Saturday, September 10, 2011

Judged Pee Wee stake, land blinds, On/Off drill

Cheltenham, MD. After days of drenching rain, today was clear and warm.

The day started early so that I could meet with my co-judge to set up the land series for the Pee Wee stakes we were judging together at a WC/WCX event. It was the first time judging a field event for both of us. We set up two land singles, and later two water singles. In each setup, we ran the older puppies first at a longer distance, and then the younger dogs from the same start line but with shorter throws.

Neither of us knew how to record our observations in a way that we'd be able to make comparisons later, but together we evolved a method of drawing diagrams, recording the line that the dog took, making notations of any additional observations (for example, "hesitated before entering water"), and adding a numeric score 0-10 immediately after each retrieve, which we might modify on second thought later, but which somehow seemed to make it easier to remember what we'd seen. We also compared notes after the land, and then again at the end (of course), bringing our scores into sync and then using the totals to assign placements. Of course, we'd rather have just given a blue ribbon to all the puppies.

Of the older dogs, the dog who would have taken First place was a few inches from picking up her last water mark when she suddenly barked and jetted back to shore. We never found out what happened, and she didn't appear to be injured. But I know they have fish and turtles, including dangerous snapping turtles, on the property. The puppy was spooked and wouldn't get back in the water again for a while, but later that morning, some of the trainers worked with the owner, and the puppy seemed to be performing normally again. However, we felt we had to give the dog a zero for that retrieve.

We finished the puppy stakes around noon, and it would be hours before the WC/WCX competition would be complete, so I took Laddie to a part of the property away from the competition for some training. First he ran three land blinds, 100-200-300y. The 100 and 200 included tight keyholes near the end of the outrun, while the 300 included a canal crossing on a diagonal. The field for all the retrieves was swampy with large swaths of high cover. I'd like Laddie to sit faster when I blow the whistle, but aside from that, he was responsive on both sits and casts, and in each case ran the "judge's blind" as I had defined it to myself when I set the blinds up. I didn't want to require extremely narrow corridors for this session, because I feel that too much of that can hurt motivation and/or lead to popping, but he got all the obstacles I'd planned for.

After the land blinds, we ran an On/Off drill, a total of four retrieves, at a new location. I set up an orange lining pole, which Laddie didn't appear able to see till he was fairly close. However, he ran every retrieve correctly, off the point or on the point alternately. They all required at least a little handling in the tight configuration and thick, high cover of the land entry, and I was pleased that Laddie never made a peep, he just took the WSCs as called for and in high spirits. I'm not sure whether it might have been a factor that a couple of trainers were throwing bumpers in the water for 4 or 5 young dogs nearby. I thought it was advantageous as a diversion, and possibly to increase excitement level (the better to simulate event conditions), but I could imagine that it also reduced or overwhelmed whatever internal factors produce the vocalizing. Or perhaps Laddie wouldn't have vocalized even if the others hadn't been there.

After that, we ran a variety of additional water retrieves: a few poorman marks that required shoreline swims, a sight blind requiring Laddie to go over a point 2/3 of the way to the blind, and plenty of happy throws into open water and the overgrown meadow. For this later sight blind, I didn't have my whistle with me, so I needed to use verbal cues ("sit", "over", "back") to get Laddie onto and then off of the point. Again, other (different) dogs were running open water retrieves nearby while Laddie was running his blind, and again Laddie responded to my cues enthusiastically, accurately and silently.

We still had a substantial wait before the awards ceremony and unfortunate picture taking ritual (my request to wait for the pictures until I'd lost 20 pounds was roundly ignored). Nonetheless, having the opportunity to get in a nice training session, where Laddie seemed to perform well, made for a satisfying day.


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