For the last few months, I've been training Laddie the way I imagine all-age dogs are trained: a steady diet of big, difficult triples and quads with most or all guns retired.
Of course being able to run such a series nicely will come in handy if and when Laddie ever runs in all-age stakes, and the setups also hopefully provided over-training for Qs. But actually, my primary objective was to build Laddie's confidence on long marks and lower the probability of a pop.
What I did not realize was that, once again, I was getting Laddie out of balance. This time, the issue was marking accuracy. Because it's relatively unlikely that a dog can run 300+ yards on a laser and arrive at the exact location of the bird, not visible from the distance once down, I guess dogs need to develop a strategy for such marks of running to the area of the fall, then hunting the bird up.
That strategy, however, is not necessary on a relatively short mark. Instead, a good-marking dog can often simply take a straight line to the bird. The challenge becomes a memory test, combined with training the dog not to go around obstacles such as mounds, high cover, and of course water. The dog also needs to learn not to be diverted by off-line influences such as wind, scent and points of land. Of course those factors are important when training on big setups as well, but I think you can focus on them, and communicate more effectively with the dog, when big distances aren't also involved.
In Laddie's last trial, big distances weren't involved on the land and water triples. Laddie made it to the end and earned a green ribbon, but what separated him from the dogs that placed was his marking accuracy, or relative lack thereof. Actually, two of his six marks were perfect, and two more required only an small jag at the end. His two weakest marks were the two flyers, and the first of those was still a good mark: he took an excellent line, broke to the outside presumably distracted by dispersed scent a few yards early, then immediately turned back straight to the bird. He only had one long hunt -- the out of order flyer in the water triple -- but in this field, that was one too many.
In any case, now that our competition is over till next April, one of our areas of concentration will be trying to restore Laddie's knack for pin-point marking. I think this means not so many long, retired marks, and more short marks with well-defined obstacles and the white jackets remaining visible.
Today was a case in point. I had three assistants, and we trained at the huge construction site we've been using a lot this year. We ran two triples with no retired guns and distances in the range 90-170y.
With temps in the low 30s and a strong wind, the first triple's challenges were for Laddie to ignore the cross-wind, diagonal dirt road crossings, and terrain factors. He ran directly to each fall, but I wasn't totally thrilled with the arcing lines he ran.
The second triple was more difficult on it's #1 and #2 throws. The challenge on the second mark was a mound -- more of a mesa actually -- with the bumper not visible after landing 30y behind it. After nailing the go-bird despite a powerful and icy cross-wind, Laddie took an excellent line over the mound and nailed the second mark as well.
The #1 throw was the longest and most difficult of the day. It was thrown from a depression, into stiff wind, over a dirt road, and up into a large patch of high cover on top of the high ground on the other side of the road. Although I didn't retire the gun, this was the last mark Laddie picked up, so memory was still involved.
Laddie took a great line the first 150y, traversing rough terrain but not too difficult. Then came the moment of truth. Would Laddie hold his line, mount a crest of land, and plunge into the cover, or would he arc slightly inside toward the gunner, follow the road for 20y, and then dart into the cover to pick up the bumper, a much easier trip? An instant later, I had my answer: Laddie held his line and for the third time, nailed his mark.
Had Laddie improved between the two series, or was the second series somehow easier for him? I guess I'll never know.
In any case, that was just the kind of marking I was looking for. We'll follow up with another few similar sessions. Then, as our winter training continues, I guess I'll start mixing up shorter series with longer ones, and hopefully not get Laddie out of balance in that particular way again.