Sunday, August 30, 2015

Poorman land triples, land blinds

Although I haven't had time to write up every training session, Laddie and I have continued to train together continuously, sometimes on consecutive days, sometimes with a rest day or two. We've trained in the group I mentioned recently whenever possible, we've trained with as many as three of my own assistants, we've trained at a variety of locations, and we've trained on a wide variety of skills, from retired converging water triples, to re-entry challenges, to land and water blinds with many kinds of factors.

Meanwhile, Laddie is dealing with a number of areas of discomfort. DW Renée has a new puppy, a beautiful British Cream Golden named Ryley, now nine weeks old, and I'm adamant about keeping them apart, which means Laddie doesn't have the access to Renée and the household he's had his whole life. He seems to have an infection in one ear, mild I believe, but causing some discharge and regular head-shaking. From one or  more of the locations where we trained or completed the last few weeks, he has insect bites all over his body, including his ear flaps and paws. And he has at least four hotspots, including one quite large on his cheek.

With temps climbing into the 80s and 90s most days, and school hours limiting scheduling options with my assistants, plus time pressure from both my full-time job and my consulting work, it would be easy for me to forego so much training. But I've entered Laddie in a qual for next Friday, and I'll do what I can to help him prepare.

Today was a typical challenge. The weatherman is calling for 90°+ by noon, but none of my assistants were available for an early session, and I haven't been able to make contact with my new training group. So my choices were to run Laddie in high temps at midday, or take him out early by myself. I opted for the latter, and we headed for the nearby abandoned golf course a little after sunrise.

There we ran three poorman land triples and there land blinds, keeping Laddie out of the stagnant water in the various ponds and ditches. To run a poorman triple, I would put Laddie in a sit at the start line, then walk out and throw each of marks, then come back to him and run him on the now-retired marks. Though probably not as beneficial as running a triple with real gunners, I included a tight converging double in all of the triples and two of them in the last one, so I believe they were still useful pictures for Laddie to practice, and exercised both his memory and his tolerance for frustration with difficult configurations.

As for the blinds, all featured rolling terrain and patches of thick cover. In addition, two featured potential wraps, two featured keyholes at distance, and one featured both. Laddie had no slow sits and no refused casts, making all of the blinds look easy though I don't think they were.

I'll rest Laddie the remainder of the day, and see what training I can arrange for the rest of the week.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A water blind, three water singles, and two more water blinds

Today a friend invited me to train with a small group on a fabulous technical pond, once used I believe for a National.

My friend said that if I arrived earlier than others, I could run Laddie on a blind, so that's what I did. Then, with the group, he ran three water singles with guns out as if for doubles. Finally he ran two more water blinds.

The grounds and sky were beautiful, but temps reached the high 80s. We trained both experienced dogs and inexperienced ones on various setups, so it was a long and physically demanding day for the trainers as well as the dogs.

I won't take your time to describe the setups in to much detail unless someone asks me to. I'll just mention that the marks and the last two blinds were designed by the highly experienced and successful trainer who led our group, and he made challenging use of the many points of land that crisscross the pond, in three cases also making use of the full length of the pond.

Laddie's work: He did a good job on my blind. He nailed the first single. He tried to cheat the fourth re-entry of the second single the first time he ran it, so I called him back and had him run it again, and this time he nailed it. Then he nailed the last and longest single, going over a point and then making a long channel swim between points in both sides.

When he then ran the blinds, he took great initial lines on both of them. The first featured a difficult re-entry which he ran perfectly without a whistle, lining the blind. The second was another long channel swim, then over two points. He one-whistled that, needing the whistle because he intended to swim around the point after getting thru the channel on his initial line. At the lead trainer's suggestion, I handled Laddie toward the point crossing as soon as it was clear that he was planning to stay in the water, so that he wouldn't have a chance to feel reinforced for that decision, a good lesson for me. The trainer also suggested that if Laddie had good momentum, which he did, that I should not handle him over the points, which I otherwise might have done, and that also worked out well.

