Sunday, June 14, 2009

Field training successes

Even with one more agility trial coming up next weekend, I've really turned my attention to Devon's field work. I plan to put her in field training and VST practice immersion after next weekend. My goal is to have her ready for her Senior Hunter tests and VST test this fall. It's a huge goal, but with the way she's working, I'm very hopeful.

At the same time I could accept holding one of them until next spring. Maggie and her amazing boy Scorch just got their first SH pass yesterday. Her description of the test and especially the blind really scared me. It was "100 yds, over a point to open water and the blind was on a rock." Her advice was to train long and really teach Devon to mark and do long blinds. Whew, that's a tall order. So, now you see why it may be next year for this Senior.

I've also learned so much about me and my dog through this "transition" field training. The reason I like field is because it has challenged me as a trainer. It's brand new to me, but I'm a dog trainer and I have pushed myself to think through the problems and problem solve.

Devon is a fantastic dog. She works her guts out for me and frankly she deserves a better handler. It's her bad luck to be my "first field dog," the one you know you make your mistakes on.

The biggest thing I've learned in transition is to TEACH my dog the drills. In field because you have that e collar control, it's so tempting to correct when there's a mistake. However, I've resolved that each time Devon makes a mistake it's because I haven't taught her something and she's confused. Devon isn't a pushy dog or a willful dog. She is very biddable and she wants to do the right thing. Therefore if she makes a mistake, she's confused and I need to teach her.

Learning what I wrote above has made me a better field trainer, and it's directly responsible for the successes we've had lately. When Devon has struggled with "overs," we broke it down and just worked overs. When she's struggled with suction on the three in a row drill, I walked up until we got it worked out; then I slowly worked our way back to our starting point.

Yesterday we had the opportunity to work in a nice oval pond. On my way to the pond, I reviewed in my mind what I wanted to work on, and I landed on the "water force fetch" type drill. Devon went through this protocol nearly 2 years ago, but I thought revisiting a bucket and pile on the opposite bank of a pond would be a good reminder for upcoming water blinds.

I started her on a land blind I did on the property 2 weeks ago. I did the blind from several angles. As we worked this blind, it started to rain. Oh well; Devon passed her last JH test in a pouring rain, so we might as well train in it. A second distraction also started: dirt bikes in the neighboring field. This was a real distraction for Devon, especially when she could only hear them and not see them.

When we got to the pond, I tried to throw a mark to identify the pile for Devon. It went nearly 90 degrees to the left of the pile. Just great. She retrieved it, so I tried to send her cold and she didn't get the idea. I called her in and tried a second mark that went to the same place in the wrong direction. I let her retrieve the second mark and lined her up for the pile again.

Again, Devon seemed to mark the bucket but went left in the water to where the mark landed. I wanted to scream. I didn't want her to think she was wrong because of my errors. So I thought of one thing which was incredibly risky. If it worked, we'd be brilliant. If it didn't, I'd have to bag the drill...

I gave Devon a whistle sit in water. I've NEVER asked this of her. I knew there would always have to be a first, but I thought it would be when Mitch was standing over my shoulder telling me what to do. My wonderful little girl turned into me on the whistle - GOOD GIRL! I gave her an over, and she took it. She came in a little, but she took it. I gave her another sit whistle, then a quick right back and she did it! Awesome! I handled her to the bucket. What a fantastic little girl. I cheered ...

but it was short lived when she ran the bank coming back. Are you kidding me? Just when she was brilliant she starts cheating! When she wouldn't sit coming in to me with the bumper, I walked out and neutrally took it and threw it back into the water and called her around. We did this with Mitch when she first started cheating and up until yesterday it solved the problem.

I asked Devon for the blind again, and she needed to be handled again but she did it. She again cheated on the way back, so I stopped her and put her back into the water. I also moved the bucket down to the water's edge, hoping to remind her that she was to get back into the water.

The next time I asked for the blind, she lined it and with an early whistle and several comes from me, she got back in the water and swam back with the bumper. We celebrated with a break and a fun bumper; then I asked for and got two more perfect blinds. What a great way to finish! I really hoped we had some learning, too.

This morning I set up Devon's first double T drill. The back pile was at 135 yards; the nearest over pile was 30 yards out and the side piles were at 30 yards; and the second over pile was at 90 yards with the side piles at 25 yards. I only have three buckets, so I identified the farthest over piles with my blind sticks. This was my first mistake.

Even though I identified the back pile, Devon started angling to the over piles because they were marked with my sight blind sticks. I called her back in twice and decided to go fix my mistake. I put her in the crate and walked out to remove the sight blind sticks. Those piles had white bumpers and they were only 25 yards away, so I knew she could see them on the short grass. They would have to go unmarked.

When Devon came out, she showed me my second mistake (and luckily my only other one). I needed to walk up 30 yards to the first set of over piles and start the drill as a traditional T drill which she knows. Once she ran it successfully as a T drill to all piles, I grabbed my discard bumpers and backed up to the original line as she was going to the back pile.

At this point we started working the double T, and Devon was 100% successful at running it!! I have to tell you the first time she got the second over pile, I had tears in my eyes. This is an incredibly hard drill, and for us to get here because of the teamwork and relationship we have built together is amazing to me. I cannot tell you how rewarding today was for me.

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to continue our drill work and give discipline casting a try before we had to Mitch's at the end of the month. I'm hoping to start formal water work then. Maybe we can get this Senior this year! And if not, we're going to be really close.

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