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!