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Portland Labrador

Sunnyview's Full Speed Ahead MH (PORTER)

Training - from starting out to the Senior Hunter level

PLEASE NOTE:  In order to keep the latest updates at the top of the page,
I've inverted the order, with most the most recent entry at the top of the page.
If this is your first time on this page, please start at the bottom and "read up"

Rather than make the page too long (I know, too late), I've added a second page to detail Porter's "adventures" at the Master Hunter level.  CLICK HERE for the Master page.

TRAINING PARTNERS: Porter (and I) have had the great fortune to meet and train with some great dogs and handlers.  It's the people we meet and the dogs we train with that help to make it even more fun taking this journey.
to see some of our training partners (and some great pics too)

Porter finished the 2008 Hunt Test season with his Senior Hunter title and a few tries at the Master level.  After earning his SH title in May at the Salem Retriever Trial Club test, we ran our first two Master tests in July.  We made it to the second series in the first test and the third series in the second test. 
Click Here for more information on Porter's campaign for his Master Hunter title.
You come to the line with your dog, get set, and then signal the judges.  The judges then signal for the birds to be thrown or shot.  You can't speak to or touch your dog until the judges have called for the birds, they are on the ground, and the judge calls your number, releasing you to send your dog.

When the judge signals for the bird, there is a duck call, followed by either a shot and a throw of a dead bird or a call with a live flyer thrown and a shot.  When the birds are flying, the dog is in it's element, doing what it was bred to do. 

The look on the face of the dog when all this is going on says it all.

The biggest change from Junior to Senior is the requirement the handler needs to be able to handle the dog to a blind (bird the dog has not seen fall).  This includes a blind on both land and water.  The picture to the left is an aspect of handling that never ceases to amaze me; the ability to hit a sit whistle while the dog is swimming away and it "sits" in the water by turning to face the handler and tread water while waiting for the next cast.
Porter had just about reached the far shore and was angled a bit too far to the left.  I used a "sit" whistle, he turned, waiting for the next cast.  I gave a "right back" and he turned to the right, beached on the short, and moved up the bank about five yards and picked up the bird.
In addition to the requirement of running blinds, a Senior Hunter test also includes an Honor.  This requires that the dog that has just completed it's run (in the picture to the right, a water double followed by a water blind) has to then "honor" the working dog by remaining in place while the next set of birds are thrown and the working dog (in this case, Porter) is sent.

Training for this is best done with a group, to try as best you can to duplicate the test environment, lots of dogs, smells, sounds, shots, excitement.  We worked a lot of breaking drills, with marks throw close in, and the dog expected to remain still, no "happy feet" allowed.  One small step leads to two, then creeping forward an inch, then two...  Before you know it, the dog gets used to creeping out a foot or two and then he's gone.

They say there are two types of dogs: those that have broken on the honor, and those that are going to break on the honor.  :)

