Friday, July 31, 2015

Land double, water double, double blind

Yesterday the pros again set up tight doubles, one on land, one on water, both with converging throws.

Although Laddie did not need help on the land double, I was not pleased with his performance, since he needed a short hunt on the shorter mark and a long hunt, which took him behind the gun several times, on the longer mark. The terrain was hilly and the grass was fairly high, and with the lines to the marks so close together, I guess it was harder than I thought it would be. Some of the pros' dogs had as much of more difficulty, but some did not. I guess some have run that setup or similar ones far more often than Laddie, since they train on several setups every day and that's been nearly the only kind of setup I've seen these guys use in the three weeks I've trained with them so far.

When it was time for Laddie to run the water double as the last dog, the pro who gives me guidance was on the phone and couldn't tell me what he wanted me to run. But every single dog who had run that setup, whether as singles or a double had required at least one handle, and several had had a great deal of difficulty with one or the other of the marks. To be honest, I thought Laddie could run it as a double, even with the side throw some of the dogs were also getting, but I was pretty sure the pro would have wanted me to run it as singles (which I confirmed later), so I called for singles. Laddie nailed both marks.

Let me repeat that. Laddie nailed both marks, swam/ran without any sidewise movement, straight to each fall. Only dog to do that. Was this a competition? No. But it was, I admit, somewhat stressful to me that the pros did not say a word to me about it. Why wouldn't they make some comment about such exceptional marking?

One possibility was that Laddie's returns were both terrible. I'm requiring him to return on a direct route, and not only is he not trained to do that on water retrieves, he has many years of doing the opposite. That results in a difficult handling battle. It is no fun and is certainly not attractive. Hopefully he will eventually learn he has no choice and will quit trying to cheat on his returns, but till then, I have to keep handling him to prevent him being reinforced for a successful cheat. I'm pretty sure the pros find my approach on how to deal with this situation unsatisfactory.

At the end of the day, the pros set up a pair of water blinds just for the day trainers, not their own dogs. Laddie ran both water blinds relatively well, except that he vocalized on some of the casts. Because it was late in the day and I am feeling considerable tension with the pros, one of whom is not talking to me any more, I didn't take the extra time to call Laddie back for vocalizing but just ignored it. It wasn't affecting his behavior, it was just noise. I know it could hurt us with at least some judges, and as readers of this blog know, I invested many sessions last summer and fall working on nothing else. But yesterday did not seem to be the right time to deal with it in my way, even though I know that means Laddie was learning that it's OK to do it, digging the hole that much deeper again.

Training again today, then home for the weekend and some time with my darling wife.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Training with pros

I thought it would be cooler training up north, but it's not working out that way. Today, for example, it was 81° when we started at 8am and rose all day, reaching 93° by the time we wrapped up in the afternoon.

The pros set up two land series, and I followed their recommendation of running Laddie on each setup twice, with a long rest in between, the first time with all the guns out, the second time with one of the guns retired.

For the first setup, Laddie nailed all six of the marks, except that he ran in a wide arc on the one retired mark, the second retrieve of the second time we ran it, rather than on a straight line.

For the second series, Laddie again nailed all six of the marks, except that again he ran one of them, in this case NOT the retired mark but again the second retrieve if the second time we ran it, on a wide arc rather than on a straight line.

After he ran the second setup the second time, as the last dog at the hottest time of the day, the pro told me that Laddie could run the long but otherwise seemingly fairly easy land blind. He was hardly the worst of the dogs who ran it, but it wasn't good enough. First of all, he wrapped behind a large clump of foliage at about the halfway point, and then at the end he overran the blind, apparently to get into the shade of a stand of trees, and it took several whistles to get him to come out and finish the work.

Since Laddie ran the retired setups so well, I believe the pros feel that their training recommendations are producing good results. I would have run the setups with retired marks in the first place, so I have no way of knowing how Laddie would have done if we'd run them that way.

What I do know is that once again, Laddie and I had an opportunity to train on a high quality property using professionally designed training setups, and I had the guidance of two professional trainers to help me with Laddie's development. I can only imagine how Laddie's career might have gone if I'd been able to provide Laddie and myself with this kind opportunity in years gone by. My gratitude to these guys for letting Laddie and me train with them is impossible to express, though I've tried to express it to them many times anyway.  :0)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Three land series and a water series

Today was a potpourri of four setups:

- Two tune-up blinds, both 150-200y, both with a steep uphill segment, and both ending with a potential wrap around a section of woods. Laddie did a good job on both, with no need to walk out for slow sits (the main point of our tune-up drills) and solid casting.

- A poison bird single: First a 300y+ land single was thrown, with a difficult line over a crest where the dog would lose sight of the fall for about half the distance. But before Laddie could run that, first I had to run him on a land blind a few degrees to the left and almost as long. While he was running the blind, the gunner for the mark retired. Laddie did ok on the blind, but he took a wide initial line, unusual for him but perhaps because the mark had just been thrown. When he got back, he had forgotten the mark, again unusual but it was a tough setup. The pro had the gunner come out for a moment, then retire again, and then Laddie had no trouble with it.

- A retired land double. As is usual with these pros, this was a tight, concentric double. The first throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 300y+. It was the same long mark from the previous series, and again retired. The second throw was on the right, thrown RTL at 100y. Laddie flat out nailed both marks.

