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Gigi From The Beginning

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"this morning's photo scouting report"

Nov 16 Saturday....some rain and melting of snow...Gigi trained indoors and continued the precise practice on up-close retrieving skills. A 45° angle, two bumper "pile" was practiced and this went much better than the first done a few days ago. 
Nov 17 Sunday.....Gigi will begin doing two training sessions per day. At noon we repeated and practiced the same session as yesterday. Around midnight, Gigi repeated this morning's session and had a brief intro to a big goose wing. The feathers and "nose full" of bird scent put her into a highly animated "beast" mode.

          note: The following link provides YouTube Videos of young retrievers working a great number
                    of  Hillmann like sessions. Seeing what teaching looks like is extremely useful.

In the afternoon, Gigi was taken to the Thorson Pond "Grassy Area" for her first outdoor and much longer "stand alone/send back" singles lesson. It was not long before I could walk away from the line with Gigi and cast her back the "place board" line to a sit. She remained on a steady sits until released for angle back and flat singles. Moving from inside (in a confined space and no grass) to outside is a rather stark change in distractions. She was totally "up for it".

Nov 24 Sunday day off for Pounce....Gigi trained indoors twice.....more practice on the up close retrieving skills. Both sessions ended with Gigi working on retrieving and hold (large goose wing).
Three runs to a pile of bumpers is producing more consistency in the commands of heel, here, fetch, hold and out. Scouted geese again.....geese continue to use the pond.....cannot hunt today. 
Nov 25 Monday....Pounce and I arrived at the blind around 7 am. Nothing moved for about an hour. Then several small groups of geese began to fly.....not all were especially looking for Thorson Pond. However, Pounce and I did manage to scratch out two.....another excellent day for hunting. 

The weather looks rather iffy now. It will get colder and icing over will be back in a few days.

YouTube Link:

It is a seven step process modified for Gigi's training with the use of Hillmann's program/philosophy.

The following is a summary of the initial modifications for our training and adapted to Bill Hillmann’s Retriever Training Program.   

Performance Practice is a logical, systematic 7 Step process that takes athletes from the execution of the basic skills to being able to perform under competition conditions. The plan is to convert and adapt the seven steps to a retriever training process (trainer and retriever). Steps #1 and #2 will be the first learning phase.

Sports Skills Step 1 (modified for trainer and retriever)
trainer uses drill(s) - retriever learns single skills (one at a time sequentially)
skills – define & list sequence 
precise practice - describe
repetition – duration (how much time)
record videos regularly  (KwickLab’s You Tube Channel)
      note: use I-Phone on camera stand with BlueTooth remote control

Sports Skills Step 2:
Perform the Skill very well. Skills mastery comes from regular practice combined with quality feedback from the trainer and may incorporate the use of video and other performance analysis technologies – including the best one of all…the trainer's eye!     
                     initially, practice skills individually (strive for precision) note: It must be fun!
                        Skills list (for now – indoors, warm)
                     heeling & sitting on lead…..then off
                     whistle sits (heeling & in motion off lead)
                     fetch & hold (stationary & moving)
                     fetch off ground
                     pile work
                     here to heel (both sides) 
                     returning and/or casting to placeboard

                       Skills list (for now - outdoors & limited)
                     marking, here to heel or placeboard

