Sunday, May 31, 2015

Another handling error

Going into today's qual, I was uncertain what level of performance Laddie would show against the other 23 dogs entered.

Well, we came away without a ribbon, but here's how Laddie did.

The first series was a land double with a flyer go-bird and a retired memory bird that required a diagonal swim across a small, angular pond and thru a section of thick high cover, a mark difficult enough that nearly half the field (ten dogs) picked up because of it. If the dog completed the double, the dog then ran a land blind, and ended the series by honoring. Laddie did a fine job on both the double and the blind, and was rock steady on the honor. Of the dogs I watched, about 2/3rds of the field, he appeared to me to be in the first or possibly second spot.

Next came a water blind consisting of a diagonal downslope into water, a diagonal channel crossing, climbing over a half-submerged log, crossing a swampy point, taking an angle entry into run-depth water, continuing as it transitioned to swim-depth, and finally picking up the bird at the far shore planted among thick, high cover. All but two of the remaining dogs passed this blind, so it was not hugely difficult, but Laddie still did a particularly good job, I thought. His initial line carried all the way to the angle water entry, and from there he handled well, though with one cast refusal. I think Laddie was still in one of the top spots at that point.

Finally came a water triple, around the horn with a half-retired long memory bird, an indented, retired middle gun, and a go-bird positioned difficultly enough that several dogs did not even see it thrown. Laddie got a good look at all the throws, then nailed the go-bird and the middle bird. He needed only one more solid retrieve for what I thought was a probable placement, and possible high placement, though, again, I had not seen all the dogs work.

But I did not particularly want another JAM, and I blew Laddie's chances for a placement as a result. I knew that in some of the quals we had run, it was impossible to get a placement if you handled on any mark. Therefore my mindset was to let Laddie hunt. But that led to a disastrous mental error: When Laddie took a line that was too wide on the long memory bird, it took him into the trees and shrubbery past the far shore of the pond, and from there, when he next appeared, he had broken the wrong way during his hunt, popping out at the old fall of the middle mark.I called Here, knowing that returning to the old fall was a sure DQ, but Laddie is difficult to pick up without the bird. Within seconds,, he ran over to the last bird and picked it up. Then he swam in. 

Should I have handled before he got into the woods and shrubbery, maybe even while he was still in the water? Given that I didn't care whether we got another JAM to add to the seven Laddie already has, in some tests I believe the answer would have been no. I think it would have been the correct strategy to let him hunt, and we just lost the gamble. 

But what did not occur to me until later was that on this test, with such difficult land and water marks, most of which Laddie had nailed and the most difficult of which he had made look routine, to go with two good blinds, a solid honor, no airing on returns, no dropped birds at the line, and his usual exuberant style, a placement might have been possible even with a handle. For all I know, not a single dog might have run the entire test without a handle, and a high placement was even possible. Risking a green ribbon or not, at least in this test, it was my job to protect Laddie from returning to the old fall.

I didn't do that and so we fell just one retrieve short. One of the judges commented gently as we left the line, "He had an excellent test, Lindsay."

So I think it's pretty clear that Laddie can do this work. The only question is whether I'll ever get good enough as a handler to stop holding him back. Sadly, so far the answer is no.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Third day of seminar

Today was third and last day of the retriever seminar Laddie and I have been attending. We has clear skies, temps varying 60-80 degrees, and light wind. With only four dogs running today, we ran four substantial series in about six hours.

Series A. Triple land blind

In the center of the field was a stickman at 80y.

The first blind was planted separately for each dog at 80y, at a red cone five yards to the right of the stick man.

The second blind was at 200y. The line was between the stickman and the red cone, forming a keyhole, then down a hill, across the corner of a swim-by pond, through a large section of thick high cover, across a dirt road, across the corner of a second pond, and over a final land segment to the left of another pond that created suction to the right for dogs at this level, who have been trained to prefer a line into water rather than around it.

The third blind was at least 280y, perhaps more. The line was just to the left of the stickman, down a hill, diagonally across a swim-by pond, thru a large section of thick high cover, across a dirt road, over the right slope of a large mound, and ending with a long uphill land segment, with high cover all the way from the road to the blind.

One of the bird boys, an inexperienced handler, ran a house dog, a former NAFC, as test dog and had considerable difficulty. Then two of the seminar participants ran the series and also had trouble. Then the pro ran a different house dog, with less experience than the first dog but of course top notch handling, in order to show visually some of the concepts he had been describing when the previous dogs were run. Then the dog in our group who recently won a qual ran the series and did a nice job. Finally Laddie ran the series and did a nice job.

Series B. Land triple

The first throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 160y high on an uphill slope. The second throw was in the center, thrown LTR at 120y into a featureless area of high cover. The third throw was on the right, thrown RTL at 70y from a mound into a ditch, often a difficult fall for a dog to find. The second and third throws were not only converging but also in an over-under configuration, that is, with the falls on the same line. For Laddie, both memory birds were retired. These were relatively short marks for a field trial, but the configuration was quite difficult and I believe only one dog ran it without the need for handling or help on at least one mark.