- A water mark and a water blind. Although the mark had the potential for cheating around the bank, only one dog attempted that, and Laddie nailed it. The primary purpose of the mark was, as I understand it, to create suction in the direction of the mark when running the blind, which was run on a tight angle to the right of the mark, as usual with these pros to create a trap for some of the dogs to return to the old fall and be corrected. The line to the blind was over a wide point of land with a tree on it. To create additional challenges for the dog, duck feathers were spread around on the point and a bundle of bumpers was placed at the four of the tree, creating more suction to the left since the line to the blind was on the right of the tree. After Laddie nailed the mark, I sent him on the blind and he took a great initial line down the hill, across the first water segment, up onto the point, and past the tree. I then blew the whistle and cast him straight back and into the second water, and he carried that cast straight to the blind on the far shore. The pros and another day trainer were highly complimentary, since some of the dogs had a great deal of difficulty with that blind. One of the pros said, "I think he would have lined it." I jokingly replied, "Someone told me I'd get a zero if I didn't blow the whistle." But that wasn't it. I later commented to the other pro that I've discovered that I'm better off stoppjng Laddie while he's still on the correct line, and cast him straight back, if I think the situation is such that he might be about to veer off, rather than trying to line it and having to save it if he gets into trouble, in this case potentially disappearing behind the point and coming up on the side shore. I was pleased that the pro responded with the comment that one whistle wasn't going to make a difference in the placements, and he'd blow that whistle every time.  :0)

It might seem that today was a pretty good day, and from a training point of view, I'd say it was. But emotionally it was quite hard. I find it difficult to read the pros, and constantly feel off balance, as if they find me alien. Of course they probably do, both for cultural reasons and also because of the differences in our approaches to training. It's hard to describe the chemistry, but I can't seem to break the ice with them. This is often the case for me, so it's not surprising, but working with them day after day amplifies the effect. On top of that, a casual chat at the end of the day brought out their opinion that Laddie will never achieve QAA. Not just that he's not ready now, but that he never will be.

Sigh. Ah well, how long have people been telling me what Lumi and Laddie would never be able to do? Yet we've broken thru a lot of those can't-be-done barriers anyway. Maybe this time everyone will be right and Laddie, trained without force, will never get QAA. But I'm not ready to concede defeat yet.

And meanwhile, training with these guys is a fantastic benefit, whatever the psychological price I might be paying.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Two retired-gun drills

For the pros' third setup today, they used a flat field and placed a long gun at 120y and a short gun at 60y, both throwing RTL and with the line to the short left gunner just outside the line to the long right mark, which I believe is called a hip pocket double. The gunners (including me at the left station) did not use guns or birds; we threw bumpers with a call of Hey.

It appeared to me that the pros used this setup to work on a variety of skills, depending on the dog. As far as I could tell, for some dogs they worked on steadiness, for some they worked on going to the go-bird  even if not aligned for that mark, for some they worked on head swinging. Other skills may also have been in development.

After they had run all their dogs, it was Laddie's turn, and he was the only dog they included retiring a gun with. They threw both doubles (that is, right/left and then left/right) and retired the memory bird in both cases. Laddie nailed all four marks. I'm not sure how much he learned exactly, but it was good to see him showing his marking skill and good for both our confidence if nothing else.

By the way, in my previous post I also used the term "nailed", but that wasn't entirely accurate. I think nailing means running straight to the mark. By that definition, Laddie did nail all four of the marks in this afternoon's drill, and he did nail the shorter, left water mark earlier today. But for the longer, right water mark, he actually swam across the pond on a line that had been aimed slightly left by the water entry, and he then angled back once he reached the top of the far embankment and could figure out where the mark was because he could see the right gunner again. I wouldn't call that nailing the mark, but he swam straight and he ran straight, and there was no hunt. I don't know what that's called.

Two water singles

For our second session today, I threw for the pro's dogs, and then one of the pros changed places with me and I got to run Laddie.

The setup, pretty much as usual since I've been training with these guys, was a tight double. Both retrieves started with a steep downhill land segment and then a long swim. The shorter mark on the left was thrown behind the reeds at the far shoreline. The longer mark on the right tacked on a land segment after the dog climbed out of the water and up the embankment thru thick, high cover.

The long mark on the right was deceptively difficult, because the dog had to detour around a large clump of thick cover to enter the water, and they'd get in trouble if they detoured on the right. But detouring on the left put the dog on a line toward the left mark, and once the dog was in the water, the dog could no longer see the right gun station. The dogs handled that situation in various ways, some of which resulted in corrections, handling, or calls for the gunner to help. But Laddie held his line to the far shore, then spotted the right gunner when he got to the top of the embankment and ran straight to the mark, no correction, help, or handling needed.

The pros ran the setup in various ways for dogs at varying levels, and when it was Laddie's turn, the pro asked me how I wanted you run it. Easy question: "What would you suggest?" I asked.

"I'd run it as two singles," he said, so that's what we did. The only wrinkle was that the pro who threw the shorter mark retired after he threw it, as Laddie was running down the slope to the water, not because I requested it but I guess because he thought it would be good for Laddie to run it that way.

Laddie nailed both marks; the pro said "perfect." I'm glad the pro had us run it that way. Well never know, but it might have been too hard if I'd run it the way I thought Laddie could do it.

After that, the pros had to run an errand, and said they'd meet me back at the kennel a little later, for another setup I guess. I'm waiting there for them now.

