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.