The Looking Glass drill illustrated

After working with Elettra last Friday morning, I took Doc and Elvis out for some training. Actually, Elvis who has never enjoyed training, was content to sniff and lay around watching Doc train.

Using a bumper with an attached wing, I ran Doc through the Looking Glass drill both upwind and downwind. As you see, Doc first goes to the poison birds – bumpers – before finding the mark and improves with each iteration of the drill.

For the last iteration, I reduced the distance between the rows of poison birds by half, making Doc run a narrower alley to the mark.

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Retrieving with Elettra

Unfortunately, most people (and trainers) relate force fetching with inducing pain. I oppose that philosophy – it’s one that I never have, nor ever plan on using. I want dogs “wanting” to retrieve rather than “having” to retrieve, and training must be fun for them. This builds their trust, confidence, and reliability.

Elettra checking out an adjacent field

Years ago, a trainer instructed that a versatile dog must be solid on point before introducing retrieving, and that’s the methodology I’ve followed. I hadn’t focused on retrieving back when I was getting Elettra ready for her AKC hunt tests, so until I can get her on some birds, it’s Retrieving 101 – painless force fetch.

Elettra holding a bird wing during our retrieving session

We held our first session Friday morning and using the same method that vets use to open a dog’s mouth, I worked my thumb and finger between her teeth to open her mouth, then inserted a bird wing. I then held her chin up to prevent her from spitting it out.

Elettra holding the bird wing while checking out the scenery

Once Elettra voluntarily held the duck wing, I told her to “drop it” and gave her a treat. We repeated this a few times, then I gave her the wing and walked away. She followed alongside carrying the wing, until I recalled her and took the wing from her – a mini retrieve.

After a ten-minute break to allow her a chance to run and sniff, we returned to force fetching. By the time we ended this session, I was jogging with Elettra at my side, carrying the wing.

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Through the Looking Glass and what Doc found there

We returned to the baseball drill Friday morning and while Doc did very well with his left and right casts, he had a lot of trouble with back casts and taking a line to the bumper. I quickly gave up on baseball and focused on Doc taking a straight line to the bumper.

Doc waits to be cast during the baseball drill

First, I made two piles of bumpers, the second pile about 15 yards behind the first. I sent Doc after them until he had retrieved both piles, just to get his accustomed to taking a line.

Doc retrieving a bumper

After that we did the Looking Glass drill, a drill we haven’t ran since 2016.

The two piles of bumpers aren’t that visible. Doc tries to be efficient by retrieving two bumpers at the same time.

The Looking Glass drill was developed by Mike Gould a number of years ago and involves sending the dog between two rows of bumpers, or poison birds, in order to retrieve the mark.

The Looking Glass drill configuration

I used 8 bumpers as poison birds, placed the bumpers about 5 yards apart and about 10 yards between the rows, using Scott Linden’s Real Bird Bumper (R) as the mark which was about 5 yards beyond the last two poison birds.

Doc is lined up on the mark during the Looking Glass drill.

As I knew Doc would do, he went for the poison birds. I’d tell him “no”, reset the bumper, and send him again. We did this a few times until he took his cast all the way to the mark, and then coming back (the looking glass part of the drill) dropped the mark and picked up a poison bird. He did this a couple of times and I’d tell him “no”, replace the bumpers and send him out again.

The last two iterations of the Looking Glass drill, I back cast Doc to the mark which he ran perfectly.

After his first successful retrieve through the looking glass, he had it down pat and made perfect retrieves from then on. After our last iteration, I sent him out to retrieve each of the poison birds.

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Casting and doubles

Doc selects the correct bumper

Friday morning, I took Doc and Elvis on a nice long walk and stopped to work Doc on doubles and casting. At the age of 10, Elvis is waking up stiff some mornings and isn’t up to early morning cold water swims.

Doc and Elvis watch a family of geese

I started Doc out on a couple of single retrieves then several doubles. I started casting him by tossing the bumpers about 30 feet apart and alternated between which bumper I wanted him to take first, sometimes it was the first bumper I tossed, sometimes the second one.

A hawk watched our training exercises

As we progressed, I tossed the bumpers closer together until the last couple of doubles, they were about 10 feet apart. Doc did very well with his casting, making only a couple of mistakes.

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more water retrieving

Doc goes out for a bumper while working on doubles

I’ve been working Doc and Elvis on retrieving drills, both land and water, and Friday continued with sending Doc out on doubles.

Doc returns with a bumper on April 19

Elvis wasn’t up to swimming and was content to wade and watch Doc work.

Elvis goes out for a bumper on April 19

But he had spent the morning on a special request for a therapy visit, so I let him wade and sniff while working with Doc.

A family of geese

We did see a little wildlife – a family of geese and a 3-4 foot snake, possibly a racer, I’m not sure.

A 3-4 foot snake we came across

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Baseball with Doc

This last Friday, I took Doc and Elvis out for retrieving drills, specifically the baseball drill. Until we can get on some birds, I’m focusing on retrieving.

Doc and Elvis take a pre-training run

I put Doc on the pitcher’s mound and placed the bumper at first base, then cast him. On his first attempt, Doc ran to me and then the bumper. On the next two casts, Doc made big arcs on his way to first base however the next three casts, he maintained a straight line to first base and back to me.

Doc picks up the first base bumper

I repeated the drill with the bumper at third base and exaggerated my casting. After a couple of casts, Doc was taking a nice line to the bumper and back to me.

Doc retrieving the third base bumper

As for Elvis, he’s taking his retirement seriously and decided it was too nice of a day for retrieving, so he stretched out on the grass, enjoyed the morning sun and watched me work with Doc.

Elvis sunbathing instead of training

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Elvis goes to school

Elvis and I were invited to attend classes at the Idaho Science and Technology Charter School on Thursday, Feb. 21 and would like to thank the school for the opportunity to discuss Spinone and therapy work. We are invited every other year to visit the school where during the course of our presentation, the students ask questions then write a report from their notes.

Elvis and me giving a presentation to one of the classes

Elvis enjoys the visits although he normally falls asleep about ten minutes into the presentation. The students are always amazed when I demonstrate how to strip a Spinone and can’t believe that it doesn’t hurt the dog. They also find it humorous when I demonstrate how Elvis has regressed in his therapy training and now ignores some of the commands he was once so sharp on.

Explaining the importance of therapy work

But then he spent six of his years as a therapy dog and now that he’s a retired senior, I guess he’s earned the right to ignore me from time to time.

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