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.

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