Friday, October 2, 2015

Laddie takes Third at the Colonial Q

Last Saturday, Laddie ran in the Qualifying stake at the Colonial field trial in Connecticut and finished with his first field trial placement, a yellow ribbon for Third Place. After six qual JAMs plus two Reserve JAMs previously in his career, the placement was a significant breakthrough. As far as I know, Laddie is the only positive-trained retriever running field trials, so his placement may also be a new milestone for positive training of retrievers.

During the previous week, we'd attended a privately organized workshop with a pro, and I had learned several new techniques. I made an effort to apply those techniques to handling Laddie during the trial, so our first placement coming immediately after the workshop may not have been a coincidence.

In the following narrative, I'll describe each series of the test, give my impressions on how Laddie did, and include notes on how the workshop may have helped.

Note that, as usual in my posts, all distances are estimates.


Temps started in the high 40s, rising to the 70s during the day. The sky was variably cloudy. The wind was swirling, with speed estimated at 25MPH by the flyer gunner in the first series, but variable in speed and direction throughout the day.

Dogs entered: 33
Laddie's position in the running order: #2
No rotation was announced, so Laddie would be one of the first dogs in every series. It turned out that he ran second in the first series, and first in the remaining series.

Series A. Land triple with flyer, plus land blind, plus honor

The first mark was on the right, thrown RTL on a sharp angle back at 130y deep into shrubs, then retired while the second mark was being thrown. I might mention that I have not seen a mark thrown into a mass of shrubs before, nor seen a gun retired while the other birds were being thrown. Anyway, the second mark was on the left, thrown LTR at 190y, again deep into shrubs, this time flat and across a depression. The third mark was in the center, a flyer thrown high into the air RTL at 210y. As another unusual feature of the test, I've never seen a mark thrown so high before. It was several times higher than flyers are usually thrown. I believe the club was using a high-powered mechanical winger for the throw. After the dog picked up the marks, the dog ran the land blind by invitation, then honored the next working dog. The land blind was 150y, on a line 20y to the right of the line to the right mark and on the left of a tree line, which was close to the line to the blind in places.

Laddie ran as the second dog, but the right gunner had a bad throw the first time we came to the line, so the judge called a no-bird and asked us to go back three dogs. I had difficulty preventing Laddie from breaking, but I herded him back toward the holding blind until the judge said I could put him on lead. I then aired him, put him back in his crate, and took off my gear. When it was time to run again, I went thru my normal routine of putting the gear back on, in an attempt to normalize our second attempt at the series as much as possible despite the disruption of the no-bird.

At the line, I ran Laddie on my left and after he had picked out all the guns for himself, I gave him a long look at the left gun, which the test dog and #1 dog had long hunts on. Finally, I showed him the right gun and didn't show him the flyer myself, since I knew from experience that he, like most retrievers, was usually well aware of where the flyer in a setup was as soon as he came to the line.

When I called for the throws, Laddie watched the right and left throws, but never heard the shots or saw the flyer. When the judge called his number, he was still locked in on the left mark, so I sent him there and he picked it up with a small hunt, by far the best mark of the dogs I watched during that series. He also needed a small hunt on the right retired mark, with a few dogs later doing a bit better on that mark, but he didn't do a bad job.

As he was coming back, I said to the closest judge, "Now we have to run two blinds." The judge chuckled and said, "Yep." Laddie ran the flyer mark perfectly, lining to a point just a little left and downwind of the fall, then turning right and taking a step to the bird. The earlier dogs and many of the later dogs would have significant difficulty with the flyer even though it was the go-bird, running past it uphill to a treeline and often hunting far behind the gun, sometimes returning to the old fall of the right gun. So Laddie's work on the flyer, even though he hadn't seen it, was excellent. As I received the bird in the blind, the judge commented to the other judge, "Now the other handlers watching this are re-evaluating how to run it." Of course running the flyer go-bird last would be unconventional; I only did it because Laddie hadn't seen it. But a few other handlers did run it that way.

Laddie lined the blind. He was the only dog I saw do that in this series. You sometimes see later dogs in a test lining a land blind, I guess because of drag scent from earlier dogs, but Laddie didn't have much, if any, of that advantage running as #2. He just took a good initial line and held it the whole way.

Laddie was alert during the honor and watched the throws but showed no risk of breaking.

Workshop notes:

  • First look. As Laddie returned to the line after the first and second retrieves, I positioned myself so that as soon as he sat beside me, his first look was in the direction I was about to send him. I made some minor adjustments before sending him, but I didn't have to pull him off a completely different line. Similarly, when I walked to the line for the blind, I put Laddie in a sit near the line, went to the line myself to position myself, and then called him to me so that again, his first look was in the correct direction.
  • Stepping up. On the flyer, it was important to me that Laddie err to the left rather than the right if he was going to veer offline, because I didn't want him to end up behind the gun. On the blind, it was similarly important to me that he not veer to the left, because I didn't want to have to cast him into the wind if he veered too far off line. In each case, I didn't false-line him, which I don't think is a good idea, and the pro we trained with the previous week also said he doesn't believe in false lining. But I did step up toward Laddie's head before sending him as an influence to stay on the side I was sending him from as he ran the retrieve.
I would continue to use those concepts throughout the test, and plan to continue using them in training and competition in the future as well.


7 dogs were scratched
26 dogs ran the first series
8 dogs were called back, including Laddie

From my experience, calling back only 8 dogs for the second series was an unusually low number.

I thought the land series was pretty hard for a Q. Later, someone told me, "That wasn't a Qualifier set-up. They ran that same set-up last year for the Amateur."

Series B. Water blind

The water blind was 140y. The start line was on a steep slope. The initial line was on a diagonal down the slope thru a keyhole formed by two trees, so that one of the trees was significantly downhill from the other. Then came the water entry on a sharp angle into a stick-pond channel containing significant amounts of wood debris and lily pads. The line to the blind did not go over any points of land, but it did go just past a point of land on the left, with a sandbar off that point that the line to the blind crossed. Since dogs tend to follow land when their feet touch land while running a water blind, and since many dogs including Laddie are often cast onto a point if they swim past one that they were required to get onto, the risk existed that dogs including Laddie would get onto the sandbar and then automatically dart left up onto the point of land anticipating such a cast. The channel swim continued past the sandbar, with the blind planted in front of a lining pole a yard inland on the far shore.

Laddie, running as the first dog because #1 had been dropped after Series A, ran this blind as I hoped he would. He took a good initial line on the diagonal downslope thru the keyhole and into the channel. As he swam, he began to veer slightly left toward the point, which is where I would have cast him if he hadn't done it himself. I knew from Laddie having once been disqualified on a similar water blind that he didn't just need to complete the blind without getting onto the land on either side, we as a team needed to challenge the most difficult aspects of the blind. One of those was the keyhole, and another was that point of land on the left. I could not just handle him well to the right of it in open water; he had to approach the point closely so that we could demonstrate the control needed to prevent him from getting onto it. That's what the line he had taken was doing for us. Once he got within 15y of the point, I cast him on an angle back right, putting him back on line as he reached the sandbar. Since I anticipated that he might dart to the point of land just to his left, I blew the whistle, then cast him off the sandbar with a straight back right arm and an Over verbal. He took the cast back into the water, veering slightly right, but staying close to the line to the blind. As he approached the far shore, he corrected his own line and veered back toward the left. He slightly overshot the point directly in front of the blind, so I blew a whistle to stop him. He immediately scented and/or spotted the bird and picked it up, then brought it back to me.

You never know if something has gone wrong that you didn't realize, but I felt almost certain that when the marshal announced callbacks, the first number called would be "2", and it was. Since several of the handlers had mentioned that they thought the judges would probably call back all the dogs, I was surprised by how few other numbers were also called.

Workshop notes, in addition to those I mentioned for Series A, both of which again also applied:
  • Practice start lines on steep slopes. During the workshop, we practiced blinds and marks, both land and water, from start lines on steep slopes. It takes getting used to for both the dog and the handler. I'm glad we had the practice, since the water blind in this test also started on a steep slope.
  • "Back off a point, back to the truck." This is an aphorism the pro mentioned in the workshop, which means that if you use a verbal "Back" cast off a point on a water blind, the odds are high that the dog will take the cast to an undesirable location and will not end up being called back to the next series.
  • Handle to the bird. During the workshop, the pro spoke of the Red Zone, that is, the last few yards of a blind, and the tendency of handlers to hope that once in that zone, the dog will find the bird without help. All too often, the dog doesn't find the bird and instead goes into a hunt far from the bird, sometimes ruining an otherwise high quality blind. The pro urged us not to make that mistake, but to bear down in the Red Zone and handle the dog all the way to the bird.

8 dogs ran the second series
4 dogs were called back, including Laddie. I might mention that Laddie was the only Golden in the finals (the others were black Labs), and I believe I was by far the least experienced handler of the four. 

Series C. Water triple

The first mark was on the right, thrown LTR at 110y into open water off an island. The second mark was in the center, thrown LTR on a sharp angle back into shadow up a hill into shrubs at 90y. The third mark was on the left, thrown LTR flat at 40y and along the shoreline with no splash, into thick cover at the shoreline. The water was a stick pond, dense with lily pads and wood debris.