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Nov 18 Most of the snow cover is gone....and the airing yard is muddy. Gigi trained indoors again. First up was a heeling session with the focus being whistle sits. Second was a precise practice on the return to heel after a short retrieve focusing on eliminating the growl  when picking up a bumper. This continues to be a gradual thing. The process has moved on to the introduction to pile work. Two bumpers at a 45° angle and four yards out. Next was two bumpers one yard apart and closer. Lastly, it was two and three bumpers tossed about 12 yards away (like a pile). Gigi did four longer piles correctly (no shopping) to finish the session.  During Gigi's retrieving  practice, there were well spaced breaks where fetch and hold skills (with praise) were repeated.  Returns to heel and heeling are being done on both sides. Gigi's left side heeling and delivery is smoother than the right (need to work more on balancing this).
Nov 19 Tuesday - warmer....Gigi trained around noon (more practice.....including whistle sit work). In addition, the large goose wing was brought out and things were slowed down. The bird scent sent her over the top with excitement. Going slower allowed us to work through this issue. Her instincts to "rip and shred" soon responded better to the well conditioned responses of hold, sit and heel. Pile work continues to improve.
Nov 20 Wednesday did another session like yesterday's. It was measurably better (especially with the goose wing). In addition, the manic retrieving drive revealed a compulsive shopping issue which was rather quickly resolved in today's session. Four bumpers fairly close were picked up with no shopping after a few runs. She is actually beginning to think!       The goose pond has thawed some and open water attracted many geese. It will be warmer tonight and tomorrow. However, heavy rain and high winds (20+ mph out of the south) had me finally deciding to pass. It is too far to drive in or park safely anywhere close (mud). The 300 yard hike in and back out is too much for me (not nearly as compulsive or driven at 79 years old). Hunting Friday is out and Saturday it will probably be frozen over.  

Nov 13 It is another cold day with snow to remove from the driveway. This morning the video process for Gigi's training was setup. My I-Phone was fitted to a tripod and mounted so that the phone was horizontal. I am not  sure why most hold their I Phone vertically and end up with a narrow picture with wide, black margins. A BlueTooth device remotely activates the I-Phone. This was surprisingly simple to setup. If the weather breaks (ice melts), I intend to film a goose hunt.
Gigi's indoor training session focused on the up close skill sets of the trained retrieve. The area that needs "adjusting" is Gigi's high drive penchant to growl when snatching up a bumper.  The process involves making that an insignificant segment of the entire process (which has not been easy to accomplish). Today, it appeared to be less of an issue as the lesson progressed.


Nov 6 The weather forecast is not good....snow early in the morning...then ice soon.......    Did a quick sneak in and put a camo tarp over the blind and hauled out (on a sled) half the decoys. I was gassed.

In the afternoon, Gigi did a session of heeling OB incorporating the sit whistle (indoor, heated area). Afterwards, she did more pile work with two well spaced bumpers and a placeboard. It was much smoother. Then another bumper was added to the mix (on a line 45° from the two bumper line).
Nov 7 The pond was almost frozen over. Pounce had another day off. Gigi trained indoors beginning with some OB and whistle sits. Then we did a continuation of yesterday's beginning pile work.  The "easy" cue was introduced for closer retrieves. Her (our) responsiveness has improved dramatically in the last few days. With the increase in individual skills required in the pile work sequence, Gigi's prey drive issue has been greatly reduced. She is not growling when picking up the bumpers because of immediate commands to do something else. Responding to "back", "here" and "place" plus anticipating the verbal rewards of "good" greatly reduces the significance of "growling" and "shaking" a bumper
(which receives zero rewards......from me).

In between the fetching action, Gigi is given well spaced breaks where a sitting "fetch" and "hold" command sequence is practiced and rewarded. When we are training, there is a great deal of eye contact which has enhanced our responsiveness. "The Beast" is beginning to transform into an enthusiastic, responsive retriever.....and looking for more of the right kind of actions. 

Nov 8 Friday.....I could not resist checking the goose pond for ice early in the morning. No open water even by the inlet stream. The forecast is very cold with little snow. Therefore, in  few days I will be able to drive right up behind the blind, disassemble it and transport everything back to the garage where it will be stored until next year. In the afternoon, Gigi continued her training by practicing pile concepts. Each session is noticeably better. Gigi is beginning to think about what she needs to do...with order to get what she likes to do.  Today, her remote whistle sits on the move were almost automatic.  Now that the beast has become a bit more focused, progress suggests she will be a "kwick" study. 
Nov 9 Saturday - trained Gigi indoors in the evening.....continued practicing on lead OB plus the skill sets for pile work (steady improvement). Pounce is taking a few days off.

