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.

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