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.

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