Every consideration suggested to me that I run Laddie on my right, so that was an easy decision. Although I had only seen the test dog run the series, I felt certain that the center bird would be the most difficult, so after Laddie had picked out all the guns himself, I gave him a long look at the center gun before having him watch the right gun and calling for the throws. I felt he got a good look at every throw. He nailed the left mark. I had planned to run the center bird next but didn't feel strongly about it, and when he clearly indicated that he wanted the right bird, that's where I sent him. Laddie took a nice line to the bird as it floated in the open water, but like all the dogs in the last series including the test dog, except for #9 (the eventual winner), Laddie decided to touch the island to the left of the bird before completing the swim to the bird. However, of all the dogs who touched the island, Laddie was there the shortest time. He stayed in front of the gunner, and seemed to know where the bird was all along. Because of the difficult swim, he may have used the island as a momentary rest stop, rather than being temporarily lost as the other dogs who went there seemed to be.

I had no difficulty lining Laddie up on the final, center mark, and he took a good initial line. But for some reason, he gradually veered right. Once it was clear that he had virtually no chance of spotting the center gunner because he'd swum too far, and rather than risk waiting to see if he would break the wrong way when he reached the island and possibly disqualify with a return to the old fall, I blew the whistle just before he reached the island. Laddie handled cleanly to the bird with two casts.

Laddie had again run as the first dog. The next dog also required a handle on one mark. The next two did not handle, perhaps partially thanks to trails through the debris in the stick pond that had been blazed by the first two dogs and were clearly visible. In any case, as we awaited the results, barring some disqualification for reasons I had not seen, I was fairly sure Laddie could place either Third or Fourth, not First or Second because of the handle. When the ribbons were given out, Laddie was Third. The fact that Laddie placed Third rather than Fourth between the two dogs with a handle was, I think, a tribute to the high quality of his work throughout the trial. Beyond that, it was also an exciting result for a positive retriever trainer.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poorman land triples, land blinds

Although I haven't had time to write up every training session, Laddie and I have continued to train together continuously, sometimes on consecutive days, sometimes with a rest day or two. We've trained in the group I mentioned recently whenever possible, we've trained with as many as three of my own assistants, we've trained at a variety of locations, and we've trained on a wide variety of skills, from retired converging water triples, to re-entry challenges, to land and water blinds with many kinds of factors.

Meanwhile, Laddie is dealing with a number of areas of discomfort. DW Renée has a new puppy, a beautiful British Cream Golden named Ryley, now nine weeks old, and I'm adamant about keeping them apart, which means Laddie doesn't have the access to Renée and the household he's had his whole life. He seems to have an infection in one ear, mild I believe, but causing some discharge and regular head-shaking. From one or  more of the locations where we trained or completed the last few weeks, he has insect bites all over his body, including his ear flaps and paws. And he has at least four hotspots, including one quite large on his cheek.

With temps climbing into the 80s and 90s most days, and school hours limiting scheduling options with my assistants, plus time pressure from both my full-time job and my consulting work, it would be easy for me to forego so much training. But I've entered Laddie in a qual for next Friday, and I'll do what I can to help him prepare.

Today was a typical challenge. The weatherman is calling for 90°+ by noon, but none of my assistants were available for an early session, and I haven't been able to make contact with my new training group. So my choices were to run Laddie in high temps at midday, or take him out early by myself. I opted for the latter, and we headed for the nearby abandoned golf course a little after sunrise.

There we ran three poorman land triples and there land blinds, keeping Laddie out of the stagnant water in the various ponds and ditches. To run a poorman triple, I would put Laddie in a sit at the start line, then walk out and throw each of marks, then come back to him and run him on the now-retired marks. Though probably not as beneficial as running a triple with real gunners, I included a tight converging double in all of the triples and two of them in the last one, so I believe they were still useful pictures for Laddie to practice, and exercised both his memory and his tolerance for frustration with difficult configurations.

As for the blinds, all featured rolling terrain and patches of thick cover. In addition, two featured potential wraps, two featured keyholes at distance, and one featured both. Laddie had no slow sits and no refused casts, making all of the blinds look easy though I don't think they were.

I'll rest Laddie the remainder of the day, and see what training I can arrange for the rest of the week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A water blind, three water singles, and two more water blinds

Today a friend invited me to train with a small group on a fabulous technical pond, once used I believe for a National.

My friend said that if I arrived earlier than others, I could run Laddie on a blind, so that's what I did. Then, with the group, he ran three water singles with guns out as if for doubles. Finally he ran two more water blinds.

The grounds and sky were beautiful, but temps reached the high 80s. We trained both experienced dogs and inexperienced ones on various setups, so it was a long and physically demanding day for the trainers as well as the dogs.

I won't take your time to describe the setups in to much detail unless someone asks me to. I'll just mention that the marks and the last two blinds were designed by the highly experienced and successful trainer who led our group, and he made challenging use of the many points of land that crisscross the pond, in three cases also making use of the full length of the pond.

Laddie's work: He did a good job on my blind. He nailed the first single. He tried to cheat the fourth re-entry of the second single the first time he ran it, so I called him back and had him run it again, and this time he nailed it. Then he nailed the last and longest single, going over a point and then making a long channel swim between points in both sides.

When he then ran the blinds, he took great initial lines on both of them. The first featured a difficult re-entry which he ran perfectly without a whistle, lining the blind. The second was another long channel swim, then over two points. He one-whistled that, needing the whistle because he intended to swim around the point after getting thru the channel on his initial line. At the lead trainer's suggestion, I handled Laddie toward the point crossing as soon as it was clear that he was planning to stay in the water, so that he wouldn't have a chance to feel reinforced for that decision, a good lesson for me. The trainer also suggested that if Laddie had good momentum, which he did, that I should not handle him over the points, which I otherwise might have done, and that also worked out well.

I felt this was an excellent training day for Laddie and me. For Laddie, he was able to be successful without help on several retrieves, yet learned a better way to run a couple of them. For me, it was a friendly, supportive group with advice that was high quality yet compatible with my training approach. Like, wow.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Laddie's eighth JAM

Laddie got a JAM in his first qual when he was three, just after he completed his SH and two years before his first Master pass. A few weeks later, in his third qual, one of the judges told me he would have had a placement, possibly a high placement, if he hadn't broken in the honor after running the last of the six series, the entire time without handling on a mark.

In those days, based on what little I knew of other dogs' careers, it seemed that Laddie would be QAA soon, and would spend the rest of his career running all-age, possibly running Master in later years.

But here it is nearly five years later, and Laddie has still never placed in a qual, much less won one. Yesterday, for example, he was in great shape coming into the last series, but a mediocre fourth series led to yet another JAM, his eighth (including two Reserved JAMs in previous trials).

I don't want to make excuses, because it's always something, and in the end, it's my responsibility. I just have to be careful not to have him standing near the judging area for long periods before his turn, listening to guns go off for one dog after another and getting more and more excited, and in this case, also badly overheated. This is the third time in his career I've let a marshal put him in that situation, this time with temps in the high 70s and 80s, and somehow I need not to let it happen again.

I also don't want to make projections. Despite our seeming plateau, Laddie actually is continuing to develop. He often runs great blinds, with better sits than ever and often his outstanding initial lines. He's better behaved at the line than he used to be, now that I've learned some people care about that and I've worked with him on it. We've worked a ton on difficult entries and re-entries, and maybe we'll be ready next time we encounter one in a trial. And he's more comfortable being handled over points, though he still occasionally vocalizes.

By the way, I saw two Labs vocalizing when cast on land blinds yesterday. I hadn't noticed that in other dogs much in the past. Maybe it was happening and I just didn't notice it. Laddie vocalized all his life on water handling and I never noticed it until fairly recently. Then I saw in old videos that he had always done it.

Anyway, Lumi and Laddie both ran a number of Junior tests before their first pass, and after their JHs, the same thing happened with Senior tests. Laddie also needed several tries before he passed his WCX, and failed several Master tests before he began passing them on the way to his MH. I don't think this says anything about my dogs or my training methods. I think it goes instead to my inexperience, both in understanding what skills need to be trained and in being able to gauge whether a dog is ready to compete at a certain level.

And I'm hoping something similar is happening here, though over a more prolonged time line and now with the pressure of Laddie's age becoming a factor. It has never been unusual for Laddie to run at least one series in a trial that is clearly the best of the day;  in yesterday's trial, that happened in the second series, a land blind. And I believe he also had one of the top performances in the first and third series. If he'd had one of his signature makes-it-look-easy triples in the fourth series, I think he would have won the trial. And I think one of these days, that's exactly what's going to happen.

So I'm disappointed, even a bit depressed. But I'm not throwing in the towel yet.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Retired water marks

I usually rest Laddie on the day before a trial, and with temps in the high 80's and a long drive facing me in the wee hours, the situation was not ideal for another training session today.

However, I wanted to see if I could strengthen Laddie's confidence in retired water marks, just in case one of those occurs in our trial tomorrow.

