Monday, June 30, 2014

Land blinds with lining poles as diversion

Today I brought Laddie to the dog park for socializing, but firsti I ran him on three blinds in a nearby field.

A. 370y past stand of trees on the right at 200y. The suction to the right was strong past the trees, not only because Laddie tends to wrap behind such obstacles anyway, but also because temps were in mid-80s and the only available shade was back there. In addition, I placed an orange lining pole with a ribbon tied to the top in the field behind the outcropping of trees on the right so that it suddenly became visible as the dog ran past the trees.

B. 240y and a smaller mirror image of A, including the lining pole, but in a different part of the field and with a different orientation.

C. 250y from same start line as B but on a different line to the right, which went thru a tight keyhole between two trees at 180y. The same lining pole that acted as a diversion for B also acted as a diversion for C, and in addition, the lining pole that makes the blind for B also acted as a diversion for C.

These blinds were just as important for my training as for Laddie's, because it is essential that I anticipate where the flection points are and stop him before he suddenly darts to the side. If I wait till he veers off, he is too fast for me to stop him before he gets out of sight.

As these blinds illustrated, a strategically placed lining pole, perhaps with a white bumper or a bird at the base, can greatly increase the difficulty of a blind that might otherwise not be too much of a challenge for the particular dog.

Follow up on yesterday's group training day

When I reread yesterday's post about Laddie's work at the group training day, I saw that it did not seem to reflect my generally positive feeling about Laddie's work. So I thought I'd explain that Laddie was running perhaps the most difficult versions of each series.

For example, for Series A, as far as I know, none of the dogs ran the long blind on the right under the arc while the poison bird was still down, and if any did, it was only one or two of the most advanced dogs. But unlike Laddie, many of the dogs ran the shorter blind on the right without the poison bird down. In addition, as far as I know, no dog ran a tighter line on either of the blinds, and several required significantly more handling.

For Series B, no other dog ran it as a full quad with all the memory birds retired, and as far as I can remember, everyone except Laddie who ran #2 (the water mark) with the gun retired had the gunner un-retire, and in several cases even throw another bumper, before sending the dog. Yet Laddie was one of the only dogs, or perhaps the only dog who completed the final land segment to the fall without a hunt. Also, Laddie was not the only dog who got on the last point and then tried to run the bank, and at least one dog, and possibly several, actually did run the bank since the handler did not or could not bring the dog back.

Finally, many of the dogs ran #1 (the longest mark) with the gun out, and most or all of those few who ran it with the gun retired as Laddie did also had big hunts, and in some cases also needed help.

In other words, while Laddie's work was not perfect, it was actually quite good despite the fact that he was running particularly difficult versions of the setups. 

Given how much more experience some/most of those trainers have than me, and given how much more experience with all-age trials some of the dogs have than Laddie (who broke on the first series of his only all-age stake), I think it's fair to question whether I used good judgment in running the versions that I did. I felt that Laddie and I benefited from the training, but given that we choose pretty much the most difficult options, I wonder if a more experienced trainer working with Laddie would have opted for easier versions.

One last note. I mentioned in the earlier post that Laddie has little experience with quads, but this morning I realized that that's not entirely true. Evey morning I take Laddie into the front yard to run one or more little marks before letting him air to get him used to coming straight back even when he feels a need to mark or eliminate, since we were once dropped from a qual after three good series with the explanation from the judge, "too much airing on returns."

Well, after Laddie got his MH, I began running most of those morning exercises as little quads. So Laddie has had an opportunity to practice counting to four.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Group training day

Today Laddie and I had an opportunity to train with a field trial group. The dogs were at a wide range of levels, so people ran each of the two series differently depending on their dogs. Here I'll describe them the way Laddie ran them.

Series A (all land). Double blind with poison bird

First a duck was thrown RTL at 40y. Then, having Laddie change sides to help him understand he should leave the "poison" bird alone, I ran Laddie on a 120y blind on the right of (behind) the gun. Next I sent Laddie to pick up the poison bird. Finally, I ran Laddie on a 150y blind under the arc of the earlier throw.