Point combinations

Today Laddie and I are back up north and showed up to train with pros at 6am, but they had decided to do some private yard work first thing. The pro said Laddie and I could use the pond while waiting, so I ran Laddie on a sequence of four shoreline poorman marks, in each case with two points of land in the picture.

For the first one, the line to the bumper was over both points, but running from a different direction than Laddie has run before. For the second one, the line was outside both points. He did both of those easily without any veering and if course no need for handling, though he did need handling to keep him from running the bank on the returns.

Since those seemed so easy, I ought I'd try something more advanced than the pro had suggested a few days ago, but in the same spirit, I think. I ran Laddie on a line that went post one point, and then over the next one. He again ran this with apparent ease and without handling.

Finally, I ran him on a line that went over a point, and then past the next one, completing the for possible combinations. And again he had no difficulty with it and did not require handling.

At that point I needed to break for work. I texted the pro that I'd be back soon to work with him the rest of the day, and Laddie and I were off.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Water entries and points

Laddie and I worked alone at our nearest training property this morning, but I didn't run him on any blinds even though I had no one to throw for me. Instead, I ran poorman marks, where I put Laddie into a sit, went out to throw a bumper, and then returned to run him.

First I ran him on two marks across corners of the pond, in both cases with difficult angle entries and with the longest available land segments both before and after the water for that training area. He ran both of them straight as an arrow, with good entries rather than attempting to run the banks, and also without taking exaggerated, fat entries that squared the shoreline.

Next I ran him on about twenty marks across a section of the pond that includes a point of land approximately half way across. For each mark, I placed a lining pole with a ribbon that I threw the bumper to, so that Laddie would have a clear target as he swam. Four of the marks, inserted randomly and also including the last one, were Laddie's preferred configuration: swimming past the point without getting up on land. For all the others, the line to the fall was over the point. When Laddie started to swim around the point on those, as he did nearly every time, I would stop him with a whistle and then either handle him onto the point, or call him all the way back to the start line. Finally, for the last two marks across the point, he took the route over the point without requiring a handle.

Although running a mark over a point still seems to be difficult for Laddie, I guess it's easier than it was a couple of weeks ago, since he never vocalized as he approached the point nor when I cast him. It does seem that he has not devised a rule that tells him automatically whether or not to go over the point without being handled. The ideal rule, of course, would be that that's the straightest way to the mark, but I guess he's been using some other rule, such as stay in the water, for so many years that he still hasn't figured out that I won't let him finish the mark if he uses his old rule when the line is over the point. But hopefully in time he'll figure it out.

I had him swim back, rather than run the bank, on every return. That was also never automatic. Every time, he started to come back on land and I needed to handle him into the water, and watch him as he completed his return to prevent him from detouring over to the shore. Once again, we're trying to change a habit established years ago and practiced countless times since. I still don't believe in requiring him to swim back when a land route is readily available, to be honest. I don't see how it helps the elements of his performance that matter to judges. But there's no point in asking for advice from the pros we've been training with and then ignoring it, and this was something that they were adamant about. So whether I understand the reasons or not, and whether I believe in it or not, that's the way Laddie and I are working now.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Training with pros

Today the pros only ran one series for their dogs and the day trainers, since they were doing private yard work with the pups they're training in the afternoon. But that one series consisted of four singles, three on water including one with a flyer, and we had a lot of dogs.  I threw for several hours, then ran Laddie next to last.

The first throw was a simple mark on land. I don't know why it was included. No dog had trouble with it as far as I know, though maybe some of the young dogs broke on it.

The second throw was a short flyer thrown almost straight back behind the gunner into open water. I suspect some dogs broke on it because it was so close, but I couldn't tell because I was hiding behind an umbrella till the last throw when I was in the field. When it was Laddie's turn, the pro took a long time to call "dog" and then I also took a long time to send him to really challenge his steadiness and he did fine. But the flyer, a cripple, had drifted into sight directly between the gunner and the thrower, on a line over the duck crate lying on the ground between the two men. So that's the line Laddie took, jumping over the length of the crate as he raced thru the gap. I never saw a dog do that before.  :0)

The third single consisted of a long land segment, a difficult angle water entry, a water segment, and a steep climb up the embankment to the bird, which in Laddie's case was accidentally thrown too far into high cover instead of onto the open slope the first time he ran it. I was pretty confident Laddie would run it well because he's had a lot of practice with such lines, but many of the dogs had cheated on the water entry, and after all, Laddie had cheated on a similar water entry the day before. The difference was that yesterday's was a RE-entry, with long, difficult swims both before and after, whereas this was an entry from land to a relative short swim.

But I didn't have a crystal ball, and I didn't want another bad experience like yesterday. So, with the agreement of the pro, first I moved up close to the water and let Laddie run it. Then I moved back to the start line to have it thrown again,  and he nailed it on a perfectly straight line. I think that's what he would have done anyway, but we'll never know.

When it was time to run the fourth mark, that gunner put down the umbrella she'd been hiding behind and threw the mark sideways onto the embankment. Once again I had Laddie run this twice, once from near the water and once from the regular start line, since it featured a particular entry point into a long swim that a lot of the dogs were cheating. Laddie nailed it both times, even though the bird was thrown once high on the embankment and then near the shoreline behind some high reeds.

Unfortunately, despite Laddie's pinpoint marking on all six retrieves, the pros were concerned with only one thing, and that was Laddie's returns and how I dealt with then.

