Saturday, August 16, 2014

Devocalization, on-and-off point to pile, moving handler

For the last couple of afternoons, I've made the 2-hour drive in rush hour to our closest training property, Wednesday alone and Thursday with an assistant.

We used four courses: 30y with point on right, 70y with point on left, 90y with point on left, and 90y with point on right. For the first course, I threw each bumper across a channel before running Laddie to it. For the others, I placed a lining pole with white and orange 2" bumpers at its base.

In all cases, I ran Laddie from the start line. Although I experimented with using a whistle sit, he was least likely to vocalize if I used a verbal sit cue. Similarly, I used silent casts in most cases, both to cast Laddie over and onto the point, and to cast him on an angle back off the point and to the lining pole and bumper.

For every one or two sight blinds run in this way, a total of about five on each course, I ran the same course as a mark, that is, without handling. For the first two courses on Wednesday, that meant moving our start line so the point was clearly off line and then sending Laddie with his name instead of saying "dead bird, back". On Thursday, I also moved the start line, and then had my assistant throw a 3" white bumper to the lining pole with a gunshot. 

Laddie seemed very comfortable with the marks, never vocalizing, never hesitating, never attempting to cheat the water entry, never even glancing at the point as he swam past it on his way straight to the bumper.

On the blinds, at first I did not stop Laddie if he made a whining sound as he swam across the first cove of each course, attempting to swim wide of the point. But during the forth series, I began to gently call him back at the instant he whined. I had to do this six times in a row the first time I tried it, and wondered if he'd start to no-go. But he never did, and on the seventh try, he continued across the cove without vocalizing.

Oddly, he made another change at the same time: He took a line closer to the point than he had been doing, resulting in a shorter "over" onto the point. I have no idea why, but of course that was a nice bonus. From now on I'll always call him back if he starts to whine.

The most important innovation for all of these courses was that s Laddie swam across the first cove, I walked around on the bank toward the point, and handled him from there rather than from the start line. This had no effect on his performance, because he always took the casts. But for some reason using me closer to him seemed to relieve some stress, and he was much less likely to vocalize on the casts. As I have been for weeks, I always called Laddie back if he vocalized, either restarting the blind from the start line or picking up in the middle from where he had vocalized. But with me positioned along the shore of the first cove, vocalizing on the "over" or the "back" casts (both silent) were much less likely.

This success was rewarding, because it's easy to imagine that with time, I can gradually reduce how much I need to move off the start line and along the shore, until eventually Laddie will take the casts noiselessly when I cast from the start line itself. How long it will take us to get to that point, however, is anyone's guess.

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