Sunday, June 14, 2015

Land work on a hot day

With temps in the 80s and scheduling constraints, I settled for picking up two assistants and running Laddie on two land series as we prepare for our last trial of the season next Saturday.

The first series was an online triple, run as follows: First, the gunner on the left threw a white bumper RTL on an angle back into medium cover. Next, the middle gunner threw a black bumper halfway to the first gunner, so that it landed in a depression. Finally, I left Laddie at the start line and ran out to act as the right gunner, closest to the start line, and threw a white bumper halfway to the middle gunner. Then I ran back to run Laddie on the marks.

He nailed the right mark that I had thrown and then showed strong preference to run the first mark at the other end of the imaginary line running thru the three gun stations and falls that make up an online triple. He often prefers to run online triples by picking up the outside marks first, and I'm not aware of any reason other than convention not to let him, so I sent him to the left mark and he nailed that one, too. However, as often happens with any dog running an inline triple, for somewhat mysterious reasons, Laddie needed a pretty long hunt to find the middle mark. It would be interesting to understand why inline triples seem to confuse dogs, but I keep hoping over the years that, with practice, someday Laddie will start to make them look as easy as they appear to be to humans.

Next I wanted to get a video of Laddie running a poison bird blind, so I had one of my assistants shoot the video. The other assistant planted a blind with a keyhole and various other challenges, then threw a white bumper so that the blind would be under the arc. Then I ran Laddie on the blind, and finally released him to pick up the easy mark.

The video [which I will add to this post when my assistant sends it to me] had a number of points of interest:

- Despite years of training, and months of tune-up drills, Laddie still sometimes reverted to slow whistle sits. Twice, I walked out to pick him up when that happened, and thereafter his sits were tight.

- This blind was a good example of the risks of blowing a blind in the red zone, that is, when the dog is almost there and the handler can lose focus and ruin what had been a good blind up till then. My assistant later told me that Laddie would sometimes actually run over the bumper without stopping to pick it up, as I had to whistle and run him a few yards back to the bumper from every direction as he overran his casts repeatedly.  Each time felt as though we were fine and I could whistle him in, when really Laddie had not yet spotted the bumper and I needed to stay focused.

- On Laddie's return from the blind, he veered to the cooler side of the field, perhaps planning to air or even something worse, such as roll in the grass or wander into the woods, before completing the retrieve. Rather than waiting for something to happen, I rushed out toward him and called him in emphatically, before he even had a chance to sniff or lift a leg. This incident illustrated another example of the ways my approach to training differs from traditional training, since a traditional trainer would have used the ecollar to train the dog's recall, and either the incident wouldn't have occurred, or it might have been resolved without the handler leaving the start line. I should add, however, that I've seen plenty of collar-trained dogs, while wearing a collar as well as in competition without a collar, have serious trouble on recalls at times. I think the field recall is a difficult skill to train no matter how it's done, but certainly harder without a collar. Laddie's recalls have improved over the years, but I need to stay vigilant to prevent a relapse into unsatisfactory performance.

- Despite the fact that Laddie would presumably have found this blind frustrating, he never vocalized while running it. Laddie usually does not vocalize on land blinds, though he sometimes does, yet nowadays he nearly always does on water blinds, even before I've blown a whistle, especially if a point of land is in the picture. The odd collection of data points with respect to Laddie's vocalizing makes it difficult to understand why he vocalizes; it's not as simple as a "protest" or "talking back." I think it's because he's overbalanced on going around points rather than over them, and therefore they make him nervous. However, I've talked to other Golden owners whose dogs do the same thing without having that history, so I'm not sure that explains it, either.

In any case, I felt that was enough work in this heat, so after Laddie picked up the mark, we packed up and headed for home.

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