I felt this was an excellent training day for Laddie and me. For Laddie, he was able to be successful without help on several retrieves, yet learned a better way to run a couple of them. For me, it was a friendly, supportive group with advice that was high quality yet compatible with my training approach. Like, wow.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Laddie's eighth JAM

Laddie got a JAM in his first qual when he was three, just after he completed his SH and two years before his first Master pass. A few weeks later, in his third qual, one of the judges told me he would have had a placement, possibly a high placement, if he hadn't broken in the honor after running the last of the six series, the entire time without handling on a mark.

In those days, based on what little I knew of other dogs' careers, it seemed that Laddie would be QAA soon, and would spend the rest of his career running all-age, possibly running Master in later years.

But here it is nearly five years later, and Laddie has still never placed in a qual, much less won one. Yesterday, for example, he was in great shape coming into the last series, but a mediocre fourth series led to yet another JAM, his eighth (including two Reserved JAMs in previous trials).

I don't want to make excuses, because it's always something, and in the end, it's my responsibility. I just have to be careful not to have him standing near the judging area for long periods before his turn, listening to guns go off for one dog after another and getting more and more excited, and in this case, also badly overheated. This is the third time in his career I've let a marshal put him in that situation, this time with temps in the high 70s and 80s, and somehow I need not to let it happen again.

I also don't want to make projections. Despite our seeming plateau, Laddie actually is continuing to develop. He often runs great blinds, with better sits than ever and often his outstanding initial lines. He's better behaved at the line than he used to be, now that I've learned some people care about that and I've worked with him on it. We've worked a ton on difficult entries and re-entries, and maybe we'll be ready next time we encounter one in a trial. And he's more comfortable being handled over points, though he still occasionally vocalizes.

By the way, I saw two Labs vocalizing when cast on land blinds yesterday. I hadn't noticed that in other dogs much in the past. Maybe it was happening and I just didn't notice it. Laddie vocalized all his life on water handling and I never noticed it until fairly recently. Then I saw in old videos that he had always done it.

Anyway, Lumi and Laddie both ran a number of Junior tests before their first pass, and after their JHs, the same thing happened with Senior tests. Laddie also needed several tries before he passed his WCX, and failed several Master tests before he began passing them on the way to his MH. I don't think this says anything about my dogs or my training methods. I think it goes instead to my inexperience, both in understanding what skills need to be trained and in being able to gauge whether a dog is ready to compete at a certain level.

And I'm hoping something similar is happening here, though over a more prolonged time line and now with the pressure of Laddie's age becoming a factor. It has never been unusual for Laddie to run at least one series in a trial that is clearly the best of the day;  in yesterday's trial, that happened in the second series, a land blind. And I believe he also had one of the top performances in the first and third series. If he'd had one of his signature makes-it-look-easy triples in the fourth series, I think he would have won the trial. And I think one of these days, that's exactly what's going to happen.

So I'm disappointed, even a bit depressed. But I'm not throwing in the towel yet.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Retired water marks

I usually rest Laddie on the day before a trial, and with temps in the high 80's and a long drive facing me in the wee hours, the situation was not ideal for another training session today.

However, I wanted to see if I could strengthen Laddie's confidence in retired water marks, just in case one of those occurs in our trial tomorrow.

To do so, I picked up a single assistant and we drove to the nearby abandoned golf course.

There we ran approximately 10 retired water marks, in each case with me using a side throw to give take the thrower on opportunity to retire. The setups were different from one another in a variety of ways, such as the length of the land segments before and after the water segment. But one thing they all had common was difficult water entries or re-entries.

Laddie had difficulty with a few of the marks, but he nailed most of them and we ended with a good performance. I guess we're as ready as I know how to get us at this time.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Three water doubles, two land blinds

With our next competition tomorrow, yesterday I picked up two assistants and brought them to our nearest training. My intent was to strengthen Laddie's understanding of water series, if possible, and restore his confidence in taking silent casts on land blinds.

All three of the water series started as tight converging doubles with the site gun retired and water re-entries for both marks.

