Monday, May 28, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
A friend pointed out a serious problem with yesterday's post entitled "Trajectory".
As she read the post, she thought I was saying that according to my understanding, successful all-age dogs can and typically do run in Qualifying stakes as well.
As my friend pointed out, that's not the case. But actually, it's not what I was trying to say. Unfortunately, I didn't communicate effectively.
What I was trying to say is that right now Laddie is not skilful enough to compete successfully in all-age stakes, but hopefully someday he will be. That is the goal of our training, as opposed to somehow managing to earn some Qual ribbons.
In referring to an all-age dog who managed to sneak into a Qual, I wasn't trying to suggest that that has ever happened. I guess it could happen if someone wanted to cheat with look-alike dogs, but it could not happen within the rules if the dog had had success at the all-age level, or even had won two Quals Such dogs are not eligible to run in a Qual.
But here's what is true: If a day comes when Laddie is ready to compete with all-age dogs, as is our goal, but at that time he has not met any of the conditions that would make it illegal for him to run in a Qual, then if I entered him in a Qual at that time, I would expect him to win it. The same of course goes for any dog ready to compete successfully in all-age stakes but still permitted under the rules to run in Quals, unless the Qual happens to have more than one such dog that day.
Accordingly, I was trying to say that I don't want my attitude to be, when a judge for example looks at Laddie's big, looping sit and calls it a slipped whistle, "Bad break, too bad I didn't get a judge who accepts Laddie's big, looping sit." Instead, I want my attitude to be, "Ah, there's one more thing to work on before Laddie is ready to compete successfully in all-age stakes." Yeah, fixing it might also result in Laddie winning a Qual along the way, but that's almost beside the point. The purpose of Laddie running Quals is for me to gauge his progress. When the gauge tells me that he's ready to run in all-age stakes, he will also happen to win the Qual, not squeaking by but because he's clearly ready to compete at the next level. If he doesn't win the Qual, it's not a failure, it's just a helpful indication of where we are on our journey, our trajectory.
As to the moral quandary I was dealing with: If I wish for Laddie to win a Qual, it's not that I'm wishing for anyone else to lose, it's that I'm wishing to find that we have met our objective of preparing Laddie for the next level of competition.
This does not mean that my emotions accept our unsuccessful performances comfortably. Not getting called back to the next series, or running them all but not getting a placement, is not fun. But that's my emotions talking, not the analytical part of my mind.
Friday, May 25, 2012
Following up on today's trial, the water blind was 50y land, 40y stick pond, and 100y of clumpy, uneven meadow to the blind.
I didn't need to blow the whistle until Laddie had come out of the water, and it'a possible I didn't need to blow it then. But I thought it best not to let him veer at all, since I've noticed that a wet dog can get out of control unexpectedly in a strong crosswind, which we had. If the wind had pushed Laddie behind a mound that was lurking on the right, he'd have gone out of sight and been dropped as out of control.
Of course, blowing the whistle ended up being our undoing, but I still think it was the right thing to do. Laddie just needs to learn to stop better.
In any case, here are two nice positives, besides of course Laddie's great initial line (I think every other dog needed to be handled in the water): Laddie did not pop (I believe that means he has only popped in competition once in his career, a trial earlier this year), and he did not vocalize at any time running today, including the water. I'm not suggesting he's cured of vocalizing on water blinds -- Laddie did not have to deal with a point today, and I had the luxury of just letting him roll -- but it was good to see, nonetheless.
First, the news. Laddie was called back from the land triple and the land blind, which were bundled together, in today's trial. He waa them not called back from the water blind. So of course we did not get to run the water marks.
With a 360 mile drive home in front of me, I decided not to hang around for the rest of the trial, but rather get on the road.
The judges were kind enough to brief me on why they didn't call Laddie back from the water blind. They said he refused three whistles. They added that he had also refused a whistle on the land blind earlier, and they just didn't feel he was doing the level of work required.
That was helpful information to me, because: (a) I only saw Laddie slip one whistle on the water blind, though he did have big, looping sits two other times; and (b) I considered the whistle on land that the judges called a refusal to be a safety whistle, since Laddie immediately took a couple of strides to the bird after that whistle.
The judges were kind enough to pay Laddie a compliment, saying he had a fabulous initial line, giving us something to build on.
Before closing, I want to say that on my long drive up here last night, I gave a lot of thought to what I was finding to be a moral issue: I wanted to wish for Laddie to win today, but I was blocked because that meant wishing that other people would lose. This dilemma occupied my mind for many hours.
I finally came to a resolution. Laddie, and all the other dogs, are on a trajectory. They are more skillful now than when they first started field work, and in some cases they are continuing to improve. Laddie, for example, had trouble in his first Junior Hunt Test years ago, but months later, that level of work was easy for him, and he passed four tests in nine days. Similarly later on, he wasn't quite skillful enough to pass his first few Senior tests, but continued to improve, until a time came when he passed two Senior tests in one weekend.
As painful as each failure was -- as painful as today's daily was -- it is a mistake, I think, to see these as isolated events. They were neither good nor bad. We were neither lucky nor unlucky. Instead, these were all points on a trajectory, a trend line. At this time, that trend line has not yet carried Laddie high enough that he is ready to run with, much less prevail over, all-age dogs. If he were, the breaks of a particular Qual wouldn't matter. He would be dominating pretty much any Qual, just as, I assume, any field champion who happened to sneak into today's Qual would have dominated.
So nothing is wrong with wishing that Laddie were at that level. If he had been, and the other dogs had not, he would have won going away. The fact that he didn't dominate simply says that he is not skillful enough yet to compete with all-age dogs, while dominating Qual dogs. The details are significant only in that they point the way toward some things to work on.
