-go on every mark, and then in a trial the dog was sent without a re-throw on the memory marks, you could see a no-go, or a confused outrun leading to a pop.

I think all those problems could be eliminated by using re-throws intermittently, and the second two would seem unlikely for a dog as prey-driven and experienced as Laddie. However, the problem with intermittent re-throws becomes, What's the rule? How do I know when Laddie's going to have trouble with his line or confusion, since those are the marks I'd want to use a re-throw for.

It does feel good to go out and have Laddie run a whole day with no confidence issues. I just don't know yet whether this is a good way to achieve the desired goals.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Convergent memory-birds at Byron's farm

This morning, Laddie and I trained with the same FT group again, this time at Byron's farm. I'm so grateful we're having opportunities to train with other FT trainers again.

Today we ran a long key-hole blind, then an FT-scale triple, then a Master-scale triple complete with duck calls and hidden guns, and finally another FT-scale triple — this time in indent configuration, around the horn with the middle gun retired — with two more key-hole triples, one Master-scale and outside the triple, the other FT-scale and behind the middle gun.

Between yesterday and today, I noticed something that for some reason I haven't really appreciated in the past: what a difficult concept convergent memory-birds within a triple or quad can be. I think it seems to be especially difficult if the two marks are different distances and within a relatively tight angle, but not in line.

I also noticed that retiring the short gun makes it worse, assuming you want the dog to pick the short mark first. The reason I say this is that with the long gunner visible, the dog is likely to select the long mark as the first one to run. But if you want the judges to see your dog nail every mark, depending on the wind, you may not want the dog to head for the long mark first, because the dog might suddenly change direction on the way out because of catching sight or scent of the short bird. So the dog needs to learn to pick up the short mark first in that picture.

In addition, I think retiring the longer gun may actually make setups like those easier. Leaving the long gun out makes it more likely the dog will "lie", that is, take an initial line as sent to the retired mark but then, catching sight of the long gunner, swerve over in that direction.

Convergent memory-birds: Definitely something for us to work on.

NOTE: Although I highlighted convergent memory-marks in this post, I guess any setup featuring relatively tight memory-birds with the short gun retired is worth working on, and having the longer gun retired in those situations makes the setup easier for the same reason as mentioned above.

Training group at Bobby's farm

I was invited to train with the same FT group as last time again. Yay! Will be training with them again tomorrow, too, at another location.

Notes, in no particular order:

- One of the other trainers follows my blog, it seems, and commented on the radio that it was surprising Laddie had not been Force Fetched, with his good grabs of the ducks.That was nice to hear. Plus, another trainer then came up to me and said,"He wasn't forced?" When I told him how Laddie and Lumi were trained, he seemed genuinely surprised and pleased. This friendly reaction from a traditional trainer was a nice moment of reward for all that my dogs and I have been thru, and a tribute to my mentors, Alice and Jody, as well.

- For some reason, the others ran all singles on each setup, whereas I had Laddie run two triples before the ABCD drill at the end.

- First series was a biggish but easy triple, plus a Senior-scale blind outside the left gun (go-bird) and a 330y blind down the middle with two points of woods on the left as wraps. Only one other dog tried the big blind and did in fact get sucked behind the first point, then went OOC. Laddie ran last. I had him watch the three throws, then ran him on the short blind, which he lined. Then he nailed the three marks, and finally two-whistled the long blind. Sounds good, right? But we had one huge flaw: Laddie became very noisy when I called him off the go-bird to run the blind. Despite the otherwise high quality work, I know now that some judges would have penalized that noise.

- The second triple plus long, under-the-arc blind, with the 2nd, rightmost gun retired, went ok except for two problems (!): Laddie popped on the long middle memory-bird, and then (like all but one of the other dogs) hooked the gun. I wish I knew what confused him and the others so we could practice it, but to me it looked like a simple, longish mark on flat ground. Although Laddie took an excellent initial line, I guess he didn't actually remember the fall, so I guess the pop and the hook were just two symptoms with the same cause. But while almost all of the other dogs apparently were also confused about where they were going, Laddie was the only one who popped. Then again, he was the only one not running singles.

- A female who had been in heat in JAN was present. Laddie was greatly distracted and needed to be urged to get his noise up and watch the throws on all the series. I don't know how much that might have caused some of his performance troubles.

I hope I'm wrong, but Laddie may be nearing the end of his career. I don't seem able to fix either the popping or the vocalizing, and both would seem to condemn him to a ceiling of Qual JAMs. Not ready to quit yet, of course, but out of ideas.

Overnight temps will continue to be in the 30s in NC, where Laddie's trial will be on FRI. Still sub-freezing here, so if he makes it to water in the trial, it will be first time in the water since his last trial in the fall. I signed him up on the closing date as the 8th dog, but afterwards, a couple of pros entered their strings, and we ended up with 21 dogs. They've probably been practicing in the south and have been swimming all winter. Laddie will have his work cut out for him.

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