On the first double, the long mark was not retired but it was a bridge plus it had a difficult re-entry. I tried sending Laddie to the shorter, retired mark twice and both times he took a line toward the long mark and I called him back. Finally we more or less reran it. I had the long gun fake her throw, and the short gun rethrow and then stay out. This time Laddie ran both marks well.

Next I ran Laddie on a 200y land blind with a keyhole at 120y, then a potential wrap behind woods on the right. To strengthen the suction to the right,  I placed a lining pole with two 3" white bumpers on the field to right of the blind so that they would become visible as Laddie cleared the woods, and a few yards from the lining pole, I had my two assistants sit in chairs wearing white jackets. Laddie did a good job, including having no trouble with the silent casts as he had the previous day.

The second double was in a different location and orientation than the first but had the same characteristics. Again Laddie tried to take a line to the long mark that was not retired when the short mark was retired, but was able to run the double easily with both guns starting out.

This confused me, because I was certain that Laddie had run such doubles, with a side throw out additional mark to allow the short gun to retire. What was different this time?

I had a theory and it panned out. I set up one more such double, again tight converging marks, again the short gun retired, but with one significant difference from the earlier two series: this time, the long mark was about three times as long as the short, retired mark, whereas in the previous two setups, the long mark was less than twice as long as the shorter mark. Sure enough, this time Laddie took and held a good line to the shorter mark, then ran the longer mark afterwards. So at least for Laddie, now I know how to make a retired short mark more difficult: make it fully half as long as the long mark or longer.

We finished the session with another land blind, or mostly land. In order, the factors were an elevated keyhole over rough footing, a potential wrap around woods to the left, a lining pole and prominent white bumper to the left of the correct line that became visible as Laddie cleared the woods, a thin water crossing with difficult angle entry and the tempting bank run on the left, the line just to the left of a tree (leaving no extra room on the right side of the line once out of the water), and another potential wrap around a section of woods on the left before running the final land segment to the blind. This blind was intended to require several casts, both verbal and silent, and Laddie did another good job on it.

My intent had been to build confidence in this session. I think it succeeded at that for the blinds. I'm not so sure for the marks.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Two land triples, five land blinds

Yesterday afternoon I picked up the assistants and, on a perfect summer day with temps in low 80s, we returned to the equestrian park for another session. Because that's where we were training, the long marks were thrown with a pistol shot, while the short marks were thrown with hey-hey-hey to avoid possibly startling any horses on the field behind the woods where we were training.

I set up two mirror-image series at different locations and orientations of the field. Each was a triple with the guns for both memory birds retired, in a tight double with converging throws. After Laddie ran each triple, I ran him on a 300y+ blind under the arc of the long mark.

Laddie nailed both go-birds and the shorter memory bird of both triples, as well as the long memory bird of the second mark. But for some reason he was confused by the long retired memory bird of the first series and three times took a line toward the old fall of the shorter retired memory bird before I called him back. Finally I had the gunner come out and rethrow her bumper to the same location as her original throw, up a hill and into cover at 250y+, after which Laddie nailed it.

Laddie had tight sits on his blinds, ran tight corridors, and took the keyholes at 200y+, but for some reason he froze on several silent casts at the longer distances. At first I thought it was because I was standing in shadow and not wearing a white jacket, but putting on a jacket and stepping out into the bright sunshine didn't solve the problem. Either he's become confused about what a silent cast means, or he's having trouble seeing at those distances. He'll be seeing an ophthalmologist soon and we'll see if she finds anything.

Because of the difficulty on the blinds, after I dropped off the assistants, I took Laddie to another field and ran him on three more 250y+ blinds, on hilly terrain with rough footing, with the first thru a keyhole made by large shrubs and the other two with opportunities to wrap around a stand of trees he would run past, once on the right, once on the left. Again he froze on two or three silent casts, and in addition, on the middle blind, he uncharacteristically ignored a couple of sit whistles in the last third and took his own line to the bumper before I could stop him.

