Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sonic at 17 months

I just found this unpublished blog post, written in mid-January 2013. While it will show up out-of-order here, I've decided to publish it, as it is a record of where she was nearly a year ago.
I am pleased to report that last Saturday (January 12, 2013), Sonic completed the training of the field Double T to my satisfaction. We've been gradually working up to it for what seems like forever (since sometime in the fall), but the final week of it was a bit anticlimactic. After 3 days of the full Double T with very few errors, I was satisfied, and we have moved on to starting walk-out blinds. For these, you and the dog walk out into a field with several bumpers. You reach the destination of a blind, sit the dog close to the end, toss a couple of bumpers out and let the dog retrieve them from that close distance. You toss the bumpers back out, then walk to the other destination, which should be a bit closer than the 1st one. Repeat the tossing/retrieving up close, toss the bumpers out again, then walk back to the starting line. Send the dog to the one you just came from, handling as needed. Repeat with the first one you 'planted'. The two days we have done those has gone very well.

We've also been doing a lot of lining drills, including Carol Cassity's W Drill. You place 5 white stakes in a W formation, three in a row about 20 yds apart and two 20 yds away from that row, also 20 yds apart. You put bumpers at each stake and, moving around the field, line the dog to the various stakes. It gives you a lot of opportunity to work on 'slots', where they have to go between at least two closer, tempting stakes to get to the farther away one. After a few successes in one spot, you move.

I find it much easier to work on blind-related training - lining and casting - since I can do those drills by myself much more easily than marking training. But as has been pointed out to me, marking is paramount. At Clint Catledge's recommendation, I've been working a lot of hand-thrown multiples: I throw 2-4 bumpers out in an arc around us and she retrieves them one by one. This allows us to work on the mechanics of running multiples: I send her to retrieve the last one I throw - the "go bird" - and when she returns with it, take delivery facing the next one she is to retrieve. I get her focused on the area, then send to retrieve, etc. It is definitely helping with this whole aspect of teamwork.

Yesterday, in addition to two Walk-Out Blinds and hand-thrown multiples, we did some 80-150 yard 'Stand Alone' marks. I leave Sonic in a sit stay and walk out away from her. When I've reached the desired distance, I throw a bumper, then release her from out there to retrieve the bumper I just threw. She then brings it the short distance back to me and we repeat the process. I have permission to use a wonderful hay field a mile from home that has fabulous rolling hills with the chance to run across the face of the hill, something they need to learn how to do. Most dogs prefer to run down or up rather than across.

Our progress in obedience is considerably slower because we simply haven't been spending much time at it. She is my primary demo dog in my classes, so she does get practice that way. I also had someone else start teaching one of my Novice Practice classes so that Sonic and I can attend. We've been doing that for the past several months, and she has certainly made steady progress. Her focus on heeling is quite nice, though heeling with fun toys on the ground continues to be hard. I'm not crazy about her halts, but I really like the rest of her heeling. She can do some lovely left circles at a trot if I keep them big enough.

Sonic continues to be very eager for the work, which makes her a joy to train.

2013 Goal Review

Joker – 11 years and going strong

Goal is to keep him that way.
He tore his cruciate in July, but laser treatments, rest and time spent in the Ontario woods around our cabin got him back on track without surgery. He had an eye injury in the fall but seems to have recovered from it just fine.

Ty – 8 years old.

I've accomplished what I hoped to with her – Ch UDX OM2 SH WCX, and applied for the FCRSA HOF. She needs a job, but I don't know what it ought to be.
At this year's FCRSA National in April, Ty and I did obedience (2 NQ's, but pretty decent effort considering a lack of training), rally (won the Excellent B class and had a blast), and conformation (3rd place in Veterans 7-9 bitches and 2nd in the Gun Dogs Sweepstakes class she was in).
Ty tried to take over leadership of the dog pack after Gryffin’s death last year, but in a bullying and stressful way. Adele considered placing Ty in a new home for several months. When the right home came along, we made the difficult decision to do so. She is an only dog in her new home–something that we think makes her a lot happier–and there is a lot less stress in our lives. She brings a lot of joy to her new owner.

Little – 2 years old

I'd like to have her ready for the WCX at the National and for Senior by fall. Helen may do Novice with her at the National if she has Little enough to train her regularly, and maybe rally.
Little earned her RN in March with Helen.
She earned her WCX at the National with me and a BN leg with Helen.
She earned her Senior Hunter in August and September. While it wasn't a totally smooth ride–steadiness is not her strong suit, nor is handling on blinds –we still reached the goal. She then returned to Helen, who finished up her BN in October and made a stab at Novice B. Alas, the Stand for Exam is HARD for this wiggly social girl. She also earned 5 points in the conformation ring during 2013.

Sonic – 16 months old

Get to do water in the Derby at the April National, which means doing land well enough to move on to water. In my dreams, we place. But being realistic, getting to water would be a grand achievement.
We were one of 3 out of 5 dogs called back for water. Then everyone failed the water test, so there were no ribbons. Goal was met, and it was a fun new adventure.
Finish her JH.
Earned our 3rd leg at the National and finished the title in May.
Get her running cold blinds:
land (March) and water (May)
Earn her WCX - 4/21/13
Run Senior with her in the fall. While I'd love to earn her SH, that is a pretty tall order - I think. (pass 1 July, pass 2 8/17, pass 3 8/24, 8/25 TITLE!!!). When we first arrived in Florida, Little was ahead of Sonic in terms of her skill set. During that trip, Sonic got almost caught up on water, and moved ahead of her on land.
Earn her RA (March 15) and RE (4/22).
I've been completely focused on field work with her lately, and plan to continue that as much as possible this winter, so I don't know if I'll devote the time to obedience titles or not. If I do, we might do Novice in the fall. Or Beginner Novice (4/22). Or Grad Novice (10/22). Or none. WC Novice 11/22 - very nice performance! 198.5, 2nd place.


