Yesterday, in Laddie's first field trial (Qual stake) of the year, Laddie's marking, once his strong suit, was so poor on a 210y memory-bird that, even though Laddie did not need to be handled, he was one of the only dogs not to be called back to the land blind.
I see this as, once again, the curse of not having a field trial group to train with. The fact is that, as simple and routine a triple as was featured in that first series, as much like the triples most field trial dogs see several times a week in their training, Laddie has only seen two or three such triples in the last YEAR.
I'm renewing my efforts to address that deficit. But today did not achieve that goal. I got up early this dreary, damp, chilly Sunday morning and brought Laddie to the superb training property in Cheltenham, hoping that perhaps I'd find a training group that would let us join them. But the gate was locked on arrival, and even though we stayed two hours, no other trainer ever showed up. So as usual, we were on our own.
I began by running Laddie on three land blinds, taking advantage of the mounds, strips of cover, tree groupings, and slopes to give him some challenges we don't have available on our local fields. He handled nicely.
Next I decided to try what I'll call a remote single. As simple as it was, it's not something we've ever run before. But I tried Laddie on a short one and he understood immediately, so we did several more at 180-220y distances.
To run a remote single: Place a lining pole in a visible location you've selected as the start line. Walk with the dog, perhaps throwing fun bumpers or playing tug, out to the area where you want to throw the mark. Show the dog your starter pistol, bring the dog to heel facing the lining pole, use some new cue such as "remote mark" rather than "dead bird", and send the dog with "back". If necessary handle the dog to the lining pole, but this was rarely necessary with Laddie in the eight or ten remote singles we ran today.
When the dog arrives at the lining pole, blow sit whistle. When the dog sits and faces you, call out "sit, mark," just as you would if you were standing beside him about to run him on a mark. Fire the pistol and throw the mark. Face the dog, so that your posture provides no directional information, and call the dog's name using the same inflection as a send from the line. If things go right, the dog launches and runs the mark, picks up the bumper or bird, and brings it to you as the thrower. In theory you can help, like any thrower, if the dog needs it, though that never happened today.
I'm not necessarily recommending remote singles to other trainers. All sorts of things could go wrong. But for Laddie, I think remote singles may be superior to using a Bumper Boy and stickman for several reasons, and they're certainly a lot faster to set up.
For today's remote singles, I didn't have any birds with me, but I used a black bumper because I wanted Laddie to deal with limited visibility on the throw and an invisible target on the outrun, a better simulation of some of the marks we get in competition than using white bumpers. All my throwing bumpers do have streamers on them, however.
Today's results with this new kind of marking practice were promising. On the first mark, Laddie understood the game but needed more of a hunt than I wanted, perhaps the result of too much of the kind of approximate marking that's reasonable with a "retired" mark, like those he sees so often when we run poorman multiples. But with a gunner standing there, I feel that he should generally be able to take a perfect line, needing a small hunt only if the fall is in an unusual position, such as at the bottom of a slope on an angle-in from the gunner.
And by the end if the day, Laddie's marking had bounced back and he was running those great lines I've always expected of him. The last remote single today was at 210y, and the line required the dog to climb uphill thru some rough terrain when an easy, unobstructed, and obvious path a little to the right would have brought Laddie to the wrong side of the thrower (me). Laddie took a laser-straight line to the fall, wrapping up a nice session.
By the way, midway thru the training, despite the near-freezing temps we've been having at night recently, and the fact that our morning temp had only reached 42, Laddie decided to go swimming at one point, apparently to cool off.
Accordingly, I ran a couple of the remote singles so that they featured short swims, and I also ran Laddie on a Qual-like on-and-off-the-point water blind. He vocalized on the blind, but if you set aside the yelping, he handled great. I'm afraid that's who this dog is.
I'm thinking of entering Laddie in another trial in a couple of weeks. If we go, I hope he marks the way he was starting to today.