So even though we're only two days from our next competition, a little late to be learning anything new, it looks like we have some work to do on handling. We're running water today, but I think we better practice a long land blind or two today and/or tomorrow as well.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Three water doubles with points for every mark, followed by a water blind

Today I picked up two assistants and they helped me with Laddie at our closest training property.

My first series was the longest and hardest: On the right, a retired long water mark, over a point of land and with the bumper thrown LTR onto low ground behind a crest. On the left, the go-bird, thrown LTR into high cover, with a point of land on the line to the mark. For the go-bird, Laddie swam around the point, then straight to the mark. He then nailed the long retired mark, climbing onto the point and then continuing straight into the second water rather than following the bank around to the right.

For the second series, the lines to both marks were again over points of land. In this case, the shorter mark was retired and I used a side throw to give the gunner time to put up her umbrella.

Laddie tried to cheat on the shorter mark, not because it was retired but because the point of land extended mostly toward the start line rather than to the side. I called him back and had the marks thrown again, and this time Laddie ran the short mark well according to his training, but he swam around the point, which I know is unacceptable to some trainers.

The line to the long mark was a land segment, a difficult angle entry into the first water, across or around a point, a shoreline swim, and short final land segment. The first time I sent Laddie, he started to run the bank on the first water entry so I called him back and sent him again. This time he nailed it, veering slightly at the point to swim around it. I was glad to see her did not bail out at the end but held his line all the way to the mark.

For the third series, I used both sides of a channel that ran away from the start line. Each side was shaped with a point, and I had my assistants throw their converging throws to locations producing lines just over the points. Laddie nailed both marks except that he swam around both points.

Because of the criticism I received from the pros I was recently training with for allowing Laddie to swim around points, perhaps I should be worried that Laddie did that on five of the six marks I tried to set up as re-entries today. But I'm not worried, actually. I've trained with too many other trainers who never mentioned that as a weakness in Laddie's training. I even remember one experienced field trialer who regarded that as a good trait in Laddie's work. Not knowing whether to train Laddie to climb over points on marks, rather than swim around them, especially when training for quals rather than all-age if that matters, is yet one more example of my inexperience.

However, i recognize that I do need to be able to handle Laddie over a point if it's on the line to a blind, as opposed to a mark. So we wrapped today's session up with a water blind that included a long swim, then climbing up the steep embankment that made up the front side of a point, running between a tree and the water, and then getting back into the water and swimming diagonally across a channel to the blind rather than running the bank or hugging the bank behind the point. Laddie resisted getting up onto the point but he did it, and he did everything else easily.

I have no idea what the water marks will look like for the competitions we'll be running this fall, beginning next Saturday. But I'm trying to make sure that if they include cheating entries and/or re-entries, we'll have done what we can to be ready for them.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Does Laddie understand how to run retired marks?

Laddie has been running marks with the gunners hidden for most of his career. Of course all guns are hidden in hunt tests, so he never had the gunner visible as he earned his Junior, Senior, and Master Hunter titles. In addition, many of the field trial stakes he has run in had retired guns, and whether he finished them or not, my memory is that he showed no particular difficulty with retired marks. In fact, in one stake a few years ago, they scrapped the first series because only one of the first fourteen or so dogs who had run it had been able to pick up the retired mark without a handle, and that dog was Laddie.

Also, as readers of these posts know, I often set up retired marks for Laddie, as do other people we train with. It's not unusual for Laddie to nail those marks, or, if not, take a good line and find them with a reasonable hunt.

Of course he's far from perfect and has had difficult with them at times, as he has with other challenging aspects of various setups. But my impression is that he has a solid understanding of what retired marks are and how to run them.

Yet the pros we trained with the last few weeks were both convinced that Laddie didn't understand retired marks at all. They pretty much regarded any attempt on my part at discussion as "arguing," but when I expressed surprise that they thought that and outlined my reasons, they said that Master marks are so much easier than field trial marks that Laddie's hunt test success was meaningless, and that any FT  retired marks he had had success with must have been too easy, because in their estimation I probably didn't know how to incorporate factors into our training that would make the marks difficult.