Update - November 2008
Since I have been a slacker and not keeping this up to date, and I have way too much info to pile in here now, instead I'm just going to go back over the past year of training and put in a few highlights.  Like the rest of the training page, I'm going to put the newest stuff on top and work my way down. 
I will say that after a very busy summer, usually training four times a week, we've definitely scaled back in October.  This is due in part to the fact that my two primary public training grounds, Sauvie Island and St. Louis Ponds, close up at the end of September.  I can still use St. Louis, but it's open for hunting and I don't want to interfere with someone's hunt.  I'll give it a few weeks and wait till that tails off (since the hunting isn't that great there anyway) and try it.
August/September 2008
This was a great time to be training.  Great weather and great grounds.  I spent about 50% of the time training by myself (glad to have Zinger Wingers) and 50% training with a great training group or with the Pro I work with, Matt Weiner, and his group of clients.  All three methods have their strengths. 
Working solo, you can do what you want and get done quick.  Setup is a pain, but we can still accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.
Working with the training group that I'm in is also great.  There are four of us that have dogs at about the same level.  We can do better setups than working solo.  Nothing beats having a gunner in the field, or multiple gunners in the field when it comes to training dogs.  Besides better setups, it's good to compare notes and help each other out.  If you work solo and the dog has issues, you walk away wondering if the dog's brain leaked out it's ear while it was sleeping.  If you work multiple dogs on the same setup and they all have issues, you realize the dog isn't the problem (Doh!).  The setup either included a concept they didn't know (and I wasn't smart enough to recognize) or my ego was bigger than my brain and I had forgotten that I should be TRAINING, not TESTING. 
Training with a pro is good also.  We can get great feedback, good setups, and seeing a large group of other dogs run on the same setup really helps me to learn. as well as keep my perspective.  If a Master level dog, that I've seen nail marks a hundred times, has a brain fart on a 50-yard flyer, it helps me realize that they're dogs, not machines, and when mine has an off day I need to remember it is just that, an off day.  After all, we're just out here having fun, right?
Some of the concepts that we worked on these past two months include: delayed triples; shooting a flyer and then running a blind before picking up the flyer; shooting an out-of-order flyer (we saw a lot of this in Hunt tests); revisiting bank cheating drills (it's amazing how dogs will test you to see if you let them slide, then take a little bit more ground if you let them); and bulldogs.  Yes, the concept that we didn't train for that killed us in the August Master Test we ran.
February through July 2008
yeah, yeah, I'm working on it.  Please stand by...
Sunnyview's Full Speed Ahead JH Porter at Sauvie Island hunt test running Junior
Update - October 2007
After running the Derby on Sept 22, we had two weeks until the last hunt test of the season (for us, at least) where Porter would be trying for the second leg of his Senior Hunter title.  We worked more on doubles, although I did back the distance off just a bit.  We worked on cheating marks, in land and water, and ran a lot of blinds with angles in the water and through cover.
On October 6th we ran in the Labrador Retriever Club of America's annual specialty test.  Porter came through with flying colors.  It was clear that he had definitely matured and improved since his previous Senior test.  He nailed all four marks, did good on the walk-up, and held the honor without making me sweat too much.  His blind work, while not spectacular by any means, was solid.  Too bad there aren't any more local tests this year, but I knew going into the summer that I didn't want to get hung up on how quickly he got his title.  I want to enjoy the journey and not get overly focused on the destination.  Besides, it will be that much sweeter when we get it next spring.  We'll work all winter and be ready next spring to finish off his Senior title and head into Master.
Update - September 2007
Spent this month concentrating on marking.  I signed up to run Porter in his first (and only) Field Trial Derby on the 22nd.  In the Derby, it's all about marking.  If you handle, you're done.  We worked on the issue Porter has of sometimes taking a line too much to the right  and correcting it by shortening, enforcing straight line, run full length, recall if line is off, resend (with rethrow if needed).  After having days when i wondered if he was good enough or read for the derby, and days when he looked ready to take on all comers, we finally ran the Derby on Sept 22.
Porter ran in his first (and only, since he'll be too old next summer) Derby.  We didn't do as well as I would have liked.  The marks were certainly within Porter's ability, just not today.  The first series was a land double.  Thrown memory bird at about 175 yards and a shot-flyer go bird at about 125 yards.  Porter nailed the go bird, as good as any and better than most, but then when heading out to the memory bird, he switched back to the first mark!  I was at the line wondering "where the heck did that come from?  He's never done that!".  I'm sure I'm the first handler who ever thought that at the line. :)  Oh well, it's a learning experience.  If it was out of his league, I wouldn't have been as disappointed as I was knowing he was better than he showed that day. 
