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.

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