Dec 30 cold & windy Gigi..will do two of the "work with me" bumper handling sessions plus the usual "holding" a bumper out and back during her early morning and late evening crate "placements" (beginning and ending routines). The goose pond is completely free of ice (midwinter thaw) and our autistic granddaughter is not in school. With no one at home to take care of her (except me), goose hunting is at a standstill. I should cease from scouting because Thorson Pond has become a sanctuary. Distant camera scouting data is a very poor replacement for the real thing. However, my granddaughter and I did a drive-by shooting of over two hundred geese this morning.
Dec 31 2-3 inches of snow with a high of 28°F....another day off for Pounce....Gigi began her much delayed intro
training on real birds. The last month has involved a "hard core" focus on dealing with her unresponsive, intense prey drive. This involved thrashing/shaking bumpers without any intention s for bringing them back. The key was to continue developing responsiveness and altering her focus. Refer back to the Dec 18th journal entry for a discussion/description. Gigi's present retrieving and delivery skills are ready to move on to real birds. The concern for issues with birds was demonstrated months ago when a "lets see what she does with a real duck session" was done. Therefore, today's initial handling a duck session was to determine a starting point. The first "go" was doing heeling, fetching and returning of a white 2" bumper. That went well (eventually).
The transition "object" was a Dokken mallard which she has retrieved many times before. It was obvious that the energy of the moment jumped measurably. Remote sit holding, heeling (indoors) was very good. After that step was measured, the Dokken was tossed a few yards away from a steady Gigi. When the "fetch" command was given, Gigi, the "prey driven wolf" surfaced. The session was immediately altered to no tossed Dokkens and it was acceptable. Fetch and hold from a side sit was followed by heeling and was done well.
This session was to be completed with a thawed mallard fetched while on a sit. She has been force fetched, but evidently this mallard indicated "not nearly well enough". The duck was tossed a few feet away, with restraint on a sit and she dove like a dive bomber onto the duck at the sound of "fetch". The "prey drive wolf" appeared growling, shaking and thrashing. There was no hint that a retrieve was going to happen. The session was ended by working on hold/sit and it was very weak. This is not what I wanted, but it was realistically expected.
It took a long time for Gigi to work responsively with bumpers. Expecting anything less with a duck would have been wishful thinking. In the late afternoon, the Dokken and mallard went back to work. Having a better perspective is useful. This second session was designed for a smaller, better measured increment of success (using the same approach that was done with bumpers). Gigi remained on a sit and did fetch/hold/out several times. There was no attempt to do any heeling with hold since responsiveness and focus are not very well developed. It is significantly important that this first phase was carefully presented and recorded. The issue in this moment is making each action productive. Right now, I would say she is not totally convinced and a bit confused. The bumper transition took several months and real birds is not going to be a brief process.
Kelly Meyer DTA
Dec 10 cold...16°F......trained Gigi briefly indoors today......simple OB
Dec 11 not as cold as yesterday, but cold and windy...high 23°F...wind chill 4°F in the morning. First was at Thorson Pond... removed the goose blind. The ground was frozen enough to drive the van right up near the blind and dismantle it. The van is big enough to hold all the parts (many, many clamps). Then it was back home for storage.
Afterwards, I did not sit down to rest for awhile as it is a given that "rigor mortis" would have set in. When you get older, stopping to rest is not a good idea (if there is more to do). Therefore, Gigi and Pounce were loaded into the van and we went back to the same area we trained in on Dec. 9th. They both ran two sets of "stand alone/send back" singles with a Dokken (similar distances, different location....adjusting for the wind...twelve marks). This time Gigi had issues with returning to the line. Eventually, I just moved closer before sending her on the "place" command. Later in the day, I thought about this frustrating event..why? when she was so very good at it before? Then the light came on. Every time she was sent to the place board in all previous training sessions, the "placeboard" and white stickman were right by the BIG, white van. With the most recent setups (at RockCut), there was no van in sight near the line. She had been conditioned to run toward the van (where the line was). "Duh" trainer simply ignored the effect of familiar "terrain" on conditioned responses. It may not be what one might think is happening.
Dec 19-21 - highs in the 40s for the next seven days...shoulder issues...did two good OB sessions with Gigi (indoors) each day. An MRI on my right shoulder is scheduled for the 24th. Left shoulder is not as bad. Merry Christmas!