Before Laddie and I started, the pro asked me which bird I wanted Laddie to pick up second. I said I thought it would be valuable for him to pick up the difficult middle bird second. Laddie nailed the go-bird on the right (the gunner told me later Laddie was the only dog to nail that mark), and when he returned, he immediately lined up to run the left mark. He resisted lining up for the middle bird, which had little attraction, lying in a featureless field of high cover, far from the retired gunner and on the same line he'd just run.

Of course I could have let him run the mark he wanted to, and would have had no reason not to in a trial on this particular setup. But if circumstances such as wind made it imperative that he pick up a different bird than the one he lined himself up on in a trial, as happened at least once for us, we need to be able to do so (I had not trained for it at that time and we were DQed when the judges called a switch). Therefore, for the purposes of training the maneuver of sending a dog to a different mark than the one he had selected for himself, a maneuver which I believe is called secondary selection, I lined Laddie up and locked him in on the direction of the middle fall. I even crouched down, looked him in the eye, and said, "Now don't lie to me," which was silly because dogs don't understand English. But I thought that perhaps my unusual gesture might help him maintain his momentum when I sent him.

What I did not do, unfortunately, was to think thru what I would do if he did lie to me, that is, take the line I asked for but then veer over to the mark he originally wanted. When he did exactly that, I froze at the line as handler, my hazy thinking now being that I'd like to see what he could now do running the longer retired mark, especially coming at it from a different angle and over a different terrain configuration than when he had viewed the throw. He had no trouble running directly to it. Fine. However, when I then sent him to the middle mark again, he became confused and required help to avoid an unacceptably long hunt. Had I run the middle mark last, he might have had less difficulty with it, since he would have only launched on that line once rather than twice by then.

For the record, once I decided to run Laddie on a different mark than the one he'd chosen for himself, I needed to be prepared mentally to handle him if he lied. Since I didn't, I tossed away the training opportunity I'd set up for myself.

Series C. Water triple

The first throw was on the right, thrown LTR at 180y with a land segment, a long swim, over a point of land, a second long swim, and behind a curtain of cattails. The second throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 110y from behind one of several hay bales on the field, with the line across a land segment, diagonally across an irregular segment of water, past a hay bale on the same line as the one the gunner was retired behind but at a lower level, and high up the slope a hill. For Laddie, the second gunner was retired. The third throw was in the center, thrown LTR at 70y from a point of land into the water on the other side of a channel, but, for Laddie, accidentally thrown behind the gunner rather than on a line that the dog could run/swim straight to.

Laddie ran the go-bird by swimming past the gunner, then turning left behind the gunner and straight to the floating bird. He then nailed the retired mark on the left, so he'd done an excellent job thru the first two thirds of the series. But he needed to be handled on the long water mark on the left, because, like most of the other dogs, he took a line too far to the left as he approached the point of land (the same one that had given all the dogs trouble coming from the other direction the previous day), then broke left once he had climbed onto the point. He was too slow stopping on the whistle, but I was able to handle him off the point to the right, and he then nailed the mark.

Series D. Double water blind

The first blind was on the right at 170y. The line was down a sharp slope, across the corner of a pond, across a segment of land featuring a fish feeder and high cover in and near the irregular shore line, across a segment of water past a shoreline that offered significant suction to most of the dogs, and to the blind on the far shore of that water.

The second blind was on a line just a few degrees to the left of the first blind, at 280y or more, but run from a different start line to the right of the first one and further up the steep slope we were running from. The line to the second blind was down the same sharp slope, this time around the pro's four-wheeler and a dangerous obstruction behind it, across the corner of the same pond, across the same second segment of water but further to the left, with a land entry that, if squared, angled the dog toward the right, across a wide point of land, thru a curtain of cattails into a final large section of water, and to the bird on the far shore, planted next to a large white bumper in hopes of making the line more clear to the dogs.

We ran first on this difficult series, which featured powerful suction to the right from beginning to end of both blinds. Laddie's performance was his worst of the day, with generally good whistle sits but one cast refusal to the left after another. After the second refusal while still on the downhill slope for the first blind, I called him back and ran him again, but he did the same thing. I then angrily called him back yet again and, once I sent him and he again took an initial line too far to the right (hoping, I guess, to avoid the corner of the pond that lay 70y ahead at the bottom of the slope), I used exaggerated "over" gestures and emphatic "over" verbal cues to cast him to the left. In that way, we struggled thru both blinds, an unpleasant experience for both of us. If any learning took place, perhaps it was mostly on my part for stubbornly continuing to run the blinds as the pro had designed them. I'm afraid the setup was a bit too difficult for Laddie at least on this day and time, and we would have had a much more enjoyable time if I'd simply given up on the original start lines and moved up, so that Laddie's initial line carried him into the first pond without so much land to attempt to veer around it. That might have made it more difficult for me to see from that angle, and I might have had to run back up the hill after Laddie launched, but I'm pretty sure I could have found a way to run a modified version of these blinds without the frustration we both ended up experiencing.


For the day, I was disappointed that Laddie had only run one of the four series well, and would surely not have been called back for at least two of them. Since almost all the dogs had to be handled across the point on the right mark of the water triple, he might have been called back on that series, especially since he ran it well except for the need to be handled across the point. 

