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.