Dec 22 at 1 pm - 50°F SW wind 12 mph...trained Gigi at the Kelly Meyer DTA doing a five bumper intro to the Wagon Wheel Lining Drill ("half" a wagon). The rationale for "half" is that "the line" is up against a barrier to aid in reducing "run by" on the return with a fast dog (Gigi). This went well (especially for an intro). Then we moved to the big, open field on the east side. Pounce ran seven "stand-alone send back" singles (very fast) and Gigi came out for her set (after the line was moved away from the van). This went quickly (both very fast). They are sleeping well this evening.
note: see Dec 10th entry about a running line being near the van with Gigi
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Dec 8 Sunday Gigi is a year old and it is winter in northern Illinois (no water). Training will require further developing her OB skills, handling (lining and casting) and marking. A gradual intro to birds is underway. The five areas to juggle and keep in balance are retrieving, "birdiness", responsiveness, focus and control. It is a challenge to avoid making control more important than the other four. Fun is the motivation. Responsiveness is the "glue" that binds balance. Therefore, when setting up sessions the focus is on balance between using marks with birds vs. bumpers, handling (casting vs. lining), OB and distraction proofing. Keeping a detailed journal is necessary. Plan ahead....repeat yesterday's work. And spend time specifically working on Gigi's return to heel (the mechanics).
note: Reduce the "stand alone/send back" singles distance. Gigi looses her "connection"
with the line requiring walking back closer to get a return. Went too long too soon.
Retrieving is NOT an issue (very, very fast, flashy and accurate).
This afternoon, training was again at the Kelly Myer DTA. The plan was to 1) work on Gigi's skill with returning precisely to heel after a retrieve. This is a conditioned response and she does much better when there is a "placeboard" in the heeling position. Therefore, this session was altered to continue working with "the crutch" and it was a "night and day" difference. Gigi did three "stand alone/send back" singles in the Y-Drill format - angle back, flat on the opposite side and an angle in (on the angle back side). Gigi was given a break while Pounce ran two, much longer Y-Drills ("stand alone/end backs"). Gigi then came back out for her first day of working on the "Seven Bumper Lining Drill". Using a "placeboard" at the line, Gigi easily "rattled off" the first three steps in this drill. She was a very quick study with the process and responded to push/pull right away. (refer to Nov 7th journal entry). Finally, we moved to the "Three Handed Casting" area. Her 2nd session was exceptional. First, she was cast to a "placeboard" several yards away where she turned and faced me (been doing this quite often with the "stand alone" singles). Then she watched bumpers tossed behind her (one at a time on both sides). Each time, when hearing "look," she turned her head back toward me to see what was next. She received a "good" (for looking at me) and then a cast. She did about eight of those alternating each side without "missing beat". After doing three handed casting with my previous five labs, today was "aaaah" different.
Dec 9 The forecast was rain, but it came later in the day. There were two sessions planned. First was a brief drive to the RockCut State Park DTA. Gigi's work on "stand alone/send back" singles was enhanced by moving from a short grass, flat terrain to an actual dog training area (cover, real terrain). The "send" back to the line was kept at 50 yards. This was not about distance and KISS was the focus. The session went really well. Plus we had a exciting bonus "moment". One of the singles I threw off to my right had Gigi running past a large tree with a clump of bushes at its base. As Gigi approached, a rabbit could not "get over" that a dog seemed to be heading right at it.....and bolted. Gigi was in full flight when the rabbit materialized from nowhere right in front or her. The rabbit zigged and zagged wildly as Gigi closed the gap. After fumbling for my transmitter, the rabbit just managed to escape. And much to my surprise, Gigi remembered where the single fell. Next up was a short drive to the Kelly Meyer DTA to continue working on Gigi's left/right Angle Back Casting and her 2nd day intro to the Seven Bumper Lining Drill.
After Gigi ran the first step in the Seven Bumper Lining Drill very confidently, we moved on to the fifth step today. She ran that flawlessly...twice. In the last few weeks, her immature label has been dismissed.
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Dec 1, 2 Saturday & Sunday...wet, cold & windy...Thorson Pond was free of ice. However, it was free of geese, also. They must be feeding at night and spending daylight loafing on Legend Lake. Gigi trained once each day (indoors). The "issue" of growling and shaking anything she picks up has been greatly reduced. Retrieving a goose wing and practicing OB with one in her mouth appears to have been a good transition to real birds (soon).
Dec 3 Monday 1 am...based on yesterday's scouting...waiting one more day (with extra scouting) is the plan...not confident that it is a good one though.....freezing weather? Gigi continued to make excellent progress with today's precise practice session.
Dec 4 Tuesday - scouted for geese (twice)....about three hundred plus spent the entire day loafing on Legend Lake. Thorson Pond had some ice early. It was a day off for every one.