To do so, I picked up a single assistant and we drove to the nearby abandoned golf course.

There we ran approximately 10 retired water marks, in each case with me using a side throw to give take the thrower on opportunity to retire. The setups were different from one another in a variety of ways, such as the length of the land segments before and after the water segment. But one thing they all had common was difficult water entries or re-entries.

Laddie had difficulty with a few of the marks, but he nailed most of them and we ended with a good performance. I guess we're as ready as I know how to get us at this time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Three water doubles, two land blinds

With our next competition tomorrow, yesterday I picked up two assistants and brought them to our nearest training. My intent was to strengthen Laddie's understanding of water series, if possible, and restore his confidence in taking silent casts on land blinds.

All three of the water series started as tight converging doubles with the site gun retired and water re-entries for both marks.

On the first double, the long mark was not retired but it was a bridge plus it had a difficult re-entry. I tried sending Laddie to the shorter, retired mark twice and both times he took a line toward the long mark and I called him back. Finally we more or less reran it. I had the long gun fake her throw, and the short gun rethrow and then stay out. This time Laddie ran both marks well.

Next I ran Laddie on a 200y land blind with a keyhole at 120y, then a potential wrap behind woods on the right. To strengthen the suction to the right,  I placed a lining pole with two 3" white bumpers on the field to right of the blind so that they would become visible as Laddie cleared the woods, and a few yards from the lining pole, I had my two assistants sit in chairs wearing white jackets. Laddie did a good job, including having no trouble with the silent casts as he had the previous day.

The second double was in a different location and orientation than the first but had the same characteristics. Again Laddie tried to take a line to the long mark that was not retired when the short mark was retired, but was able to run the double easily with both guns starting out.

This confused me, because I was certain that Laddie had run such doubles, with a side throw out additional mark to allow the short gun to retire. What was different this time?

I had a theory and it panned out. I set up one more such double, again tight converging marks, again the short gun retired, but with one significant difference from the earlier two series: this time, the long mark was about three times as long as the short, retired mark, whereas in the previous two setups, the long mark was less than twice as long as the shorter mark. Sure enough, this time Laddie took and held a good line to the shorter mark, then ran the longer mark afterwards. So at least for Laddie, now I know how to make a retired short mark more difficult: make it fully half as long as the long mark or longer.

We finished the session with another land blind, or mostly land. In order, the factors were an elevated keyhole over rough footing, a potential wrap around woods to the left, a lining pole and prominent white bumper to the left of the correct line that became visible as Laddie cleared the woods, a thin water crossing with difficult angle entry and the tempting bank run on the left, the line just to the left of a tree (leaving no extra room on the right side of the line once out of the water), and another potential wrap around a section of woods on the left before running the final land segment to the blind. This blind was intended to require several casts, both verbal and silent, and Laddie did another good job on it.

My intent had been to build confidence in this session. I think it succeeded at that for the blinds. I'm not so sure for the marks.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Two land triples, five land blinds

Yesterday afternoon I picked up the assistants and, on a perfect summer day with temps in low 80s, we returned to the equestrian park for another session. Because that's where we were training, the long marks were thrown with a pistol shot, while the short marks were thrown with hey-hey-hey to avoid possibly startling any horses on the field behind the woods where we were training.

I set up two mirror-image series at different locations and orientations of the field. Each was a triple with the guns for both memory birds retired, in a tight double with converging throws. After Laddie ran each triple, I ran him on a 300y+ blind under the arc of the long mark.

Laddie nailed both go-birds and the shorter memory bird of both triples, as well as the long memory bird of the second mark. But for some reason he was confused by the long retired memory bird of the first series and three times took a line toward the old fall of the shorter retired memory bird before I called him back. Finally I had the gunner come out and rethrow her bumper to the same location as her original throw, up a hill and into cover at 250y+, after which Laddie nailed it.

Laddie had tight sits on his blinds, ran tight corridors, and took the keyholes at 200y+, but for some reason he froze on several silent casts at the longer distances. At first I thought it was because I was standing in shadow and not wearing a white jacket, but putting on a jacket and stepping out into the bright sunshine didn't solve the problem. Either he's become confused about what a silent cast means, or he's having trouble seeing at those distances. He'll be seeing an ophthalmologist soon and we'll see if she finds anything.

Because of the difficulty on the blinds, after I dropped off the assistants, I took Laddie to another field and ran him on three more 250y+ blinds, on hilly terrain with rough footing, with the first thru a keyhole made by large shrubs and the other two with opportunities to wrap around a stand of trees he would run past, once on the right, once on the left. Again he froze on two or three silent casts, and in addition, on the middle blind, he uncharacteristically ignored a couple of sit whistles in the last third and took his own line to the bumper before I could stop him.

So even though we're only two days from our next competition, a little late to be learning anything new, it looks like we have some work to do on handling. We're running water today, but I think we better practice a long land blind or two today and/or tomorrow as well.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Three water doubles with points for every mark, followed by a water blind

Today I picked up two assistants and they helped me with Laddie at our closest training property.

My first series was the longest and hardest: On the right, a retired long water mark, over a point of land and with the bumper thrown LTR onto low ground behind a crest. On the left, the go-bird, thrown LTR into high cover, with a point of land on the line to the mark. For the go-bird, Laddie swam around the point, then straight to the mark. He then nailed the long retired mark, climbing onto the point and then continuing straight into the second water rather than following the bank around to the right.

For the second series, the lines to both marks were again over points of land. In this case, the shorter mark was retired and I used a side throw to give the gunner time to put up her umbrella.

Laddie tried to cheat on the shorter mark, not because it was retired but because the point of land extended mostly toward the start line rather than to the side. I called him back and had the marks thrown again, and this time Laddie ran the short mark well according to his training, but he swam around the point, which I know is unacceptable to some trainers.

The line to the long mark was a land segment, a difficult angle entry into the first water, across or around a point, a shoreline swim, and short final land segment. The first time I sent Laddie, he started to run the bank on the first water entry so I called him back and sent him again. This time he nailed it, veering slightly at the point to swim around it. I was glad to see her did not bail out at the end but held his line all the way to the mark.

For the third series, I used both sides of a channel that ran away from the start line. Each side was shaped with a point, and I had my assistants throw their converging throws to locations producing lines just over the points. Laddie nailed both marks except that he swam around both points.

Because of the criticism I received from the pros I was recently training with for allowing Laddie to swim around points, perhaps I should be worried that Laddie did that on five of the six marks I tried to set up as re-entries today. But I'm not worried, actually. I've trained with too many other trainers who never mentioned that as a weakness in Laddie's training. I even remember one experienced field trialer who regarded that as a good trait in Laddie's work. Not knowing whether to train Laddie to climb over points on marks, rather than swim around them, especially when training for quals rather than all-age if that matters, is yet one more example of my inexperience.

However, i recognize that I do need to be able to handle Laddie over a point if it's on the line to a blind, as opposed to a mark. So we wrapped today's session up with a water blind that included a long swim, then climbing up the steep embankment that made up the front side of a point, running between a tree and the water, and then getting back into the water and swimming diagonally across a channel to the blind rather than running the bank or hugging the bank behind the point. Laddie resisted getting up onto the point but he did it, and he did everything else easily.

I have no idea what the water marks will look like for the competitions we'll be running this fall, beginning next Saturday. But I'm trying to make sure that if they include cheating entries and/or re-entries, we'll have done what we can to be ready for them.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Does Laddie understand how to run retired marks?

Laddie has been running marks with the gunners hidden for most of his career. Of course all guns are hidden in hunt tests, so he never had the gunner visible as he earned his Junior, Senior, and Master Hunter titles. In addition, many of the field trial stakes he has run in had retired guns, and whether he finished them or not, my memory is that he showed no particular difficulty with retired marks. In fact, in one stake a few years ago, they scrapped the first series because only one of the first fourteen or so dogs who had run it had been able to pick up the retired mark without a handle, and that dog was Laddie.

Also, as readers of these posts know, I often set up retired marks for Laddie, as do other people we train with. It's not unusual for Laddie to nail those marks, or, if not, take a good line and find them with a reasonable hunt.

Of course he's far from perfect and has had difficult with them at times, as he has with other challenging aspects of various setups. But my impression is that he has a solid understanding of what retired marks are and how to run them.

Yet the pros we trained with the last few weeks were both convinced that Laddie didn't understand retired marks at all. They pretty much regarded any attempt on my part at discussion as "arguing," but when I expressed surprise that they thought that and outlined my reasons, they said that Master marks are so much easier than field trial marks that Laddie's hunt test success was meaningless, and that any FT  retired marks he had had success with must have been too easy, because in their estimation I probably didn't know how to incorporate factors into our training that would make the marks difficult.

So now I really don't know. Laddie did have more trouble with some of their retired marks than I expected, but he also nailed some of them, which they chalked up to the idea that he was making progress.

Now that we're not training with them any more, I'm not sure how to get a handle on the question. I guess it's just something I'll have to watch for as we continue to train and compete. Maybe I'll find that it really is an area of weakness in Laddie's training, and I've just had a blind spot in my observations and memory. Or maybe, for one reason or another, I won't.