However, despite the disappointment, I tried to be philosophical about the day, remembering that the reason for going to a seminar was to train, not to "win", and Laddie had had good training on every series, though I'd had a mental lapse and missed one training opportunity on the land triple, and had failed to modify the double water blind, which in retrospective I should have done.

On the other hand, philosophy aside, Laddie also benefits in his training from running a difficult series successfully, and these were all difficult series, if that's not clear from my descriptions, so I still would have preferred if he'd run them all well. Sigh.

Seminar wrap-up

Summarizing the entire three-day seminar, it was another outstanding experience with this pro, the third seminar we've been to with him (we had to leave the second one on the second morning because Laddie was injured). Having trained with many other field trainers, including other pros, I can't offer enough praise for this pro's limitless field trial expertise, his teaching skill, his invariable professionalism, and his friendliness, tact, and patience.

I'll end by sharing a personal moment from this seminar.

On this third day, when one of the handlers was working on a difficult issue of line mechanics with his dog with guidance from the pro, at one point the pro said to him, "Listen, be like Lindsay and Laddie, and deny your dog the retrieve until he gives you the look you want."

That was really a remarkable thing for the pro to say. The line mechanics I use with Laddie (and used to use with Lumi) are quite different from traditional handling, and I'm aware, because of remarks from both of the pros at the seminars we've been to, that Laddie and I look a bit foreign to them in the way we work at the line. Of course I don't use any physical aversives, especially a heeling stick (crop), which is widely used when training line mechanics. In addition, Laddie is naked when we train, whereas virtually all other dogs wear at least an ecollar and often a flat collar that the handler can grab if desired as well. Such tools (plus also, occasionally, a plastic baseball bat) are also sometimes used in addition to the heeling stick to exert control of the dog.

Instead of physical force, I rely entirely on gestures and verbal cues for Laddie's line mechanics both in training and events, in addition to a certain amount of chatter that Laddie couldn't possibly understand as cueing (again, dogs don't understand English) but by its tone helps me and perhaps Laddie maintain a cooperative state of mind.

It's true that I'm patient lining Laddie up and won't send him till he's ready, that is, in the correct position relative to me, lined up along his entire body, and visually locked in on the direction I'm sending him. But although other handlers use different means to get there, few send the dog until they're satisfied the dog is ready; the pro didn't have to mention me in his recommendation for his meaning to be clear. But singling our work out at the line as a model for another team (in fact, one more experienced and, with a pro-trained dog, generally more accomplished than Laddie and me) was, needless to say, a high compliment.

The pro must have known how much it meant to me for him to make that remark, how good it made me feel. At least I hope he did.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Second day at seminar

Today was the second day of a three-day retriever seminar about 400 miles from home for Laddie and me. In contrast to yesterday, where temps ranged from mid 60s to low 80s, today they ranged from mid 40s to low 60s. At start of day, rain was falling, but that didn't last long and no rain rest of day.

Today's work with the seminar consisted of three series. I then ran Laddie on a fourth after everyone else had gone, closing the gate on my way out.

Series A. Devocalizing drill with five water blinds

Series A was a set of individual drills at two locations. The first group ran their drills on water, while the second group ran theirs on land.

Based on previous day's work, the pro and I agreed that a devocalization drill might be a good use of this opportunity for Laddie, so he had his assistant place five orange bumpers at various locations along the edge of a technical pond and I ran Laddie from five corresponding start lines, each designated by the pro as making it unlikely that Laddie would be able to line the blind. That would make it necessary to handle, and that in turn would make vocalizing probable.

My strategy, which would have started to produce no-go's if I'd used it anytime up to a year ago (I know because I tried it a few times over the years), was to call Laddie back to the start line if he vocalized. The reason it works now is that we took half a year off from competition and group training to work on nothing else, and Laddie learned during those sessions to recognize that when I called him back after, for example, a good cast with vocalizing, that I wasn't calling back because of the good cast but because of the vocalizing. I've described those devocalization sessions in posts on this website dating back to around July 2014.

Using that strategy, Laddie's vocalizing did indeed decline as we proceeded thru the drill, and the pro suggested that we should continue to run similar drills from now on. Even if Laddie didn't vocalize, these were advanced drills for handling around water, with features such as angle entries on lines near shore, lines thru cattails next to land, past points, over points, etc., and would provide valuable tune-up work for any retriever on a regular basis.

As with every day at the seminars we've attended, the work also provided me with new general knowledge: why the pro did or said various things, which he would always generously explain. I can't always remember the points to note them here, but this drill featured one concept that was new to me and applicable to Laddie: inside-out handling. The concept is that if you have a dog who avoids land -- like Laddie and at least one of the other dogs -- and you need to handle the dog on a line that's tight to land, you can produce a nicer looking run by casting the dog toward land when a cast is necessary. Since land in effect repels these dogs, the dog ends up turning onto a line parallel to the shore. By contrast, if you use what would seem to be a safer cast (and would be for a dog not as watery), you end up needing to cast the dog back again on a zig zag pattern as he keeps veering further from shore and you have to keep casting him back toward the land again.

