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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