So now I really don't know. Laddie did have more trouble with some of their retired marks than I expected, but he also nailed some of them, which they chalked up to the idea that he was making progress.

Now that we're not training with them any more, I'm not sure how to get a handle on the question. I guess it's just something I'll have to watch for as we continue to train and compete. Maybe I'll find that it really is an area of weakness in Laddie's training, and I've just had a blind spot in my observations and memory. Or maybe, for one reason or another, I won't.

Two land triples and three land blinds

It seems like forever since Laddie's run a triple, so today I picked up three assistants and we drove to a local field where we'd be able to run a couple of them. However, it was an equestrian park, and some people were riding horses near the area we were training, so I had the throwers call hey-hey-hey instead of firing pistols, which might startle the horses.

Both of the triples had the same features though they had different locations and orientations: A long mark in one direction, and a tight converging double about 90° to one side, with both memory birds retired in both series. In both cases, the retired memory bird of the converging double was in the middle. But the two setups did have differences: In the first series, the long mark was on the left and was thrown first. In the second series, the long mark was on the right and was thrown second.

Of those six marks, Laddie nailed all except the last, which was the shorter memory bird, the retired mark in the center that was half of the tight converging double. Laddie needed a hunt for that mark, but he never left the area of the fall and never seemed attracted to the old fall of the go-bird, so I didn't need to handle him or get help, I just let him hunt it up.

I had set up a long blind under the arc of the long mark on the second series, but a pair of equestrians entered the horse-training ring next to the line to that blind just as I was getting ready to run Laddie on the blind. I sent him, thinking they wouldn't bother him, but after taking a good initial line, he suddenly broke away from the direction of the horses as he came up level to them and went out of sight and out of control in an instant, into the far side of the hill he was running along the side of. He remained out of sight until for several seconds, and then I saw him with the red bumper coming back toward me. I didn't want him near the horses again despite the split rail fence that enclosed the training ring, so I asked the thrower to call him to her as he ran past her and put him in his crate while the rest of us packed up and joined them there.

I then dropped off two if the assistants and used the third to help me set up two more land blinds in a different fields, since I'm having difficulty with my legs and can't walk very well at this time. Laddie ran the first one well, but went out of sight wrapping behind a shrub during the second one, so I think we've got some work on land blinds to do before our trial next weekend.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Three water doubles

Back home today, I picked up two assistants and went to our closest training property to work on cheating water re-entries and retired water marks.

First I set up what turned out to be the day's most difficult double. Both marks included long swims, crossing points of land, and water re-entries with suction to run the bank rather than get back in the water. In addition, the long memory mark was retired.

Laddie nailed the difficult go-bird, and took a good line across the long water segment on the memory bird. But then he tried to run the bank around the second water segment. I called him all the way back and tried it again, and he did the same thing. Finally I had the thrower throw it again as a single and stay out, and this time he swam around the point and then looped behind the gun and around to the mark. Still not what I wanted but at least he didn't run the bank.

I decided I wanted him to have a chance to run that second water segment correctly because of its difficult shape configuration and swampy terrain. So I set up a second double on the peninsula that he had been crossing. This time the go-bird was a shoreline swim with difficult angle entry and exit and he took a good line all the way. He didn't cheat or square the bank on the entry and he didn't bail out on the exit. Just a good, straight line.

Then he also nailed the memory bird. I guess it was much easier run from the mid-point than as a re-entry, though I'm not exactly sure why.

Next we went to a different location and I again set up a water double with cheating re-entries on both marks. This time I wanted the second mark retired so I also threw a side-throw.

I could see that he was on a line to cheat the re-entry on the retired mark, and when he got on the point and started to run the bank instead of getting back in the water, I called a loud No and called him back. The second time he nailed it. He also ran the final long mark well, veering a little off line during the long swim when he could no longer see over the bank to his destination, but angling back in and into the water as soon as he was on shore, rather than continuing on land around the second inlet. The thrower said he took a straight line to the bumper even though it was thrown into cover.