Dec 5 Based on the weather forecast and geese activity, it is over. In the morning, Gigi did a training session indoors (warm) working on her "close up" retrieving skill set. During the blustery, 40°F afternoon, Pounce and Gigi trained in the Thorson Pond Grassy Area. Pounce did a very fast seven "stand alone/send back" singles while Gigi watched from the van. Gigi did seven singles in the same setup that Pounce just completed. Her marks were just a bit shorter. After Gigi ran her singles, two white stakes were place about 45° apart at thirty yards. Gigi was sat at the line and watched me drop a bumper in front of each stake. After returning to the line, Gigi was lined up and cast "back" to each bumper. This was a totally new presentation (outdoors) which was repeated four times. The "light" was dim....at first. However, on the fourth go it was "OK, I get this!"
note: Gigi has been casting to a place board and lined to bumpers indoors (often). In addition,
she has been doing "over" casting. Each session finishes with retrieves of a goose wing.
Dec 6 Thursday - high 44°F...next Tuesday single digit temps....Because of the bright sun, today's training sessions was done at the Kelly Myer DTA. Gigi was first and did a simple lining drill to pick up a bumper at each of two white stakes placed in a 45° angle at about forty yards. Then she did a short "stand alone/walk back" double. The finishing setup was six "stand alone/send back" singles
that were longer than any she has done before. The last three required moving back toward the line to make it an easier send. The distance was not an issue...laser lined each one....very fast. Distance is not going to be an issue. Next up was Pounce and she did eight "stand alone/send back" singles....fast and very sharp. Both slept well the rest of the day.
note: Legend Lake and Thorson Pond were frozen over (no geese).
Dec 12 a bit warmer...soon we go "in the tank" - snow, colder....Around noon, Gigi was taken back to the RockCut State Park DTA to practice more on the "send back" skill in the "stand alone/send back" singles we have been working on. Using a Dokken today and keeping the "send back" line a bit closer resulted in a steady increase in her understanding of "casting back" to a line (no big white van at the line).. When that session was completed, the next part of today's training was to work again on the "over" and "back" casting part of three-handed casting. I decided to do the drill here rather than drive to the Kelly Myer DTA. The grass was short and the terrain was not exactly like what we trained in the first two days. In addition, several separate flocks of geese randomly flew overhead from the west making a lot of noise. Gigi could not do the casting drill in a different place and/or watch geese at the same time. She went kind of "brain dead". I should have gone back to where we worked on this skill set the previous days. This was two days in a row of not anticipating terrain picture conflicts. However, the point was driven home. Sessions should flow a bit smoother and be more efficient in the future. Generalizing skills sets and distraction proofing will become more important considerations every day. Pounce had today off.
Dec 13 trained both dogs....not early at the Kelly Meyer DTA Gigi did ten "stand alone/send" singles with a "placeboard" and white stickman at the line. The emphasis was returning to the running line when cast in that direction. There was nothing near the line to distract Gigi and all the returns were done well. The last singles were about 150 yards. Pounce then ran several for a solid exercises session. She fast and thrives on this type of setup. Gigi then came back out to work on her "three handed casting". Today's session wea working over casts with back casts. Two bumpers were thrown to various positions involving a back and an over. She delivers to a "place board" at my side and casts to a "place bards" in the field about ten yards away where she pivots and sits facing me with a whistle reinforced sit. She has progressed to correctly taking a back cast pivot on the same side of a visible over bumper. The teaching phase did not take long and we are now in the precise practice phase where repetition builds the conditioned responses. Gigi' seemingly boundless high drive is something that needs to be measured carefully. The manic nature of
her prey drive tends to makes slowing down on returns a challenge. Pounce had the same issue. The result was putting up a speed barrier right behind the line.
"it is over...iced out."
Dec 24 Tuesday....sunny and warm 50°F...Gigi and Pouncetrained at Kelly Myer DTA again...First up was Gigi and we repeated (3rd day) the Semi-Wagon Wheel lining drill. We did three rotations (left to right, right to left and left to right). Gigi practiced fifteen retrieving reps. The skill set includes "push/pull", the "good" cue, hand down "back", "here", "hold", "heel". "out" and "leave it". The "placeboard" at the line was extremely helpful (especially for a fast, young retriever). Slowing down quickly is an important skill.