Two land triples and three land blinds

It seems like forever since Laddie's run a triple, so today I picked up three assistants and we drove to a local field where we'd be able to run a couple of them. However, it was an equestrian park, and some people were riding horses near the area we were training, so I had the throwers call hey-hey-hey instead of firing pistols, which might startle the horses.

Both of the triples had the same features though they had different locations and orientations: A long mark in one direction, and a tight converging double about 90° to one side, with both memory birds retired in both series. In both cases, the retired memory bird of the converging double was in the middle. But the two setups did have differences: In the first series, the long mark was on the left and was thrown first. In the second series, the long mark was on the right and was thrown second.

Of those six marks, Laddie nailed all except the last, which was the shorter memory bird, the retired mark in the center that was half of the tight converging double. Laddie needed a hunt for that mark, but he never left the area of the fall and never seemed attracted to the old fall of the go-bird, so I didn't need to handle him or get help, I just let him hunt it up.

I had set up a long blind under the arc of the long mark on the second series, but a pair of equestrians entered the horse-training ring next to the line to that blind just as I was getting ready to run Laddie on the blind. I sent him, thinking they wouldn't bother him, but after taking a good initial line, he suddenly broke away from the direction of the horses as he came up level to them and went out of sight and out of control in an instant, into the far side of the hill he was running along the side of. He remained out of sight until for several seconds, and then I saw him with the red bumper coming back toward me. I didn't want him near the horses again despite the split rail fence that enclosed the training ring, so I asked the thrower to call him to her as he ran past her and put him in his crate while the rest of us packed up and joined them there.

I then dropped off two if the assistants and used the third to help me set up two more land blinds in a different fields, since I'm having difficulty with my legs and can't walk very well at this time. Laddie ran the first one well, but went out of sight wrapping behind a shrub during the second one, so I think we've got some work on land blinds to do before our trial next weekend.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Three water doubles

Back home today, I picked up two assistants and went to our closest training property to work on cheating water re-entries and retired water marks.

First I set up what turned out to be the day's most difficult double. Both marks included long swims, crossing points of land, and water re-entries with suction to run the bank rather than get back in the water. In addition, the long memory mark was retired.

Laddie nailed the difficult go-bird, and took a good line across the long water segment on the memory bird. But then he tried to run the bank around the second water segment. I called him all the way back and tried it again, and he did the same thing. Finally I had the thrower throw it again as a single and stay out, and this time he swam around the point and then looped behind the gun and around to the mark. Still not what I wanted but at least he didn't run the bank.

I decided I wanted him to have a chance to run that second water segment correctly because of its difficult shape configuration and swampy terrain. So I set up a second double on the peninsula that he had been crossing. This time the go-bird was a shoreline swim with difficult angle entry and exit and he took a good line all the way. He didn't cheat or square the bank on the entry and he didn't bail out on the exit. Just a good, straight line.

Then he also nailed the memory bird. I guess it was much easier run from the mid-point than as a re-entry, though I'm not exactly sure why.

Next we went to a different location and I again set up a water double with cheating re-entries on both marks. This time I wanted the second mark retired so I also threw a side-throw.

I could see that he was on a line to cheat the re-entry on the retired mark, and when he got on the point and started to run the bank instead of getting back in the water, I called a loud No and called him back. The second time he nailed it. He also ran the final long mark well, veering a little off line during the long swim when he could no longer see over the bank to his destination, but angling back in and into the water as soon as he was on shore, rather than continuing on land around the second inlet. The thrower said he took a straight line to the bumper even though it was thrown into cover.

So on reflection, I felt that Laddie wasn't perfect and needs more work on water marks with re-entries, but that it was a productive session for him, more of which should strengthen that skill, which is already somewhat developed.

And then it occurred to me that that was not the kind of work he has been getting up north, instead running things like tight flat land doubles and then re-running them, something which I never did with Lumi or Laddie because I didn't want to take a chance on reinforcing their natural instinct to return to old falls.

In other words, here at home we had just had a productive session, or so I believe, whereas earlier this week, training with the pro, we were possibly running counterproductive setups, or at the minimum, not practicing what I feel Laddie needs the most work on right now.

So I suddenly realized that, as deeply as I believe in training with experienced field trial trainers on professional-quality training grounds and setups, in this case,  I feel we'd be better training on our own in this situation.

And that's what I'll plan on doing for the immediate future, until a different opportunity that's hopefully a better fit for our needs comes along.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Two retired land doubles, two land blinds, a retired water double, and a water blind

Today the pro would be making a long drive with six dogs to a competition, but first he ran them on some land and water marks. I told him it would be fine if he went ahead and got on the road, but he said that since I had helped with the throwing, we would give Laddie some work first. We ended up giving him a good day's work,  before Laddie and I, too, got on the road for a long drive, in our case home.

First the pro set up a land double with one mark slightly longer than the other, both thrown RTL. He had it thrown twice, reversing the order of the throws, and retired the gun for the memory bird each time. Laddie nailed all four marks. That's what I would have expected from Laddie's usual work, though he hasn't been showing it well the last few weeks.

Next the pro had Laddie run two blinds, one under the arc of the longer mark, the other thru the old fall of the shorter mark. Laddie's first sit was too slow so I brought him back in. After that I thought he did a good job on both of them.

By the way, the field was again hot today, and this time I brought out a bowl of water for Laddie to drink from between each pair of long retrieves. He still drank half a bowl of water when I put back in his crate for the drive to the pond.

At the pond, the pro asked me to come up with my own setup. I selected a water double with the long mark past a point and retired, and the shorter mark a bridge. The pro said Laddie could also run a blind, and suggested one he said would be a good challenge.

The pro threw the bridge mark well into the thick cover on the far side of the channel -- he can make huge throws, at least twice as far as me, maybe three times -- and Laddie needed a little hunt. Laddie then took a detour to land on his return,  and I guess he was relieved that I didn't insist that he swim straight back as I have been these last few weeks.

Next Laddie ran the long retired mark, consisting of a 220y swim past a point and short land segments on either end. He took an extremely good line until the last ten yards of the swim, then bailed out to shore on the left but ran immediately to the fall. He then found the bird, needing a short hunt for some reason. When I whistled him in, he ran across to the corner of the pond and took a land route back to me, running enthusiastically the whole way.

The line to the blind was across a narrow inlet, over a point, into water again with a difficult angle entry, diagonally across a wide channel, and up onto a swampy point, where the pro had thrown the bird into a patch of thick, high cover.  Laddie wanted to swim around both points but took good casts, though vocalizing on the first one.

That completed the day's training and now we're on our way home. We'll be driving back up and meeting the pro again Monday morning.

Retired land doubles and a shoreline single over two points

Yesterday the pro set up a long land double for the six dogs he'll be taking to a competition tomorrow. For those dogs, he ran just the long gun as a single, sometimes repeating it, while I stood at the position of a shorter mark as a diversion.

As an aside, this pro, and his mentor when he was here, do a number of things differently than I've seen before, such as often re-running marks. Another of those differences is that they always had/have me remain standing after throwing until my bird was picked up. For yesterday's drill, I wasn't sure when to sit down so I waited till the dog picked up the long mark.

In any case, he then had me run Laddie on the double twice, first with the long gun retired, then reversing the order of the throws and with the shorter gun retired. Laddie nailed the go-birds but needed a moderate hunt for the long mark when retired and a ridiculously long hunt for the shorter mark when retired, even though he'd been there earlier and even though it was out in the open. The pro is convinced that Laddie has no concept of retired guns, and that series did nothing to change his mind.

I did notice however that Laddie's tongue was hanging out after the first double. I wish I'd bright out some water for him to drink between the two doubles. It was a hot day.

Next we went to the pro's pond and I proposed that I continue to take the pro's advice except that Laddie be permitted to choose his own return route, as he has for many years. The pro rejected that proposal and said that I could run Laddie on the setups any way I liked, but if I wanted his advice, he wouldn't let me do it wrong.

Accordingly then he had me run Laddie on the shoreline single over two points we worked on several weeks ago. Laddie had forgotten that training and again needed to be handled over the points, but at least he didn't vocalize. To bring him back without a constant series of cues, I called him from each point.

Over night, based on advice from a dear friend and highly experienced dog person, I decided that, with the choice the pro had given me, I'd switch to the other option and run the setups as I felt best, without asking for the pro's advice going forward. It turns out he was happy to hear I'd made that decision when I told him the next morning.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sitting at the line

I've never worried much about Laddie's behavior at the start line. He's been an exceptional marker for years and he generally takes good initial lines on blinds, so I've always felt that his line behavior must be reasonably well suited to the job at hand.

However I've recently learned that some trainers don't think Laddie and I do a good job at the line. For example, I'll often need several verbal cues to bring him to heel position and/or to get him to sit. It doesn't bother me particularly, and as I said it doesn't seem to hurt his performance, but I've learned that some trainers feel that he should come to the line in heel position and sit immediately on my first cue.

He trained for five days in a row last week, and will do the same next week, so I didn't want to run him hard today, but I thought we'd go out and work on sit-at-the-line for a couple of hours this morning. Here's how we worked on it:

I picked up two assistants and took them to a local meadow where we often train. I sent them out with chairs, blank pistols, and white bumpers -- no radios or white jackets needed.