As I've mentioned before, years ago I was informed that judges don't care what route a dog takes on his return, so I made the decision to let Laddie come back any route he wanted. I've stayed with that decision without regret all these years until two weeks ago, when these two pros insisted that if I wanted Laddie to improve in his qual finishes, he had to start taking a straight route back in training. So I've been handling him all the way back ever since as necessary, and as it happened in these marks, it took a lot of handling.

I know from long experience that Laddie doesn't like to be handled, and I was/am confident that he will require less and less handling on his returns provided I am 100% consistent in requiring straight returns. But that's not how the pros saw it. The pro I usually talk with (the other is his mentor) told me that it was counterproductive to handle Laddie so much because it wasn't positive training, and Laddie was just learning to ignore me.

What can I say? Laddie wasn't ignoring me, he took every cast. It's just that he kept experimenting to see if I'd finally let him cheat, and I'm sure it was annoying to trainers who could solve the problem so easily with an ecollar. I understand that they were sure Laddie wasn't learning anything. However I'm equally sure he was; it's just a long process to overcome years of intrinsic positive reinforcement for taking the easier, faster land route when available.

But next time I obviously better not take the continuous handling approach while training with these guys, who are providing me with such an incredible valuable experience. So I'll stop Laddie as soon as he starts to cheat on his returns and move up to a point as close to him as possible where I can call him to me across the water. Then once he's on land, I'll put him in a sit, run back to the start line, and call him the rest of the way in. Hopefully the pros will like that better and I see no harm in it. I would guess that at some point it won't be necessary any longer, and meanwhile the annoyance factor will hopefully be eliminated.

Training with pros

Yesterday I started Laddie with a time-up land blind, then trained on marks with the pros the rest of the long day. Their setups were similar to one another, and the third included perhaps the most difficult mark Laddie has ever run.

All three were tight doubles, apparently a favorite configuration for these pros and one that results in corrections for most of their dogs. We had at least some water on every mark. The pros had a few of the dogs run the doubles with the long gun retired, including Laddie on the second series. That was the first retired mark he has run well since we have been training with these guys, so that was nice to see.

In addition, with several day trainers participating, I heard several more times what I've heard over the years, what great natural talent Laddie has and how much I've accomplished training him with my experimental approach. One person also echoed another common theme, that with the right training, he'd have been FC/AFC and could have competed at national level. Sigh.

As for the tough final mark, the line was a land segment through shoreline cover, an 80 yard swim diagonally across a moss-filled rectangular pond with rounded corners surrounded by high cover, across a dike, an extremely difficult angle water entry into a 200y shoreline swim, again in thick, moss-filled water, up through high cover onto the step embankment, and a short land segment to the thrown bumper.

Laddie was the last dog to run this, and the pro suggested I run it as a single. After watching many dogs get corrections coming out of the first water to soon, and then again not getting into the water after crossing the dike, I came up with an approach to running it involving observation and reporting on the radio by the gunner, since the handler could not see the second water entry from anywhere near the start line. In retrospect it was not a good plan. There was little chance that Laddie would take the second entry, and little I could do to provide quality training if he tried to cheat it.

As a result, this became a painful experience for both Laddie and me, not at all the kind of training experience I want us to have.

I should have walked him down to the dike and just run him on the second water. Then, I could have decided if he had gotten enough out of that, or we could come back and run the full mark afterwards.

It was a great example of 20/20 hindsight. I just hope I've learned my lesson.

The pros apparently give their dogs a lot of practice with tight doubles and water re-entries on long marks. In my experience, both are rare configurations in quals, though I wouldn't be surprised if they're common in all-age stakes where I'd like Laddie to run someday.

In the meantime, perhaps having so many setups that exceed Laddie's ability is helping prepare him for the stakes we will be running this fall. I hope so.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Training with pros

I needed to be home on Monday, but drove back up north to stay with family and train with a pro (actually two pros) late Monday night.

Tuesday Laddie and I trained for ten hours, in my case on three hours sleep. Most of the time Laddie was resting in his crate, of course, while I worked in the field. But Laddie did run a tune-up land blind and three series of marks:

- A land triple with a flyer go-bird and the long middle mark retired

- A land triple with the short mark of a converging double retired

- A land double

I got a little sleep Tuesday night, and on Wednesday we started at 6am again, but stopped before noon. Here's what Laddie ran:

-  A tune-up land blind (just Laddie and me while waiting for training with the pros to start)

- A land/water double, with a short throw on land as the go-bird, and a long mark that crossed two points of land as the memory bird. Laddie needed to be handled twice to stop him from swimming around the points, but with minimal vocalizing.

- A rerun of the long mark, again needing to be handled twice to stop him from swimming around both points. I can't remember if he vocalized when handled on the rerun, but I don't think so. If so, not much.

- A water double with the long mark as the go-bird past a point of land, and the short, retired mark as the memory bird  across a curved section of the pond.

I had an opportunity to ask one of the pros about my concern that if I kept requiring him to go over points rather than letting him swim around them on marks, he would revert to his behavior as a much younger dog and start getting up on points he should be swimming past.

The pro explained to me that I was facing the same dilemma all field trial trainers face. First the dog needs to be taught to stay in the water and not detour to land as the dog swims past a point. Then the dog becomes overbalanced and doesn't want to get up on the point even when it's on the line to the bird. That's the phase that Laddie and Lumi both reached. But what I didn't understand is that then you train further, until the dog can recognize each situation and take a straight line whether it's past a point or over it. Ah hah.

