Sunday, January 8, 2012

Marking down, steadiness up, handling holding steady

Rixeyville, VA.

Mid 40s, sun and clouds, wind 5mph.

Without realizing it at the time, it seems I injured my right ankle about 10 weeks ago, and it's still not right. Some days, like today, it's just tender. Other days, it's swollen to twice its normal size and is so painful I can't sleep even with maximum dose of OTC pain meds.

On top of that, other injuries that I suspect are caused by adjustments I make in my gait also keep cropping up, on both left and right feet and ankles.

I've made several visits to doctors and I've taken the tests they recommended. All negative so far.

I think what happened was a simple sprain, which has lingered and spread its effects because I am unable to give it the rest it needs. My client is in a large complex of buildings and frequent long walks during the day are unavoidable. However, the last few weeks I have made every effort to at least minimize time in the field with the dogs.  I think walking hundreds of yards on uneven ground to set up blinds and run marks for Laddie, and handle Lumi in tracking, was especially aggravating the injury.

So our training has been minimal. During the week, I throw bumpers and play tug with Lumi and Laddie to give them as much activity as possible. Most weekends, we train with Dave, and whenever possible his training buddy.  We train on some hilly hay fields in the area of Warrenton, VA.  He generally brings four birds, which he shoots as flyers. We use hand thrown dead birds or Bumper Boys and stickmen for the other marks.

Today was typical.  We used two land triples, both Qual scale, each including a land blind that I ran Laddie on after his marks. Dave also set up a final blind for Laddie at the end of the session. For each series, Laddie ran the series first, then honored Lumi as she ran it. Lumi was sent only to pick up the flyer.

When we have another handler, that person handles Lumi so that I can stand with Laddie during the honor.  On those days when it's just Dave and I, like today, Laddie has to do a remote honor (no handler at his side) as I hold Lumi while the marks are thrown. As soon as I release Lumi, she always goes straight for the flyer. I return to Laddie, heel him to the van, and play with him. Lumi generally marks well and runs hard to the bird, but takes forever on the returns.

After so many weeks of this kind of work, Laddie seems to have made great progress on his steadiness. We'll continue this way to the spring, whenever weather permits, and I'm hoping Laddie won't be DQing on breaks when we resume competition.

Laddie seems to be holding his own on blinds, too: generally good enough for Qual or Master, I believe, but perhaps not good enough for All Age at times.

My greatest concern is Laddie's marking. Laddie had always been one of the top markers on the field at every level of competition, but to me it appears that his marking is deteriorating this winter. I attribute this primarily to my inability to find a training group with whom we can train. I can only hope that when spring comes, I'll discover I was wrong and Laddie's marking is as good as ever after all.


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