You can also use inside-out handling at the water entry if the dog tends to enter fat, again like Laddie and the other dog I mentioned. To do this, you send the dog on the desired line. Then, just before the dog would typically veer off line to make a fat entry, you stop and cast straight back, spinning the dog toward what would be a cheat if the dog were likely to cheat, a seemingly risky cast. But for a dog more likely to enter fat, the result is that the cast drives the dog straight into the water at the desired line.

The pro mentioned that the inverse technique, outside-in handling, can be used with dogs overbalanced in the opposite way, tending to be attracted to land. I guess I can visualize this, but I didn't notice anyone doing this today. Maybe they did and I didn't realize it.

Series B. Interrupted water quad with flyer

Series B consisted of four water marks including a 70y shot flyer into open water in the middle of the field, and the trainers chose two of the many possible ways to run it. Two of the dogs, Laddie running first in this series and another dog running last, ran it as an interrupted quad. The others ran it a relatively short single on the right, a difficult pinch double with the memory bird retired, and a long single on the left.

To run the interrupted quad, the throws were the long mark on the left, the retired gun in the middle on a line to the right of the flyer, and the relatively short mark on the right. The dog would then be sent to pick up the go-bird. When the dog returned, the handler would sit the dog and call for the flyer. The dog would run that, and then pick up the other two birds. We had our choice about which bird to pick up after the flyer, and both of us chose the retired mark to pick up after the flyer. The dog would then end the series by picking up the long mark on the left.

When Laddie ran this, the first thing that happened was that he took two water crossings on the way to the short mark on the right, both with easy cheats toward the gun. Not cheating those water crossings, in addition to a mow strip circling the hill that the mark was thrown onto, created strong suction to the left, toward the retired memory bird (the flyer hadn't been thrown yet). I never found out what Laddie would have done on his own, though. With a strong breeze from the retired bird toward the short mark, the pro independently called for the gunner to help as soon as Laddie began to veer away from the gunner, and with that help, Laddie immediately found the bird and picked it up. The pro explained that he didn't want it to get "messy", and have the whole series ruined by a battle on the first mark. He ended up calling for help on that mark for every other dog except the last one, who cheated the second water crossing and therefore ended up on a line closer to the gun, making help unnecessary. Running it without help was prettier, though of course cheating the water re-entry less so. I'd say Laddie got more benefit running the water well without help or handling, even though at the pro's discretion he didn't complete the mark without help.

I had Laddie watch the flyer with the previous bird still in his mouth. I really don't understand why, but I've seen other people do this (not today, but other times) and it seemed like a good idea for this mark. I was glad to see that Laddie was steady on the flyer (he was also steady when he honored the first single and then the double with the flyer for dog #2), but aside from that and another two opportunities to cheat short water crossings, which Laddie did not cheat, the flyer was little challenge.

Perhaps the flyer's purpose in the pro's mind was to make the retired mark thrown about the same distance, and nearby because the throws were converging, that much more difficult. I'm not sure how much Laddie might have been trying to avoid the line to the flyer when he ended up veering toward land on the retired mark, but the pro wanted this treated as a training mark. That is, the purpose wasn't to run the mark the way you would in a trial, letting the dog hunt if necessary and handling only if the dog left the area of the fall. Instead, the purpose was to use handling to assure that the dog ran the line you'd want the dog to run in a trial. The pro indicated that he didn't want the dog to veer wide past a particular point, and when Laddie did, I handled him to the mark. Hopefully Laddie benefited from running the mark on the desired line -- that's the whole point of a training mark -- but it turned it into a blind so, for the second time in this quad, Laddie didn't really run a true mark.

For the long mark on the left, which was thrown RTL, I had noted that Laddie's body language at the time of the throw suggested to me that he had not seen that throw, perhaps being too distracted by the flyer station that was much closer and just a few degrees to the right. As he was returning with the third bird I mentioned that to the pro, asking for his suggestion. He asked if I wanted the gunner to move the dark jacket lying on his lap so that his white coat would be more visible and I said I did. He asked if I wanted it re-thrown and I said I'd like to see how Laddie looked when he got back to the start line.

So I took the bird and it seemed clear to me, as Laddie scanned with his eyes, that he was only vaguely aware of where the last mark was. I wanted Laddie to run this as a mark, not just taking a line that I would give him when it was time to send him. At my request, the gunner stood up, but Laddie still seemed unable to lock in correctly. I then asked him to fake two throws, and Laddie still didn't lock in to my satisfaction. The pro then offered to have another bird silently thrown, and I assented. Laddie then nailed that mark, but of course, he was now running it as a single.

Although I usually don't write too much about the other dogs, in this case the work of the last dog led to another interesting teaching moment from the pro.

As I mentioned earlier, the last dog also ran the series as an interrupted quad, and was the only dog today for whom the pro didn't call for help on the first mark. The dog, who by the way had won a qual the previous weekend, also ran the flyer and the fourth mark without difficulty., and he had swum straight to the spot on water in front of cattails where the third mark had been thrown, so it was a good series for that dog. But that third mark had produced an interesting situation: despite swimming straight to the spot where the bird had splashed, and then returning to that spot twice more during a long hunt, the pro had eventually asked the retired gunner to step out, and then call the dog who by then had left the area of the fall, and finally throw another bird for the dog so that the dog would pick it up and return to the line so he could be sent for the last mark.