Update the Northfield Dog Training website! It has been on my list for at least a year, and other things keep getting in the way.
Finally, my web programming skills reached a critical mass in the fall, and I started serious progress on the website. Right before Christmas, I got the "get rid of frames" release done. It was a huge undertaking, but I've learned a lot, and find I still really like programming. After a brief break to get ready for Christmas, I've returned to work on implementing PayPal. The list of additions/changes I still want to make is lengthy, and will most likely continue to occupy me well into 2014.
Continue with my field training education – to that end, I'm already signed up for two seminars with Mitch White and plan to sign up for the Carol Cassity one that Marshbanks will be sponsoring in July, and maybe one with Bill Hillman in June.
I had a great time at both seminars with Mitch White, the first one a water workshop in Florida in February, and the other his 4-day summer camp in July. The following weekend was 3 days with Carol Cassity, from which I got one particularly helpful exercise, as well as a long list of great ideas.
Keep honing my Getting Things Done chops.
While I did manage several 'Weekly reviews', it is still a weak point for me when using the system. However, the overall framework of GTD is what allows me to keep on top of all of the dozens of projects I seem to have going all the time.
Blog more regularly again.
With only 12 blog posts all year as compared to > 20 for the previous three years, I'd say I failed on this one. My muse only grabbed me by the hands a few of times, forcing me to get some ideas out there.
Get back to some form of aerobic exercise. Aim for 100 workouts.
Started out the year by getting my Nordic Track functioning again and used it for a while, but then when I started PT for my neck and shoulder in late January, that stopped. I got the bike tires pumped up right before Christmas and have biked Sonic and Joker several times in the building since the cold weather has set in.
Work on some multimedia product. I have some half-baked ideas. Website first, though.
I have even more ideas for new projects, but the website will continue to dominate for the immediate future.
Back in June, I said I would take over the Midwest Waterways FCR Club's website. Worked on it a bit in August. Once I did the NDT website release, I spent < a day getting a skeleton site released. Having based it on the Marshbanks site, it didn't take too much effort.


There are a lot of ways I volunteer my time. For Marshbanks, I chair the fall obedience and rally trials; I am worker organizer for the August hunt tests; I take care of the website. I co-chair the November eye clinic. For AADTC, I help at the fall trials (stewarded this year), and just chaired an obedience match, with sign-up done using the Google Docs framework I've used so successfully for my NDT matches. The ladies who have been running the club's matches are all eager to use the new system, as it greatly simplifies the process.

2013 was a super year for me. I'm grateful I get to spend so much of my time on work that I love so much.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Big Picture

In switching back to the obedience world after several months focused on field training and hunt tests, I've been attending some local fun matches, as well as helping several students prepare for the ring, some for their first time.  It's gotten me thinking about The Big Picture. By that I mean what I am aiming for long term with a particular dog. When you are training your first dog, there is simply so much to learn. I can still remember the first time I saw a Utility class at an obedience trial (circa 1985), and thinking, very naively, "That doesn't look too hard." Wrong! Utility is hard. But Utility is also what I'm aiming at with my dog, and my early training reflects that long term goal. For example, I teach my puppies how to do the skills needed for the position change portion of the Signal Exercise - to me, the ultimate obedience teamwork exercise. I get them started on learning to retrieve and do go-outs. The former opens up all sorts of fun exercises to work on with your dog, and go-outs take a long time to solidify, so it helps to start them early.

My goal at each level is to start to show in a given class when I know the dog understands the exercises well enough to qualify in a respectable way. It doesn't always mean that we do qualify, just that there isn't any one exercise we are consistently failing. The dog has shown me through our training and our attendance at obedience fun matches that he can do so even in a distracting environment. Does my dog need to be error free before I enter? No. My dog is probably always going to make some sort of error in the ring - I've only had one 200 in my many years of showing. It is the seriousness of the error that I look at. If my dog is sitting crooked on some halts, that is a very different error than not sitting on most halts. The former is typically 1/2-1 point off, depending on just how crooked the dog sits. A no sit is pricey, and some judges will NQ you if your dog never or hardly ever sits on heeling.

When I'm preparing my dog for the ring, I want to first iron out errors that are likely to lead to an NQ or substantial deductions (3 or more points), such as no sits, auto finishes, short or not straight go-outs, really lousy pickups or mouthing on retrieves, slowness anywhere. I don't want walking from my dog anywhere except for the slow on heeling! I would much rather have a crooked front or finish, but have speed and attention from my dog. With a lot of dogs, if you nit pick them constantly about every front or finish, they usually slow down and lose attitude. I want attitude and "try" first, with precision coming with time and training.

One of the important skills I have learned over the years of competing with my dogs is that of not dwelling on mistakes already made. There were times when Gryffin failed the first exercise, and then would fail a couple more, I think because of my dwelling on the first mistake. I had to remember to let it go and concentrate on making the rest of the performance the best it could be.

Roughing in the exercises can go quickly for an experienced trainer. Like a fine wine that needs time to develop its full potential, it is the polishing and teamwork and dog's true understanding of the work that takes time. Take the time it takes to get there.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Switching Gears

Nothing like sending in an obedience entry to get me training more obedience! I've got Sonic entered in Grad Novice in about 3 weeks. My plan is to do 4 Grad Novice trials this fall, maybe a Wild Card Novice, then start in Novice B in January. We are both enjoying the change of pace from field work, and with the more frequent work we've been doing on it, I can see the lightbulb starting to go on for the Drop on Recall. To be honest, I don't think I'll be upset if we don't actually earn the GN title. I'm entering it as a 'test the water' kind of thing, and because it is getting me training. While I'm confident that she could earn her CD this fall, I want to put some 'polish' on her before we do that, and I need to greatly reduce our field training in order to have the time to do that polishing.

I am entered in what I hope are my final two hunt tests of the fall, looking to finish up Little's Senior Hunter title. To be honest, since Sonic finished her SH 3 weeks ago, my strong drive to train field drills has greatly dropped off. It doesn't help that I've been gone the past two weeks (family trip over Labor Day and seminar trip last weekend), really limiting my available time to train.

