Rixeyville, VA. Blue skies, 50s, light wind. Hilly, clumpy hay field ringed with trees. Just Dave, Laddie, and me, plus four live pheasants and two dead ones to start.
A) With hot blind (pheasant) at 210y down the middle, brought Laddie with me to watch me throw another pheasant RTL from a stickman on the right so he'd know where that one was. Then Laddie and I heeled back to the SL, so now that "memory-bird" was at 120y. I showed Laddie the stickman and said "sit, mark". Then we turned to face Dave on the left at 20y. I blew a duck call enthusiastically, but forgot to hold Laddie's tab. Dave threw a cock pheasant RTL. Laddie broke, I hollered, and he spun around and came to heel. I hollered a bit more, then walked out and picked up the flyer. I showed it to him, told him "This could have been yours" (he understands English, you know), and tossed the bird in the back if the van.
Under Dave's advice, I then removed Laddie's collar and tab, and we ran the same setup again. This time Laddie was steady as a rock. I sent him to the flyer, then to pick up the "memory-bird", and finally ran him on the blind.
B) On the right at 70y, Dave threw and shot another pheasant flyer RTL. Then I walked out a little way toward the left and threw a dead bird mostly straight out, a little to the right for visibility. I walked back and called Laddie to heel, watching to see if he had a strong pull toward the flyer. If he had, I'd have sent him there first. But he didn't, so I sent him to the short bird first, then to the flyer. I'm not sure whether Laddie being willing to run the flyer last spoke of mature patience, trust that he would get both birds eventually, high prey drive drawn to the closest and most recent throw, or a lower birdiness than a certain eight-year-old female Golden I could mention, or some combination. It was good to see, anyway.
C) Dave threw a dead bird on the left RTL at 50y, a dead bird in the center RTL at 50y, and a dead bird on the right RTL at 20y. Laddie picked them up on lasers in reverse order of the throws. Then I took a position a few feet from the SL with Laddie at heel, sat him, took up my honoring position facing away from the field off Laddie's right flank, and said, "sit, just watch," Laddie's honor cue. Now Dave threw the same series again, except that he threw the first two birds from closer in, and he used our last flyer for the go-bird. Laddie remained steady!
My plan was to walk away from Laddie without saying another word and pick up the first two birds, then walk back to the SL. If Laddie stayed in place, I'd let him pick up the flyer when I got back. But he broke toward the flyer once I was a few feet away in another direction. Again he allowed me to call him back to heel, and again I went out and picked up the flyer myself.
Dave commented that Laddie is what's called "controlled chaos," and said, "You can see the gears turning, he's putting it together."
I recognize that a high energy outrun has the potential to be reinforcing even without getting the bird, but Alice once told me that a controlled break can also be a good teaching tool for steadiness because the dog sees almost instantly the futility in breaking. Laddie's steadiness is obviously not complete, but his work today felt pretty good.