After explaining the concepts, the pro suggested the following drill, in the same location where we'd been working this morning:

- Run Laddie on a mark that goes over both points until he does it without needing to be handled.

- Then run him on a similar line but one that takes him past the two points instead of over them. Handle if necessary to keep him off the points and continue running that mark until he can do it without handling.

Note that this wouldn't all necessarily be done the same day, but the two marks would be done on the same section of the same pond so that the dog would be able to see the difference between the two setups, one over the points, the other past the points.

After the group training was completed, I stayed and worked alone with Laddie on that drill. I used poorman marks: I'd put Laddie in a sit, go out and fire a pistol and throw the mark, then come back and run him.

First I ran him on a mark over both points. He did it correctly without needing to be handled.

Then I ran him on a similar mark, but this time the line was a few feet outside both points. Again he did it correctly, making no attempt to divert over to the points as I was afraid he might do from the earlier training today. He stayed clear of the land and on line, as he has for years on such marks.

Finally I ran him on the first mark again, and again he automatically stayed on line and crossed both points without needing to be handled.

So that felt like good progress on this skill. In all honesty I'm not sure how much it will help in quals, but if we ever run in all-age, I'm sure we'll face situations where the judge will arrange it so that if the dog swims off course to swim around a point, it will be difficult for the dog to complete the mark well.

By the way, for all water retrieves Laddie is running while we train with these pros, I'm requiring him to swim back on the same line, rather than allowing him to run the bank during his return as I have for years. Again, it's not clear to me how this will make it more likely that he'll win a qual at some point, and it might have hurt his returns when he was younger, but I see no harm in it and perhaps it will improve his performance in ways I'm not yet aware of.

I don't think Laddie had run a single retired mark successfully since we've been training with these pros. That's kind of mysterious to me since readers of this website know that Laddie has a great deal of practice running retired marks, including multiple retired marks, as well as his MH, where all the guns are hidden. But from talking to the pro, it seems I've underestimated the difficulty of the particular retired marks I've tried him on. Well, it would be nice to see him start running some of them with the skill I'm used to seeing.

More training tomorrow and Friday, then back home for the weekend. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Training with pro

First session was yard work. For Laddie, that meant three blinds with poison bird, one thrown to the outside, the other under the arc. Pro wants me to improve my line communication with Laddie to the point that he would jump over a thrown flyer if I indicated that I was sending him on a blind, but pick it up if I indicated a mark.

Second session was two setups. Pro said first one, a water double, too easy for Laddie. Laddie ran second one twice, first as two water singles, the second time as a water triple.

Laddie had no difficulty with the easy go-bird added to create the triple, and he nailed the shorter of the two main marks both times, one of the few dogs to do so.

The longer mark included perhaps the longest swim Laddie has ever made. The line was a diagonal channel crossing, over a point of land with a steep embankment, a long swim diagonally across a pond, an exit thru thick, high cover up a steep embankment, to the mark on open ground in front of an attractive wooded hillside.

Both times Laddie tried to swim around the point, which I have allowed him to do for years, but pro (actually two pros) want Laddie to go over the point when that's the line to the mark, do I handled him both times, though in retrospect it might have been better to call him back and resend him. The first time, he took a line that eventually crossed to the wrong side of the line to the gun and I cast him a couple of times until he was on a good line.

The second time he did something he's never done before: as he crossed the point, he stopped for some time to sniff the grass. At last the pro had the gunner call hey-hey and Laddie completed the mark without further help.

An additional note: The pros do not want me to let Laddie run around water on his returns any more, so I've been handling him straight back to me on all retrieves since Wednesday.

Training with pro

I'll try to write about Wednesday's complex second session when I have more time.

For third session, we drove to a pond in an apple orchard and Laddie ran two singles across  parts of the pond. Purpose was to provide confidence for Laddie after frustrating work earlier.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Training with pro

Morning session: break down of a 150y shoreline mark across two points of land.

A. Use the first point as the start line and run a shoreline single over the second point. I needed to give Laddie a cast to prevent him from going around the point, and he needed some handling to stay in the water at the end. No vocalizing. Required to swim all the way back to the original start line and over both points rather than running back on land.

B. Run the shoreline single from a start line well to the inside of the original start line, making it more obvious that the line to the mark was over the points. Laddie still attempted to swim around the points but responded easily to single casts up onto the points, and did not need handling at the end. No vocalizing. Again required to swim all the way back and over the points rather than running back on land.

C. Run the complete double, with the go-bird a short mark on land to the side of the pond. After retrieving the go-bird, Laddie once again tried to swim around each of the points on the shoreline mark, and once again responded easily to handling up onto the points, but vocalized on the second one. Did not need to be handled at the end. Again required to swim all the way back and over the points rather than running back on land.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Training with pro

Here's a brief description of the work Laddie and I did with the pro today.

Different location. Only one series while Laddie and I were there.

Land double plus two land blinds

First mark was on the left, thrown RTL at 60y into high cover, then retired. Second mark was on the right, thrown RTL at150y into high cover.

Both blinds were in the range 150-200y, both to the right of both marks. Factors were a crosswind and high cover.

Laddie ran last (I was the left gunner for the other dogs). He ran straight to both marks, then took good lines on each blind and handled well in a tight corridor to complete the blinds. I felt he ran all four retrieves well.

