I attended Mitch White's Designing Retriever Training Set-Ups 2-day workshop in Frazeysburg, Ohio over the past weekend. When I attended his 3-day Advanced Handling workshop in June 2008, one of my favorite exercises was when Mitch had each of us design a mark that we thought would challenge our own dog. We needed to be able to explain why we thought it would challenge our dog. I acknowledge that what I know about designing marks could fill about a 2 page book. At least I know what I don't know. When I heard about this new workshop, I knew I had to sign up.
Helen Szostak (breeder of all of my Flat-Coated Retrievers) and I left Ann Arbor Friday afternoon with Gryffin, Ty, Wrigley (Gryff's sister), Vega (Ty's sister), and puppy Stevie (Ty & Vega's niece) all stuffed into my minivan.
The weather gods smiled upon us. While the mornings were cool, it was bright and sunny most of both days, requiring participants to shed the layers of clothing we all had to start out each day wearing.
The seminar started with a discussion of marking principles. Mitch then broke up the participants into 4 teams of 5 people. Our assignment: design a mark that could be run by different level dogs, with an explanation of what we thought the challenges were and what we thought dogs would do. Our group took some time to come to a consensus but finally did. I got to run my group's mark with Ty, my younger dog. None of the dogs who ran our mark did quite what our group thought they would. Guess that's a big part of why we attended the workshop!
Saturday afternoon started with discussion of "elements" (factors, diversions, or hazards) and how the different types of elements effect a dog's ability to get to a bird, whether for a mark or a blind. Our next assignment was to design a mark and a blind. Our group thought (incorrectly) that the mark and blind would be run as a pair. I discovered that I have a much better sense of how to design a blind than a mark. Only two of our group of five had much experience with blinds, so we kind of took charge :-). Another group designed a blind that was quite similar to ours, and I got to run theirs with Gryffin. He hadn't run a blind since early September. On the whole, I was very happy with the results. He was a bit rusty, but I could see that our summer's worth of training was not in vain. While I still don't think we're ready to run Master in the first half of 2009, I do think both of moved in the right direction. I think I'm more confident in my timing of handling on blinds, and Gryffin isn't fighting with me and trying to take charge nearly as much as he was in the spring.
We finished the afternoon with each group designing one more blind. Gryffin did a nice job on his final blind, which had very few elements until the end. According to that blind's designers, he responded just like they predicted :-).
On Sunday, we met at the Woodbury Wildlife Area near Coshocton (I hope I have the name right). We started with a discussion of the many different Marking Concepts, including converging marks (where both marks are thrown towards each other) and hip pocket marks (both marks thrown in same direction, with one thrown fairly close - "in the hip pocket" - to the other one). Then each of four new groups got a different assignment - to design a pair of marks based on one of the marking concepts. It was interesting to note how much more rapidly we all got down to the work of designing our marks, even though we had new teams. The terrain at Woodbury provided a great number of challenges for the dogs, and very few were immediately successful when the marks were run.
Mitch set up a double and a blind that were both full of challenges. Before he ran one of his master dogs (Charm) on them, he had us describe what we saw as the challenges of both the marks and the blind, and what we expected to happen.
Next, we moved down the road to another location. Our assignment: design a pair of marks (two groups did converging marks, two did hip-pockets) and a blind. The marks had to be <= 100 yds, the blind <= 50 yds. Given the location of the line that Mitch gave us, it didn't leave many options for the blind, so we decided on that first. We had to do a hip-pocket, and made use of one big clump of bushes for the closer gun station, and various smaller bushes for where the marks should land. I got to run Gryffin on my group's marks. His rustiness came through, and he needed help on his memory bird.
I look forward to using my new found knowledge, though I won't be doing too much field training over the coming weeks. I also look forward to working with Mitch more in the future.
If you get a chance to attend one of Mitch's workshops, sign up FAST. You'll be glad you did.