But the pro called out to the throwers near the bird that had not been picked up "not to disturb the scene until the crime scene detectives had taken a look." By this he meant that in a trial, the judges would tell the gunners not to pick up the bird and would themselves go out to look at where the bird had ended up. Had it drifted? Was it floating under the surface? Had it sunk? And whatever the answers, what did it mean in terms of how the dog should be scored? The pro mentioned that these questions would take on special importance if this dog happened otherwise to be in position to win the trial.

The pro then explained how the judges would probably deal with the situation. If upon viewing the scene, the judges had found that it would have been reasonable for the dog to find and pick up the bird, the dog would have been out. If the judge felt it would not have been reasonable, the judges would have scored the mark based on the dog's run to the original fall (splash), and then the dog would have rerun the series, but the handler could handle on that mark without penalty because it had already been scored. So that was an interesting lesson and not something I'd known about before.

As it turned out, the bird was in plain site but floating in an area of green algae, which apparently gave the dog the impression that the bird couldn't be there, so the dog hadn't been able to find the bird though he'd hunted that spot at least twice. Even when, at the pro's request, the handler sent the dog to pick the bird up from a few feet away after we'd looked at the scene, the dog still couldn't find the bird without several casts. He was a young dog and apparently that picture was a revelation to him, so I guess he benefited from the mark, even running it from only a few feet away.

Series C. Water blind

Series C was an open-level water blind. Though not overly long, perhaps 220y, it consisted of a number of interesting challenges.

First, after a short land segment, the dog would go over a low crest and encounter a small pond with an easy cheat. Every dog without exception attempted that cheat and required some remediation, and many variations were tried, from calling the dog back to run it again, to calling the dog part way and handling the dog over the pond, to handling at the crest as soon as, or even before, the dog began to veer. Since Laddie was last on this series and I'd had plenty of opportunity to see what the other dogs did and how various attempts to deal with it had faired, I attempted to handle the instant he veered as he went over the crest, but he both vocalized and cheated, so as the pro commented, the only action that made sense was to bring him back to the start line. So the blind was already blown, or at least, we had needed a mulligan.

After a second small pond, cheat-y on the left this time but which most dog, including Laddie, had no trouble with, the dog entered the first of two 80y swims, separated by a point of land whose point the dog needed to go over. Because of the shape of the point and the fact that high cover grew on it, every dog had had considerable trouble coming off this point to the left and into open water, as was necessary to avoid the dog ending up on a nearby further back that the dog was supposed to go past.

Like all the other handlers, I was unable to get my dog to run that point correctly, though in my case Laddie had a problem that most of the other dogs  did not have. Despite a great deal of work tightening up Laddie's whistle sit since our first seminar earlier this spring, it fell apart in what is perhaps Laddie's greatest weakness, crossing points on water blinds. So when I whistled, Laddie didn't sit, and as a result got out of position. My casts and additional whistles didn't remedy the situation, and Laddie ended up on the second point. I told Laddie to sit and walked (actually ran) out to pick him up and run the blind again. It happened again the second time, too.

I don't remember exactly how the pro coached me past it on the third try, but somehow Laddie finished it and actually handled reasonably well, and without any more vocalizing, once we were off that point and in open water. For the record, there were two more point to go past after the longer one that needed to be crossed, and then there was a narrow cove the dog needed to swim to the end of to stay on land, rather than baling out to either side, and then there was a 30y land segment with enough terrain suction to make it interesting.

Laddie's whistle sits on the points that he landed on were dismal, but aside from that, he ran the blind as well or better than the other dogs, all of whom were around the same level, some a bit more advanced, some a little less so, than Laddie.

Series D. Water blind

I'll just end by mentioning that after everyone else had left, and with the pro's permission, I stayed and ran Laddie on the same water blind again, but this time I ran him from the strip of land after the little ponds, so that we started at the first big cove. I chose not to deal with Laddie's vocalizing, and his whistle sits and casts on the point still weren't great but were better with me being less than 100y away, so I was able to cast him (noisily) off the left of the point, the rest of the blind being little challenge after that. It was even less challenge because I eliminated the final land segment, placing a lining pole and a 3" white bumper at the far shore for Laddie to use as a target since the only reason for running this blind was to deal with the difficulty that all the dogs, including Laddie, had had crossing the point.

That ended the day's work. I think it was interesting from a different perspective as well. By this time, Laddie had had two days of swimming after a long layoff caused by his iliopsoas strain. One doctor who'd seen Laddie after the injury had prescribed expensive diagnostics and possibly even more expensive treatment, while our holistic vet, after a series of exams at different stages, had prescribed rest and, after several weeks, had cleared Laddie for swimming to begin yesterday, but of course with the caution to watch for a relapse. So far, I see no indication that Laddie is having any physical problems, except perhaps that his conditioning is a little off from the minimal training he's had since the injury. I'm glad, of course, that he seems to be holding up, and also glad that it confirms my confidence in our holistic vet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

First day of seminar

Laddie and I are back at the same location where we previously had to stop on the second day of a five day seminar because Laddie was injured. That left us with a three-day credit, which conveniently matched up with the three day seminar we're participating in this week, beginning today.

