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. 

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