Then we ran a total of nine doubles, with a water break for Laddie after the first six. All marks were less than 100y. The locations and orientations were all different, but for most, both throws were in the same direction, though for the last one I used converging marks. These were all intended as easy doubles for Laddie, so we could focus on his behavior at the line.

Meanwhile, I brought out a rubber mat. and for each double, I sat Laddie some distance from the mat, then heeled him to the mat (he usually heels on my right), brought him around to my left side if that's the side I wanted to run him on, and said Sit. If he sat down immediately, we went ahead and ran the double. If not, I said Nope, turned around, and heeled him back off the line so we could try the whole thing again.

The first time, and one other time, he did not sit the first time I cued it, and we moved off to start again. In both cases, he sat immediately the next time we came up. In addition, for all the other setups, he sat immediately the first time. So it seems shine learning may have taken place.

How well this will carry over when we resume training with the pro tomorrow remains to be seen. I'm pretty sure the pro will not mind me taking a few extra seconds to use the same procedure if needed, assuming it's effective training and doesn't just waste time.

By the way, I'm saying "pro" rather than "pros" now because I think that starting next week, it will just be the one guy who invited me to train with him in the first place.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Training with pros

Yesterday, we ran three series to finish the week with the two pros we've been training with.

In the morning the pros set up a qual-like land triple rather than their usual tight double, and then modified the setup for the various dogs. One of the pros asked me to have Laddie run the most advanced version, saying he wanted to see whether Laddie had made any progress on his ability to run retired marks.

For that triple, the first mark was on the left, thrown RTL at 300y and retired. The second bird was on the right, thrown LTR at 90y into cover. The go-bird was in the middle, a flyer thrown and shot LTR at 170y.

Laddie nailed the flyer. As he was returning, at the request of the pro over the radio, the right gunner moved the bird from the low grass where it had landed into the cover beyond. When Laddie returned to the line and ran that mark, he ran straight to where the bird had landed, then used scent to quickly hunt up the bird. Laddie then ran directly to the retired memory bird on a wide arc but with no hunt.

Next, at a different location on the same field, we ran a land single and a land blind, with a pair of stickmen also set up in the field. Laddie nailed the single, then two-whistled the blind, crossing the line during the middle of his run so that he had to be handled off whatever suction existed on either side. He sat well and took nice casts and I thought it was a good job, but one of the pros said later that the dog running at that time was the first one that would be called back.

Finally, we went to a technical pond and ran a tight, converging water double with long swims, so difficult that only one of the dogs was able to do it.

The long mark was on the left, a bumper thrown LTR at 300y+ from the left shore of a narrow channel on a sharp angle back into the moss-covered surface of the water near the right shore, an unrealistically long throw if it had been a bird. The line to that mark was a 200y swim, then across a point of land with a tree on it, and back into the water on a difficult angle entry for a 100y channel swim to the bumper.

The shorter mark was on the right, a bird thrown RTL at 200y+ up the shore into high reeds. The line to the short mark was almost the same as the first 200y swim of the long mark, except that it started with a short inlet crossing thru a patch of water lillies, then across a small point of land, and ended on the right shore rather than at the point of land that the dog would cross on the left shore 200y out.

On the advice of the pro who had been helping me, Laddie ran it as two singles, and with the pro's concurrence, I had Laddie run the short mark, then just a fetch and the 200y shoreline return from the long mark, and finally the long one.

Laddie, who ran next to last, had a lot of difficulty with the small inlet at the beginning of the short mark. The first four times I sent him, he tried to swim around the point. I didn't try to handle him onto the point, but instead called him back, thinking incorrectly that our training from a couple of weeks ago in this same pond would eventually kick in and he would go over the point without handling. But I guess six years of being first taught, and from then on permitted, to always run watery marks around points were stronger than the one day of recent training. At last the pro walked over to help me, throwing a white bumper twice to show Laddie the line he'd need to take. After that Laddie swam directly to that mark.

Next, as planned, I ran asking the shore 200y to the point of land for the long mark with Laddie, left him and a bumper there, ran back to start line, and called Fetch. He immediately picked up the bumper and got into the water rather than attempting to run the bank, but the return swim was a battle, with Laddie trying every few strokes to turn toward shore so that he could run the bank the rest of the way. He always took my casts and verbal cues to stay in the water and continue straight, but my cueing made the return noisy and uncomfortable for everyone there.

Finally he ran the long mark, trying like many of the dogs to swim around the point at 200y and requiring, like many of the dogs, both casting onto the point and Hey-hey calls from the gunner to get into there point. But unlike some of the dogs, he had no difficulty with the water re-entry and leapt right into the channel on the far side of the point without help. However, he took that entry a bit too square, aiming him to the right shore rather than the bumper floating in moss 100y down the channel, and required a hunt to finally swim to it. His return was easily the worst of any of the dogs, again requiring a constant stream of verbal and physical cueing to prevent him from running the bank.

When the last dog ran, the pro had the long gunner help him by throwing a second bumper, commenting in a friendly way that he was sure I'd be happy to have Laddie pick it up after they were done. So after everyone else went to a different part of the field to take promotional photos for an ecollar company with the pros, the day trainers, and some of the dogs, I had Laddie run that long retrieve again, and once again his return, now being made for third time, required continuous cueing to prevent him from swimming to the shore so that he could run the bank.

Though highly annoying, it's perhaps understandable that Laddie exhibited that behavior, since I've been allowing him to choose his own return route virtuously his entire career.

Nonetheless, the entire series, running more than half an hour, was extremely stressful for me, as I was keenly aware of the disapprobation from everyone present for having what appeared to them to be such a poorly trained dog. Whatever other problems they had, no other dog had had the slightest difficulty with that return that had been so difficult for Laddie all three times he made it.

So despite Laddie's good work on the two land series, and despite some good work on the various difficult aspects of the water series, the primary effect of our participation in the training group today was of long stretches of noisy verbal cueing, a stressful and disheartening way to end the week's work.

Afterwards, I returned to our room to pack up and made the long drive home with Laddie, arriving in the wee hours. Here it is the next morning, and I admit I'm still shaken by the experience. What should I have done differently? I really don't know.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Land double, water double, double blind

Yesterday the pros again set up tight doubles, one on land, one on water, both with converging throws.

Although Laddie did not need help on the land double, I was not pleased with his performance, since he needed a short hunt on the shorter mark and a long hunt, which took him behind the gun several times, on the longer mark. The terrain was hilly and the grass was fairly high, and with the lines to the marks so close together, I guess it was harder than I thought it would be. Some of the pros' dogs had as much of more difficulty, but some did not. I guess some have run that setup or similar ones far more often than Laddie, since they train on several setups every day and that's been nearly the only kind of setup I've seen these guys use in the three weeks I've trained with them so far.

When it was time for Laddie to run the water double as the last dog, the pro who gives me guidance was on the phone and couldn't tell me what he wanted me to run. But every single dog who had run that setup, whether as singles or a double had required at least one handle, and several had had a great deal of difficulty with one or the other of the marks. To be honest, I thought Laddie could run it as a double, even with the side throw some of the dogs were also getting, but I was pretty sure the pro would have wanted me to run it as singles (which I confirmed later), so I called for singles. Laddie nailed both marks.

Let me repeat that. Laddie nailed both marks, swam/ran without any sidewise movement, straight to each fall. Only dog to do that. Was this a competition? No. But it was, I admit, somewhat stressful to me that the pros did not say a word to me about it. Why wouldn't they make some comment about such exceptional marking?

One possibility was that Laddie's returns were both terrible. I'm requiring him to return on a direct route, and not only is he not trained to do that on water retrieves, he has many years of doing the opposite. That results in a difficult handling battle. It is no fun and is certainly not attractive. Hopefully he will eventually learn he has no choice and will quit trying to cheat on his returns, but till then, I have to keep handling him to prevent him being reinforced for a successful cheat. I'm pretty sure the pros find my approach on how to deal with this situation unsatisfactory.

At the end of the day, the pros set up a pair of water blinds just for the day trainers, not their own dogs. Laddie ran both water blinds relatively well, except that he vocalized on some of the casts. Because it was late in the day and I am feeling considerable tension with the pros, one of whom is not talking to me any more, I didn't take the extra time to call Laddie back for vocalizing but just ignored it. It wasn't affecting his behavior, it was just noise. I know it could hurt us with at least some judges, and as readers of this blog know, I invested many sessions last summer and fall working on nothing else. But yesterday did not seem to be the right time to deal with it in my way, even though I know that means Laddie was learning that it's OK to do it, digging the hole that much deeper again.

Training again today, then home for the weekend and some time with my darling wife.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Training with pros

I thought it would be cooler training up north, but it's not working out that way. Today, for example, it was 81° when we started at 8am and rose all day, reaching 93° by the time we wrapped up in the afternoon.

The pros set up two land series, and I followed their recommendation of running Laddie on each setup twice, with a long rest in between, the first time with all the guns out, the second time with one of the guns retired.