The exception was that the first time I sent him on the first blind, he was a bit off line and when I blew my whistle, his sit was a little slow. So I walked out and picked him up. After that his sits were good.

Training with pro

Laddie and I are now staying with family or of state and training with a pro for one month.

Here's a brief description of yesterday's work, our first day here.

Series A. Water triple. Center, long swim, throw LTR. Right, throw RTL, retired. Left, short angle back LTR, sharp angle water entry. Needed hunt for right mark. For center mark, stayed too far right even with help from thrower, was about to get up on right shore, responded to my handling.

Series B. Tight converging water double with memory bird on right including tight channel swim and angle-back bridge. Laddie nailed mark on left, needed handling for difficult mark on right.

Series C. Rerun of right mark from Series B, with guidance from pro. Used verbal corrections and partial call-in, in addition to handling, for getting out of water too soon.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Three water doubles and a water blind (with photos)

Today I picked up two assistants for a session at our nearest training property. It was a beautiful, sunny day with blue skies, a few fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. However, temps were in high 80s, so I used water for all retrieves and hopefully avoided over-heating or over-exerting Laddie.

Series A. Double bridge plus side throw

The first mark was LTR across a channel, with the line including a cheat-y re-entry. The second mark was also an LTR across a channel, with the line past an island. I then threw a side-throw into the water to add some memory challenge.

I've never seen a setup with two bridge marks, but I thought it would be good practice. Laddie had no difficulty with any of the retrieves.

Series B. Double bridge plus side throw

Series B was a mirror image of Series A, with bumpers thrown the opposite direction (RTL) over the same locations on the zig-zagging channel. Again I added a side-throw to the two bridge marks. Laddie picked up the side-throw and the shorter mark without difficulty. However, the long mark served as a training mark. First I needed to handle Laddie away from the right side of the island, since that risked taking him to the old fall, and then I needed to handle him into the water at the re-entry from the strip of land near the end, since he started to run the bank on the left.

Here are photos of the setup. The first one shows normal focus, the second one is zoom focus. In the second photo, the bird-girl for the shorter mark is on the far right of the image and the bird-girl for the longer mark is in the center. Both girls threw bridge marks RTL.

Series C. Water double with side-throw

The first throw was supposed to be LTR, but the bird-girl accidentally threw it too far to the left, so it was directly behind her, meaning that Laddie didn't see an arc but rather the bumper seeming, in 2D, to go straight up and straight down. The line to that mark was down a hill, across a land segment, into water with a difficult angle entry, across the strip of land that the bird-girl was throwing from, across a channel, and up onto the embankment, with the bumper thrown into cover. So this was Laddie's fifth bridge mark of the day.

The second throw was LTR on an angle back up the shore, but the throw wasn't as far as I had hoped. The line to mark was down an embankment, diagonally across a channel, diagonally across a strip of land, a water re-entry across the corner of a pond, and thru cover at water's edge to the bumper on land. Because the throw was short, the corner was shorter and more cheat-y than planned.

After the marks were thrown, I again threw a side-throw.

Laddie had no difficulty with the side-throw or the second mark. He also took an excellent line to the first mark (the last one retrieved), but hunted the near side of the final channel for a short time before deciding to swim across and directly to the cover containing the bumper. I thought it was a good piece of problem-solving and good practice for a bridge mark thrown behind the gunner that Laddie might encounter in competition.

Series D. Water blind across corner of a pond, then beside treeline to back of a plateau

We finished with a water blind. Here are two photos, one with normal focus, the other with zoom focus. Laddie handled well running this blind. He took the water entry as part of his initial line and finished with three zig-zag casts, with tight whistle sits, to the blind.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Five blinds at golf course (with photos)

Yesterday afternoon, Laddie and I again ran blinds, all in the range 150-200y, at the nearby defunct golf course. Here are notes and photos of the five blinds we ran. In each pair of photos, one photo is at normal focus to show distance, and one is at zoom focus to show more detail of the later part of the blind.

#1 Water blind with long land segment, angle entry, and line close to point

The land entry for this blind was much longer than any qual water blind I've seen, but the water segment was fairly typical, in that it involved a shoreline swim that ran close to, but not over, a point of land. Judges will typically not call back dogs that stay clear of the point; the whole reason for setting up the blind that way is to see whether the handler can maintain control, and keep the dog off the point, while keeping the dog on the line to the blind, which means a close approach to the point.

Other challenges for some dogs involve getting the dog into the water in the first place, rather than running around the pond, and having the dog swim out into the first section of water rather than hugging the bank, but Laddie took a good cast into the water. However, once in the water, Laddie veered a bit to the right, characteristically for him so that he could stay away from the point. When he got almost even with the point, I blew my whistle and cast him left toward the point. Then, just as he got close, I stopped him again and cast him straight back, making another adjustment or two near the end. Based on my experience, Laddie ran a high quality blind here.

I guess some dogs will run a blind like this in a trial by swimming on a straight line past the point, and some will run toward the point and then be handled out and past it once they get close. However, handling the dog from the outside toward the point and then stopping him just before he reaches it, as I did with Laddie, seems to be a reasonable strategy at least at the qual level, since it shows the control the judges want to see. I don't know for sure about all-age judging, but I think the same applies.

#2 Keyhole blind

The challenge on this blind was that the keyhole was a long way from the start line, further than any qual keyhole I've seen. Laddie ran this with two whistles, both in the first half of the blind. If he had shown any tendency to miss the keyhole I would have stopped him, but he took a confident line right thru it. 