It has been 5 years since my last Novice dog (Ty) earned her CD, but I've been in the Novice ring a lot since my first CD in 1986. I'm really looking forward to the opportunity to dance the dance with Sonic. She is a blast to heel with, and I think will be one of the best heeling dogs I've had in a while. I guess time will tell!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Goals and Hard Work

I don't usually talk about goals in August. I tend to do a review of the past year in late December, and set goals for the upcoming year at the same time. Here are the goals I set for Sonic and me in late December:

Sonic – 16 months old
  • Get to do water in the Derby at the April National, which means doing land well enough to move on to water. In my dreams, we place. But being realistic, getting to water would be a grand achievement. I just have to hope that there are enough entries to hold it - the Derby was canceled in 2012 due to entries being too low. (There were 5 dogs who started the test. Three of us got to run the water, Sonic and me included, all dogs failed the water test. Still, I did accomplish my goal of getting to try it. It was WAY over our heads in terms of difficulty.) 
  • Finish her JH. (Done in May)
  • Get her running cold blinds, land (March) and water (May)
  • Earn her WCX - 4/21/13
  • Run Senior with her in the fall. While I'd love to earn her SH, that is a pretty tall order - I think. (pass 1 7/20, pass 2 8/17, pass 3 8/24, 8/25 TITLE!!!)
  • Earn her RA (March 15) and RE (4/22)
  • I've been completely focused on field work with her lately, and plan to continue that as much as possible this winter, so I don't know if I'll devote the time to obedience titles or not. If I do, we might do Novice in the fall. Or BN (4/22). Or GN. Or none.
In reviewing these, we have achieved all of them. Her field work for Senior came together much faster than I imagined back in December. And this weekend, she finished the title with some solid work. We've had a really rigorous field training schedule, but she seems to be thriving on it, based on her eagerness to hop in the Burb for another day of training.

If I can pull myself in from the great outdoors, I want to start shifting my focus over to obedience this fall. IF. My goal is to do some Grad Novice trials this fall at some local trials to test the waters for how ready or not she is, then to start her in Novice in January, with the final goal to show her in Novice at the FCRSA National in June. I don't want to stop field training, but simply reduce the number of field sessions a week and shift those to obedience training. Time will tell how well that plan works :-).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Michigan Flyways August 2013 Saturday Senior Test

After our successes at the July hunt tests, I decided that doing one day of the Michigan Flyways August hunt test weekend and both days at Marshbanks the following weekend was a good choice. I didn't dare do two days with Little, since she had 3 weeks of no training with me, due to her conformation shows (3 more points!) followed by my vacation at our family cabin in Ontario, where Sonic got to swim lots.

Little was first dog on land. It was a walk-up, with the memory bird on the right, flier on the left. She sat on my walk-up whistle. Turned for the flier. Flier flew, gunners shot, gunners missed, bird flew away. No bird. Went back behind two guys already in blinds. Second try, gunners got the flier, but it went waaaaay deep and well to the right of the ribbon. She had a very long hunt on it, giving me some moments of panic (remembering Ty's failure in a Senior test when I failed to stop her from returning to an old fall). Helen was hiding in the Burb, too nervous to really watch from anywhere close by. Little finally came up with the bird, delivered it, and had a much shorter hunt on the memory bird. The blind was 180 degrees from the marks, down a hill. There was a cover strip to cross and ponds on beyond. She took a *great* initial line, blasting down the hill through the cover strip, and got to it in 2-3 whistles. She honored just fine. So very happy with her!

Sonic's marks were super - very little hunt on either bird, and though she was sucked in by the blind station some on the blind, she also 2-3 whistled the blind. She honored just fine.

Little ran 2nd on water (Angie Becker snuck in ahead of me). Her marks didn't fall where the judges wanted them to, but were instead much more visible than they intended. She had no problems with them, other than coming back very slowly through the plant growth in the pond, slogging along at a walk. The beginning of the blind was shaky - she sucked in to the marks a bit, took several whistles to really stop and acknowledge me, but once she got rolling, she rolled. I debated trying to get her straightened out some in the last 3rd, but let her continue, and she drove out of the water beautifully and went right over to the blind stake (10-15 yds up on shore), and I was so pleased to get her first Senior pass. This time, Helen was able to watch.

Sonic's marks were again fine. During her bounding to the memory bird, one of the judges said, "She has such nice style!" and I turned around and said, "Thank you!" Then she said, "Oh, I'm not supposed to say that out loud!" . Sonic took a *great* initial line on the blind. I wish I had blown my whistle before she got out of the water, but I didn't. My attempts to handle at the end were crappy - she was hidden in the tall grass, she wasn't listening/watching very well, etc. But she got herself there with her nose. I asked the other judge if we were okay as I handed him the last bird, since it was that dreadful of an ending, and he said, "Oh, yes." Then I thought back to Gryffin's 2nd Senior pass, when he had similarly great work up to a *totally* dreadful water blind, and still passed. Sonic's blind was only dreadful at the end. :-)

Two tries, two passes. It was a very long day, but such nice results! Next up: Marshbanks tests next weekend.

Ft. Detroit Golden Retriever July 2013 Senior Tests

In February this year, I set a goal to run Sonic and Little in the Ft. Detroit Golden Retriever Club's July hunt test at Omega Farms. At the time the entries closed, I just didn't feel like Little was solid enough on her blinds to spend Helen's money, and only entered Sonic one day, as there was a lot of polishing I felt she needed.

The Saturday land series was a double with the memory bird landing on a mowed area in front of woods, and the flier, shot right to left, to the right of the memory bird. The blind angled into some heavier cover on the right. The honor was also on the land series. There wasn't a walk-up in either series.

The water series was on the Area 5 ponds. The memory bird landed near the end of the left pond, the go bird toward the end of the middle pond, and the blind was at the end of the right pond. We had run a blind to nearly the same spot earlier in the summer when we were working on channel blinds, but the last time had not been very successful.

 Sonic did a nice job and earned her 1st Senior leg. Our water blind wasn't brilliant, but far better than our previous blind on that pond. Little ran test dog on Saturday, and had she been entered, would have earned a leg. What a confidence booster for me! It was the best any of my dogs have ever done running test dog - Gryffin and Ty were both quite awful the times I did test dog with them at Senior tests. I was very relaxed with Little, which was a good reminder of how crucial MY mental game is. I was a bit more nervous with Sonic, but not horribly so.
The next day, Sonic ran test dog - I wanted to see how she would do two days in a row - and did a fine job again. The walk up on the land series required us to come out of the last holding blind, walk towards the judge's Easy-Up (where the crowd of handlers were watching), make a right turn at a stake and walk toward the mark. Talk about a great proofing opportunity! 

The water series, which included the honor, was quite a bit harder than the previous day's. We were at the M-52 pond/Area 2 at Omega, an 80 yd long oval pond. The memory bird landed 10-15 yds out on shore at about the midpoint of the pond, the go-bird with a small splash just on the back edge on the right end. The line was well up on shore. The blind was on the left end of the pond, with a sharp angle entry that was 25-30 yds of land before they hit the water. 