Still, it was a lot of fun and definitely educational for both of us.  I was impressed with how well run everything was.  Depending on how much we can get out and work this winter, you never know, he might run in the Qual someday.
Update - August 2007
After last month's Senior Hunter test, I've spent the month working on a few different things.
Long Singles:  I have been working him on single retrieves up to 300 yards.  Porter is a runner and the distance doesn't seem to be an issue for him.  I have been sure to mix up the distance, since he has a tendency to run long anyway.  I have been able to get a lot of work in this month with shot flyers, which I am always happy about.
Doubles: In addition to the work on long singles, I've been working to build Porter's memory and ability on doubles by running a long single, then making it the memory bird on a double or just running cold doubles.  If a single is particularly tough, then repeating it as the memory bird makes the re-run more of a challenge than just repeating a single.  Porter has been working up to doubles with the long bird up to 200 and the short bird up to 150 yards.  We've also mixed in shorter marks and have done lots of work on the water.  With the weather turning colder soon, we won't have as much opportunity to work the water, so we're getting it in now.
Blinds: Ran a lot of blinds this month, both on land and in water.  It was a good month in gaining practical knowledge in handling, because after running it seems I always learned something more about what NOT to do (i.e. don't let the dog get behind anything, anticipate where you can lose them, be ready on the whistle, how to set up a blind and understand factors in it, understanding the strength of pull a former mark or blind has, when to correct, when not to, how much pressure to use, not sending him ...the list goes on and on).  Through it all Porter has been a real trooper, trying his best to figure out what the heck I want, trying to provide it, and running hard all the time.  Of course, sometimes there were times that he felt he knew better where it was and he didn't need to listen to me.  If my setup was good enough (it's getting better), I set up so he couldn't get success unless he listened.  Sometimes getting him to "listen" was...challenging.
Other items that we've done with blinds this month is to add more factors; things like distance, angles, the pull of old falls, cover, driving cover, and working on the three different parts of the blind, the initial line, holding the line, and the finish.  We've also been working the wagon wheel drills for initial lines.
Line Manners: This is something that Porter has been a constant challenge in dealing with.  Not that he's uncontrollable at the line, just that he's VERY excited about what he's doing and control at the line requires setting a high standard and holding to that standard at all times, especially in every training situation.  It means picking up marks if he moves, in order to eliminate "happy feet" at the line.  It means enforcing the "sit" command and expecting him to hold a sit.  This is especially important if I expect him to hold the honor during a test.
Update - July 28
Porter ran his second Senior Hunter test today and earned his first Senior pass!
On the opening series, he ran a land double, with a walk up, and then a land blind.  The go bird was a shot flyer that was kind enough to wave a wing at him as he ran 5 yards to the right.  This pulled him right in to the mark.  The memory bird was a thrown bird at about 60 yards in some tall cover (at least it looked that way from the line, it was mixed in the area of the fall).  Porter went 10 yards to the right and kept going (definitely something we need to work on).  He put on a deep hunt, but worked his way back in and picked up the bird with no handle.  The blind was about 110 yards (I stepped it off), which I thought was pretty respectable for a Senior test.  He took a great initial line, and required more handling than I would have liked, but I think the issues were more my handling than his running.  Just like he's learning to understand the "sign language" of handling, I'm still learning to speak it.  Either way, we got the callback.
The next series was the water series, a water double and a water blind.  The memory bird was about 40 yards down the left shore and 30 yards out into the water.  The closeness of the memory bird station was quite tempting for some dogs.  The go bird was a 60-70 yard swim, directly across the pond and just up the bank.  Porter nailed them both.  He got out of the water, took a couple steps up the bank and got the go bird.  He couldn't have done any better on either bird.  The blind was about 90 yards, through the water to the right.  Porter only needed about three whistles and he was on it.  I was pretty proud of how he did. 
Just when I was feeling good about how he did, then came the honor.  He was amped up and I could tell right away it was going to be trouble, but I didn't know enough to have a way to back him off.  As soon as the memory bird hit the water, he took off!  I got him back with a "no!  Heel!", and he came back after only about five steps.  Fortunately it was between the two marks, and the next dog nailed both memory and go birds, so the judges ruled his break did not interfere with the working dog!  Whew!  I'm sure his score got docked because of it, but his work on the water was so good, he still got his pass.
One down, three to go.  I don't think we'll make it to enough tests for his Senior title this year.  There are only one or two more tests we can get to, but it will give us something to polish off in the spring  and get him warmed up for Master work next year (hopefully).