For the first setup, Laddie nailed all six of the marks, except that he ran in a wide arc on the one retired mark, the second retrieve of the second time we ran it, rather than on a straight line.

For the second series, Laddie again nailed all six of the marks, except that again he ran one of them, in this case NOT the retired mark but again the second retrieve if the second time we ran it, on a wide arc rather than on a straight line.

After he ran the second setup the second time, as the last dog at the hottest time of the day, the pro told me that Laddie could run the long but otherwise seemingly fairly easy land blind. He was hardly the worst of the dogs who ran it, but it wasn't good enough. First of all, he wrapped behind a large clump of foliage at about the halfway point, and then at the end he overran the blind, apparently to get into the shade of a stand of trees, and it took several whistles to get him to come out and finish the work.

Since Laddie ran the retired setups so well, I believe the pros feel that their training recommendations are producing good results. I would have run the setups with retired marks in the first place, so I have no way of knowing how Laddie would have done if we'd run them that way.

What I do know is that once again, Laddie and I had an opportunity to train on a high quality property using professionally designed training setups, and I had the guidance of two professional trainers to help me with Laddie's development. I can only imagine how Laddie's career might have gone if I'd been able to provide Laddie and myself with this kind opportunity in years gone by. My gratitude to these guys for letting Laddie and me train with them is impossible to express, though I've tried to express it to them many times anyway.  :0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Three land series and a water series

Today was a potpourri of four setups:

- Two tune-up blinds, both 150-200y, both with a steep uphill segment, and both ending with a potential wrap around a section of woods. Laddie did a good job on both, with no need to walk out for slow sits (the main point of our tune-up drills) and solid casting.

- A poison bird single: First a 300y+ land single was thrown, with a difficult line over a crest where the dog would lose sight of the fall for about half the distance. But before Laddie could run that, first I had to run him on a land blind a few degrees to the left and almost as long. While he was running the blind, the gunner for the mark retired. Laddie did ok on the blind, but he took a wide initial line, unusual for him but perhaps because the mark had just been thrown. When he got back, he had forgotten the mark, again unusual but it was a tough setup. The pro had the gunner come out for a moment, then retire again, and then Laddie had no trouble with it.

- A retired land double. As is usual with these pros, this was a tight, concentric double. The first throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 300y+. It was the same long mark from the previous series, and again retired. The second throw was on the right, thrown RTL at 100y. Laddie flat out nailed both marks.

- A water mark and a water blind. Although the mark had the potential for cheating around the bank, only one dog attempted that, and Laddie nailed it. The primary purpose of the mark was, as I understand it, to create suction in the direction of the mark when running the blind, which was run on a tight angle to the right of the mark, as usual with these pros to create a trap for some of the dogs to return to the old fall and be corrected. The line to the blind was over a wide point of land with a tree on it. To create additional challenges for the dog, duck feathers were spread around on the point and a bundle of bumpers was placed at the four of the tree, creating more suction to the left since the line to the blind was on the right of the tree. After Laddie nailed the mark, I sent him on the blind and he took a great initial line down the hill, across the first water segment, up onto the point, and past the tree. I then blew the whistle and cast him straight back and into the second water, and he carried that cast straight to the blind on the far shore. The pros and another day trainer were highly complimentary, since some of the dogs had a great deal of difficulty with that blind. One of the pros said, "I think he would have lined it." I jokingly replied, "Someone told me I'd get a zero if I didn't blow the whistle." But that wasn't it. I later commented to the other pro that I've discovered that I'm better off stoppjng Laddie while he's still on the correct line, and cast him straight back, if I think the situation is such that he might be about to veer off, rather than trying to line it and having to save it if he gets into trouble, in this case potentially disappearing behind the point and coming up on the side shore. I was pleased that the pro responded with the comment that one whistle wasn't going to make a difference in the placements, and he'd blow that whistle every time.  :0)

It might seem that today was a pretty good day, and from a training point of view, I'd say it was. But emotionally it was quite hard. I find it difficult to read the pros, and constantly feel off balance, as if they find me alien. Of course they probably do, both for cultural reasons and also because of the differences in our approaches to training. It's hard to describe the chemistry, but I can't seem to break the ice with them. This is often the case for me, so it's not surprising, but working with them day after day amplifies the effect. On top of that, a casual chat at the end of the day brought out their opinion that Laddie will never achieve QAA. Not just that he's not ready now, but that he never will be.

Sigh. Ah well, how long have people been telling me what Lumi and Laddie would never be able to do? Yet we've broken thru a lot of those can't-be-done barriers anyway. Maybe this time everyone will be right and Laddie, trained without force, will never get QAA. But I'm not ready to concede defeat yet.

And meanwhile, training with these guys is a fantastic benefit, whatever the psychological price I might be paying.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Two retired-gun drills

For the pros' third setup today, they used a flat field and placed a long gun at 120y and a short gun at 60y, both throwing RTL and with the line to the short left gunner just outside the line to the long right mark, which I believe is called a hip pocket double. The gunners (including me at the left station) did not use guns or birds; we threw bumpers with a call of Hey.

It appeared to me that the pros used this setup to work on a variety of skills, depending on the dog. As far as I could tell, for some dogs they worked on steadiness, for some they worked on going to the go-bird  even if not aligned for that mark, for some they worked on head swinging. Other skills may also have been in development.

After they had run all their dogs, it was Laddie's turn, and he was the only dog they included retiring a gun with. They threw both doubles (that is, right/left and then left/right) and retired the memory bird in both cases. Laddie nailed all four marks. I'm not sure how much he learned exactly, but it was good to see him showing his marking skill and good for both our confidence if nothing else.

By the way, in my previous post I also used the term "nailed", but that wasn't entirely accurate. I think nailing means running straight to the mark. By that definition, Laddie did nail all four of the marks in this afternoon's drill, and he did nail the shorter, left water mark earlier today. But for the longer, right water mark, he actually swam across the pond on a line that had been aimed slightly left by the water entry, and he then angled back once he reached the top of the far embankment and could figure out where the mark was because he could see the right gunner again. I wouldn't call that nailing the mark, but he swam straight and he ran straight, and there was no hunt. I don't know what that's called.

Two water singles

For our second session today, I threw for the pro's dogs, and then one of the pros changed places with me and I got to run Laddie.

The setup, pretty much as usual since I've been training with these guys, was a tight double. Both retrieves started with a steep downhill land segment and then a long swim. The shorter mark on the left was thrown behind the reeds at the far shoreline. The longer mark on the right tacked on a land segment after the dog climbed out of the water and up the embankment thru thick, high cover.

The long mark on the right was deceptively difficult, because the dog had to detour around a large clump of thick cover to enter the water, and they'd get in trouble if they detoured on the right. But detouring on the left put the dog on a line toward the left mark, and once the dog was in the water, the dog could no longer see the right gun station. The dogs handled that situation in various ways, some of which resulted in corrections, handling, or calls for the gunner to help. But Laddie held his line to the far shore, then spotted the right gunner when he got to the top of the embankment and ran straight to the mark, no correction, help, or handling needed.

The pros ran the setup in various ways for dogs at varying levels, and when it was Laddie's turn, the pro asked me how I wanted you run it. Easy question: "What would you suggest?" I asked.

"I'd run it as two singles," he said, so that's what we did. The only wrinkle was that the pro who threw the shorter mark retired after he threw it, as Laddie was running down the slope to the water, not because I requested it but I guess because he thought it would be good for Laddie to run it that way.

Laddie nailed both marks; the pro said "perfect." I'm glad the pro had us run it that way. Well never know, but it might have been too hard if I'd run it the way I thought Laddie could do it.

After that, the pros had to run an errand, and said they'd meet me back at the kennel a little later, for another setup I guess. I'm waiting there for them now.

Point combinations

Today Laddie and I are back up north and showed up to train with pros at 6am, but they had decided to do some private yard work first thing. The pro said Laddie and I could use the pond while waiting, so I ran Laddie on a sequence of four shoreline poorman marks, in each case with two points of land in the picture.

For the first one, the line to the bumper was over both points, but running from a different direction than Laddie has run before. For the second one, the line was outside both points. He did both of those easily without any veering and if course no need for handling, though he did need handling to keep him from running the bank on the returns.

Since those seemed so easy, I ought I'd try something more advanced than the pro had suggested a few days ago, but in the same spirit, I think. I ran Laddie on a line that went post one point, and then over the next one. He again ran this with apparent ease and without handling.

Finally, I ran him on a line that went over a point, and then past the next one, completing the for possible combinations. And again he had no difficulty with it and did not require handling.

At that point I needed to break for work. I texted the pro that I'd be back soon to work with him the rest of the day, and Laddie and I were off.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Water entries and points

Laddie and I worked alone at our nearest training property this morning, but I didn't run him on any blinds even though I had no one to throw for me. Instead, I ran poorman marks, where I put Laddie into a sit, went out to throw a bumper, and then returned to run him.

First I ran him on two marks across corners of the pond, in both cases with difficult angle entries and with the longest available land segments both before and after the water for that training area. He ran both of them straight as an arrow, with good entries rather than attempting to run the banks, and also without taking exaggerated, fat entries that squared the shoreline.