Primary factors for the blinds were angle entries into medium high cover and diagonal slope traversals.

Laddie did a nice job on this series. I was particularly pleased with his initial line on the second blind, which took him close to the gun positioned atop a narrow curving raised path, requiring Laddie to take a good initial line and then hold it on the curving slope under the arc of the previously thrown bird.

I believe Laddie needed only two or three whistles for each of the blinds, though that could be faulty memory on my part.

Series B. Land/water quad

The first mark was on the right, thrown RTL at 180y over land. The second mark was inside the leftmost gun, thrown RTL at 160y. The line to this mark consisted of a long downhill land segment, a water segment with three points for the dog to go either over or around, and a final uphill land segment. The third mark was inside the rightmost gun, thrown LTR at 110y over land, the throw converging with #1. The forth mark was on the left, thrown LTR at 80y back and into the pond and accompanied by a popper cartridge shot by a shotgun rather than blank pistols as used for the other guns. #4 converged with #2.

I asked the three memory guns to retire when I sent Laddie to #4.

I had Laddie pick up the marks in the reverse order thrown. He started by nailing #4 and #3. He then took a nice line to #2 on land and a nice entry into the pond. He held his line between points on both sides but then, instead of navigating around the final point on the right as I would have preferred, he held his line, which took him over that point. He started to continue on to the back side of the point, but suddenly darted to the right and behind some reeds, attempting to run the bank of the last inlet. I blew a prolonged series of tweets till he came back into sight, then cast into open water to the outside of the point, enabling him to complete the swim to the far shore. He then ran straight to the bird, which was harder than it sounds; most dogs needed to hunt for that mark. 

Although I normally let Laddie run the bank on returns, virtually no one else does and I decided to have him swim all the way back. At midpoint he seemed to become distracted, dropping the bumper and starting to swim toward me without it. However he instantly responded when I called "Fetch". He had another lapse on the return uphill -- he dropped the bumper and began to roll on it, I guess trying to dry off and give himself a back massage at the same time. I knew that would be a serious and disqualifying fault in an event. I instantly called "Get up", which he did, but then he started toward me without the bumper, so I again had to call "Fetch".

Finally I lined Laddie up on #1, the long retired mark on the right. Based on his body language, he seemed to remember it, though we rarely run quads and all the guns were retired. Indeed, he took a good line the first 140y, that is, to the bottom of a shallow ditch, the same ditch that the converging #3 had been thrown into. At that point, Laddie lost his bearings and began to hunt, then suddenly darted toward the old fall of #3, at which point I called for help from the #1 gunner.

That completed Laddie's work on Series B, and despite my detailed description of his faults, this was one of the most difficult versions, if not the most difficult version, of the way the various dogs ran this series, and Laddie showed his good marking ability throughout, even with all the memory birds retired, with the exception of having apparently forgotten the distance of #1. In retrospect, I might have been able to help him by saying "way back" before sending him if I'd realized that might happen. Granted he tried to run the bank for the water re-entry during #2, but as another trainer commented, he seemed to remember where the fall was and might well have run straight to it after running around the inlet if I had not handled him.

After everyone had run and all the equipment was sorted out, one of the trainers was kind enough to help me with one last retrieve for Laddie. Namely, I had Laddie rerun just the water segment of #2., with the thrower using a silent throw. I was pleased to see that this time, Laddie swam between the first two points as before, but around the final point rather than over it, completing the entire swim without difficulty. He then picked up the bumper and completed the return swim, again without difficulty, rather than getting distracted halfway back.

Too bad he hadn't run the water segment that way the first time, but I guess that's why we have to continue training. Like any other field dog I guess.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Three land blinds

Again getting out early to beat the expected hot temperatures later, Laddie and I drove to a property in Germantown to run blinds.

