For the last few weeks, Laddie and I have had very little opportunity to work on marking. Half my assistants have gone away to college, and another one has moved, but I could probably still get together enough for local land triples, and maybe will do so at some point. The trouble is that at best, that would be preparation for the land triple at a Quad. It wouldn't help us with water, and I doubt it would help us much with all-age preparation. But I haven't been able to train with any all-age trainers in several weeks.
So instead, Laddie and I have been primarily working on blinds.
For land blinds, I usually take us somewhere near home and work on long blinds that have one or more factors as far from the start line as possible. Typical factors include keyholes, entries into cover when an easy cheat is available, diversions such as slightly offline lining pole with ribbon at top and large white bumper at base, diagonal slopes, mounds, and stands of trees to run past without wrapping around them.
I recognize that all-age blinds typically include water, and we aren't practicing long, difficult land/water blinds at this time. But hopefully Laddie is still benefitting from practicing with the factors that I am incorporating.
Meanwhile, we now run virtually all of our water blinds at the closest training property, which is anywhere from two to four hours of driving roundtrip depending on traffic. Today was fairly typical, a two-hour training session sandwiched between two 2-hour drives.
I am no longer setting up many beginner or intermediate drills for Laddie to work on his vocalizing. Instead, he is running mostly Qual-level water blinds, with one primary rule: if he vocalizes at any time during the blind, I call Here or No, Here, and he has to come back and start over. I've experimented with calling back only partially, but it tends to create confusion and I don't think the lesson is as clear.
Today was typical of these devocalization sessions. When I arrived, I mentally pictured an area where Laddie and I would set up five start lines, and then I placed five 2" orange bumpers at placements that would require a substantial swim and crossing a point in the middle. Some points would be on the right, some on the left. Then I drove us over to the other side of the ponds and channels I was using and one by one, had Laddie run each of the blinds.
I interspersed poorman marks among the blinds, each mark characterized by a line that passed near a point but not over it. The goal of the marks was twofold: to make the session more enjoyable for Laddie, who much prefers marks to blinds, and to reinforce his long-standing tendency to stay off any point he comes near, even swimming around it if necessary in order to avoid climbing onto it. I'm counting on qual and all-age judges not penalizing Laddie too much if he does that on a competition mark.
After Laddie completed those five blinds, I set up another five blinds from a different set of start lines, and drove Laddie around to the other side to run those.
First the bad news: Laddie vocalized at least once on each of the first five blinds, during either the first water entry, or the first cast needed on the way to the point, or the cast off the point into the second cove. Of those, by far the most incidents were on the first cast after Laddie was in the water. I could speculate, but I don't really know why Laddie was so likely to vocalize in that situation today.
Now the good news: Laddie did not vocalize a single time on the final five blinds, though I tried to make them just as challenging as the first set.
This time I didn't intersperse marks because other trainers had begun working on another pond a bit too nearby and I wanted to move away from them as soon as possible. But after the blinds, we moved to another part of the property and ran several poorman water marks, again featuring swims close to but not onto points of land. I used high throws, gunshots, and remote sends to try to make this final work of the day as exciting for Laddie as possible.
With respect to the two batches of five water blinds, it makes sense that Laddie would gradually improve during the session, assuming that the approach I'm using does have the intended result of building reinforcement history for running blinds without vocalizing. But the sharp demarcation in performance between the two groups of blinds doesn't really make sense to me. Why vocalize on every blind in the first group, and none in the second?
In any case, if you've been reading these devocalization posts from the beginning, I hope you're not getting too discouraged that this is taking so long. I admit that I feel discouraged at times myself.
But at the beginning, we didn't even know if it would be possible to get anywhere on this problem without breaking something else, much less how to accomplish it or how long it would take. Now today, Laddie was able to run five reasonably long and difficult water blinds that included on-and-off points in a row without vocalizing a single time, whereas at the beginning of our work on this problem, he had reached the point of almost invariably vocalizing even for a simple cast into a pond from ten yards away.
I still don't know whether Laddie knows that he sometimes vocalizes. But somehow he's been able to sort out to some extent which behaviors enable him to continue toward the prize, and which get him picked up, however it is he understands the difference between those two classes of behavior. He may not understand the difference as a matter of vocalizing. Maybe for him it:s a psychological state, such as feeling more or less tense, which only externally happens to manifest as vocalizing without Laddie realizing it.
At the minimum, I feel we can conclude that reasoning has little if anything to do with the process. Laddie's behavior to me seems often too illogical to fit a reason-based model of his learning process.
We had some good work in today's session. I feel it shows that while we're hardly at the end of our journey, we're a good way down the road.