Sonic went right to the go bird, and didn't have too much trouble with the memory bird. The blind took quite a few whistles, but she was working with me pretty well.

Little ran bye dog. Normally, the bye-dog doesn't get to do the blind, but I asked the judges if we could try it. I really didn't think Little was ready for that long of an entry, nor that sharp of an entry, but darned if she didn't prove me wrong :-). She blasted away from me on a great initial line. She looked to be veering to the left just at the water's edge, so I blew my whistle - just as she turned to get in. Drat. But she did a very credible job on the rest of it, another great confidence booster.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Crucial Foundation Exercises

As I prepare to present my On Beyond Novice seminar at Austin Canine Central in Austin, TX, I've made a list of what I consider crucial foundation exercises to teach a new puppy or young dog. In reviewing the detailed training logs I kept when first training my Flat-Coated Retriever Sonic,  she was well started on all of these by the time she was 4 months old, in addition to several field-related exercises. She learned Around the Clock Scent Discrimination in 5 weeks starting at about 6.5 months.
  • Follow the cookie: this is important because I use a treat in my hand to initiate quite a few of my foundation exercises. If your dog is lunging and biting obnoxiously to grab the treat, it isn't any fun for you - who wants to get their hand and fingers munched on? - you need to teach him the skill of politely following. Sometimes pushing the food into your dog's nose instead of pulling away helps reduce the lunging. I view the treat in my hand like a magnet - if it gets too far from his nose, it loses its power. When first teaching, I move the food at a slow enough speed that my puppy can keep up with my movement.
  • Voluntary attention: this is one on which I use structured shaping. I put myself in the desired position, whether with my puppy in front or in heel, and wait for voluntary attention at something other than my hands. My goal is eye contact in front, general left side attention in heel position. 
  • Position changes: there are 3 positions (sit, down, stand) and 6 position changes, i.e., moving from one position into one of the other two positions. Because I want my puppy to learn to use his body in a very specific way for each of them, I begin all of these with a food lure.
  • Find heel: initially, this is just a voluntary and likely to be lured 'get to heel position' exercise, but as soon as my puppy understands that is a rewardable action, we add distractions. This teaches them the foundation of distraction resistance. In class, I do increasingly devious actions to pull young dogs away from their owners. The owner turns and ideally runs away from their distracted dog, while I become boring as soon as the dog shows interest in me. The combination of the distraction getting less attractive and the owner running away usually gets the dog chasing after the owner. The dogs learn remarkably quickly to resist pretty strong distractions from me.
  • Cookie-toss recalls: if you think about all of the exercises in Open and Utility, all of them except the Heel Free & Figure 8 and Out of Sight Stays in Open have a recall component. You don't want to have to think about recall speed when you are working on the advanced exercises, so make that something for which you lay a very solid foundation. Puppies love the CT recall exercise, and it lays a great foundation not only for speed but for grab something (the cookie here) and spin around and race back, a valuable component of an excellent retrieve.
  • Cookie-toss down: a quick down from a stand, ideally a fold-back down, is critical for excellent Drop on Recall and Signal Exercises.
  • Retrieve: play retrieve and beginning of formal retrieves, including the voluntary take, the hold, and head and collar holds without the dumbbell.
  • Basic sit stay/impulse control: I love to start puppies with Chris Bach's sit and maintain exercises. It teaches puppies that voluntarily offering a sit stay is rewarded.
  • Target marking: I teach puppies to stare at a cookie on a target (a plastic lid), at first about 3 feet away. Marking is important for go-outs, the Directed Retrieve in Utility, the dumbbell retrieves to a lesser extent, as well as a few other beginnings of exercises. It is also a precursor to teaching a foot touch to a target.
  • Spins left and right: this is an extension of the follow the cookie game, and it is a wonderful physical warm up for dogs, and doing it both directions helps to maintain body balance. The spin to the left (counterclockwise) is useful for encouraging a dog who works with his rear out too far to your left to straighten himself up. It is also helpful for the left finish.
  • Platforms: I use platforms - an elevated rectangle, ultimately sized just wide enough for the dog to sit straight - for a variety of exercises, including fronts, finishes, sit stays, and go-outs.
  • Play running: this teaches the dog that running with you is fun. While I'd say 90% of my students' dogs don't need a lot of encouragement to charge ahead when their owner starts to run, for the 10% who are pokey, this is a very useful exercise. It is a precursor to the Fast in obedience heeling.
  • Maneuvers and set ups: these teach the dog to move in all directions in relation to you - forward, right, left, backwards, tight circle to right, tight circle to left. Set-ups are applied maneuvers, and mean getting the dog to move into a sit in heel position, which you need for every obedience exercise.
  • Foot touch to a target: I use this primarily for go-outs, but you can also use it for the broad jump and the drop on recall.
  • Rhythm Heeling: this is the most important heeling exercise there is! There are no turns, no pace changes and no halts with this exercise. It is simply (HA!) you maintaining a brisk walking rhythm and your dog moving, ideally in a trot, with attention and correct position. A typical heeling pattern lasts for only 30-45 seconds, and yet many, many people struggle to keep their dog actively engaged for an entire pattern. Rhythm Heeling starts with 2-3 steps of moving attention, and gradually, through regular and consistent practice, becomes a lovely dance.
There you have it. If your dog is fluent at all of these exercises, you are well on your way to building a fantastic competition partner.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


A hallmark of talent is loving to practice. - Penelope Trunk, Brazen Careerist

An amateur practices until they get it right. A professional practices until they don't get it wrong. - Richard Crittenden (D.C. Opera Workshop)

Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice. - Anton Chekhov

I've been thinking about practice lately. A lot. Field trial trainer Bill Hillman talks quite a bit about practice on his DVD "Retriever Training Fundamentals: Part 1 Land". He argues that most trainers just don't practice enough with their dogs. They teach something a time or two, think the dog understands, and then move on to something else. Bill stresses continuing to practice the fundamental skills throughout a dog's lifetime. 

Most of my training energy these days is centered on field work with Sonic and Little. Who would have thought that young(er) woman who disliked guns and dead birds and only got Working Certificates on Tramp and Treasure to get them into the FCRSA Hall of Fame would develop such a passion for field work? I love being outside, seeing the dogs do something they have a huge passion for, helping them to learn how to be the best teammate they can be. It all comes down to training. And practice.