I arrived a few minutes early and ran Laddie on a single tune-up blind, 120y with a keyhole at 90y. I was prepared to walk out, pick him up, and re-run the blind if his sits were slow, but they weren't.

With the group, we then ran three series, as follows.

Series A. Two water singles and a water double

One of the stations was throwing two birds, one to the left and one to the right, as a momma-poppa double, with the two singles, one long and one shorter, both to the left of the double, as the singles. The sequence was short single, momma-poppa double, long single.

The pro encourages all of us to run each setup as we feel is best for our dogs, and I didn't feel that was a good sequence of throws for Laddie. First, I know that Laddie, like other dogs I've seen at every level, is inconsistent in his likelihood of success on running momma-poppa doubles without either handling or help from thrower, and second, I've never seen a momma-poppa double in a qual, though I have seen them in Master tests and even a Senior once, though not at field trial distances. Third, I wanted to start with two singles, and then make the decision of whether to run the last two marks as singles or a double after seeing how Laddie did on the singles.

Accordingly, I asked for the left-most single first, and then outside throw of the momma-poppa station as a single second. Laddie nailed both of those, so I then asked for the long mark, and the inside throw from the momma-poppa station, as a double, with the long gunner retired. Laddie nailed the go-bird and ran a nice mark on the retired long mark.

Series B. Water triple

Here again, I ran Laddie on the same setup as the other trainers, but I ran it differently than the others.

The setup consisted of a long water mark on the left, a medium-length water mark in center with most people running that with the gun retired, and a shorter water mark on the right. Everyone else ran that either as a double made up of the right two marks a long single on the left, or as three singles.

For Laddie, I asked that it be thrown as a round-the-horn triple, with the intention of running the middle retired gun as the first memory-bird (after the short go-bird), and the long mark as the final memory-bird. That had the advantage of challenging Laddie to run the middle retired mark while the long gunner was visible.

Laddie nailed the go-bird, needed a handle to avoid cheating water on the retired mark but otherwise ran it well, and was nice and watery around the points of land but then needed some hunting on both sides of the gun on the long mark, but the pro said he'd still run it well, I guess considering the difficulty of the configuration.

Series C. Double water blind

With the exception of one dog who ran a slightly modified version of the longer blind, everyone ran the two water blinds the same way, the shorter one first, then the longer one. They were on a fairly tight angle to one another, and both involved several water re-entries. The pro told us these were all-age blinds, and I felt Laddie did a reasonable job on both of them, with good line mechanics, fairly good initial lines (not his best, but not terrible), tight whistle sits, and generally good casts.

But he did have two problems none of the other dogs had. First, he vocalized on one or two of the early casts on each blind. I still don't understand why he vocalizes, and I don't understand why he's more likely to do it on the first cast or two while rarely doing it after that. The first time he did it, I called him back, but when he did it again, I commented to the pro, "We can't work on everything," and I let it go. He was in agreement with my rationale, which made me feel a lot better than he might realize.

The other problem was that on the last re-entry of the long blind, the dog would have to launch into the water thru a thick curtain of reeds and would then disappear for some time. If the dog continued straight, as several of them did, then the dog would be in good position to complete the last 30y or so of the blind, finishing that swim, pushing thru more reeds, and running a few yards on land to a lining pole and the bumpers. But Laddie, like one or two of the others, came visible at land fall to the right rather than in the middle of the water, and had to be cast back into the water, then stopped again on line, and sent back to complete the blind. My feeling was that if other dogs could launch into that water and carry straight, Laddie should have been able to as well. On the other hand, today was the first time he's been in water for several weeks, and given the difficulty of the blinds, his performance wasn't really that bad. At least, that's the indication I felt I got from the pro.

Because we had a small group today, we were able to fit all of this work -- a total of six water marks and two water blinds -- into six hours. And because all of the retrieves included a significant swimming, the heat, which reached the low 80s, wasn't too bad. Today might have been a bit much for Laddie's conditioning, and I guess he'll sleep well tonight. But I saw no hint of soreness, so knock on wood, we should be in good shape for tomorrow.

Bird-boy blinds

On Monday, in preparation for our seminar that was beginning on Wednesday, I asked my son Eric to assist me in running Laddie on some tune-up blinds. With Eric placing the blinds one after in another, these were bird-boy blinds.

Because temps were in the 80s, I stopped after four of them, by which time Laddie's tongue was hanging out.

Each of the blinds was in a different location and orientation on the field, but they were all about the same in construction: about 120y, with a keyhole made up of two trees at about 90y. The exception was the fourth blind, which had two keyholes, at 80y and 100y.

To some extent this was practice for Laddie in seeing keyholes and understanding how to run them, though I'm not sure running any number of them will ever make going thru them automatic.

But the primary goal was to work on tightening up Laddie's whistle sit. In fact, I called Sit and walked out to pick him up on the first two whistle sits, since Laddie took a few steps before he sat.

By the third sit, Laddie was sitting immediately when I blew the whistle, and he continued doing so thru all the remaining work.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Two pairs of retrieves in 80-degree temps

Yesterday morning our holistic vet examined Laddie thoroughly, made some chiropractic adjustments and performed some laser treatment, and cleared him for training on land till Wednesday, and for water work starting on Wednesday. She found no problem at all with his iliopsis, and only his usual slight loss of range of motion in his right wrist.

