Friday, April 10, 2015

Training seminar: land triple, water triple, water single

Today was Day Two of the training seminar that Laddie and I are attending. It started with an extensive discussion of solving a particular training problem, and then proceeded to two series separated by lunch.

The discussion concerned the case of a dog scalloping toward shore rather than staying on line to the end of a pond on a mark, and associated peripheral issues. One example of how the discussion proceeded was a debate over the efficacy, versus potential side effects, of letting the dog who had scalloped go and some seconds later reach land, whereupon the dog would receive a strong collar correction. Most of the methods discussed, though not all, were outside my interest. However, the second pro made an assertion that I found interesting: calling a dog all the way in is a strong correction. That, of course, is similar to one of the primary methods I use, though I've found that walking out is more effective than just calling the dog in. Of course walking out is not possible for correcting a water retrieve, so calling the dog back to the start line has to do, and I'd agree with the pro that even that has a strong effect on improving performance.

Here's a description of the two series and Laddie's work on them:

Series A. Land triple

The first throw was on the right, a duck thrown RTL at 180y on an angle back close to a pine tree, with the line to the fall thru a swampy area as well as other difficult terrain. The second throw was on the left, a hen pheasant thrown LTR at 150y into an area of high cover. The third throw was in the center, a duck thrown RTL at 250y, with the line over a mound. The field was dotted with trees, limiting visibility, obstructing paths, and generally making the triple more difficult than it would have been without them, especially for a dog like Laddie who has never trained on fields with trees scattered around inside the area of the series. The first and second guns both retired after their throws.

Laddie has been running triples for years, including these kinds of distances, and he's been running retired guns for years, including having two or even three guns retired. Admittedly he may never have seen the long middle gun as the go-bird, but I don't think that was a hugely difficult factor, though of course having the long gun stay out while the dog was picking up the two shorter retired memory marks on either side was an interesting challenge. However, though I felt that on paper the series was well within Laddie's experience and capability, it was actually much more difficult because of the trees, the swampiness, and other elements of the terrain. I knew as soon as I looked at the setup that, despite Laddie's proven skillfulness in marking, this series would be a major challenge for him and might be over his head.

So why did I let him run it without requesting modification, such as running it as a double and a single, or even as three singles, or possibly as a triple but with the guns out, or possibly by moving up? I don't know. Perhaps because I want so much for people to see what a great dog Laddie is that I take unnecessary risks like this one.

In this case, the risk did not pay off. The series was in fact too difficult for Laddie, so instead of showing how skillful he is, it showed how badly his behavior can break down. Yes, he nailed the long go-bird. But next I elected to run him on the left bird that had been thrown in cover, on the grounds that I thought it was a bit easier than the right mark, and one of my criteria for choosing between memory marks is to run the hardest one last. That way, if I have to handle, I'll already have the easier mark out of the way and the series won't be as disrupted by the possible need to handle on the last mark.

But that strategy failed because Laddie took a line behind the gun station and then a big circle that brought him to a return to the old fall in the middle before I could get him under control with the whistle. First I had called for help from the gun, but it turned out the bird-boy had a great throwing arm but did not know how to help the dog effectively, so I was late to handling. Eventually Laddie found the bird in the cover and returned with it, but the triple was blown. What to do now about the right memory mark?

I made the terrible decision to just go ahead and run Laddie. It turned out that he had forgotten the mark entirely, somewhat surprisingly since Laddie usually has a great memory for marks. That actually wasn't the worst part, however. The worst part was when Laddie decided to lie down in the swampy section, I guess to cool off his belly. I can't even remember whether that was before or after he had the bird. Ugh. I can't remember any more about how Laddie did on Series A. I think maybe the pros, incredibly considerate as always, tried to help Laddie and me get something useful out of the setup by having us come back and run a modified version, but maybe they did something else that was also incredibly considerate. I guess I've blotted it out of my memory.

But I did learn something, which unfortunately I've learned before but I have to keep learning it: When we are training with a new group and running difficult setups, I should err on the side of modifying the work so that it's too easy, and then gradually allow incrementally greater challenges in subsequent setups, rather than risk over-facing Laddie and running into a disaster. Never mind how the other dogs are doing. I'm supposed to be doing what's best for improving Laddie's performance, not trying to win training day or show off what a great dog Laddie is.

Besides, everyone can already see what a nice dog Laddie is. In fact, the pros both commented on it today  :0)  , somehow managing to see thru the disasters I had engineered.