#3 Land blind under tree limbs and over fallen branch

I've never seen a qual blind that went under a low-hanging tree branch, but it seemed like a good handling challenge, and the fallen branch further back is somewhat like some obstacles I've seen.

Usually if Laddie is going to have a slow sit, it's at the beginning of the day's session, but Laddie had tight sits until the first sit on this blind, which was a bit slow. I walked out to pick him up and ran him again, and then he ran it well.

#4 Land blind over log and thru double keyhole next to treeline

For some reason this was easily the most difficult blind of the day. Laddie had a lot of difficulty jumping over the log that occurred early in the set up, trying repeatedly to run around it. And then, once he made it to the area of the keyholes beside the treeline, twice he veered outside one of the keyholes at the last moment, prompting me to call him back to the start line to try again. On his third try once he jumped over the log, he ran the rest of the blind well.

#5 Water blind onto point with horizontal re-entry

This blind was typical of the qual water blinds I've seen: a swim to a point of land, then a water re-entry and a swim across a second section of water to the blind at or near the far bank. 

This is also the configuration where Laddie is most likely to vocalize, but I was most pleased that Laddie didn't make a sound running this blind.

Laddie ran the first water segment in a way that was unusual for him: He made no effort to swim around the point, but instead took a straight line to the tip of the point and climbed up. There I stopped him with a whistle to prevent him from continuing into the water on the other side.

The reason for stopping him was that I think it's risky for a handler to let a dog disappear on the far side of a point of land and hope that when the dog comes back in sight, the dog will still be on line. The risk is that instead, once the dog is out of sight behind the land, the dog will follow the curve of the land around and show up in shallow water next to shore, or possibly even climb up onto shore.

To avoid that risk, my approach, which I think is the same as most trainers and handlers for dog's at Laddie's level, is to stop him once he's on the point and then cast him off the end of the point into open water. Once he's in the water, I then stop him again and handle him straight back to the blind. As far as I know, qual judges consider that a satisfactory, and perhaps preferred, way to run such a blind. Again, I'm not sure about all-age judging.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Six golf course blinds (with photos)

Today, I took Laddie to the nearby golf course. We worked without an assistant, on a lovely sunny day with temps in the high 70s.

I carried a single orange bumper. Laddie carried a white puppy bumper most of the time as he explored while I wandered around setting up blinds, but eventually he lost it. Maybe we'll find it another day.

We ran six blinds, distances 150-200y. Factors included treeline wraps, logs, keyholes, ditches to cross rather than going over nearby bridges, and an angle water entry with shoreline swim. Laddie did a good job, taking every obstacle and never requiring me to pick up for a slow sit.

Here are twelve pictures, two of each blind. One picture in each pair uses normal focus to give perspective on the distance, the other uses zoom focus to show details of the factors.

#1. Blind past woods

#2. Blind over log and ditch, past woods

#3. Blind over log, thru keyhole

#4. Blind across path, thru keyhole

#5. Blind past treeline, over log

#6. Blind over log, across two ditches, angle water entry, shoreline swim

Friday, July 3, 2015

Three triples next to a pond, and a treeline blind, at a golf course

Today I picked up an assistant and drove with him and Laddie to a nearby, recently abandoned golf course. Though not close in quality as a training locale to a dedicated retriever training property like the farm where we've been training recently, the golf course is much closer and we had it to ourselves, except for a lone runner who came thru at one point. Since today is a federal holiday I was afraid we might run into too many other trainers at the farm.

Since Laddie was knocked out of his last two trials after arriving at the last series, the water triple, at or near first place, we've been focusing on water triples (or, in some cases, doubles) for the last several sessions. However, I haven't been using three assistants because of the expense or, in some cases, lack of availability.

I've used a number of strategies for running a triple with only one or two assistants, as described in the last few posts. Today, I used one of those strategies, and I also introduced a different strategy for two of the triples: I had my assistant throw a momma-poppa, and then I left Laddie in a sit while I went to the go-bird gun station to throw the last mark, and then returned to run Laddie on all the marks.

Here's a description of the three triples, followed by a treeline blind, we ran today:

Series A. Water triple

I started by putting out two chairs with white jackets. My assistant threw a momma-poppa from the first chair, then I threw a side-throw so that he could move to the other chair, and there he threw the go-bird. The line to the go-bird included an angle entry across a thin slice of the pond. Laddie started to run the bank, so I called him back and re-sent him. He then ran a good line. The same thing then happened on the poppa, which was thrown in the middle on a line that was under the arc of the go-bird (something I've never seen in an event, but that's what I set up). That mark was longer than the go-bird but also featured an angle entry across a thin slice of the pond, and again, Laddie got it wrong the first time and right the second time. Finally, Laddie nailed the long memory bird on the left, which included diagonally crossing a water-filled ditch.

Series B. Land/water triple

I left the first chair from Series A where it was, but moved the second chair to the opposite side of our start line, which I also moved some distance to change the angles. I positioned my assistant at the new chair placement and showed Laddie both gun stations, then called for the first bird, the momma of a momma-poppa thrown by my assistant. This mark had no water segment and was in open field, away from any features. Next I called for the poppa. Then I left Laddie at the start line and walked to the chair we'd used for the Series A momma-poppa, and threw a mark similar to that poppa as the go-bird. Finally I returned to the start line and ran Laddie on all three marks.