Next I ran him on about twenty marks across a section of the pond that includes a point of land approximately half way across. For each mark, I placed a lining pole with a ribbon that I threw the bumper to, so that Laddie would have a clear target as he swam. Four of the marks, inserted randomly and also including the last one, were Laddie's preferred configuration: swimming past the point without getting up on land. For all the others, the line to the fall was over the point. When Laddie started to swim around the point on those, as he did nearly every time, I would stop him with a whistle and then either handle him onto the point, or call him all the way back to the start line. Finally, for the last two marks across the point, he took the route over the point without requiring a handle.

Although running a mark over a point still seems to be difficult for Laddie, I guess it's easier than it was a couple of weeks ago, since he never vocalized as he approached the point nor when I cast him. It does seem that he has not devised a rule that tells him automatically whether or not to go over the point without being handled. The ideal rule, of course, would be that that's the straightest way to the mark, but I guess he's been using some other rule, such as stay in the water, for so many years that he still hasn't figured out that I won't let him finish the mark if he uses his old rule when the line is over the point. But hopefully in time he'll figure it out.

I had him swim back, rather than run the bank, on every return. That was also never automatic. Every time, he started to come back on land and I needed to handle him into the water, and watch him as he completed his return to prevent him from detouring over to the shore. Once again, we're trying to change a habit established years ago and practiced countless times since. I still don't believe in requiring him to swim back when a land route is readily available, to be honest. I don't see how it helps the elements of his performance that matter to judges. But there's no point in asking for advice from the pros we've been training with and then ignoring it, and this was something that they were adamant about. So whether I understand the reasons or not, and whether I believe in it or not, that's the way Laddie and I are working now.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Training with pros

Today the pros only ran one series for their dogs and the day trainers, since they were doing private yard work with the pups they're training in the afternoon. But that one series consisted of four singles, three on water including one with a flyer, and we had a lot of dogs.  I threw for several hours, then ran Laddie next to last.

The first throw was a simple mark on land. I don't know why it was included. No dog had trouble with it as far as I know, though maybe some of the young dogs broke on it.

The second throw was a short flyer thrown almost straight back behind the gunner into open water. I suspect some dogs broke on it because it was so close, but I couldn't tell because I was hiding behind an umbrella till the last throw when I was in the field. When it was Laddie's turn, the pro took a long time to call "dog" and then I also took a long time to send him to really challenge his steadiness and he did fine. But the flyer, a cripple, had drifted into sight directly between the gunner and the thrower, on a line over the duck crate lying on the ground between the two men. So that's the line Laddie took, jumping over the length of the crate as he raced thru the gap. I never saw a dog do that before.  :0)

The third single consisted of a long land segment, a difficult angle water entry, a water segment, and a steep climb up the embankment to the bird, which in Laddie's case was accidentally thrown too far into high cover instead of onto the open slope the first time he ran it. I was pretty confident Laddie would run it well because he's had a lot of practice with such lines, but many of the dogs had cheated on the water entry, and after all, Laddie had cheated on a similar water entry the day before. The difference was that yesterday's was a RE-entry, with long, difficult swims both before and after, whereas this was an entry from land to a relative short swim.

But I didn't have a crystal ball, and I didn't want another bad experience like yesterday. So, with the agreement of the pro, first I moved up close to the water and let Laddie run it. Then I moved back to the start line to have it thrown again,  and he nailed it on a perfectly straight line. I think that's what he would have done anyway, but we'll never know.

When it was time to run the fourth mark, that gunner put down the umbrella she'd been hiding behind and threw the mark sideways onto the embankment. Once again I had Laddie run this twice, once from near the water and once from the regular start line, since it featured a particular entry point into a long swim that a lot of the dogs were cheating. Laddie nailed it both times, even though the bird was thrown once high on the embankment and then near the shoreline behind some high reeds.

Unfortunately, despite Laddie's pinpoint marking on all six retrieves, the pros were concerned with only one thing, and that was Laddie's returns and how I dealt with then.

As I've mentioned before, years ago I was informed that judges don't care what route a dog takes on his return, so I made the decision to let Laddie come back any route he wanted. I've stayed with that decision without regret all these years until two weeks ago, when these two pros insisted that if I wanted Laddie to improve in his qual finishes, he had to start taking a straight route back in training. So I've been handling him all the way back ever since as necessary, and as it happened in these marks, it took a lot of handling.

I know from long experience that Laddie doesn't like to be handled, and I was/am confident that he will require less and less handling on his returns provided I am 100% consistent in requiring straight returns. But that's not how the pros saw it. The pro I usually talk with (the other is his mentor) told me that it was counterproductive to handle Laddie so much because it wasn't positive training, and Laddie was just learning to ignore me.

What can I say? Laddie wasn't ignoring me, he took every cast. It's just that he kept experimenting to see if I'd finally let him cheat, and I'm sure it was annoying to trainers who could solve the problem so easily with an ecollar. I understand that they were sure Laddie wasn't learning anything. However I'm equally sure he was; it's just a long process to overcome years of intrinsic positive reinforcement for taking the easier, faster land route when available.

But next time I obviously better not take the continuous handling approach while training with these guys, who are providing me with such an incredible valuable experience. So I'll stop Laddie as soon as he starts to cheat on his returns and move up to a point as close to him as possible where I can call him to me across the water. Then once he's on land, I'll put him in a sit, run back to the start line, and call him the rest of the way in. Hopefully the pros will like that better and I see no harm in it. I would guess that at some point it won't be necessary any longer, and meanwhile the annoyance factor will hopefully be eliminated.

Training with pros

Yesterday I started Laddie with a time-up land blind, then trained on marks with the pros the rest of the long day. Their setups were similar to one another, and the third included perhaps the most difficult mark Laddie has ever run.

All three were tight doubles, apparently a favorite configuration for these pros and one that results in corrections for most of their dogs. We had at least some water on every mark. The pros had a few of the dogs run the doubles with the long gun retired, including Laddie on the second series. That was the first retired mark he has run well since we have been training with these guys, so that was nice to see.

In addition, with several day trainers participating, I heard several more times what I've heard over the years, what great natural talent Laddie has and how much I've accomplished training him with my experimental approach. One person also echoed another common theme, that with the right training, he'd have been FC/AFC and could have competed at national level. Sigh.

As for the tough final mark, the line was a land segment through shoreline cover, an 80 yard swim diagonally across a moss-filled rectangular pond with rounded corners surrounded by high cover, across a dike, an extremely difficult angle water entry into a 200y shoreline swim, again in thick, moss-filled water, up through high cover onto the step embankment, and a short land segment to the thrown bumper.

Laddie was the last dog to run this, and the pro suggested I run it as a single. After watching many dogs get corrections coming out of the first water to soon, and then again not getting into the water after crossing the dike, I came up with an approach to running it involving observation and reporting on the radio by the gunner, since the handler could not see the second water entry from anywhere near the start line. In retrospect it was not a good plan. There was little chance that Laddie would take the second entry, and little I could do to provide quality training if he tried to cheat it.

As a result, this became a painful experience for both Laddie and me, not at all the kind of training experience I want us to have.

I should have walked him down to the dike and just run him on the second water. Then, I could have decided if he had gotten enough out of that, or we could come back and run the full mark afterwards.

It was a great example of 20/20 hindsight. I just hope I've learned my lesson.

The pros apparently give their dogs a lot of practice with tight doubles and water re-entries on long marks. In my experience, both are rare configurations in quals, though I wouldn't be surprised if they're common in all-age stakes where I'd like Laddie to run someday.

In the meantime, perhaps having so many setups that exceed Laddie's ability is helping prepare him for the stakes we will be running this fall. I hope so.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Training with pros

I needed to be home on Monday, but drove back up north to stay with family and train with a pro (actually two pros) late Monday night.

Tuesday Laddie and I trained for ten hours, in my case on three hours sleep. Most of the time Laddie was resting in his crate, of course, while I worked in the field. But Laddie did run a tune-up land blind and three series of marks:

- A land triple with a flyer go-bird and the long middle mark retired

- A land triple with the short mark of a converging double retired

- A land double

I got a little sleep Tuesday night, and on Wednesday we started at 6am again, but stopped before noon. Here's what Laddie ran:

-  A tune-up land blind (just Laddie and me while waiting for training with the pros to start)

- A land/water double, with a short throw on land as the go-bird, and a long mark that crossed two points of land as the memory bird. Laddie needed to be handled twice to stop him from swimming around the points, but with minimal vocalizing.

- A rerun of the long mark, again needing to be handled twice to stop him from swimming around both points. I can't remember if he vocalized when handled on the rerun, but I don't think so. If so, not much.

- A water double with the long mark as the go-bird past a point of land, and the short, retired mark as the memory bird  across a curved section of the pond.

I had an opportunity to ask one of the pros about my concern that if I kept requiring him to go over points rather than letting him swim around them on marks, he would revert to his behavior as a much younger dog and start getting up on points he should be swimming past.