I have always loved puzzles and problem-solving. Maybe it is why I liked math and computer programming so much when I was in school. I still love programming. I just love training dogs and people even more. To me, dog training is one giant puzzle. Whether I am training for blind retrieves in the field or teaching my dog to heel with animation and precision for the obedience ring, it is critical to have a road map of training steps to follow. I have always believed that if one book or video on a topic is good, having six is better. I like getting a lot of different view points on something. I guess it helps me to study the road maps that other trainers travel and find success with. I like to see what they consider crucial foundation steps, and how they put them together into more complicated behaviors. If foundation is weak, the later steps built on them will be weak.

While it matters a lot that you have a goal, a vision and an arc to get there, it matters even more that you don't skip the preliminary steps in your hurry to get to the future. Early steps might bore you, but miss even one and you might not get the chance to execute on the later ones. - Seth Godin, blog post 11/7/12

I love putting in the daily practice with the girls. Given their enthusiasm to "load up" and go train, I think they love the opportunity to practice with me. I love discussing training with other trainers, traveling their road map some to find out what little side paths helped them.

It helps a lot to have an experienced instructor to help guide you along the road, especially when you are a new trainer and have never traveled any training road before. Sometimes that instructor is someone with whom you can take weekly classes. Sometimes it is someone who has written a book or produced a video on the topic.  Sometimes it is a classmate who helps motivate you to train on a day when you are tired. But you still have to practice. No matter how great the instructor or book or DVD, if you don't practice the skills with your dog, you won't find success, whatever your definition of success is, whether it is to have a well-behaved companion in the home or a trial-winning obedience dog, a hunting companion or a Master Hunter.

What are you going to practice today?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Transition training in the field

Since getting home from our very successful spring field training trip (eventually, I'll get that post written) to Tennessee and south Georgia, followed up with 8 days of the FCRSA National Specialty, I have been blessed to have returned to beautiful spring weather (finally) and time to train "the girls" (Sonic and Little) a lot. They are now both in the Transition stage of their field work, which essentially means they are transitioning into being able to run "cold blinds", which are retrieves where they don't see the bird or bumper thrown.

When I was in Florida, I had a chance to watch Gamekeeper's head trainer Mitch White working two client dogs on their whistle sits in the water. It gave me a new appreciation for the standard I wanted to strive for. We had only one chance to work on their water sits when we were in Tennessee. It was interesting to see how much better Little was treading water than she had been when we left Florida in early March, even though we hadn't worked on them back home in frigid Michigan. But she was not stopping and looking at me unless I hollered sit, sometimes multiple times. Sonic was faster at stopping, turning, and looking at me, but her ability to tread water was so far poor.

I got some advice from a friend on-line to improve Little's focus by tossing a bumper between us and then blowing the whistle. Last Tuesday when I first tried that, I tossed her a bumper 3 out 4 times I sent her. When I tried one without, and counted to see how fast she was doing it, I only got to "1000-1, 1000-2" and she was staring at me, treading water beautifully! Here is a little video I made of her on Friday morning, when she was really doing well:
This morning, I trained with Helen and Corinne, two of my most frequent training partners. We set up 3 stick men in a line at 50, 100, and 150 yards across the face of a hill. I put a white blind stake out at a 45 degree angle from the stickmen up the hill to the left, about as far out as the middle stick man. Here is a quick little diagram I drew.
It ended up being a more complicated version of the Key Relationship Drill* we've run several times recently and of Blind Drills, which work on similar key relationships. I think both girls got a lot out of the drill.

*KRD = one mark at about 50 yards, and two blinds (in the beginning stages we are in), one "outside the mark", i.e., #2 in the diagram below, and #3, "behind the gun". We haven't started adding #4 yet.
This evening, I decided I really wanted to take advantage of the relative quiet of a Sunday evening at the technology park where I do a lot of my water work. I wanted to get the girls started with cold water blinds. I put out 6 small orange bumpers along one side of a 40 yard wide neck of a huge pond. We ran them left to right. Little had a family of very irate geese parents and tiny cute goslings (why do they have to grow up to be such pests?) to contend with. She had some trouble with popping (stopping and looking at me without a whistle from me) - too many whistle sits this week, I'd say. Her sits did deteriorate as we went along, and she wasn't doing very good back casts when beyond 30 yards (that will be something we work on this week) but overall, I was happy with her efforts. 

Sonic did even better than Little, even lining (swimming across to the bumper with no help from me) the 3rd blind.

Sonic will be running in what I hope is her last JH test in two weeks. If we pass on Saturday, I plan to move her up to Senior on Sunday. No, I know she's not thoroughly ready, but if the test is a reasonable one, I'd much rather take a stab at it than to run another Junior test. This means I will be working the girls as often as I can on their handling skills. I am aiming Little for the Ft. Detroit Senior tests in late July, and for Sonic to be well prepared for those tests, too.

Transition is SO much fun!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sonic's 1st Beginner Novice leg

I showed Sonic yesterday in obedience for the first time. Beginner Novice is an optional titling class, new since I started a new dog in obedience (Ty, back in 2008). Sonic is the fourth dog who I've started in Rally before doing obedience. The Flat-Coated Retriever National Specialty is in April this year, and I wanted to be able to enter her in something besides Rally. BN seemed a good possibility. Early last month, I did a novice run-through at a match at my building and it went so well, I considered also doing  regular novice at the National.

I want to pause to reflect back to last October, when I showed Sonic in Rally Novice for her title. We showed 3 times, earned some nice scores, but it took a lot of verbal help and guidance to get those scores. She was also barely under control outside the ring. I realized it would be a while before she was ready for any off leash work required to go into Advanced Rally. A funny thing happened over the next several months. I focused almost all of my training time on her field basics, doing obedience once a week in class and then doing most of the demos required in my classes through out the week. In December, we ran a fairly complicated Excellent course for class off leash, and I thought, "Hmmm, I think Advanced will be possible soon!" We showed in conformation at the crazy-busy Novi shows in January, then spent some time heeling and training around the crazy-busy obedience ring area. What she showed me there also encouraged me.

She got two Advanced legs in February, doing very nice work. Then on February 20, we headed south for 2.5 blissful weeks of field training. We did a teeny-tiny bit of obedience work, but not much. We got back less than a week before our next rally trials. With classes starting last week, there wasn't a ton of training time, but I fit in what I could. She had a fine finish to her RA title on Friday, earning a perfect 100.

