Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Preparation for trial

Saturday, Laddie and I will run in our last qual of the spring, so today, and perhaps tomorrow and/or Friday, we're doing some final tune-up training to prepare.

For today's session, I picked up an assistant and we drove to training property closest to our area. Though the property is high quality and used for many retriever events, we had it to ourselves today, possibly because it was a Wednesday afternoon, and possibly because temps were in the mid-80s.

Here are the retrieves Laddie ran:

  1. Mark thrown LTR, line to mark diagonally downhill then thru reeds and across corner of a pond.
  2. Mirror of #1.
  3. Under the arc poison-bird double-keyhole land blind (discussion on this below), then pick up bumper that had been thrown into pond as the poison bird.
  4. Similar to #2 but in different location and orientation.
  5. Similar to #1 but in different location and orientation.
  6. Under the arc poison-bird water blind, then pick up the bumper that had been thrown in the pond as the poison bird. (I guess this turned out to be considerably easier than #3 because Laddie ran it well the first time.)
  7. Mark thrown LTR, line to mark across an inlet, then over a point of land, then across another inlet (photo below).
  8. Mark thrown RTL, line to mark across corner of a pond (photo below).
  9. Keyhole land blind (video and discussion below).
Notes on some of the retrieves:

#3. Under the arc poison-bird double-keyhole land blind

Though only ~150y, this was a difficult blind. The poison-bird mark was a white bumper thrown downhill and into water near the shoreline, remaining clearly visible as Laddie attempted repeatedly to run the blind. As additional factors, Laddie had to take the first keyhole, which was diagonal, then run immediately in front of the thrower to stay on line, and finally take the second keyhole, in which I had placed a fallen branch that he had to jump over, before arriving at the blind several yards further back and in cover. After Laddie completed the blind successfully, I released him to pick up the mark, which by then had drifted somewhat further up shore. 

Although I had intended this primarily as a tune-up drill for slow sits, Laddie never had a slow sit while running this. Nonetheless, I ended calling him back and resending him about twenty times. Most of those times were for vocalizing, rare for Laddie on land blinds but I guess triggered by his frustration with the difficulty of the blind. Other times were for missing the keyhole, which was caused by his either veering offline after taking a good cast or taking an incorrect line on the cast in the first place, in each case to avoid one of the keyholes and generally showing a strong attraction to the floating white bumper.

I'm sure Laddie didn't like being called back, as evidenced by the fact that he was finally able to run the blind with no vocalizing and correct casts. The callbacks denied him reinforcement for those incorrect responses, and he accurately identified, and worked to eliminate, the responses that were causing him to be called back.

At the same time, Laddie showed no drop in motivation nor quality of performance. I would not want to make a habit of running Laddie on the same blind anywhere near twenty times; I'd rather move up or find other ways to make it easier for him to succeed and maintain a high Rate of Reinforcement (ROR). But in this case, even in fairly warm weather, Laddie was able to respond cheerfully to all the recalls and finally get the blind despite many unsuccessful attempts in a row. I'm not sure how many dogs would have been able to take so many corrections (that is, denying the retrieve) without showing a deterioration in attitude and/or performance at some point.

#7. Water mark with angle entry and re-entry

Here's a photo of this setup:

#8. Water mark across corner of a pond

Here's a photo of this setup:

#9. Keyhole land blind

My assistant recorded a video of Laddie running this blind:

I think that, on the positive side, Laddie takes a good initial line and eventually gets the keyhole while advancing toward the blind on every cast. On the negative side, we needed six whistles before getting thru the keyhole, some of his whistle sits are too slow, and arguably most of them could be improved. To be honest, neither I nor my assistant had perceived that Laddie's whistle sits were too slow when we discussed the retrieve afterwards. It was only later when I saw the video that I realized that, as much progress as Laddie has made on tightening up his whistle sits, we still have more work to do.

I don't have the experience to know what a judge, in particular a judge of a qualifying stake, would see on this blind: a dog who never slips a whistle, nor auto-casts, nor goes the wrong way on a cast, and got a pretty narrow keyhole at considerable distance (which is what my assistant and I saw); or a dog who refused or semi-refused several casts and should be dropped or at least eliminated from consideration for a placement. 

On the other hand, I've never run a qual with such a narrow keyhole at that kind of distance, so it's possible that this was overtraining and good preparation for what may be an easier land blind in our qual on Saturday.

We're probably not done with our training this week. But I felt this was a worthwhile session.

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