This time, Laddie ran the go-bird correctly the first time, but he again needed two tries on the middle bird, starting to run the bank the first time I sent him. Finally he nailed the momma, which turned out to be too easy for any useful training as far as I could see.

Series C. Land/water triple

I again positioned two chairs with white jackets and positioned my assistant at one of them. He again threw the momma of a momma-poppa as a land mark for the first throw, though this time on an angle in, which I hoped might provide some training benefit as a check-down. The poppa was thrown to the edge of the pond into a clump of reeds. Next I left Laddie at the start line and went to the other chair, threw the go-bird, and returned to run Laddie on all three marks.

Although the go-bird was another difficult angle-entry with an easy cheat, Laddie ran it correctly the first time. The line to the middle bird was another difficult angle-entry with an easy cheat, then a shoreline swim to a point that the line was outside of, then another shoreline swim to the mark. Laddie took the water entry correctly the first time, and might have completed the entire mark correctly without handling. But I thought he was veering too close to the shore after he passed the point, and I didn't want to reach the shore so I blew my whistle and cast him back away from the shoreline. He took the cast and completed the mark on a good line. He then nailed the memory-bird, the check-down providing no noticeable challenge. He just ran straight to it.

Series D. Treeline blind

Once again I set up a land blind to end the day's work, and once again I had the line run past a treeline (today's was on the left) that ended with an opening that would tend to act as suction for the dog to wrap around the trees and into that opening. Today's blind was 300y+, hilly, and started with a short land segment to a diagonal crossing of a ditch, with a large branch on the far shore that Laddie would have to run around and off line, then get back on line. The rest of the blind was wide open on the left as the dog approached the woods, then past the woods to the blind. Laddie needed about ten whistles to make a zig-zag run of the entire blind within a reasonably narrow corridor, but had good whistle sits, reasonable casts, and no auto-casts. He didn't attempt to wrap around the woods at the end, and remained in control the whole time to the blind.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Water double, two water triples, and a land blind

Today I picked up one assistant and we drove with Laddie to the nearest training property. There we continued the pattern of our recent training sessions (including one two days ago that I did not record) by running three water multiples and a land blind, as follows:

Series A. Water double with two bridges

I set up two chairs with white coats. My assistant threw the first bridge mark from the chair on the right LTR across a channel and over a small island, out of sight. I then threw a side throw and my assistant ran to the other chair while Laddie retrieved that. My assistant then threw the second bridge mark from the chair on the left RTL across a channel to a point of land. 

The lines to both marks offered opportunities to cheat by running banks, but Laddie took good lines to both. He did not climb over the island, however; he swam around it.

Series B. Water triple with bridge and two re-entries

I set up two chairs with white jackets.  From the left chair, my assistant threw a bridge mark RTL across a channel. I then threw a side throw to give her time to run to the other chair. From the right chair she threw a momma-poppa. The momma was on an angle back RTL across a small inlet to a point of land. The poppa was on an angle back LTR.

The line to the poppa, the go-bird, was a land segment, across a pond, across a strip of land, across a water-filled ditch with the opportunity to cheat around it, up a steep embankment, and a short land segment to the fall. The first time Laddie ran it, he started to cheat around the ditch. I called him all the way back and sent him again. The second time he took a good line.

Next I ran him to the bridge mark on the left. The line was a land segment, a channel crossing, and a land segment. Laddie took a good line.

Finally I ran him on the center mark. The line was a land segment, across a pond, over a point of land, across an inlet, across a strip of land, across another inlet to the mark. The first time I sent Laddie, he entered the water too far to the left and I thought he had forgotten where the mark was and was returning to the old fall. So I called him back and had my assistant fake a throw. But when I sent him again, he took almost the same initial line, so maybe he had not forgotten. The reason he took that line was that he didn't want to go over the point and was positioning himself to swim past it  He then continued on a good line to the mark.

Series C. Water triple with two re-entries and a retired momma-poppa

I set up two chairs with white jackets. From the left chair my assistant threw a momma-poppa. The momma was an angle back RTL. The poppa was a flat throw LTR. I then threw a side throw to give my assistant time to run to the other chair. When Laddie returned with the side throw, my assistant threw an angle back RTL over an inlet as the go-bird.

The line to the go-bird was down an embankment, across a channel, across a strip of land, and across the inlet to the mark. The first time I sent Laddie, he started to run around the inlet. I called him back and sent him again. This time he took a good line.

As he was returning, I had my assistant run back to the chair on the left and remove the white jacket, then retire behind a tree.

I then ran Laddie on the middle mark, another re-entry but this time with the gunner retired. He took a good line.

Finally I ran him on the retired mark to the left, again down an embankment and across a channel, but then with a land segment and no more water. He took a good line.

Series D. Treeline land blind

I ran Laddie on the same 250y land blind as I did in our previous two sessions. The blind is off a mound, past one tree on the right and another on the left that set the boundaries of a narrow corridor, thru swampy footing with some high cover, and up a hill to the blind. The treeline for a section of woods creates strong suction to the right most of the way, and the end of the woods creates suction to wrap around the woods to the right near the end of the blind.

The first day Laddie ran this, he ended up wrapping around the woods at the end and was out of sight for a short time. The second day he ran it, he zig zagged too wide and ran past the tree on the left on the outside. Today, he ran it well. Here's a video:

[Note that entries are displayed from newest to oldest.]