So on reflection, I felt that Laddie wasn't perfect and needs more work on water marks with re-entries, but that it was a productive session for him, more of which should strengthen that skill, which is already somewhat developed.

And then it occurred to me that that was not the kind of work he has been getting up north, instead running things like tight flat land doubles and then re-running them, something which I never did with Lumi or Laddie because I didn't want to take a chance on reinforcing their natural instinct to return to old falls.

In other words, here at home we had just had a productive session, or so I believe, whereas earlier this week, training with the pro, we were possibly running counterproductive setups, or at the minimum, not practicing what I feel Laddie needs the most work on right now.

So I suddenly realized that, as deeply as I believe in training with experienced field trial trainers on professional-quality training grounds and setups, in this case,  I feel we'd be better training on our own in this situation.

And that's what I'll plan on doing for the immediate future, until a different opportunity that's hopefully a better fit for our needs comes along.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Two retired land doubles, two land blinds, a retired water double, and a water blind

Today the pro would be making a long drive with six dogs to a competition, but first he ran them on some land and water marks. I told him it would be fine if he went ahead and got on the road, but he said that since I had helped with the throwing, we would give Laddie some work first. We ended up giving him a good day's work,  before Laddie and I, too, got on the road for a long drive, in our case home.

First the pro set up a land double with one mark slightly longer than the other, both thrown RTL. He had it thrown twice, reversing the order of the throws, and retired the gun for the memory bird each time. Laddie nailed all four marks. That's what I would have expected from Laddie's usual work, though he hasn't been showing it well the last few weeks.

Next the pro had Laddie run two blinds, one under the arc of the longer mark, the other thru the old fall of the shorter mark. Laddie's first sit was too slow so I brought him back in. After that I thought he did a good job on both of them.

By the way, the field was again hot today, and this time I brought out a bowl of water for Laddie to drink from between each pair of long retrieves. He still drank half a bowl of water when I put back in his crate for the drive to the pond.

At the pond, the pro asked me to come up with my own setup. I selected a water double with the long mark past a point and retired, and the shorter mark a bridge. The pro said Laddie could also run a blind, and suggested one he said would be a good challenge.

The pro threw the bridge mark well into the thick cover on the far side of the channel -- he can make huge throws, at least twice as far as me, maybe three times -- and Laddie needed a little hunt. Laddie then took a detour to land on his return,  and I guess he was relieved that I didn't insist that he swim straight back as I have been these last few weeks.

Next Laddie ran the long retired mark, consisting of a 220y swim past a point and short land segments on either end. He took an extremely good line until the last ten yards of the swim, then bailed out to shore on the left but ran immediately to the fall. He then found the bird, needing a short hunt for some reason. When I whistled him in, he ran across to the corner of the pond and took a land route back to me, running enthusiastically the whole way.

The line to the blind was across a narrow inlet, over a point, into water again with a difficult angle entry, diagonally across a wide channel, and up onto a swampy point, where the pro had thrown the bird into a patch of thick, high cover.  Laddie wanted to swim around both points but took good casts, though vocalizing on the first one.

That completed the day's training and now we're on our way home. We'll be driving back up and meeting the pro again Monday morning.

Retired land doubles and a shoreline single over two points

Yesterday the pro set up a long land double for the six dogs he'll be taking to a competition tomorrow. For those dogs, he ran just the long gun as a single, sometimes repeating it, while I stood at the position of a shorter mark as a diversion.

As an aside, this pro, and his mentor when he was here, do a number of things differently than I've seen before, such as often re-running marks. Another of those differences is that they always had/have me remain standing after throwing until my bird was picked up. For yesterday's drill, I wasn't sure when to sit down so I waited till the dog picked up the long mark.

In any case, he then had me run Laddie on the double twice, first with the long gun retired, then reversing the order of the throws and with the shorter gun retired. Laddie nailed the go-birds but needed a moderate hunt for the long mark when retired and a ridiculously long hunt for the shorter mark when retired, even though he'd been there earlier and even though it was out in the open. The pro is convinced that Laddie has no concept of retired guns, and that series did nothing to change his mind.