We then moved to the large area on the east side of the DTA where Pounce ran another point blind (six
different lines). The focus was "tight lines" and exercise. It did not take long to set up and run. We moved one more time and Gigi did another solid session of Three Handed Casting. December.....warm???
weight, shape, hardness, texture, scent
Dec 14 Saturday high of 29°F (cold and windy)...did not feel like training. Now that I am almost 80 years old it seems like there are more days like this. Continuing work on Gigi's whistle sits enroute (while lining) is not going to progress without regular practice. Doing it outside today was not going to happen. However, the warm pool room deck provided a much more pleasant environment to work on the mechanics. The narrow deck between the windowed north wall of the building the pool water is a well defined path. At first there was a "placeboard" in middle of the line which defined the remote sit position. She has been doing this for a few days outside on the "Three Handed Casting Drill". Today,
this session progressed to running three lines to every one line with a whistle/turn/sit/back cast on a placeboard in the middles. The back casts (from that remote front sit) alternated between right vs. left pivots backs. After a few runs the "placeboard" was removed and her response was excellent. In this one session..."She was "OK, I get this!" The previous days we spent building up to this proved to be more than adequate. However, based on a great deal of indoor practice followed by moving outdoors, this generalization (outside distractions) phase will require more practice.
Gigi's lining practice was not the only training session of the day. This morning, Gigi did an extended session focused on the "short remote sit, here and heel with bumper in mouth". After this afternoon's "remote whistle sit" practice, Gigi did a brief, more exciting session of the short "remote sit, here and heel" with a goose wing. Gig's hold and release has improved to the point of re-introducing real ducks. Several months ago...that was a huge concern. Out of control prey drive is "not pretty".
Paraphrasing Hillmann's mantra "precise practice and a great deal of correct repetitions with distractions" is an ongoing process....so is dealing with winter in northern Illinois.
Dec 15 Sunday...cold, cloudy - Gigi is now routinely (every day - twice at least) practicing the "short remote sit, here and heel with bumper in mouth". The goal is to perfect this routine to the point of it being a dependable conditioned response with ducks.
note: My previous five retrievers were trained to heel on both sides. Gigi is not.
Dec 16 The extended two week forecast was NO snow...wrong. Gigi did two indoor training sessions.
Dec 29 afternoon 55°F high...wow, great December afternoon...trained at the Kelley Meyer DTA. Gigi first did a solid session of semi-wagon wheel lining (left to right and then right to left - twice). Afterwards. the van was moved to the marking area. Pounce did six singles with "angle back, flat and angle in" singles on both sides of the gunner. Gigi came out and ran the same marking setup as Pounce ("stand alone/send backs"). I had forgotten to bring drinking water on this trip. Fortunately, there is a large creek that flows along the south edge of the DTA. The van was then moved to an area where Gigi began her first "working a pile" session. Six bumpers were placed about tour yards apart in a "ladder" configuration. Pile work focuses on responsiveness to several cues...a square sit on the "here" return, "push /pull" with knee push or hand pats, responsive, focused, hand down "good" and "back". Pounce did two "ladder piles" of six bumper and then two more "smaller"piles (the 5th & 6th bumpers, not easily seen). Another key aspect of the session (for Gigi especially) is the continued "reps" of tight, precise returns to the heel position. She is very fast and loaded with an abundant amount of high, distracting prey drive which is our responsiveness issue.
Thorson Pond Goose Hunt Decoy Setup
Dec 23 warm again trained at the Kelly Myer DTA.....first up was Gigi...She repeated (2nd day) the Semi-Wagon Wheel lining drill. What a lot of fun it is to train a young dog with "go", "want to" and "can do" right from the beginning. The presentation was slow and steady. She did really well for a young dog with a great deal of energy. After moving to the larger grassy area on the west side, Gigi ran her first triple in the "stand alone/walk back" mode using a Y-Drill (angle back, flat and angle in). Wow! that went even better than was expected (nailed each mark, responsive, under control, "steady" and focused the entire time). Next up was Pounce. Her session was fun and exercise. A long set of six blinds were run as a "point blind" (fast). The last session was Gigi's and we did another session of casting/handling (over and backs). Refer to the Dec 7th training journal entry for the diagram photo.
Dec 6 Friday....high 36°F....day off for Pounce and Gigi but mostly for Kwick
Dec 7 Saturday - warmer.......Pounce had the day off. Gigi ran a simple "Stand Alone" double with an angle back (on one side) and flat (on the other side). This was very easy for her. The 2nd setup was was the first segment of teaching the seven bumper lining drill (very easy). Next up was seven "stand alone/send back" singles extending out to 150 yards. We then moved a short distance to a spot that is ideal for teaching Three Handed Casting (using a long lead, a 3" bumper and place board). Gigi did well on the intro. This was again at the Kelly Myer Park DTA.