Update - July 27

Well, fortunately for us, next time was only a week away.  I was able to take the week off from work (I hate how the job interferes with my important stuff, like dog training) to get a lot of work in before the July 28 Rose City test at Sauvie Island.  Of course, the training this week was almost the opposite of last week's training.  Porter's marking seemed to be way off (he was lining everything wide right, like a Buffalo Bills field goal) and he couldn't seem to get his focus on his blind work.  But we stuck with it and there were glimmers of success mixed in.
I worked with Matt on Thursday, and he got to see the "wide right" issue.  Once it was clear that Porter should have been running a straighter line, what Matt said was needed was to set him up, run a mark, and if he took the wide right line, call him back.  Then, cut the distance in half, run it again, and he should take a better line.  Then, rerun it full length.  He needed to run the right line to earn the retrieve.
Update - July 21
Well, We've taken the plunge and started running Porter in Senior Hunter tests.  I went to the test on Sauvie Island on July 14 to watch, so I could gauge where Porter is in his blind work.  After watching the land and water tests I was confident that Porter was more than capable of Senior level work, so I signed up to run the Salem Retriever Trial Club's test at St. Louis Ponds on July 21st.
We worked on tuning up his marking and blind work the week before the test.  We did a lot of singles.  We did long singles, and then repeated them as a double with the single being the memory bird.  We did cold doubles.  He was nailing everything.  Even his blind work seemed to be more comfortable for him.  He was running with more confidence.  We were ready for the 21st.
Well, just like when I hit 'em straight at the driving range, and then spray my shots all over the golf course, Porter's first Senior test did not go  as planned.  He went out on the first mark.
He watched the memory bird go down (thrown bird at 50-60 yards) and then a shot flyer go bird (around 60-70 yards).  He took a wide right line to the go bird, set up a hunt short, and was all over the place.  When I tried handling him to the bird, he was blowing me off half the time.  It was one of those situations where you just shake your head and wonder what happened to the dog that I had been training with. 
He brought the bird back, but long before then I knew we were done.  Oh well, there's always next time.

Update - June 27

Wow!  A lot has happened since my last update (yes, I've been a slacker).  I hate it when my job cuts into my leisure activities. :)
In this case, it has limited my website time, but I have been able to squeeze adequate training time with Porter.
In the two months since my last update, Porter has grown and matured.  It's amazing to me how issues in his training, that seem insurmountable at first, seem to iron themselves out in a short period of time
(well, there is some work involved).
I've provided just this quick update on Porter's Hunt Test status.  I'll get back online and provide a little more feedback on what his training issues have been and how we've gotten past them.
May 27
We ran a double test at Sauvie Island in Portland this weekend.  Porter passed both time, earning legs three and four, completing his Junior Hunter title!
May 19
We ran the May 19 test put on by the Salem Retriever Trial Club, at St. Louis Ponds in Gervais, Oregon.  Porter's performance was solid; although he did make me sweat a little on one of the marks, putting on a short hunt, but he quickly got on it and earned the second leg of his Junior Hunter title.

Update - April 17

Last weekend Porter ran in his first AKC Junior Hunt Test. 
Unfortunately he didn't pass on Saturday.  I think the inexperience (on both our parts) got to us. 
On the first mark he drifted left, hunted long, and the was all over the county (great fun). 
I was able to handle him to the mark (but should have sooner).  Since he didn't mark it well, we got dropped.
Fortunately it was a double-header and we got another shot at it on Sunday.

Here he is running the land marks on Sunday, for judges Jim Morris and Mary Beth Lamb
Porter came back strong and pinned all his marks to earn the first leg of his Junior Hunt Test title!

Update - April 5
Porter continues to progress.  In recent weeks he has run his first cold blinds (a cold blind is when he doesn't see when it's planted and there are no visual clues to the location of the dummy).  While we still have lots of work to do, he went strongly on the "back" cast and took the necessary casts to the blind.  It was very exciting!  Actually, while Porter needs some work, I think that I need even more.  Teaching him to handle has been like both of us learning a new language (sign language) and if I expect him to understand what I'm saying, I have to learn how to "speak" clearly.
In addition to the continued handling work, we've been working a lot on marking, in anticipation of Porter's first hunt test.  On April 14-15 we'll be going to Medford, Oregon to run in the Rogue Valley Retriever Club's Spring Test.  I am anxious and nervous to see where Porter stands in his training.  I think that he's been doing well.  He's hard charging and shows good perseverance when he needs to.
We've worked slowly up to long doubles.  It started by sending him on the memory bird (first bird thrown, second one retrieved) as a single, then throwing it again, tossing a go bird (second thrown, first retrieved), having him retrieve the go bird, then getting the memory bird.  Last week he ran a cold double (no single first) with no trouble!
With St. Louis Ponds opening up for the season, we're finally starting to get more water work in.  He's charges right in without trying to cheat the bank.  He just wants to get the retrieve (not that I'm proud of him or anything).
That doesn't mean he knows it all yet (far from it) and I need to keep myself reined in from trying to run too much too soon.  When we work in baby steps, teach it right and reinforce it, he's solid.  I'm not in any hurry to get to the destination (anxious, maybe), we're just enjoying the trip...