We moved up to Excellent B for her 1st Excellent leg with a 99.
On Saturday, I attended the 1st day of a Connie Cleveland seminar as an auditor. During each 15 minute break, I'd grab Sonic out of my vehicle and we'd do some heeling. If I put in the needed training time, I think she will be a wonderful heeling dog. She still needs quite bit of support from me, but it is getting better.

So Sunday, off we went to the Toledo KC for a try at Beginner Novice. While I've been feeling quite ready for Excellent rally, I knew our heeling isn't nearly as polished as I'd like it to be for obedience.  She's been doing so well on the sit and stand for exams with our class instructor, and quite well with classmates playing judge, that I haven't been good about getting new people to do exams. I got a bunch of people to do sit for exams, and she got better each time we did it.

Yep, I corrected her in the ring - after the first about turn, I think I said, "Hey, WATCH!" which did get her back on track for the rest of the pattern. I used my one legal "phrase of praise" after the next about turn to good effect, I think. I am not happy that she paced the whole first leg, but that is a work in progress. It simply isn't habit yet for her. I also praised (legally) as we headed toward the 1st right circle on the first Figure 8. The sit for exam was excellent, but then Jim Ham doesn't dilly dally around on his exam :-). The small amount of work we did on it during our Florida trip wasn't exactly promising, so I was pleased she pulled it together.

We ended up with a score of 194 and 3rd place, all 6 points lost on the heeling pattern. I'm glad I made the choice I did to fix her as I did, since she really seemed to get her head together after that.

We show again in Rally Excellent next Friday and BN on Saturday. My goal is to have two legs on each title going into the National in late April. We'll be showing somewhere she hasn't ever been before, which will be good experience for her.

While I'm a trifle disappointed in the heeling pattern, I am also realistic about why it went as it did. Lack of experience. Time and effort will fix that.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

2013 Winter Odyssey Part II

On Wednesday and Thursday (Feb 27/28), I joined Mitch White's training group. On Wednesday, training consisted of 3 singles on land for each girl: medium, short, long. We did a mind-blowing Influential lining drill (18 buckets - 8 is the most I've used).

I did a final water-force session with Sonic (well, I hope it's the final one :-)). Then swim-by work with Little, whistle sits in water with both (Sonic hasn't figured out how to tread water yet, but she is turning and focusing on me pretty promptly). Ended the day with 3 water marks for each. First was across about 40 yds of water, up over a sizable dike into another small bit of water. There were cheating possibilities, but neither fell for them. Second one was out near a bunch of posts in the water. I did the 3rd one from up a hillside with a long log at the water's edge, which they both handled a bit clumsily but without trying to cheat around it.
Thursday's training: 2 land marks up hill, the left one behind or just in front of a long log, the right one with several patches of brushy cover to go through (or dodge around as several dogs did). We also attempted - and succeeded at - a land blind for which they had to go through some more of that brushy cover. A cold blind for each of them! I had to move up, but I was quite pleased, given their lack of exposure to casting into cover. Did the marks as a taught double with both girls. Neither did very well. Reran later and both did well on the rerun. Moved to water and did a taught in-line double. Long mark was beyond a whole string of fence posts that are in the water. Both girls did that well. Closer in mark was from a launcher behind them. Little stood and jumped forward when that went off. She visited various decoys when I sent her for the memory mark (which she'd ignored when she ran it as a single the first time), but got herself out to the mark. Cheryl Knapp and I then went over to the Horseshoe Pond and worked whistle sits in the water with Sonic and Gem-E, then I did some swim-by work with Little. We finished up letting the girls run and play together, something I haven't had/taken the time for. They had a lot of fun dashing about and going in and out of the pond numerous times. I guess the day's work hadn't exhausted them.

On Friday, after a slow start, we started with 3 cold land blinds ("cold blind" means one the dogs haven't seen me put bumpers out nor does it have a nice attractive white bucket for them to focus on). They were about 120 yds each. Little's first one was poor - she did NOT believe me when I sent her, but we kept plugging and when she spotted the orange stake, woo hoo!, she zeroed in on it and dashed in for the retrieve. The 2nd was better, third about the same. Sonic did very well on the 1st one, poorly on the 2nd (there was a log to go over), and very well on the 3rd. Next, I did swim-by work for Little that didn't go very well. I was feeling like *such* a swim-by training failure (I never really felt either Gryffin or Ty really 'got it'). While there are some parts that were much better than when we arrived, we weren't as far along as I'd hoped to be. It seems to be my Holy Grail. Then I got Sonic out with the goal to start teaching her how to take over casts (going left or right) in the water, something we'd barely touched on earlier in the week. She proceeded to do so well that she was doing better than Little had. It just seems to make sense to her. That bouyed my spirits a lot. That got me thinking that what I need to do a lot more of with Little is land disciplined casting, which I CAN do when I return to the cold north. I also played with teaching Little to circle a bucket for treats, which she thought was splendid (food=splendid in Little's world). I did this because it was something I did with Sonic, and I thought it might benefit Little. Later in the afternoon, Mitch coached me on improving Sonic's whistle sits in water and more swim-by with Little. She was actually much better in the bigger pond than the one we've worked on since Tuesday. Cheryl and I did a 200 or so yard Postman marking Y-drill (back and forth) to give Sonic a chance to stretch out some.

After checking out of the motel, I started Saturday morning with Swim-by work and Little did the best she's done. Being in the somewhat bigger pond makes a big difference for her. Sonic didn't do quite as well as she did in the smaller pond on Friday, but still was doing quite well on the early stages. Then we did 3 new land blinds. Unlike yesterday, when Little was mystified about what we were doing on the first blind, she took off like a rocket on her first blind today. Not quite in the right direction, but at least she had momentum :-). It was very windy that day.

I spent Saturday night with a college friend in Clearwater, who I hadn't seen since her wedding 23 years ago. After keeping somewhat up to date on each other's life through annual holiday letters, we had a lovely time catching up with each other.

It was a boring couple of days for Sonic and Little after 9 straight days of swimming/field work. I taught 6 obedience lessons Sunday and Monday, so they had a lot of crate time. It was great to catch up with so many of my Lakeland friends.