Dec 17 Tuesday....Pounce and Gigi are now being fed a small portion of their daily food in the morning.
Both were demonstrating minor bile "issues" and this is a common solution which appears to be effective. Gigi's morning session of fetch, here, heel and deliver was modified to five different objects. Holding "properly" is improving. Focus and control while pushing for excitement is an interesting balancing act. This session has moved to three well placed practicing "events" per day.
note: When the wolf surfaces it is spooky.
Dec 18 Wednesday....cold and dreary....an MRI is scheduled for right shoulder.....pain meds, physical therapy have not been much of a difference. Two injections were very effective.....for about four weeks.
Gigi did three more indoor sessions (review blue print in Dec 17 entry). Also, I went back and reviewed Hillmann's online video "The Game" (with Jim Wegner) to search for an "On/Off" modification to "fit" the situation Gigi and I are not "in tune" with. There is a need to insert the "On/Off" switch in a manner which will eliminate the "bumper thrashing/growling/non-responsive" instant when Gigi is making a retrieve. Sooo, the sessions that Jim Wegner did in "The Game" were observed. One segment was specifically modified to deal with Gigi. Most of the work that she has done to date on retrieving and heeling have been effective. "The Game" modification with Gigi was accomplished by inserting the On/Off switch in a context where she is not retrieving, but anticipating a reward for being focused and responsive. It is not simple to describe because of the rapid activity changes in the sequence. A feeling that things have changed for the better was revealed by Gigi's responsiveness, focus and control with no "thrashing/growling/non-responsive" instants. What is now necessary are precise repetitions to produce consistent conditioned responses. One significant factor in these sessions is properly holding various objects (all of the time) when doing basic OB. How they are held is stressed (quiet mouth, willing release). There are five different objects alternated into the session. An exciting goose wing
is the most recent. With any sign of head shaking or thrashing, there is an immediate simplification.
note: goal.....responsiveness with a quiet mouth
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Three Handed Casting
The first stage is to teach the left and right backs individually (before doing any "overs"). Determine the pup's dominant turn direction and do more back casts on the "weak" side.
note: In today's intro, Gigi had no issues with pivoting right or left. Also, her
eye contact was excellent.
The first stage uses a technique of "identifying" targets. "Identifying" is done by throwing a bumper to a position (or other bumpers). Next up is to work on the left and right "overs" individually keeping it simple and balanced. When the pup begins to understand, begin combining a "back" with an "over" sequence wheeling away from the side with an "over" bumper. A further deepening of casting skills can be done by teaching a pup to cast "back" wheeling toward the side with an "over" bumper. Eventually, all four casts are combined.
note: This is not a one day drill. Keep each session short. Follow the standards of
quality teaching. Example: Start with what was taught the lesson before (review). Next, present something new (introduce & teach). Lastly, do something she is
good at (finish on a positive note).
note: When beginning this drill, tossing of a bumper to the back position will have a
pup instinctively tracking it. If the pup is steady (must be), they will look back at
you for input. Nurture this moment (praise and do not rush the cast). Building
responsiveness is a process. Most of all, this is fun and taught with a calm, quiet voice. Work slowly and let the pup think about their responses. Well timed praise
is "gold". This is a priceless time to enhance the teacher/student relationship.
Teamwork is a concept. "It's not you or me....it's us."
note: Early on, Gigi was conditioned to a "place board". At first she was fed on one.
Later, OB had her routinely walking over, sitting on and working from remote sits
off it. In this drill, Gigi knows that's where she is supposed to be and ready for
"what's next" (conditioned response). As the drill progresses, Gigi returns with a
simple hand motion to the "place board" (where she turns around and "squares
up" ready for more action). The best location to start the drill is with a slight
incline behind a pup. When pivoting, a "back" bumper is very easy to see.
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Dec 25 Wednesday.....Christmas - high of 56°F.....day off for everyone
Dec 26,27,28 kind of a slow down...contemplating the upcoming shoulder surgery...because of that issue,
Gigi will be going south with Pounce on pro Corey Zandonai's truck for two months of training. Both with a pro is going to be a very good solution. For the last three days, Gigi has been training indoors with the focus on being up close and responsive while working on OB (with a bumper in mouth and many "reps" and precise practice. After scouting the Thorson goose pond (it was thawed out, full of geese). I wanted to hunt (at first), but rain is not my favorite weather. Sleeping in is a pleasant thing when one is old.
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