I did notice however that Laddie's tongue was hanging out after the first double. I wish I'd bright out some water for him to drink between the two doubles. It was a hot day.

Next we went to the pro's pond and I proposed that I continue to take the pro's advice except that Laddie be permitted to choose his own return route, as he has for many years. The pro rejected that proposal and said that I could run Laddie on the setups any way I liked, but if I wanted his advice, he wouldn't let me do it wrong.

Accordingly then he had me run Laddie on the shoreline single over two points we worked on several weeks ago. Laddie had forgotten that training and again needed to be handled over the points, but at least he didn't vocalize. To bring him back without a constant series of cues, I called him from each point.

Over night, based on advice from a dear friend and highly experienced dog person, I decided that, with the choice the pro had given me, I'd switch to the other option and run the setups as I felt best, without asking for the pro's advice going forward. It turns out he was happy to hear I'd made that decision when I told him the next morning.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sitting at the line

I've never worried much about Laddie's behavior at the start line. He's been an exceptional marker for years and he generally takes good initial lines on blinds, so I've always felt that his line behavior must be reasonably well suited to the job at hand.

However I've recently learned that some trainers don't think Laddie and I do a good job at the line. For example, I'll often need several verbal cues to bring him to heel position and/or to get him to sit. It doesn't bother me particularly, and as I said it doesn't seem to hurt his performance, but I've learned that some trainers feel that he should come to the line in heel position and sit immediately on my first cue.

He trained for five days in a row last week, and will do the same next week, so I didn't want to run him hard today, but I thought we'd go out and work on sit-at-the-line for a couple of hours this morning. Here's how we worked on it:

I picked up two assistants and took them to a local meadow where we often train. I sent them out with chairs, blank pistols, and white bumpers -- no radios or white jackets needed.

Then we ran a total of nine doubles, with a water break for Laddie after the first six. All marks were less than 100y. The locations and orientations were all different, but for most, both throws were in the same direction, though for the last one I used converging marks. These were all intended as easy doubles for Laddie, so we could focus on his behavior at the line.

Meanwhile, I brought out a rubber mat. and for each double, I sat Laddie some distance from the mat, then heeled him to the mat (he usually heels on my right), brought him around to my left side if that's the side I wanted to run him on, and said Sit. If he sat down immediately, we went ahead and ran the double. If not, I said Nope, turned around, and heeled him back off the line so we could try the whole thing again.

The first time, and one other time, he did not sit the first time I cued it, and we moved off to start again. In both cases, he sat immediately the next time we came up. In addition, for all the other setups, he sat immediately the first time. So it seems shine learning may have taken place.

How well this will carry over when we resume training with the pro tomorrow remains to be seen. I'm pretty sure the pro will not mind me taking a few extra seconds to use the same procedure if needed, assuming it's effective training and doesn't just waste time.

By the way, I'm saying "pro" rather than "pros" now because I think that starting next week, it will just be the one guy who invited me to train with him in the first place.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Training with pros

Yesterday, we ran three series to finish the week with the two pros we've been training with.

In the morning the pros set up a qual-like land triple rather than their usual tight double, and then modified the setup for the various dogs. One of the pros asked me to have Laddie run the most advanced version, saying he wanted to see whether Laddie had made any progress on his ability to run retired marks.

For that triple, the first mark was on the left, thrown RTL at 300y and retired. The second bird was on the right, thrown LTR at 90y into cover. The go-bird was in the middle, a flyer thrown and shot LTR at 170y.

Laddie nailed the flyer. As he was returning, at the request of the pro over the radio, the right gunner moved the bird from the low grass where it had landed into the cover beyond. When Laddie returned to the line and ran that mark, he ran straight to where the bird had landed, then used scent to quickly hunt up the bird. Laddie then ran directly to the retired memory bird on a wide arc but with no hunt.