One question that remains is, are we throwing money away to continue to compete? In other words, how likely is it that a dog that can't get to the last series one weekend will dominate the following weekend? Of course, that is not to be expected.
But unfortunately, I see no way to make the jump any other way than incrementally, either. I remember how Lumi first couldn't pass the land series as a Senior dog, and then started getting to water but couldn't pass that, and then would finish the test but the judges would "have to talk about it", and then not call her number during the ribbon ceremony. Finally a time came when she began passing Senior tests, and soon thereafter she had her four passes and her title. She had simply incrementally improved along that trajectory.
And so, perhaps, it will be for Laddie. Of course every team has a maximum level of achievement, and it's always possible that Laddie and I have already reached ours. Frankly, I'm not sure how to recognize that level. But Lumi had a quite a few fails in her Senior career before she finally started passing. She was getting better with every test, and eventually she was good enough to pass.
So maybe I'm just throwing money away. But I think it's also possible that Laddie has it in him to be a competitive all-age dog. If I'm correct, then we are on that trajectory, and when Laddie ascends high enough, he will begin dominating Quals just like any other good all-age dog would. Until then, we'll keep going home empty handed and, philosophical analysis notwithstanding, with heavy heart.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Yesterday, I managed to get Laddie dropped from a trial on a handler error once again.
One of the judges, realizing that I was inexperienced in field trials, and first checking on whether I was interested in hearing his thoughts, was kind enough to explain a concept to me while Laddie was returning with the water blind, even drawing a diagram in the sand with a stick.
The judge told me that although Laddie had taken every cast and had stayed within a reasonable corridor, I had not "challenged the line." Specifically, I had not handled Laddie onto the left side of the line, where all the trouble was, until the last few yards of the blind.
That was true. Quite intentionally, I had run Laddie along the right side of the line the entire blind, which I'd estimate at 210y. I intended to keep him on the right even at the end. I just misjudged the distance on a cast that was supposed to put him onto the little landing area.
But since Laddie remained in a tight corridor the whole way, I thought he'd run a good blind. I'd heard the term "challenging the line" before, but I never understood what it meant. As the judge explained to me, I think that in this case it means, simply, crossing the line.
Later I watched a couple of pros running the last few dogs. They ran almost the identical blind that Laddie ran, except that at around 70y, they cast the dog toward the point on the left, crossed the imaginary line from the handler to the blind, and then, before the dog reached land, cast the dog back over onto the right side again. Even dogs who had more trouble at the end than Laddie had, repeatedly refusing casts, were called back.
Actually, Laddie might have been called back, too, if fewer dogs had come into the series. But with 14 dogs running the blind, the judges narrowed the field to nine, and Laddie was dropped.
Could I have challenged (crossed) the line with Laddie and then gotten him back over on the right to finish? I think so. In any case, I wish I'd realized I needed to try.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Saturday, May 12, 2012
The weather is now warm enough that we could be training on water, and ideally we'd be running both land and water retrieves. However, circumstances are pushing us to focus on land at this time. If Laddie gets thru the land and gets dropped for poor water work in our trial, I'll change our focus for subsequent training. We are doing some water even so, but mostly land.
Today was an example. I only had two bird-girls today, so to run triples, the last throw was just me throwing a bumper to the side as the go-bird. It was no challenge itself, but it gave the gunners a chance to retire when I had asked them to.
In that way, we ran two land triples. The first had the bird girls throwing a double at 260-110y, with the long gun retired. The second had them throwing a double at 310-130y, with the short gun retired.
For both setups, I used the hilly terrain, cover changes, obstructions to push the dog off line, repetitive visual patterns to challenge the dog's memory on retired guns, and what little wind we had, to try to maximize difficulty.
Results: Laddie nailed both of the short marks. He "stepped on" the first long mark but didn't see it and continued running, then saw Annette behind the umbrella she was using to retire and then ran straight to the bumper, which I thought was a pretty good way to run what I thought was a pretty difficult mark.
For the last long mark, construction materials pushed Laddie to the left, and the terrain continued to push him that direction. He veered back enough to the right to run toward the gunner, ran just past her on the wrong side, but before she could stand up (per my instructions when Laddie gets behind her), he hooked straight to the bumper. Not the perfect mark, but pretty good I thought.
Finally, I ran Laddie on a 320y land blind off to the left of all the marks he'd run. The first challenge was that the initial line was diagonally across a slope and was cluttered with clumps of high cover and a few bits of construction debris. Next came a 100y stretch of dirt road in an S-shape, leading the dog offline alternately to left and right. Next was a large slope that the line to the blind just cleared on the left. I believe that a dog can be tempted to wrap around such an obstacle, and in this case, that's also where the road led to, adding more suction to taking the dog out of sight behind the slope.
Next the line went over a small crest, such that the dog would be out of sight for 50y. I assume such a setup would never happen in a real trial, but the earlier part of the blind seemed interesting, and I wanted the extra distance, so I went with it. Assuming the dog carried straight back 50y after the crest, the dog would then become visible and then needed to carry another 50y in a depression, and finally up a steep embankment and onto a plateau, where the blind was planted in an area of sparse but high cover.
Laddie ran this blind nicely. He took a great initial line, not attempting to square the slope in either direction, and continued straight to the road. From there he drifted left, and took good sit-whistles and casts to the edge of the crest where he was about to go out of sight. He stayed a bit to the left of the line during the middle section of the blind, and never came close to heading behind the slope. I stopped him at the crest, cast him straight back, and that took him the last 110y to the blind.
All of this was on a 72-degree sunny afternoon, so I think it was a bit tiring as well as having some challenging pictures. To me it seemed like a useful training session.