Therefore, with the help of an assistant, in the afternoon I ran Laddie on pairs of retrieves, each pair consisting of a thrown mark as a poison bird, running a blind past the mark and thrower, and then picking up the mark, the gunner by that time retired.

That's a difficult configuration and one I've never seen in an event, but it has the advantages of acting as a handling tune-up, since the dog is unlikely to be able to run such a blind without some handling, and also acting as practice for a retired memory bird, and yet requiring only two retrieves, limiting stress on the dog's body.

I wanted to limit stress first because Laddie is just starting to train again, and second because the temp was over 80 degrees. In fact, I had planned to run Laddie on three pairs, but after two, I felt we had had enough of the heat and called it a day.

I set up the first series before I saw that Laddie's behavior was being significantly influenced by the heat. The mark was on the right, thrown LTR at 220y. The blind was on the left at 320y, with the line just behind the gunner. I switched sides with Laddie after the mark was thrown, said "dead bird", uh-uh'ed him off the mark's fall as he was locking in until he locked in slightly left toward the blind, and sent him on "back" rather than his name, all ways I have of communicating to him that he's running a blind with a poison bird. In this case it was effective and he ignored the mark, looking like he was going to line the blind. I finally blew a whistle sit at 270y just for tuning up his response to the whistle. Then I cast him back and he ran straight to the blind. So even with the distance and the poison bird, that blind was too easy. 

However, in a strange way, the mark was not. When I sent Laddie to the mark, despite the fact that the gunner had retired while he was running back with the blind, he took a good line. But then he overran it without stopping and, instead of doubling back, darted into the woods on the left. I had hoped they'd create some suction on the blind after he got past the mark, which they didn't. But now that he was running the mark, he decided to hunt in the cooler woods rather than where the mark actually was, in the hot sun. The gunner was also in the woods so was not in a position to provide help if I'd wanted her to, and I didn't see an advantage in Laddie's training if I switched to helping or handling, so I just let him hunt. He came out of the woods and near the mark but not quite far enough, then turned back into the woods. Finally, he came out of the woods again, found the mark, and completed his retrieve.

Before continuing, I walked with Laddie back to my van and picked up a water bowl and a jug of water, which I should have brought along in the first place. After he had some water, I set up another pair of retrieves, shorter but still difficult.

First the gunner threw the mark from the right side, this time RTL at 80y. Then Laddie ran the blind at 130y, under the arc of the throw and then thru a keyhole formed by two trees. He wasn't able to line the blind, but he again ignored the mark and then handled thru the keyhole easily. Too easily, actually. Laddie is usually difficult to handler thru a keyhole because he's so fast that it's difficult to stop him in time when he zig zags over the line. But he was slowed by the heat, so it was easy to stop him on the line and cast him straight back.

Again as Laddie returned with the blind, I had the gunner retire into the woods, and Laddie's performance on this mark was nearly identical to the first mark, even though this one was next to the woods. He took a good line but overran the mark, then hunted in the woods rather than doubling back to the mark that was out in the sunlight. Again I saw no advantage to having the gunner help or me handling and let him hunt, and again eventually he did come back and pick up the mark.

To some extent, I interpret his work today as a decline in his marking on retired guns, and it's something we'd always benefit from practicing more in the future. But I also felt that the heat was distorting his performance so much that, with or without water on hand, it would probably be counterproductive to continue.

It was good seeing Laddie's skill with poison birds. It was also interesting handling a dog a little slower than Laddie usually is. But I want my real Laddie back. That is, we have to train in cooler temps.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Three pairs of marks and blinds

Continuing to introduce Laddie back to work after his injuries, but unfortunately in temps a bit hotter than ideal, today I picked up an assistant and we trained on the abandoned golf course I've found not far from home. Countless setups are available there, with lots of hills, trees, and other obstacles and factors, and the grounds have not been mowed in some time so the cover is more like a field training property than a golf course. The only problem is that I haven't found a place that's far enough from housing where I'd feel comfortable with us using a blank pistol, so I had my assistant call out hey-hey-hey instead of firing a shot when throwing.

All Laddie's retrieves were in the range of 100-200y. We ran them in three pairs, each pair in a different location and orientation on the field. Each pair consisted of a land blind and somewhat shorter thrown mark, with a tight angle between the two.

The first mark was thrown RTL from a position slightly left of the line to the blind, and I had Laddie run the blind after the mark was thrown, but before sending him to pick the mark up, so the mark functioned as a poison bird. I had the gunner retire while Laddie was returning with the blind.

The second mark was thrown RTL from a position on the right of the line to the blind, and again I had Laddie run the blind after the mark was thrown, so he had to run quite near the thrown bumper on his way to picking up the blind.

For the third series, I had Laddie run the blind first. Then the gunner, standing to the right of the line to the blind, threw the bumper RTL behind a section of shrubs that I first made sure were safe for Laddie to run thru. I then threw a bumper to the side and while Laddie was picking that up, I had the gunner retire. Then Laddie ran the mark. The line to the mark was a little to the right of the line to the blind.