A. 370y, featuring a down slope at 160y resulting in dog being out of sight for several seconds, an S-shaped road of which the line to the blind repeatedly crossed the edges, taking the dog on and off and on and off the road, both short and high cover at road's edge, and woods on both sides past the cover.

B. 570y, featuring large trees casting shadows on the right and acting as suction from the heat of the bright sun, an opportunity for the dog to wrap around a large tree on the right at 520y and out of sight, also a crest at 520y requiring the dog to go out of sight for a few seconds, and a diagonal road crossing at 530y while the dog was out of sight. I was able to handle Laddie to the crest, then stop him without waiting to see whether he would veer behind the tree since then it would be too late to stop him in time, and finally cast him straight back, over the crest, out of sight, diagonally across the road, and up a hill where he came back into sight as he ran straight to the bumper.

C. A re-run of the last 210y of the first blind.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Retired singles with multiple guns out

On two different training days - once a couple of years ago and once last weekend - Laddie had difficulty on a particular kind of setup that none of the other dogs happened to have those days. The setup in each case was a triple with all the gunners visible in their white jackets, but with me calling for only the long mark and then sending Laddie.

This is known, I believe, as "singles with the guns out". I think the idea is that it helps dogs develop skill and confidence in accurate marking.

It's also supposed to help with head swinging. That's because, if the dog comes to believe that she might be sent immediately after a throw, she's less likely to take her eyes off the mark until something (typically the next gunshot) draws her attention away. That's a desired behavior, since it maximizes the dog's time to memorize each mark, though some dogs are successful turning away from the throw as soon as it lands. The most harmful kind of head swinging, I guess, is when the dog looks away before the throw even occurs.

Naturally Laddie has often run singles with the guns out, but he's not generally a head swinger, and following suggestions I've gotten from Alice Woodyard, I tend to run multiples, especially triples, perhaps more often than some trainers.

Based on Laddie's behavior on the two occasions I mentioned, he found the fact that he was being sent after just one throw, when other guns were visible, confusing. In both cases, he launched when I called his name, but after running some distance with an increasing appearance of uncertainty, he finally spun around and looked at me ("popped"). "I don't get it, Daddy," he seemed to be saying. "Why did you send me? Did the other throws happen without me noticing? Which bird am I supposed to be picking up?"

This may have been exasperated because the last few months we've been training with a lot of fake throws to give Laddie confidence in case sometimes he doesn't see the throw.

So I guess suddenly seeing a single, when in fact we might have been using a fake throw for one or more other marks, or maybe he just missed the real throws, was a bit too confusing. Of course he should be able to tell the difference between a single with guns out and multiple throws or fake throws, but the pictures were apparently difficult for Laddie to separate in his mind based on his experience.

To work on the issue, this morning Laddie and I went out with two bird-girls, making an early, 7am start because of the expected heat later. I created two setups in succession, virtually identical but mirror images and at different orientations on the field. In each setup, one gunner was at approx 280y, the other at approx 150y. The left gun would throw LTR and the right gun would throw RTL, that is, a pinch configuration. The angle between the guns placed the long gun in line with the short fall.

In each setup, Laddie ran two singles, for a total of four marks for the session. We ran each setup as follows:

- I asked the short gun to waggle her arms until Laddie locked in to make sure Laddie was aware of her, even though (unbeknownst to Laddie) she would not be throwing.

- I asked the long gun to waggle her arms. She was about to throw.

- I called for the throw from the long gun.

- I threw a bumper to the side for Laddie to pick up, giving the long gun a chance to retire (that is, put up an umbrella to hide behind).

- I sent Laddie to pick up the long retired mark.

- Again calling for guns up, I asked the long gun to waggle, though this time she would not be throwing.

- I asked the short gun to waggle. She was about to throw.

- I called for the throw from the short gun.

- I threw a side throw while the short gun retired.

- I sent Laddie to pick up the short retired mark, with the long gun visible in the same line but of course further back.

