Thursday, July 24, 2014

Devocalization, adding distance and clarifying the course

Yesterday, I took Laddie and an assistant out at 6:30am. We trained at a nearby field, but by 7am, it was too hot to continue there. We then moved to another field that had a shady area large enough for our course, and trained there another half hour.

In total, we did approximately six setups, each consisting of three retrieves to left and three to right. For each retrieve, I would send Laddie straight ahead, stop him with either "sit" or a tweet, and then cast him left or right, chosen randomly as much as possible. I telegraphed every cast with a lean, and used no verbal cue when casting. I immediately said "no" if he vocalized, which acted as an interruption of the retrieve and a recall.

In the early going, we had one sequence where Laddie vocalized and had to be called back repeatedly. Finally, instead of sending him to the center position, I walked with him at heel to that position, then put him in a sit facing me, and cast him, which he could do silently. I did that twice, once in each direction, and then moved a little way back, sent him from my side, stopped him with the whistle, and cast him, again with no noise. From this, I could see that distance of the original send increased risk of vocalizing, and increased distance only gradually from then on.

I also experimented with various uses of lining poles: one in front as a target for the original send, one at each pile of bumpers, both, neither. I'm not sure of their effects, since Laddie was also changing his responses as we progressed, but I think the poles at the bumpers were helpful till Laddie had memorized the course, and  were unnecessary but not harmful after that. I think the pole in the center was always helpful in clarifying where I was sending him, especially at longer distances.

Laddie had no vocalizing during the last several setups yesterday, running at least twenty retrieves in succession, and probably more, without vocalizing.

We had planned to train on water with a friend yesterday afternoon, but with temps in the 90s, we canceled.

This morning was much cooler, mid-60s, so I took Laddie out early again, this time with no assistant. Today's session was to a large extent a carbon copy of yesterday's, except that we increased distances and I used only whistle sits, no verbal "sit" cues. Like yesterday, we had one setup where Laddie vocalized every time we tried it, and I solved it the same way as yesterday.

Without describing all six  setups, six bumpers each, that we used this morning, I'll just describe the last one.

I placed a lining pole in the center position, so that I could send Laddie to it and then stop him a couple of yards before he reached it. Fifteen yards to line's left was a pile of three bumpers (not touching one another) that I believe Laddie could see from the start line and from the center position.  Fifteen yards to line's right was a pile of the bumpers over a small bank, so they were invisible till Laddie reached them.

The first send was a distance of 20y to the center position in front of the lining pole. During each retrieve, I moved back about six yards, and after each retrieve, all noiseless, we played a little tug and then I lined him up again. By continuously moving back, the last send was 50y to the center position.

Again Laddie ended the session with a long string of quiet retrieves, at least twenty. By the end, he was running setups similar to a Senior Hunt Test, except that in my experience a Senior judge would not expect the dog to be sent to a lining pole and then cast 15y away from the pole to the bird. If a pole were used, the bird would be at the pole.

Although it would be nice if Laddie could run every session without ever vocalizing, the fact that we can work past it, with him learning that he can't complete the retrieve if he vocalizes, seems to be working. It may even be preferable, in Laddie's case, that he develop a clear delimitation in his experience between what happens if he vocalizes, versus what happens if he doesn't. I would not have thought that beneficial, since it involves frustration and  it still involves him vocalizing, but hopefully it will turn out for the best.

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