Nov 10 Sunday....It will be colder this evening with about four inches of blowing snow by tomorrow morning which means dismantling the goose blind is delayed. Gigi's pile work has progressed to the precises practice phase.....much sooner than was expected. Harnessing her prey drive is often like dashing along a very narrow path (a bit on the edge at times). Getting a better handle on it (no pun intended) is happening because she likes the game and rewards. Pounce is in hibernation mode.
             note: finished removing all the leaves from our yard.....snow tonight
Nov 11 Monday....early morning....4+" of snow was removed from the driveway and getting Lylah off to school was not an issue. Gigi did did two indoor training sessions (OB with pile work...(both times) and Pounce had another day off. I hate winter!!!
             note: The county must be counting pennies......very little salt on the roads...not good.

repeated yesterday....Gigi's two sessions went well. However, bumpers close together will require a more gradual presentation......too exciting. 
Nov 12 more cold weather today Gigi's training will be patterned off the  Performance Practice System.

"Thorson Pond"

Nov 1 Friday - day off for everyone
Nov 2
Saturday - The plan was a long, walk-in goose hunt with Pounce on Thorson Pond. About 100 yards from the water, we went over a slight rise in the corn field to see and hear about twenty geese. They came in way earlier than before. A quick about face and we headed back to the van. They will be there again. Gigi trained indoors. Today, she began running a two bumper back pile. A first the bumpers were in line and separated. She wanted both at the same time. However, it was soon became obvious  that retrieving them one at a time was the expectation. The growl issue was clear on each snatch off the floor. However, the complexity and shear volume of rapid retrieves seemed to reduce the significance of that prey drive behavior. There are several actions taking place....the release, the run, making a choice (one bumper), a retrieve, the return to heel, sit and deliver followed by an immediate reward ("good") and refocusing on another bumper. There were a lot of good things happening which tended to reduce the magnitude and length of that growl......more to think about.

Nov 3 off both dogs (can't hunt this morning)......maybe three more days to hunt geese before the freeze out......With all the snow melted, a gas leaf blower was used to remove leaves from the backyard and dogs' airing yard.
Nov 4 Monday......duh!! I forgot the clock changed today and planned on being an hour earlier.....geese came in at the same time as yesterday and so......did....I! Duh!!! The good news is they will be back in the morning AND I will be much earlier. Gigi did another session of pile work this morning.  Noticeable progress is being made. By slowing down the routine, saying less with better timing and separating the two by at least five yards, each transition is more obvious. Steadiness is excellent plus firing on "Back!' is rapid and precise. Her physical animation is steadily becoming more focused. It is difficult to be skillful when attempting to do something too fast at first.  So simplifying "stuff" is paramount. Close up is easier (no full head of steam and more physical influence from me). Going slower allows more time for her to think. Plus working indoors provides focused confinement with fewer distractions. When we finished, Gigi was beginning to focus on what she need to do in order to retrieve the next bumper.
Nov 5 Tuesday....was almost setup at sunrise and seven geese wanted in. This is not normal.....they were sent away with a few arm waves and the rest of the decoys were literally tossed down. Then we waited. Two or three bunches were semi-interested, but decided not today. Then a small group of three dropped in and a double was soon being retrieved by Pounce. Several small flocks circled, but decided not to test the water. Finally, a group of five provided the last goose for our limit (Illinois is three). Pounce does really well with her behavior in the blind and obviously has no problems with big geese.

Nov 14 Thursday...Gigi did another practice session with several repetitions of skill sets demonstrated in yesterday's posted YouTube video. Gigi has grown quickly into long, lanky retriever and recently has begun filling out (wider).  note: useful, young retriever training link  
Nov 15 Friday (31°F with a wind chill 26°F and ice/snow on the ground. Gigi trained in the morning inside where it is 75°F with no wind.       Gigi will soon be ready to begin regular pile work. The following is a YouTube video by Bill Hillmann describing the initial approach. Gigi's recent training has been working on developing the skills necessary for this step. We are in the precise practice and repetition phase.

