Today, Laddie competed for the last time as a four year old, with his birthday tomorrow. This was his third trial of the year, and as with the others, he was dropped after one series. In fact, we honored on lead.
However, I don't feel as bad as I might. Running as #8, and the fifth working dog, Laddie nailed the go-bird flyer at 220y on the right, and had a reasonable hunt on his second retrieve, the retired bird at 130y on the left. He also took a nice initial line to the middle bird at 160y, but cheating around a wide strip of cover, he ended up behind the gun with no wind to help him. He seemed to be on a reasonable hunt for awhile, but eventually got out across a distant road, and one of the judges became worried he might get hurt in the power company's cables that had been left lying out there. By that time he was too far out to hear my whistle or even the bird-boy's hey-hey, so the judge offered for the marshal to take me out in a four-wheeler to pick him up. Seeing me, Laddie ended up picking the bird up and we trotted back in together. My knee and back are still hurting these days, but I wasn't feeling any pain at the time. Being out in the field with my dog feels good.
So we honored on lead, like all the dogs who had run before us. And we got a nice compliment about the first mark from the judge, who commented that it was nice to see Laddie's work after half the earlier dogs had needed the thrower's help on that mark.
I hung around on the off chance that they'd end up scrapping the test, but after a while, the temps were up 20 degrees (perhaps enlarging scent cones), the wind picked up enough to start helping the dogs who were downwind of their birds, the falls had more scent, and the lines to the falls had more drag scent. First some of the dogs started picking up all the birds with a handle, and then with no handle. The first two times a dog ran the series with no handle, the gallery broke into applause, but after that, it became clear that the test had changed and people just watched and chatted.
I don't feel Laddie or I embarrassed ourselves, if you set aside the fact that Laddie should be winning every trial he runs. For Laddie's part, his first mark was excellent, his mark on the retired gun was reasonable considering that that mark, too, had finished a couple of the earlier dogs, and his returns were satisfactory. For my part, I showed Laddie the birds in the order as intended, I lined him up on the correct first mark before calling for the birds (unlike one of the pros), and I had learned my lesson from the previous trial so that, when Laddie lined up on the retired gun after returning with the flyer, although I had planned to run him on the middle mark that had been thrown second, I immediately accepted his selection, realigned myself, and sent him to the earlier memory-bird, retired though it was.
Despite Laddie not seeing a land blind in competition yet this year, I don't think we're outclassed at this level, and I'm not ready to throw in the towel.
I will, however, look for opportunities to have my new bird-girls help when Laddie's marking is a little weak. I would have liked for him to look for the gunner on that last mark when he started to get lost, and to me, that's something that we've lost by having no field trial group to train with. On the other hand, running so many poorman marks may have given him more confidence on retired marks than some dogs at his level.
Now it's time for the trip back home, for a total of seven hours driving this morning. At least Laddie can catch some z's while we're on the road. After a 3:30am wake-up, I wish I could.