These pictures are from a training session at St. Louis Ponds, near Gervais, Oregon.  This is the third time we've been there this year (with many more visits planned).  The park opened for the season on March 1st.  In May, Porter will be running a hunt test here, put on by the Salem Retriever Trial Club

Update - March 19
The last month we've been pretty busy.  We've been working on both Marking and Handling.
On the handling side, we've been working on our handling by extending the T drill and been running bucket blinds. 
A bucket blind is when a white bucket is put out in the field as a clue to the dog that there's something there.  At first, you take the dog to the bucket, mark it with a toss, then run it the same as the back pile drill.  Then, you try it cold (don't mark it), then you stretch it out.  Then, I took Porter to a completely new field that I had put two buckets in, at about 50 and 75 yards, that he ran to on a "back" command.  Porter is taking back casts, over casts, and stops with good consistency.  That's not to say there haven't been bumps in the road to progress, but when we hit them, we just shorten, simplify, work through it and then extend back out and end on a positive note.  In the last week he's shown some confusion on casts (fortunately, I realize that I'm probably more of the problem than he is), but I shortened up a bit, simplified to single casts to build confidence.  It's a lot easier when Porter is confident instead of confused.
We've also been doing as many marking drills as we can (which is tougher, since its easier with two people).  We've worked on different layouts, varying distances (50-150 yards), including walking singles that added more terrain factors the more marks that were thrown.  Last week we worked on some long water singles.  Porter did well, entered the water strong, and marked well. 
I'm happy with the steady improvement in his marking.  Again, it's a product of the confidence gained by stretching Porter out, challenging him, and providing the opportunity for repeated success.

Update - February 18

I was finally able to get some training pics.  The water pic is from the marking work we did yesterday at Sunnyview.  A February day in Oregon that's sunny and in the high 50's to low 60's is a beautiful day to be working the dogs!!!  I ran Porter on the water mark as a single, then as the memory bird on a double.  He did good on the marks (but we need to clean up his "happy feet" at the line).  Later, Matt was helping MaryAnn (sp?) work on her handling skills and I let her work with Porter.  It allowed me to snap this picture (I was the "gunner" for the water mark).

I uploaded the full picture, but it's 1.8 megs. 
If you're on a high speed connection, it might be worth a look, just to see what a great day it was.

We've been working pretty steadily on left/right back, and have also added left/right over.  He seems to be pretty clear on the concept, so I think this week we're ready to start some beginning blind work (Matt said something about a white bucket).  The pictures below are from work this weekend.

First, I set up the three piles (back, left, and right) while Porter watches

The I line him up to the back pile (I know, there's only one left in the picture on the right)...

And off he goes!!!

This was an interesting sequence.  As soon as I sent Porter to the back pile, the guy in the background crashed his remote control airplane (just above Porter's head in the middle picture) into the tree.  Regardless, Porter went to the pile, got the bumper, returned, and stopped on the whistle.  It was pretty amusing.



Update - February 4

Got a chance today to run Porter twice today. :)
Was able to convince the wife to throw some marks in the morning (only cost me breakfast at McDonald's).  Porter did well at lining the marks.
This afternoon, before the Super Bowl (am I allowed to say that without a license from the NFL?), I took Porter out to work with him on left/right over.  He was a lot cleaner at the back pile (got rid of that "victory lap" after pickup).  He did well on picking up on the left and right over.  Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do, but it's always fun to add a new concept to work with.


