OK an update! I was out of town for 2 weeks end of July/beginning of August but have been back home now about 2 weeks. Lots of training progress for Bally. We are just focusing on the tasks I listed above.
I have done several sessions of "multiple piles" (lining to white stakes) at ~50 yards and he is pretty perfect. I typically put 5 bumpers at each pile and try to leave one bumper left ("just in case") at each stake -- so that's a lot of bumpers to pick up. The only issue I have is Bally not wanting to SIT before taking off. He's like "you pointed me at it and I'm outta here." OK.....
We've worked lots on the place mat to where I can send him from about 30 feet away "place" and he turns around and sits. About a week ago I began steadying drills using the mat. First I would just tease him with the bumper to try to leave the mat, and eventually I would walk 20-30 feet away and throw the bumper. If he broke I would intercept him and then send back to the mat with nicks. I liked this as it took me out of the equation, Bally didn't have to worry about being in heel position per se, just being steady. I eventually graduated to me standing on the mat next to him and throwing bumpers myself. Yesterday was the first time I had a gunner throw bumpers. Short, only 20-30 yards or so. First throw was silent, then a hey-hey, then a duck call, then a duck call and lots of shouting. He broke one time and was corrected on the way back with a medium 3.
Today I repeated the drill, this time building up to having a bird thrown, lots of duck calling and hollaring, making it really exciting. He broke one time and got two nicks on a medium 4 as he came back to the mat (I call -- NO -- HERE - nick nick as he returns. He never gets corrected with the collar as he's heading away from me). He was steady as a rock the rest of the time! This is working! (I think)
The other thing we've done this past week is the 150 yard long distance FTP. Using the directions in Mitch White's book -- it's like following a recipe, I take the book with me so I get it right
First day I worked up to 100 yards, on the first 100 yard send Bally got over halfway out there and drifted off to the right, when I yelled BACK and nicked him he turned around like "WHAT?!" - another force and he then focused back on the pile and ran. I use a white stake to mark the pile so who knows what that was all about. The very next send he lined it like a rocket -- great
It's too hot to do the full drill in all one session so we stopped there. Last night was session #2, this time I started at the 50 yard mark and worked back to the full 150 yards. I think on two of the sends he was forced half way en route, and did everything perfect. On the final send of the night I received in heel position, said "SIT" -- Bally looked out -- "GOOD" - "BACK" and he lined it from that far away!!! I was thrilled
The last few steps of the drill involve forcing en route TWICE then lining from your side the full distance, so we'll save that for tomorrow. This drill was definitely the missing piece, I'm really happy I decided to do it.
Will check back in later with more progress.