Laddie did a nice job throughout the session, showing no hesitancy or confusion at any time. His only difficulty was that, after nailing the long retired mark with the short gun out, he overran the short retired mark with the long gun out (and in line with the fall he was running to) on the first setup. I didn't think it was too bad, though, since he immediately circled back straight to the fall.

For the second setup, he just ran two nice marks.

Hopefully today's work will help Laddie avoid becoming confused next time we go to a training day and run single with the guns out.

Land blinds with wraps

With evening temps in the mid-80s, I took Laddie to a huge field I've discovered in Germantown and ran him on two land blinds.

My primary objective was to run Laddie past stands of trees at distance. Laddie has a tendency to wrap around large objects like hedgerows, and I need to practice anticipating the wrap and blowing a sit whistle before he veers off course. If I wait till he actually breaks to the side, he's too fast for me to stop before he gets out of sight being the obstacle.

Our first blind was 240y, featuring a keyhole at 80y and a stand of trees on the left at 200y.

Our second blind was 490y, featuring a diagonal road crossing at 30y, a stand of trees on left at 150y, ascending a slope on a long diagonal at 180y, and a stand of trees on right at 450y.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Working on water honesty

I wish I had time for a catch-up post on all the interesting (at least to me) work Laddie and I have been doing, but I guess I'll just write a single- day journal entry for now.

Yesterday I brought Laddie and one bird-boy to Cheltenham to work on water honesty. Temps were in the high 80s, too hot for much land work, but Laddie seemed fine with the hour or so of water work.

I used a half dozen or so single water mark setups intended to give Laddie practice choosing water rather than land to stay on line.

I say "practice" rather than "train", though of course it's still training, because I found that whenever Laddie attempted to cheat, I never needed to blow the whistle and handle him, as I would have if this were earlier in his development. Instead, I found I could call "no, here" (or some variation thereof), bring him back to heel, and send him again. In all cases but one, he then ran the mark as I wanted him to, taking water, indicating to me that he just needed to practice this concept rather than requiring detailed guidance. For the one case where re-sending didn't work, which featured an ambiguous initial water entry followed by a point and unambiguous but difficult re-entry, after he cheated the first entry twice, I decided to move up to make the first entry unambiguous, and then he ran both entries correctly.

One of my favorite performances was a mark consisting of a longish swim to a point, across an inlet to a second point, and finally across another inlet to the bumper. I had the bumper thrown so that it would be visible from the second point, so there would be no question, if Laddie cheated, as to whether he knew where the direct line to the mark was.

For this setup, I was willing to accept Laddie going around either or both points, or getting on and off either or both points, as long as he didn't run the bank around either inlet. But it was a big swim if he chose to swim around both points. Yet that's what he did, and then stayed on line and in the water even as he got close to the bumper, rather than squaring the bank to shorten the last few yards of his swim. I thought it was a nice display of courage, facing down that long swim, as well as of water "honesty".

The last setup of the afternoon featured a longish land entry, a difficult angle into the water, and a swim across the pond parallel to, and a few yards from, the shoreline. When Laddie took a nice entry into the water, and again did not come out of the water early as he approached the far bank, I felt that was a good retrieve to end our session with.

As for other training Laddie and I have been doing since he completed his MH, I'll just mention that we're training approx every other day, training with field trial groups whenever possible, and working as best we can on the skills Laddie will need for all-age competition. I'll provide additional detail in future posts whenever possible.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

In our first all-age, Laddie broke

Well, Laddie's been in six events this spring: five Master tests, and today's Amateur, our first all-age stake ever.

In the week before three of those events, we trained with flyers, and Laddie passed, enabling him to complete his Master Hunter title.

In the week before the other three events, we did not train with flyers. In those three events, Laddie broke on the flyer in the first series.

I could discuss the obvious lesson (we need to train with flyers right before an event), and perhaps some not so obvious lessons, such as not letting a young dog break in early training, thinking that having the gunner pick up the bird is a good way to train the dog not to break (it's not, it's a good way for the dog to learn to break).

But instead, I'll just say, it is no fun coming back home without seeing what your dog could have done if he hadn't broken.

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