Saturday, April 16, 2011

Laddie's Third Master Test

Remington, VA

I'm afraid Laddie is now 0 for 3 in Master Hunt Tests.  I see little advantage on dwelling on yesterday's event, but for the record, here's a brief description.

Basically, Laddie had no trouble with the first series, a land triple plus honor, though one clue about what was eventually to come did appear: During the honor, Laddie was far more interested in sniffing the ground around him than in the test that the working dog was about to run. He did look up when the guns started firing, but by Laddie standards, it was practically an afterthought.

Because of test logistics, we had a long delay between the first and second series, and Laddie was one of the last dogs in the running order when the lengthy second series did begin. As a result, I took Laddie out of his crate several times that morning. He exhibited similarly distracted behavior whenever I aired him: Instead of his usual ball/bumper obsession, all he wanted to do was follow scents, and in certain locations that he found, intensely sniff and even lick the ground.

Talking to the other handlers, I learned that one of the female dogs had been in heat recently, though was supposedly past that. Apparently someone forgot to tell Laddie.

The second series was a land/water triple with a walk-up and a flyer, plus two blinds. Although it was not a gimme, I didn't expect Laddie to have trouble with it

However, during the walk-up, he caught a scent and rushed forward ahead of me, nose to the ground. When he reached the start line tape a split second later, the judge called for the first bird, an angle back LTR from a nearby hidden gun way to the left of the field, thrown with a winger into reeds just beyond the embankment of the closest shoreline at 20y. This mark was intended to take the dog by surprise and happen very quickly.  Laddie looked up too late and never saw the fall. He then watched the center throw across the pond, thrown LTR at 90y from a gun station 30 degrees to the right of the first mark, and a flyer 180 degrees from the first mark and thrown from behind a sprawling stand of trees RTL at 60y.

Laddie picked up the flyer, and then, like all the previous handlers, I lined him up on the very short first mark. In retrospect, that was a mistake. Although I couldn't tell from Laddie's body language — perhaps a more experienced handler could have — Laddie had not seen that bird and did not know where it was, while he actually did know where the long mark was. Therefore, I now think I should have run him on the long mark first, though no previous handler had run the series that way. Once that was out of the way, and Laddie's mind was cleared about the long mark, I should have treated the short bird as a blind, cueing "dead bird" and sending him with "back".  Laddie and I had actually had a similar situation at a training day a few weeks ago, and I had come to the same conclusion of how to handle such a situation, but I didn't recognize that that's what I was seeing during yesterday's test, and didn't follow my earlier advice to myself.

Instead, I lined Laddie up on the short mark, saw that he was locked in, and sent him on his name. He ran the correct line till he got near the shoreline, and if the bird had been visible, we'd have been OK. But he neither saw it nor scented it, and immediately veered right and leapt into the water. I let him go for awhile, but he seemed confused, apparently struggling with whether to loop back to the mystery bird I'd sent him toward, or take matters into his own hands and go out to pick up the long bird. It was beginning to look like he might get called for a switch, since he had already been pretty close to the short fall, so I decided I better handle him.

Now of course Laddie has had a ton of handling, and I've often handled him on marks without difficulty when needed. But this situation where he's sent to a bird that he apparently knows he was supposed to have seen but doesn't know where it is seems to really mess with his mind, and he handled poorly. He just didn't seem able to believe I knew where the bird was. He eventually did pick up the bird, and then ran a nice mark to the center bird, as good as any dog had done on that rather difficult mark, which had knocked several dogs out. But the judges wouldn't let Laddie run the blind, because of the refusals during handling to the short mark.

I won't describe the land and water blinds, but I don't think Laddie would have had any trouble with them. I don't recall any dog going out because of the blinds.

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