Monday evening, I drove to Betsy Reiney's in Palatka, where Sonic swam for the first time outdoors last spring. We had a nearly perfect weather day for field work on Tuesday. I joined Betsy's Tuesday morning group for land work - some marks with ducks from launchers, as well as a site blind (which they both lined on their first try, which I did before running the marks), and then did swim-by with both girls back at Betsy's - quite successfully - that afternoon. The land blinds we did weren't quite so successful.

We had another full day of training on Wednesday. There were some very good things from both girls, some not so good things. They have different strengths and weaknesses. We started with Bill Hillman's Star Drill. Sonic did quite well, while Little had a lot of trouble. We did a marking Y-drill and reran the blinds from the day before, with much better results. In the afternoon, I did some water whistle sits and swim-by work.

On Thursday, I did the Star Drill again with Little (better than Wednesday, but lots of room for improvement), and then we set up an 8-bucket Influential Lining Drill, which went pretty well. We did 3 new land blinds. Sonic 3 or 4 whistled the first one at 150 yds - I was thrilled with that! The other 2 went almost as well. Little had a ton of trouble on the long one, so we repeated it after running the right one. We worked more water whistle sits, but decided not to work on swim-by. I was ready for a break from it! After lunch, Betsy threw 3 long water marks for each girl.

And with that, our training for this wonderful voyage was over. I am so grateful for the generosity of all my hosts and the use of their training grounds. We had an uneventful drive home, stopping again on the way home to stay with Bonnie. Altogether, I put over 3000 miles on the Burb. And it was worth every mile!

2013 Winter Odyssey Part I

I returned last Saturday from a 2.5 week trip to North Central Florida. What a fabulous trip it was!

We (Sonic, Little, and I) left Ann Arbor on February 20, with a stop that night in Maryville, TN to stay with my friend Bonnie Hornfisher. We got back on the road at 9 AM the next morning, and after a somewhat interminable day of driving, arrived at the Red Roof Inn in Ocoee, FL.

On Friday, I met my friend Cheryl Knapp to train with her group at Wayne Gey's ranch, the mecca of field training in North Central Florida.

They had all started with some pattern blinds. I taught one of them to both girls, with mediocre results. The group was doing work that my girls weren't ready for, so I did some brief water pile work across the short leg of the Horseshoe pond. Then I joined the group on the Big Pond, and the girls got to do 2 water marks. The 2nd was probably the longest either had ever done, which was probably not the smartest thing I could do during their first swim of the year, but they both did fine.

The next two days were spent attending Mitch White's Water Workshop. I worked on Water Force both days with Sonic. Mitch has changed how he does it, using a peninsula, so it was great timing, since it was the next logical step for Sonic.
On her way.

I'm on the end of the peninsula doing an early send.

Back at the base line, racing down the peninsula.

I did a bit of training after the seminar, since Little hadn't done anything all day, and Sonic not much.
The next morning, Little started off with Mitch's Casting Over into Water drill, which she did very nicely. I love the photo below - the intensity, the rippling muscles of her shoulders, and how nicely she is leaving from under my still hand.
Little launching towards a pile of bumpers.

Little also did some swim-by work, which went remarkably well, since we'd done almost none of it when in Tennessee last November.

On Monday, I did a brief session of disciplined casting - Sonic did well, Little lousy. Then I worked o water force with Sonic at a different pond, and water whistle sit work for both. Little's are looking very nice. She's getting the idea of treading water and gives me nice focus. Sonic hasn't done very many before, but I'm pleased with what she gave me that day.

I spent lunchtime at a nearby Chevy dealer, getting the strut for the back hatch of the Burb replaced. It had failed on Friday, fortunately in a somewhat gradual way. I was glad that my crates have doors on both ends, so I could get the girls out the front instead of chancing having the hatch slam done on the dogs or me.

In the afternoon, I did the cast over into water drill with Sonic and swim-by work with Little, then hauled all 4 launchers out to see which would work (last time I tried, not all worked). The #1 remote is at home, since it wouldn't take a charge. All the launchers did fire, but took some swapping around of remotes. I also worked mannerly walking with me to the holding blind (I had the Burb parked out near the launchers) and some holding blind control with launchers honking. Little is much more willing to heel with me when cookies are a possibility.

Tuesday: It was a rainy morning, but given we were training water, the girls didn't mind. Started with land disciplined casting again. Little isn't as good at it as Sonic, but it was much better than Monday. Swim-by work with Little in the horse shoe pond (a bit smaller than the one we used yesterday) - that went quite well - she seems to get that after picking up a side bumper, she will be getting back in - and a fine, hard-charging water force/pile session for Sonic. Then I did some 'Send Back' marks. I left the dog at the line, walked out and threw a mark, released her from out there, had her deliver to me, then sent her back to the line (marked with a bucket and two white stakes) and blew a whistle sit when she got there. Then I'd walk to a new location and repeat. While neither girl simply lined back to the base-line in one try, it did go better than the last time I tried it. I finally used the starter pistol for the first time that I got back in December. It added some extra excitement. I finished the morning with 6 white bucket site blinds, the 1st 3 with slots through trees, the last 3 longer blinds. We headed back to the motel and worked on my website and escaped the rain.

Thursday, January 3, 2013


It's that time of year... Time to reflect on the year just finished and plan for the new one just begun.

My 2012 dog goals were:

Joker - 10 years old

Having accomplished my Lifetime goals for him in 2011, he is now the resident retired dog in the family.
- Joker loves to cuddle and still enjoys playing with the big black dogs.

Gryffin - 8 years old

Keep exercising him with the hope of running several Master tests in 2012.
- Did series 1 &amp; 2 in one in May, but he pulled something stepping in a hole, so I scratched him from the last series.
Had an aMAZing National, getting 1st runner-up in the Steady Singles field competition out of a field of 70+ dog. making the final cut in the Veterans 9-11 Sweepstake class, and winning the Veterans Novice class with a 198.5. Each thing we did brought me so much joy that week...
Then about 3 weeks later he was gone very suddenly to cancer... Still miss him every day... But what a ride we had!