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YouTube Link:

Nov 28
Thanksgiving.......mostly a day off....Gigi did a brief bumper in mouth OB session (indoors).
Nov 29 scouted...not many geese (must be in the corn fields feeding). Winter is tightening its grip. 
However, Pounce is going south in Feb/Mar with pro trainer Cory Zandonai.
Nov 30 Saturday...Now it will be four months of challenging training weather in northern Illinois.
Gigi was whelped Dec 2nd (last year). Therefore, she will be one year old in two days. There was an original  premise that this date would be a timely "birthday" for a Derby dog. Unfortunately, that is probably more accurate if the pup goes south for the winter. However, for a young Gigi there was nothing but snow, ice and cold for her first four months. We are just completing November and the cold, snow, and ice season will continue to subject her to another five months of less than ideal training weather (right when she is ready to begin transition).        However, the indoor swimming pool deck has balmy temperatures in which to practice and repeat the skill sets up close. When warmer weather arrives, distance and water will be in the mix. Gigi's afternoon session focused on whistle sits on the move with visual eye contact for "what was next". She was either on the way to a bumper or coming back with one. In addition, there were many reps of "here to a heel and sit" deliveries. Regularly spaced whistle sits were interspersed for a change of pace and emphasize responsiveness. Gigi was doing casts to placeboard sits followed by "here" returns to a heeling position (bumper in mouth and without). The focus of this session was to keep Gigi thinking, having fun and developing better conditioned precision on the move.  

                   note: Gigi's prey driven penchant to growl and shake bumpers is becoming less of an
                             issue because she is thinking more about what is next with us. 

Nov 27 HIGH WIND WARNING NOW IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM CST THIS EVENING...west winds 25 to 35 mph with gusts of 55 to 65 mph expected at off from training or hunting...Scouted for geese activity. Lylah, our granddaughter, always goes along on days when there is no school.  Geese were loafing on Thorson Pond and Legend Lake (about a mile west of the pond). Also, there was a large number feeding in the corn field on the north side of the pond. The next three days may prove to be interesting (ice or not?).

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Nov 21 Thursday - The heavy rains passed through much earlier than predicted, but strong winds continued. 
Gigi practiced the skill sets we worked on yesterday including the goose wing fetch, hold and heel. She finished with three separate runs to a pile of three (then four) bumpers which were right next to each other. Nov 22 Friday no hunting today...Lylah has no school...trained Gigi - practiced the same routine as yesterday Nov 23 Saturday - scouted for geese twice...pond thawed (no ice), colder tonight and cannot hunt tomorrow.
Trained Gigi in the morning. I setup the pile of bumpers so that she would need to run around the pool deck. On the returns, she would have to run through the position where her previous training was done...the place  where a great deal of time was spent trying to eliminate her growling and shaking compulsion. In these new presentations, each time she entered the old line she would tend to slow down, hesitate, growl and shake the bumper. I was no longer there! Once through that conditioned response spot, she would then calmly continue on to heel and deliver....nicely (totally different than before). The piles were setup to alternate the direction while still running through the spot where we no longer were taking retrieves. On EVERY retrieve thereafter, the routine was repeated (around a corner of the deck). There was a slight hesitation at the old "rep" line (at the corner), then her here, heel and deliver became more precise. The take on this is that if things do not go well in one area, do not grind away in the same location. Gigi finished up the session by retrieving a goose wing several times without loosing her mind.           Around midnight, Gigi was aired and did a few retrieves using the of the Gunners Up Ergo-Fetch Bumper. They are a bit harder than my other bumpers. However, the firmness and "fetch enhancing shape" are ideal for what Gigi needs.      

YouTube link:

Pounce's Thorson Pond Goose Hunt