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.

No comments:

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