Next, at a different location on the same field, we ran a land single and a land blind, with a pair of stickmen also set up in the field. Laddie nailed the single, then two-whistled the blind, crossing the line during the middle of his run so that he had to be handled off whatever suction existed on either side. He sat well and took nice casts and I thought it was a good job, but one of the pros said later that the dog running at that time was the first one that would be called back.

Finally, we went to a technical pond and ran a tight, converging water double with long swims, so difficult that only one of the dogs was able to do it.

The long mark was on the left, a bumper thrown LTR at 300y+ from the left shore of a narrow channel on a sharp angle back into the moss-covered surface of the water near the right shore, an unrealistically long throw if it had been a bird. The line to that mark was a 200y swim, then across a point of land with a tree on it, and back into the water on a difficult angle entry for a 100y channel swim to the bumper.

The shorter mark was on the right, a bird thrown RTL at 200y+ up the shore into high reeds. The line to the short mark was almost the same as the first 200y swim of the long mark, except that it started with a short inlet crossing thru a patch of water lillies, then across a small point of land, and ended on the right shore rather than at the point of land that the dog would cross on the left shore 200y out.

On the advice of the pro who had been helping me, Laddie ran it as two singles, and with the pro's concurrence, I had Laddie run the short mark, then just a fetch and the 200y shoreline return from the long mark, and finally the long one.

Laddie, who ran next to last, had a lot of difficulty with the small inlet at the beginning of the short mark. The first four times I sent him, he tried to swim around the point. I didn't try to handle him onto the point, but instead called him back, thinking incorrectly that our training from a couple of weeks ago in this same pond would eventually kick in and he would go over the point without handling. But I guess six years of being first taught, and from then on permitted, to always run watery marks around points were stronger than the one day of recent training. At last the pro walked over to help me, throwing a white bumper twice to show Laddie the line he'd need to take. After that Laddie swam directly to that mark.

Next, as planned, I ran asking the shore 200y to the point of land for the long mark with Laddie, left him and a bumper there, ran back to start line, and called Fetch. He immediately picked up the bumper and got into the water rather than attempting to run the bank, but the return swim was a battle, with Laddie trying every few strokes to turn toward shore so that he could run the bank the rest of the way. He always took my casts and verbal cues to stay in the water and continue straight, but my cueing made the return noisy and uncomfortable for everyone there.

Finally he ran the long mark, trying like many of the dogs to swim around the point at 200y and requiring, like many of the dogs, both casting onto the point and Hey-hey calls from the gunner to get into there point. But unlike some of the dogs, he had no difficulty with the water re-entry and leapt right into the channel on the far side of the point without help. However, he took that entry a bit too square, aiming him to the right shore rather than the bumper floating in moss 100y down the channel, and required a hunt to finally swim to it. His return was easily the worst of any of the dogs, again requiring a constant stream of verbal and physical cueing to prevent him from running the bank.

When the last dog ran, the pro had the long gunner help him by throwing a second bumper, commenting in a friendly way that he was sure I'd be happy to have Laddie pick it up after they were done. So after everyone else went to a different part of the field to take promotional photos for an ecollar company with the pros, the day trainers, and some of the dogs, I had Laddie run that long retrieve again, and once again his return, now being made for third time, required continuous cueing to prevent him from swimming to the shore so that he could run the bank.

Though highly annoying, it's perhaps understandable that Laddie exhibited that behavior, since I've been allowing him to choose his own return route virtuously his entire career.

Nonetheless, the entire series, running more than half an hour, was extremely stressful for me, as I was keenly aware of the disapprobation from everyone present for having what appeared to them to be such a poorly trained dog. Whatever other problems they had, no other dog had had the slightest difficulty with that return that had been so difficult for Laddie all three times he made it.

So despite Laddie's good work on the two land series, and despite some good work on the various difficult aspects of the water series, the primary effect of our participation in the training group today was of long stretches of noisy verbal cueing, a stressful and disheartening way to end the week's work.

Afterwards, I returned to our room to pack up and made the long drive home with Laddie, arriving in the wee hours. Here it is the next morning, and I admit I'm still shaken by the experience. What should I have done differently? I really don't know.
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