Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Private session with pro: four water blinds and a land casting drill

Although years ago, prior to getting involved in field work, I often took Lumi to private and group classes in agility, musical freestyle, and even some tracking, I've never taken either private or group training classes with either of my dogs in field work. However, this spring I've enrolled in a group field training seminar starting tomorrow, and today Laddie and I took a 2-hour private lesson with the pro.

It was totally enjoyable, had no negatives as far as I could tell, and I got some good advice already, hopefully setting the tone for even more benefits during the next four days.

To record how it went:
  • After a little getting to know one another, the pro asked me a spectrum of questions that gave him a pretty solid understanding of my thoughts about Laddie and our work together. One of his most predictable questions, yet one I could not provide a good, thorough answer, was for my thoughts on why Laddie got JAMs rather than placements in his various trials, especially the two times he got Reserve JAMs. Another was for me to provide a list of Laddie's strengths and weaknesses. Of course I tried to answer those questions, but the fact is that I'm not really sure of the answers to those questions. I did mention my concern about Laddie's vocalizing when being handled in water, and that continued to be a topic of discussion throughout the lesson.
  • Next, the pro set up four water blinds and showed them to me, and then he had me get Laddie from the van and run them. The pro stood near me so that he could ask questions and also make occasional suggestions. Obviously this was a tremendous luxury and of incalculable value. In the past, trainers "helping" me have been more likely to complain that about Laddie's meandering returns or questioned how I could hope to train without "corrections", and I had feared similar interaction this time. But it was nothing like that. The pro was nothing but respectful of my choice in how to train, and his suggestions were all rational and valuable, things like, "If you use a quieter voice for more routine casts, you may be able to influence the dog better with a louder voice when a more difficult cast is required." In fact, it wasn't even in the form I just wrote, that is, as a suggestion. It was often more along the lines of, Here's what I tend to do and why. He was unfailingly kind and respectful, yet also direct and helpful. That's another concern I had, that he'd "hint", and I'm no good at taking hints. But I didn't feel that was happening.
  • Finally, the pro showed me a drill that somehow I'd never seen in quite that form. He called it as casting wagon-wheel, as opposed to a lining wagon-wheel (which I did use with Laddie in his training when he was younger). The casting drill is basically the same as the baseball drill, but whereas the baseball drill only has three points -- back, right, and left -- the wagon-wheel has eight points, all the way around the dog, who still starts in a sit facing the handler from about ten yards distance. The pro didn't have me bother with bumpers at the three front positions, so we were only using five points. From what I understood, the pro wasn't as interested in how accurate the casting went as he was in how agitated Laddie might get in case of being confused or stopped for taking an incorrect cast. I think the pro was also curious whether Laddie would vocalize on this land handling, since he had vocalized quite a bit on the water blinds. It turns out that Laddie never vocalized at all on the wagon wheel drill, took pretty good casts, and didn't seem to become agitated or otherwise less able to work when things didn't go perfectly. The same could not be said for me. Several times the pro requested that I send Laddie on a straight back, spinning either left or right, and two of those times I blew the whistle to stop Laddie when it appeared to me that he was diverting to an angle back only to realize, after I'd blown the whistle, that Laddie was still completing his spin and was headed for the correct bumper. I guess I reacted to my own error with some agitation. Not a big deal, hopefully, but not, shall we say, calm. I think the pro feels that's something I would benefit from working on.
Now I'll try to describe the four water blinds and my perceptions of how the work went:

A. 70y, consisting of 60y downhill thru uneven footing and thick, low cover plus 10y across the right edge of a small pond, an obvious cheat available to the right. When I sent Laddie, despite his being lined up well (at least I think he was) and locked in on the correct direction, he took a line far to the left, which I would interpret not as a misunderstanding of what line the blind was on, but as an overwhelming desire to take the water entry fat rather than taking any risk of being too close to the right shoreline and getting whistled for cheating. When I stopped him 20y out to cast him straight over, he vocalized loudly when I blew the whistle. The pro later commented that whereas it might be difficult for Laddie to understand what it would mean if I called him in for vocalizing while taking the correct cast, he'd suggest that I might call him in if he vocalized at the moment I whistled. I think that was a good insight and will try to watch for it. In any case, once Laddie was back on line, I think he ran a good blind from there, though there may have been additional vocalizing. I can't remember the details of how he ran the rest of the blind, but I think that means it was pretty routine. He definitely didn't make any effort to run the bank. In fact, to my surprise, he didn't run the bank on his return, either. Once he had gotten across the pond, he ran up the hill, picked up the bumper, turned around, and carried it back into the water to bring it back.

B. 90y, consisting of a similar land entry, across the same pond as A but on a line further to the left of the right edge, over a strip of land, and across a second pond close to the right edge, between that edge and a small island, with the bumper on the far shoreline in the corner. The line crossed A's line. I don't remember the details of how Laddie ran B. I think he again took an initial line too far to the left and for the same reason, he again vocalized, and I believe I used several whistles to keep him on what I considered a tight line. I cannot tell you whether in fact I was using too many whistles and a more relaxed line would have been OK, nor whether the line I actually kept him on was tight enough for a typical Qual or All-age judge. There is so much I don't know! Anyway, Laddie made no effort to cheat around the water at either entry, nor to beach on the island. Again, I can't remember the details, because I think a lot of the pro's concern was with Laddie's vocalizing: He raised interesting questions such as what is the context and trigger for Laddie's vocalizing, would longer delays between the whistle and the cast reduce the vocalizing, is my level of excitement and tendency toward animated casting making the vocalizing worse, and so forth.

C. 120y, consisting of a start line at 4 o'clock beside a mound, the same downhill land entry as for A and B, across a strip of land, the right side of the small island mentioned in B, and onto another strip of land, with a total of two water crossings, none very long. The line for C crossed both the previous two lines. Before we ran it, this looked to me like it might be difficult, but I can't actually remember Laddie having a problem with it. I think Laddie again vocalized at least once. I think his initial line was better than for A and B, which I would guess was because he didn't feel a need to be so concerned with avoiding the right edge of the first pond. I think he had some problem getting past the island, and I would guess that that was because the water was a bit shallow near the left end of the island, allowing his feet to touch the ground and thus greatly increasing suction onto the island in comparison to swim-depth water. Seeing him turning toward the island, I used three emphatic tweets rather than a single tweet to stop him. It worked, but I'd guess it hurts scoring compared to a single tweet, since in effect, he's slipping (refusing) the first two whistles. But actually they're too closely spaced in time for him to have time to react. I did it just for emphasis in communication. I'd think the pseudo-refusals are less damaging to his score than if he got up onto the land.

D. 140y, consisting of a line across some swampy mud, then a downhill land section, across the same water and strip of land as C, past the same island but at more distance, and then this time, past the left end of the second strip of land and with the blind on a third strip of land further out. The line for D crossed all previous lines. This time, though again lined up and locked in correctly, Laddie took a wrong initial line to the right, apparently preferring to take a water entry into a different pond on the right of the swampy corner than to run thru the mud. I called him back to the start line and ran him again, and this time he took a good line. I'm sorry, once again I cannot visualize the details of how Laddie ran this, which makes me think he probably ran it reasonably tight. I'm fairly sure he vocalized one or more times, as he had on all the water blinds. I'm also fairly sure I used several whistles rather than letting him build any momentum on an incorrect line. And I'm fairly sure that he never attempted to run a bank or in any other way show any water aversion. The pro had me working on calmer handling with more time between whistle and cast, and if he was either happy or unhappy with Laddie's work, I don't remember him mentioning it.

That's my perceptions of how today's lesson went. Now Laddie and I must wait another 12 hours for the seminar to begin, tomorrow morning at 8am.

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