Ty - 7 years old

  • Finish her OM1.
  • Earn her OTCh. There, I said it! We'll see how it goes.
  • Earn her UDX. I actually think this will be the toughest one of the 3.
  • Earn her OM2. Haven't had one before.
  • Qualify in a regliar class at the FCRSA National. Haven't managed that with her since her HIT Novice B debut.
  • Qualify for and attended the AKC NOI (National Obedience Invitational) next December in Orlando.
  • Field goals are vague. My pursuit of Master with her will depend on Gryff's soundness. I like having 2 dogs to train in field, but 3 is unwieldy.
Ty had a good year - finished both the OM1, OM2, and her UDX. Showed a lot in the spring, just two weekends in the fall. Once we reached the goals in October, I essentially stopped training her. I gave up on an OTCh quite early in the year. Having earned just 2 more OTCh points in 2012, it was a wise decision. I don't like training Ty anywhere near enough to want to spend the necessary time.
We Qed in Open B with a 3rd place at the National - I realized this fall I hadn't passed Open at the National since Treasure's days, and she's been gone since 2006 :-). Gryff never managed it.
We did not qualify for the NOI, which was just as well, because I didn't really want to be training obedience at the end of 2012.
Retired her from field. She did a bit in the summer, but mostly, she is now retired, period, other than demoing in class

Sonic - 4.5 months

She is such a dream to train! I haven't started a puppy so young for field, since I knew next to nothing about it when I started Gryff, so I have no sense of how good she's likely to be in the field. She shows great promise for obedience.
  • Show her in conformation.
  • Have her ready to match in Novice by the end of the year.
  • Lay foundation for scent discrimination done so she understands how to use her nose before completing her field basics.
  • Get her through field basics.
  • WC
  • JH
  • RN
Sonic is a dream come true. I simply adore this dog. Having her already woven into my heart made Gryff's sudden death much more bearable.
I showed her in conformation just a few times. Since she's mostly looked like a field lab, I figure I ought to wait until she has grown up. We are entered one day at the big January shows, since she has been growing hair and I'm finally getting a bit of meat on her skinny bones. It is my excuse to get out to a dog show :-).
We did a few matches in Beginner Novice and sort of Novice. My obedience training definitely took a back seat to field most of the year, but one of my long-time students has been teaching a class at my place so that I can take it, and though we don't do a ton of obedience work in between Tuesday mornings, Sonic has continued making progress. I think she is going to be a lovely heeling dog, if I ever really commit to making it a priority.
I did something in the spring I've never done before: I did Around the Clock Scent Discrimination every day for 30-some days straight, and by the end of that, she was working a random pile. We did it a few more times, then I didn't try it again until fall. She seemed to remember it just fine. Very cool to get through it that efficiently - though I think it was on day 2 of the first week that I wrote some friends that I might have to shoot myself from boredom :-).
Field basics... we are building up to Double T, have been much of the fall. Now with 6" of snow on the ground and 10 degree temps, I'm not quite as motivated to get out there. She is a complete blast to work in the field and if I stay patient and don't let her start driving the bus as often as she would like to, I think she is going to be very, very good at it. She sure does love it and we love doing it together.
She earned 2 JH legs in mid-September after completely failing one in July (almost totally out of control getting to the line, never retrieved the 1st duck, so was out right away - I'm still mystified by that lack of finding a bird that day), earned her WC the next weekend.
Earned her RN in October at 2 local trials. That experience made me appreciate how well trained Ty is :-). I used every bit of my handling skill to get Sonic through the courses, and she had fine scores (97, 100, 99), but I also knew we were far from ready for Advanced. I am aiming to do Advanced with her at an upcoming trial in early February, since I'll have some students showing in rally for the 1st time.


Little, who I trained in field from June-early October of 2011, came back for more field training in June 2012 and pretty much stayed until just a few days ago, other than a stretch in July/August. She got as far as doing Pattern Blinds and Blind drills on land, well beyond finishing Double T as I'd hoped. We didn't get as far in water as I'd hoped (wanted to have Swim-by done, apparently the Holy Grail of field work for me and my dogs), due to cold weather. She and Sonic have a lot of fun together - I've never had two FCRs in the house so close in age who play so much together. Ty and Gryff were just 18 months apart, but Ty does not engage in something as demeaning as bitey-face :-).


I didn't actually write down any goals for myself at the end of 2012, but I did a lot of field training education efforts throughout the year. I audited Mike Lardy's Basics and Transition workshop in Georgia in March, something of a Bucket List (which I don't really have) goal; I audited Carol Cassity's workshop in June; I had a working spot in Mitch White's 4-day workshop in July; and went to Tennessee to Clint and Sherie Catledge's marvelous property for a heavenly vacation week in November.

Adele's 2013 Goals

I am feeling surprisingly lost about goals to set for the coming year, much more so than I can remember feeling for a lot of years. Maybe it is having only one dog of my own for whom to set goals? Maybe it is that I haven't done field with enough dogs to feel confident about how long it will take me to advance?
Joker – 11 years and going strong
Goal is to keep him that way.
Ty – 8 years old.
I've accomplished what I hoped to with her – Ch UDX OM2 SH WCX, and applied for the FCRSA HOF. She needs a job, but I don't know what it ought to be.
Little – 2 years old
I've just sent her back to Helen's for a while, since I'm finding training both her and Sonic in the snow tiresome. I'd like to have her ready for the WCX at the National and for Senior by fall. Helen may do Novice with her at the National if she has Little enough to train her regularly, and maybe rally.
Sonic – 16 months old
  • Get to do water in the Derby at the April National, which means doing land well enough to move on to water. In my dreams, we place. But being realistic, getting to water would be a grand achievement. I just have to hope that there are enough entries to hold it - the Derby was canceled in 2012 due to entries being too low.
  • Finish her JH.
  • Get her running cold blinds, land and water.
  • Earn her WCX
  • Run Senior with her in the fall. While I'd love to earn her SH, that is a pretty tall order - I think.
  • Earn her RA and RE.
  • I've been completely focused on field work with her lately, and plan to continue that as much as possible this winter, so I don't know if I'll devote the time to obedience titles or not. If I do, we might do Novice in the fall. Or BN. Or GN. Or none.


  • Update the NDT website! It has been on my list for at least a year, and other things keep getting in the way.
  • Continue with my field training education – to that end, I'm already signed up for two seminars with Mitch White and plan to sign up for the Carol Cassity one that Marshbanks will be sponsoring in Jliy, and maybe one with Bill Hillman in June.
  • Keep honing my Getting Things Done chops.
  • Blog more regularly again.
  • Get back to some form of aerobic exercise. Aim for 100 workouts.
  • Work on some multimedia product. I have some half-baked ideas. Website first, though.
What are your goals?