Saturday, August 13, 2016

The recall loophole

In the first series of Laddie's trial today, a retired triple with an out of order flyer, Laddie put himself in a chance for first place nailing the first two marks, then weakened his position considerably with a poor initial line and big hunt on the retired bird in the center shadows, and ended his chances by illustrating once again what I've often said is the single most difficult skill for a positive-trained retriever: the field recall.

Laddie is a Master Hunter and has brought home many Qualifying JAMs, RJs, and even a Third. It goes without saying that he has a highly trained recall. But in nine years of daily training, he's never once experienced punishment for a failed recall; he comes the vast majority of the time because of the massive reinforcement history he has with doing so.

But today's conditions proved the exception. On a day that the heat index will eventually reach 110° or higher and with the heat index already at 95°, Laddie picked up the last bird in high cover at 130y and, pointedly ignoring my come-in whistle, made a beeline for the pond on the left. There he cooled off in his lovely red Golden coat until at last I asked the judge, "Can I go get him?"

Laddie can do a lot of things right. His line manners and line mechanics were excellent, he saw all the birds, he was steady as a rock, he didn't cheat the water entry on the go-bird, and he wasn't fooled by the big scent cone or put off by the wall of high cover around the flyer's fall.

But a dog always has a choice. And nothing in his reinforcement history had convinced him that bringing the last bird to me had higher value under the circumstances than a nice, cool swim.


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