Series B. Water triple followed by water single

For the Series B water triple, the first throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 110y with a difficult shoreline that required a re-entry into the water to stay on line. The second throw was in the middle, thrown LTR at 100y and across a channel, a configuration I've heard called a "bridge". The line to this mark, too, was cheat-y, consisting of a mound that pushed the dog left and onto running the shoreline toward the gunner rather than entering at the end of the channel and over to the bird. The third throw was on the right, a duck flyer thrown RTL into the water on the far side of the same strip of land that 50y further along was the where the second bird had been thrown. This meant that if a dog sent for the flyer ran along the strip of land to the left instead of traversing it to get into the water on the other side, the dog would pick up the second bird instead of the flyer. I believe that the first gun was retired for dogs running Series B as an advanced triple.

For the Series B water single, the throw was in the middle of the field, thrown RTL at 320y with a channel swim between two points, an angle exit onto land, a series of island hops that created suction to the left, and a diagonal swim across another channel to the shoreline where the bird had been thrown. For the advanced dogs, this gun also retired after the throw.

After my repeated misjudgments of what Laddie was capable of on earlier setups yesterday and today, this time, when it was our turn, I expressed that this setup was probably over Laddie's head, especially considering that he's only been training in water for a couple of weeks since the weather became warm enough for it. So instead of running it as a triple and a single, the pros' suggested that we run a double consisting of the outer marks, then the short middle mark as a single, and finally the long middle mark as a single, but with none of the guns retiring, and using a large white bumper for the long throw, a bird planted there in advance for the dog to pick up when he got out there.

For the double, Laddie took a good line to the flyer go-bird until he reached the last strip of land before the water where the flyer had landed. Then, to my surprise, he ran back and forth a bit on that strip of land before finally leaping into the water to pick up the flyer and complete the retrieve. I don't know why he did it, but I guess it was the same reason that some of the other dogs also had trouble going all the way across that strip of land and into the water on the other side. If the water had been cold, that might have explained it, but temps have reached the 80s two days in a row, and I doubt the water was particularly cold in mid-afternoon, even with the brisk wind all day and the cold nights we've been having. At least Laddie finally got into the water on his own and didn't need to be handled, as several of the other dogs did.

The cheat-y memory bird on the left was too hard for Laddie. I'm pleased to say he took a good initial entry rather than trying to cheat around, but once on land again, he veered left rather than holding his line and taking the re-entry. Getting him to take the correct line was a struggle whose details my mind seems to have suppressed. Oh, well.

Given Laddie's difficulty with the re-entry challenge on the left mark, I opted to move our start line for the short single bridge mark to make it less cheat-y. Laddie then nailed it. I guess that's good, since I didn't have to handle him, but my immediate reaction was that I'd made it too easy.

For the long single, Laddie took a nice line thru the channel and between the two points, and came up on the far shore of the middle section of land at the correct point. However, he then veered left, which I interpreted as his intent to island-hop until he got across the channel from the bird for a short swim across to it. Therefore, as soon as he veered left, I blew my whistle and cast an angle back to the right and back on line, which he took nicely and carried a good distance. Just before reaching the diagonal channel crossing, he veered left one more time, and I again handled him back on line, enabling him to complete the mark nicely. By the way, all of his returns on the Series B marks were reasonable, in marked contrast to some of the awful return performances he's delivered earlier in the seminar.

So Series B didn't go quite as well as was hoping it would. I was trying to make modifications so that he could run every mark without handling. In the end, even with the modifications, he needed a lot of handling on the left mark and two handles on the long mark. But I guess it was a good training series, if I don't mind the fact that I still didn't get to show off what a great dog he is.

I'll end by mentioning that the pros were kind enough to arrange for myself and another trainer to run our dogs on that left mark again after all the other dogs had completed the series. Amusingly, when it was Laddie's turn, I voiced my request that the thrower make a nice, big throw so that the re-entry wouldn't be too difficult. The way it turned out, the second pro commented, "Be careful for what you wish for." That was because the throw turned out to be too big, so that Laddie could stay online to the bird without getting back on land just by swimming past the point. So much for the "re-entry" practice. I went down and re-threw the bird myself with Laddie in a Sit waiting for me to come and run him, but again he cheated the re-entry. I called him back and sent him yet again, and this time I handled him to complete our work for the day. I wanted him to run that retrieve as a re-entry mark. I never got that in this session.

And now it's again nearly midnight, so time for bed and Day Three of the seminar starting at 8am tomorrow.

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