Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Water marks: more corners

Today, Laddie, a bird-girl, and I returned to the closest training property for another training session devoted entirely to difficult water entries. Continuing yesterday's work, we used a different but similar collection of ten water marks, each featuring a longish land entry and a short swim across the corner of a pond to a white bumper thrown, and often visible, on the far side. Visibility of the bumper wasn't an accident. I wanted to be sure that Laddie knew where the fall was and was not cheating land because he thought that the fall was possibly closer to the corner.

The temps weren't bad, low 60s, but we had a brisk breeze to go with on-and-off showers.

Laddie tried to run around the corner on the first mark. I called him back and resent him, and he did great. He then took water the first time on the next seven marks.

I guess the eighth was especially difficult, because he ran around the corner three times. When I sent him the fourth time, I made up my mind I'd whistle and handle him, which I did, but I questioned myself almost immediately because that last time he was just entering the water on a good line. Maybe the handle wasn't necessary or useful that time after all.

Laddie then ran the ninth and tenth marks without a problem. The tenth was a re-run of the eighth that he'd had so much trouble with. If he gets that picture in a trial this weekend, maybe he'll be ready for it.

Water marks: corners and reentries

Yesterday, Laddie and I traveled with a single assistant to the closest training property with technical water. There we made a complete circuit of the property, stopping along the way to run about ten water marks that would challenge Laddie's "water honesty," that is, willingness to swim across a section of water to stay on line to a mark rather than running around the water.

Eight of the marks were thrown from a corner of a pond up the shore, so that Laddie needed to take an angle entry into the water and swim across the corner. Two others required Laddie first to swim across a channel, then over a small amount of land to reach a point of reentry into a second section of water and across a corner to the mark. Those two marks were the fifth and tenth of the set Laddie ran.

All were run with a bird-girl in a white jacket firing a pistol and throwing a white bumper. I used setups with the longest land entries I could find, so that Laddie was as far from the influence of my proximity as possible when he reached the water entry.

Of the first seven marks, Laddie ran two correctly the first time. For all the others, he tried to "cheat" around the corner. In each case, I called out "No!" then called him back to heel and sent him again. In four of those five cases, he ran it correctly the second time. For the one that he again started to cheat, which was the sixth mark of the day, I called him back a short way, then used whistle and handling cues to handle him into the water.

The last three marks of the day were as difficult as any of those that had come before, and the last was a diagonal swim across a channel before crossing a point of land and taking a reentry across a corner of water. But Laddie ran all three of those correctly the first time, with no need to call him back or handle.

At last he was running those situations the way he'll need to if we run into one of them in a trial.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Triples with embedded blinds

When I left the house to pick up three assistants for local training on land this afternoon, it was sunny but we were nonetheless having a light snowfall. It was below freezing and with a stiff wind, the wind chill was 20 degrees. Just sayin'.

Anyway, we ran two series that were similar but run in different orientations on the field.

Series A. Land triple with embedded blind.

First throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 220y. Second throw was on the right, thrown RTL at 180y. Third throw was in center, thrown RTL at 110y. Gunner for the third throw was in line with the fall of the second throw, a configuration called a reverse hip-pocket. Blind was at 230y on a line under the arc of the third throw, and I had Laddie run the blind after the first two marks but before picking up the long mark.

Series B. Land triple with embedded blind.

The configuration of the gunners and throws, and the distances of the retrieves, were about the same as for Series A, but the blind was behind (to the left of) the first gun. Also, the line to the second fall was thru a diagonal strip of high cover.

For both series, Laddie's performance was good all day, except that on the last mark of Series B, which he ran after running the blind, he took a line too far to the outside and, about 30y from the mark, which was thrown into cover, he apparently became confused and turned around to sit and face me. This was an unusual pop in that he just sat there staring at me for a long time, even though I never moved a muscle. Typically, when Laddie pops, as with other dogs I've seen, if the handler doesn't move, the dog turns away and starts hunting within a few seconds. But Laddie didn't do that for perhaps 30 seconds. Eventually he finally did, and found the bumper with a short hunt.

I'm not sure why his behavior was unusual on this occasion. These days I usually call "Sit", then walk out to pick Laddie up and rerun him on the mark when he pops, which has become fairly rare, thank goodness. But I'm having considerable pain in one of my legs, so today I followed the more usual protocol I've seen handlers use for a dog popping, which is to just freeze and not give the dog any response at all. The goal of that tactic is to not reinforce the pop in hopes that the behavior will become less probable in the future, though I haven't noticed that effect with Laddie over the years I've tried various things since popping crept into his game. Picking him up seemed to be more effective. Most effective, however, as I've described before, I believe, is to train with fake throws, so that Laddie gets accelerated experience with confusing situations that he can successfully solve without popping.

By the way, another reason for not responding to a pop, besides the fact that it may reinforce it and make future pops more probable, is that, in the case of a marked retrieve in an event, if you just stand there, the dog is graded down only for a pop, but if you handle the dog out of the pop, the retrieve becomes a handled retrieve, more costly to the dog's score.