Update - February 3

Porter and I have been working to refine left/right back casting.  I thought we had it down, and then went to add left and right over.  Of course, this just showed that, while I thought we were okay, we needed more work.  We set up to teach left/right over, and I sent him to the back pile, and he immediately started up with an old previous issue I thought we had worked out; he likes to pick up and do a wide swing "fly by" on his way back from the pile.  THEN, on top of that, Porter decides he also doesn't need to be as sharp on the sit whistle.
Fortunately, this happened when I was working with Matt.  With his guidance, I picked up the side piles and concentrated on cleaning up the issues at hand.  We worked through the "fly by" and the lazy sit.  By the end of the session, he was looking better.

I have also been working with Porter, running marks whenever possible.  Unlike the yard work, I need a "bird boy" to run marks.  Then, when he gets the chance to run a double, like last week, good stuff...

Update - January 27
In the past week we've added left and right back casting.  Started with a pile 5 yards left of the center line and another 5 yards to the right, about 15-20 yards, out.  Taught left back and right back.  He seemed to pick it up pretty quick. By the end of the week I was able to merge the two back into one pile and he was taking left-back and right back consistently!  He takes the back casts well, but I had to work an switching at the pile and a "walking" sit" on the way back.
(for those that don't know, left-back consists of putting your left arm up, to send him back, and he should turn to the handler's left as he turns back.  Right-back is the same idea, but with the right hand and he should turn to handler's right)

I still haven't gotten recent pictures during training, but Deb took this one last week when we had snow.
Update - January 14
Porter has been home for a month now.  Have I mentioned how glad I am to have him back? :)
I've been able to make it back to Sunnyview twice a week (except last week when my transmission went out!).  The focus over the past month has been learning "back pile" and running more marks. 
He's doing well on "back" casting.  I've got the pile out to about 70 yards with a dozen dummies.  He's stopping on the whistle on the return, and taking a back cast to the pile.  It took a little work to get the "sit" whistle down, and he sometimes likes to take a wide left "victory lap" swing  on the return from the pile, but I think we've about got those things worked out.  Next week we're going to work with Matt and whatever comes next.
Over the past month we've also run land and water marks (brrrrr) with dummies and flier pigeons.  The focus has been steadiness at the line.  He's got great drive, which has enabled him to put up with my inexperience without too many lasting side effects.  I just need to find the place and time (and throwers) to get him more practice time running marks...
I need to get some new training pics, but anytime I can get some help, I use it to throw marks, not take pictures.
Update - December 21
Porter came home from Sunnyview on Dec 15 after two months in training.  He has been through force-fetch and collar conditioning.  He has started work with frozen birds, and the Monday after he came home we went back and he worked with live fliers.  I'm happy with his progress.  I don't know how he compares to a dog that would start early and stay through the entire process, but I don't really care about that.  I don't want to get hung up on timelines.  To me, the process of his training is more important that a quicker arrival at the destination.  I know that Matt would have liked him to stay longer, but I was adamant about getting him home.
I am continuing to work with Matt Weiner at Sunnyview.  I'm planning on getting down there at least once a week, hopefully twice a week, depending on my work schedule (while I have some flexibility in my job, there are limits).  I'm headed down tomorrow (12/22) to work on back to pile and more birds (I think).  We'll see how it goes and take it as it comes (think I can squeeze any more clichés in there?).

 November 25, 2006

I started training Porter the first day he came home.  Starting with just the essentials (don't bite me, sleep in your crate, and pee outside), once he started to recognize his name (around nine weeks) it was training for fun, and around 12 or 14 weeks, Porter learned that training sessions now meant he had to sit, heel, etc.  Also during this time was fun retrieving, starting in the hallway of the house and teaching him that when he brought it back, I would throw it again and the game would continue
In September I started working once a week with Matt Weiner at Sunnyview in Salem.  We started just reinforcing and refining the basics, with refinements like sit means: sit, stay, and pay attention to me while you're sitting.
In mid-October, Porter went to Sunnyview Labradors in Salem for force fetch training.  This was a first for me, and I was not entirely comfortable with it, but I want to run Porter in Hunt Tests and the majority of things I've read and opinions I've gotten said that force fetch was important and having it done by an experienced Pro was a good way to go.

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I got to go down and see Porter and check on his progress.  Here are some pictures I took during my visit.

As it stands right now, I plan to bring Porter home in a couple more weeks and continue his training myself (with continued lessons from Matt, of course).  I'll update the website with Porter's progress.
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