The pro explained to me that I was facing the same dilemma all field trial trainers face. First the dog needs to be taught to stay in the water and not detour to land as the dog swims past a point. Then the dog becomes overbalanced and doesn't want to get up on the point even when it's on the line to the bird. That's the phase that Laddie and Lumi both reached. But what I didn't understand is that then you train further, until the dog can recognize each situation and take a straight line whether it's past a point or over it. Ah hah.

After explaining the concepts, the pro suggested the following drill, in the same location where we'd been working this morning:

- Run Laddie on a mark that goes over both points until he does it without needing to be handled.

- Then run him on a similar line but one that takes him past the two points instead of over them. Handle if necessary to keep him off the points and continue running that mark until he can do it without handling.

Note that this wouldn't all necessarily be done the same day, but the two marks would be done on the same section of the same pond so that the dog would be able to see the difference between the two setups, one over the points, the other past the points.

After the group training was completed, I stayed and worked alone with Laddie on that drill. I used poorman marks: I'd put Laddie in a sit, go out and fire a pistol and throw the mark, then come back and run him.

First I ran him on a mark over both points. He did it correctly without needing to be handled.

Then I ran him on a similar mark, but this time the line was a few feet outside both points. Again he did it correctly, making no attempt to divert over to the points as I was afraid he might do from the earlier training today. He stayed clear of the land and on line, as he has for years on such marks.

Finally I ran him on the first mark again, and again he automatically stayed on line and crossed both points without needing to be handled.

So that felt like good progress on this skill. In all honesty I'm not sure how much it will help in quals, but if we ever run in all-age, I'm sure we'll face situations where the judge will arrange it so that if the dog swims off course to swim around a point, it will be difficult for the dog to complete the mark well.

By the way, for all water retrieves Laddie is running while we train with these pros, I'm requiring him to swim back on the same line, rather than allowing him to run the bank during his return as I have for years. Again, it's not clear to me how this will make it more likely that he'll win a qual at some point, and it might have hurt his returns when he was younger, but I see no harm in it and perhaps it will improve his performance in ways I'm not yet aware of.

I don't think Laddie had run a single retired mark successfully since we've been training with these pros. That's kind of mysterious to me since readers of this website know that Laddie has a great deal of practice running retired marks, including multiple retired marks, as well as his MH, where all the guns are hidden. But from talking to the pro, it seems I've underestimated the difficulty of the particular retired marks I've tried him on. Well, it would be nice to see him start running some of them with the skill I'm used to seeing.

More training tomorrow and Friday, then back home for the weekend. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Training with pro

First session was yard work. For Laddie, that meant three blinds with poison bird, one thrown to the outside, the other under the arc. Pro wants me to improve my line communication with Laddie to the point that he would jump over a thrown flyer if I indicated that I was sending him on a blind, but pick it up if I indicated a mark.

Second session was two setups. Pro said first one, a water double, too easy for Laddie. Laddie ran second one twice, first as two water singles, the second time as a water triple.

Laddie had no difficulty with the easy go-bird added to create the triple, and he nailed the shorter of the two main marks both times, one of the few dogs to do so.

The longer mark included perhaps the longest swim Laddie has ever made. The line was a diagonal channel crossing, over a point of land with a steep embankment, a long swim diagonally across a pond, an exit thru thick, high cover up a steep embankment, to the mark on open ground in front of an attractive wooded hillside.

Both times Laddie tried to swim around the point, which I have allowed him to do for years, but pro (actually two pros) want Laddie to go over the point when that's the line to the mark, do I handled him both times, though in retrospect it might have been better to call him back and resend him. The first time, he took a line that eventually crossed to the wrong side of the line to the gun and I cast him a couple of times until he was on a good line.

The second time he did something he's never done before: as he crossed the point, he stopped for some time to sniff the grass. At last the pro had the gunner call hey-hey and Laddie completed the mark without further help.

An additional note: The pros do not want me to let Laddie run around water on his returns any more, so I've been handling him straight back to me on all retrieves since Wednesday.

Training with pro

I'll try to write about Wednesday's complex second session when I have more time.

For third session, we drove to a pond in an apple orchard and Laddie ran two singles across  parts of the pond. Purpose was to provide confidence for Laddie after frustrating work earlier.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Training with pro

Morning session: break down of a 150y shoreline mark across two points of land.

A. Use the first point as the start line and run a shoreline single over the second point. I needed to give Laddie a cast to prevent him from going around the point, and he needed some handling to stay in the water at the end. No vocalizing. Required to swim all the way back to the original start line and over both points rather than running back on land.

B. Run the shoreline single from a start line well to the inside of the original start line, making it more obvious that the line to the mark was over the points. Laddie still attempted to swim around the points but responded easily to single casts up onto the points, and did not need handling at the end. No vocalizing. Again required to swim all the way back and over the points rather than running back on land.

C. Run the complete double, with the go-bird a short mark on land to the side of the pond. After retrieving the go-bird, Laddie once again tried to swim around each of the points on the shoreline mark, and once again responded easily to handling up onto the points, but vocalized on the second one. Did not need to be handled at the end. Again required to swim all the way back and over the points rather than running back on land.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Training with pro

Here's a brief description of the work Laddie and I did with the pro today.

Different location. Only one series while Laddie and I were there.

Land double plus two land blinds

First mark was on the left, thrown RTL at 60y into high cover, then retired. Second mark was on the right, thrown RTL at150y into high cover.

Both blinds were in the range 150-200y, both to the right of both marks. Factors were a crosswind and high cover.

Laddie ran last (I was the left gunner for the other dogs). He ran straight to both marks, then took good lines on each blind and handled well in a tight corridor to complete the blinds. I felt he ran all four retrieves well.

The exception was that the first time I sent him on the first blind, he was a bit off line and when I blew my whistle, his sit was a little slow. So I walked out and picked him up. After that his sits were good.

Training with pro

Laddie and I are now staying with family or of state and training with a pro for one month.

Here's a brief description of yesterday's work, our first day here.

Series A. Water triple. Center, long swim, throw LTR. Right, throw RTL, retired. Left, short angle back LTR, sharp angle water entry. Needed hunt for right mark. For center mark, stayed too far right even with help from thrower, was about to get up on right shore, responded to my handling.

Series B. Tight converging water double with memory bird on right including tight channel swim and angle-back bridge. Laddie nailed mark on left, needed handling for difficult mark on right.

Series C. Rerun of right mark from Series B, with guidance from pro. Used verbal corrections and partial call-in, in addition to handling, for getting out of water too soon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Three water doubles and a water blind (with photos)

Today I picked up two assistants for a session at our nearest training property. It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. However, temps were in high 80s, so I used water for all retrieves and hopefully avoided over-heating or over-exerting Laddie.

Series A. Double bridge plus side throw

The first mark was LTR across a channel, with the line including a cheat-y re-entry. The second mark was also an LTR across a channel, with the line past an island. I then threw a side-throw into the water to add some memory challenge.

I've never seen a setup with two bridge marks, but I thought it would be good practice. Laddie had no difficulty with any of the retrieves.

Series B. Double bridge plus side throw

Series B was a mirror image of Series A, with bumpers thrown the opposite direction (RTL) over the same locations on the zig-zagging channel. Again I added a side-throw to the two bridge marks. Laddie picked up the side-throw and the shorter mark without difficulty. However, the long mark served as a training mark. First I needed to handle Laddie away from the right side of the island, since that risked taking him to the old fall, and then I needed to handle him into the water at the re-entry from the strip of land near the end, since he started to run the bank on the left.

Here are photos of the setup. The first one shows normal focus, the second one is zoom focus. In the second photo, the bird-girl for the shorter mark is on the far right of the image and the bird-girl for the longer mark is in the center. Both girls threw bridge marks RTL.

Series C. Water double with side-throw

The first throw was supposed to be LTR, but the bird-girl accidentally threw it too far to the left, so it was directly behind her, meaning that Laddie didn't see an arc but rather the bumper seeming, in 2D, to go straight up and straight down. The line to that mark was down a hill, across a land segment, into water with a difficult angle entry, across the strip of land that the bird-girl was throwing from, across a channel, and up onto the embankment, with the bumper thrown into cover. So this was Laddie's fifth bridge mark of the day.

The second throw was LTR on an angle back up the shore, but the throw wasn't as far as I had hoped. The line to mark was down an embankment, diagonally across a channel, diagonally across a strip of land, a water re-entry across the corner of a pond, and thru cover at water's edge to the bumper on land. Because the throw was short, the corner was shorter and more cheat-y than planned.

After the marks were thrown, I again threw a side-throw.

Laddie had no difficulty with the side-throw or the second mark. He also took an excellent line to the first mark (the last one retrieved), but hunted the near side of the final channel for a short time before deciding to swim across and directly to the cover containing the bumper. I thought it was a good piece of problem-solving and good practice for a bridge mark thrown behind the gunner that Laddie might encounter in competition.

Series D. Water blind across corner of a pond, then beside treeline to back of a plateau

We finished with a water blind. Here are two photos, one with normal focus, the other with zoom focus. Laddie handled well running this blind. He took the water entry as part of his initial line and finished with three zig-zag casts, with tight whistle sits, to the blind.

[Note that entries are displayed from newest to oldest.]