Sunday, August 19, 2012

Broken tail, land training

On the eight hour drive home from our last field trial, I made a grievous error and let Laddie get his tail caught in the van's sliding door about 3am.  X-rays a few days later showed that a bone in his tail, about halfway down, snapped in half like a pencil.  Luckily, the skin was not broken, which could have led to even more serious problems.  But the ends of the bone at the break are beside each other rather than end-to-end, so the tail will never be like new.  Orthopedic surgery to insert a pin and realign the bone, I'm told, would be risky to Laddie's health, might not be successful, and would probably make no difference in Laddie's quality of life or performance in trials, so I'm just going to wait while the ends of the bone hopefully grow together side by side and heal.

Laddie's on an herbal medication called "Pain Relieve", and he won't be able to swim for weeks.  That's because a retriever unavoidable uses his/her tail both for propulsion and steering in the water, which would interfere with the healing process.  In addition, it could result in pain and the dog developing an unpleasant association with water entries, big water, or other aspects of water retrieves.

However, three weeks after the injury, Laddie's holistic vet (Carol) said that I could try Laddie out on some land retrieves, to keep up both his training and conditioning, assuming I didn't see any problems.  Since then, we've been out about five times, sometimes alone for blinds or poorman multiples, sometimes with one or more of our neighborhood assistants.

I saw no problem on the blinds, but in fact Laddie's popping was worse than it had been previously for the first couple of sessions we tried retrieving.  He didn't pop every retrieve, but he popped too often, and I'm still not certain what was causing it.  Was it being caused by pain in his tail, or by other factors such as confusion, uncertainty, a drop in conditioning, or other kinds of discomfort?

I've tentatively concluded that the combination most likely to produce a pop at this stage in Laddie's development are long distance (over 300y), a retired gun, and heat (over 80 degrees), especially if Laddie has already been working and is now a bit tired or thirsty.  I can't tell whether his broken tail is a factor or not.  One possibility is that it was at first, but he's learned how to avoid carrying it or moving it while working so as to minimize any pain.  As I understand from Carol, that's possible on land retrieves, whereas it's not possible when swimming is involved.

Today's session is an example of where we are now.  With two assistants (Genny and William), we started early, so that we were able to work in temps below 70 degrees.  We ran three series: a land double with both throwers staying out, and two land "triples", with me throwing a short go-bird from the line on the triples to allow one of the throwers to retire.

Series A was a relatively short double, 110-160y, over difficult terrain featuring large, irregularly-shaped depressions, diagonal hillsides, broad areas of high cover, and hidden falls. Laddie absolutely nailed both marks.

Series B was a triple featuring an unusually difficult 340y long mark, a 180y middle mark with the gunner retired, and me throwing a bumper to the side while the shorter gunner retired.  Same sort of challenging terrain as in Series A.  Laddie bounced over to pick up the short throw, then nailed the retired mark, though he spent some time finding and circling Genny, who had thrown the mark, before returning.  After that, Laddie was unable to handle the long mark.  He took a good line for 250y thru difficult terrain, but then veered offline for some reason.  At 300y, he popped.  I froze and he quickly turned back to his outrun, but continued to veer in the wrong direction, so I called for William to help.  That was all he needed to complete the retrieve.  I didn't mind Laddie needing help — in fact I welcome it, because it gives him a chance to practice Plan B (if you can't remember the fall, find the gunner) — but the pop was a major concern.  It has probably already affected his score in some Quals, and will certainly get him dropped from an all-age stake, if we ever get that far.

I had planned to run the last triple with the long gun retired, but in hopes of avoiding another pop, I made this a shorter set-up.  The long gun was 180y, while the middle gun was 150y.  The terrain for the long mark featured a diagonal ditch crossing, and both marks included confusing crests and depressions, and patches of high cover.  Laddie grabbed the side throw I used to allow the long gun to retire, then nailed both of the other marks, including crossing the ditch early rather than allowing it to lead him offline.  As with Series A and the retired mark on Series B, Laddie's performance on Series C was, to my eyes, top-notch Qual-level work.

Laddie's tail will be getting another x-ray on September 7.  Carol has assured me that it will not be healed by then, but the x-ray will tell us how the healing is coming, and may help predict how much longer it will be before Laddie can resume water training.

Meanwhile, Laddie just crushed five of the six marks he ran today, every one over difficult terrain that didn't fool him for a second.  As I mentioned, his pop on the one long mark remains a major concern, but aside from that, I felt it was a good session.

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