I'd have preferred to end the day on a mark run where no pop had occurred, but it was a good day of training in difficult weather and I think all the humans were happy to get out of the cold.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Seventh qual JAM for Laddie

Today, in interminttent rain and with temps dropping from the forties into the thirties, Laddie earned his seventh Judges Award of Merit (JAM), a green ribbon that means the dog finished the trial rather than being dropped along the way, but without a score high enough to earn one of the top four placements.

To briefly express my feelings: Of course I'm proud of this achievement in the light of the fact that no other positive-trained dog has ever won even one ribbon in a field trial as far as I know. On the other hand, I am disappointed that we still have not taken a placement in a field trial.

Now I would just like to describe the test and how Laddie did running it.

Series A. Land double with flyer as the go-bird. Memory bird was thrown to the back of a small pond. Then a land blind.

Laddie nailed the flyer. For the memory bird, he ran directly to it without a hunt, but he skirted the water, running between water's edge and the gunner. He ran the blind with a good initial line, three whistles, no refusals, and good carries on every cast.

Series B. Water blind, consisting of a sliver of water, a dike crossing, and a channel swim with land on the left and a flooded corn field on the right. In the last twenty yards or so, the dog needed to cut across the corner of the corn field and then run over a short stretch of lunging-depth water to reach the bird on the far shore. Laddie required a fair number of casts, and vocalized on the first two casts after crossing the dike, but aside from that, his performance appeared to me to be unremarkable.

Series C. Water single. The dog needed to enter the water and drive thru a section of flooded corn, then cross the dike on a sharp angle, reenter the water into another section of flooded corn, and finally come out of the water and run a hundred yards to the bird at the tree line.  Laddie ran this like almost every other dog, lunging through the first section of water, then cheating around the second section of water by running on the dike before turning the corner and running straight to the bird. Some of the dogs did require a hunt at the back of the field but Laddie did not. The two exceptions were the test dog who did enter the second section of water on the way to the bird -- she was a retired FC/AFC -- and a different dog who entered the second section of water in order to hunt for some time in the corn there, finally making his way to the back of the field and the bird after much hunting short, a pop, and a considerable time later.

For the day, on the negative side, Laddie dropped a bird at the line once and took several seconds before he picked it back up again, and he vocalized on his first two casts in water. He also cheated water on two of his marks, an unsurprising weakness given our lack of water work since last fall, but a key training goal in the days to come.

On the positive side, Laddie had no hunts, no cast refusals, no pops, never dawdled on a pick up or return, aired/marked on a return only once, never came close to breaking, never went out of control at the line or in the field, and with the one exception mentioned above, had good deliveries. Of course he ran with with his usual great enthusiasm and athleticism throughout the trial.

I don't know what it will take for us to raise our game high enough for a placement in a stake someday, but we'll get two more tries next weekend. 

Water work

Although we have a trial this morning, and I usually rest Laddie the day before a trial, we finally had a nice day yesterday, sunny with temps reaching the lot 70s. By contrary, today has reverted to this spring's norm, with temps in the 40s and dropping thru the day, as well as continuous rainfall.

To take advantage of the good weather, Laddie and I drove with an assistant to the closest training property with technical water for some brush-up on water skills: taking water entries rather than running the back (cheating) on marks, and control near points of land on blinds. 

Accordingly, we ran four retrieves:

A - Up-the-shore with the bank on the left, also featuring a cheat-y channel crossing near the start line, and on-and-off a point with a tempting cheat to the left at the midpoint.

B - Up-the-shore with the bank on the right, and other features mirroring series A.

C - 160y water blind, with a point of land on the right at midpoint that the dog was to challenge (get near) but not get onto, and another point of land that the dog was to go over (on-and-off) with a difficult (cheat-y) angle entry, across a 20y inlet to a lining pole and the orange bumper.

D - 180y mark across two points of land, the second featuring a difficult angle entry into a longish swim in deep water, then up a hillside to the mark.

Laddie's performance:

A - He tried twice to go around the channel crossing. I called him back each time. He then ran it nicely and crossed the point well, but began veering veering toward the shore on the left. I handled him to the right onto a better line, which he then carried to the mark.

B - Flawless. No hint of cheating, stayed clear of land as he approached the bumper on the shoreline.

C - Took an initial line toward the land on the right rather than the big water on the left, then vocalized when I cast him left. I immediately called him in for vocalizing. Sent him again. He took a better line but still too far right, took the cast with only a soft whimper.  Got tangled briefly in the decoy line just off the first point but stayed close to the land without getting on. Intended to swim around the second point but took my cast onto it. Was a bit too slow stopping when I whistled sit on the second point so I called him back in a couple of yards. I then cast an Over of the point, but he went pretty much straight back instead and straight to the pole. Since he showed no inclination to cheat along the shoreline, iĆ” fine with that.

D - Another excellent mark with no need to handle. Stayed in front of (on a line to the left of) the hunger the whole way, no hint of cheating or breaking down.

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