In the heat, and with little work the last several weeks, Laddie's tongue was hanging out and I felt it was time to stop. His whistle sits had been good, none requiring a Walk Out, and he'd had no difficulty remembering the marks, whether the gunner was out or retired. In addition, he seemed to have no difficulty with being asked to run the blinds on a line close to the thrower (behind the thrower or in front of her) and while a mark was down nearby, and he took good casts without vocalizing. I felt it was a good session helping to prepare for our next trip, a three day seminar 400 miles from here beginning next Wednesday.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Land singles and land blinds

It's been only two weeks since Laddie last trained, but it has felt like an eternity for me, and I would guess for him as well. Following our holistic vet's guidance, I've kept Laddie from running or jumping since I first realized he was injured (iliopsoas strain) until today, and today, I began to give him a little retrieve work on land. He won't get any water work for several more days, because of the way swimming requires him to push back and extend his rear legs.

Today, I went out with Laddie and picked up Sasha, the other dog I've been training, and an assistant to throw for us, and we drove to a new field I spotted recently in our area. It was dusty and the ground was uneven, but it was hundreds of yards from traffic, had no hazards such as construction debris, and the field had variable terrain and a number of mounds, which are useful for Laddie's training. I'm always looking for new places in our area to train, and this looked like a good place to work, but in retrospect, I think it was a mistake training on such uneven ground and I won't train there again.

Temps were in the 60s when we started, and rose well into the 70s by the time we finished. It would have been too hot to continue even if I'd felt the dogs would have benefited from a longer session, which I didn't.

Laddie and Sasha are at different levels, so after they had some time to air in the field, I alternated their training: first Laddie, then Sasha, then Laddie again, and finally Sasha again. As each dog trained, the other rested in the crate in the back of the van.

In this post, I'll just describe Laddie's work. Please see this post if you're interested in reading about Sasha's work during the session.

Series A. Land blind with poison bird

The poison mark was a single thrown on the right, LTR at 70y. The blind was on the left (behind the thrower) at 100y, with the line over a mound.

Series B. Three walking singles, the last as poison bird for a blind

The first single was thrown RTL at 100y. The second was thrown LTR at 120y. The third was thrown RTL at 140y, but before Laddie was sent to the third mark, I ran him on a blind at 110y at a wide angle to the right of the third mark. The line to the blind crossed over the edge of a mound.

I kept Laddie in a tight corridor on the blinds in both series, and used them to tune up Laddie's whistle sit, walking out to pick him up for his first sit in the first blind, which was too slow.

Laddie's work was enthusiastic as usual, and he marked all the singles well except the last poison bird, the placement of which he forgot while running the blind and which therefore required a moderate hunt on both sides of the gunner, but without leaving the area where the gunner was standing, and without pausing or popping.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Laddie's injury

This is not a training post. This is just a report on where things stand with Laddie's injury.

To review, two and a half weeks ago, I began to think Laddie wasn't carrying his trail as high as usual. By coincidence, we had an appointment with our holistic vet that weekend, and she said it might be cold tail. She said we should just watch to see if it got better in a day or two, and also suggested a homeopathic for pain. I don't believe in homeopathics so I didn't bother with that. But we didn't do a lot of work the following week, and nothing suggested to me he was injured.

But the following weekend, we began the seminar I had signed us up for, and Laddie's work was mediocre the first day. By the second day, I finally realized he was definitely injured. Whatever the problem was, it was not consistent with cold tail. I withdrew from the seminar, scratched him from the qual we were entered in for yesterday, and made an appointment for a sports medicine orthopedist to see Laddie. That occurred yesterday, instead of running the qual.  :0(

The appointment began with the doctor performing a thorough physical exam. From that, it seemed clear that one and only one movement was causing Laddie pain: extension of his right rear leg.

Next came an electronic stride test. That showed that Laddie was shifting his weight to the front a bit while also shortening and quickening his stride a bit.

Next, the doctor spent some time with me explaining the possible causes of Laddie's symptoms, but I didn't understand them well enough to report them here. Meanwhile, Laddie was getting xrays.

Next the doctor showed me the xrays and explained what he was seeing, but again, I didn't understand what he was saying well enough to report it.

The doctor then laid out a series of possible next steps, beginning with an ultrasound. On his recommendation, I made an appointment for the ultrasound in a couple of weeks. He also gave me a bottle of muscle relaxants for Laddie to begin taking twice a day. He said Laddie should not do any running or jumping up on furniture, much less retrieving, at least until our next visit.

The doctor said he would speak to my holistic vet and I guess he did, because I got a call from her this morning. She has been seeing Laddie all his life and I regard her as a good friend. She was frank.

She said she felt the orthopedist was being too aggressive. She said it wouldn't do Laddie any harm, but to her it seemed like overkill. Very expensive overkill. I thanked her of course, and said I would get back to her.

Later in the day, I called her back and left a voicemail, saying I would like her to do another physical exam as soon as possible. Although I feel she was incorrect about the cold tail, I have great faith in her. Assuming she will be able to see Laddie in the next day or two, I will be interested to hear what she finds. I will make a decision about what to do next after that.

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