Sunday, November 10, 2013

Another near miss

For the second Master test two weekends in a row, Laddie has made it to the third (last) series, and most of the dogs who made it to that series passed the test, but Laddie didn't.

Frankly I don't enjoy writing posts when Laddie (or Lumi) is unsuccessful, and would rather discuss the matter in private correspondence. But in this case, I guess I should include some info in our training journal for the record.

First of all, the judges did not allow Laddie to complete the last retrieve of the test, the water blind, because he was vocalizing. As Laddie was swimming back, one of the judges offered some suggestions on how to fix the problem. Vocalizing in water is a problem Laddie has had since he was a puppy, though I never noticed it in the early years and then later saw that it was in his videos all along. I guess the judge felt his suggestions might enable me to solve the problem.

This incident reminds me of two things that one of my mentors told me. One was that some judges won't tolerate vocalizing, and Laddie's just not going to pass those tests. This is the first time it's happened, so hopefully we'll have more opportunities to pass with other judges, as we have in the past at every level we've competed. I guess I should make a note not to run Laddie under this judge again, perhaps either of these judges.

The other was that, in my mentor's experience, there are two kinds of trainers: those who have had a dog that vocalizes and tried everything, sometimes over a period of years, to fix it but never could; and those who have never had a dog that vocalizes, and are sure they know how to fix it.

I was actually both of those simultaneously at one time: I couldn't fix Laddie's vocalizing in water, but I was sure I knew how to fix vocalizing at the line if I ever were to have a dog with that issue. :0)

I've written in the past about my efforts to fix the problem and won't discuss it further in this post, other than to reiterate that I'm not working on it any more.

I do have an unrelated insight from today's test, however, that may not be unrelated at all. In several of our Master tests, especially this fall, Laddie has gone OOC at the line, nosing around in cover near the start line and strongly resisting my calls of "here" and "heel" for some time, just before running a second water mark or a water blind. You'd think I'd have seen that this was a pattern, but sadly, it wasn't till today that I realized it is. You'd also think I'd have noticed it in training, but for the last several months, virtually the only water retrieves Laddie has done were in Master tests. I simply don't have the time and money to bring him to water with several assistants I pay on an hourly rate on any regular basis. I don't actually know whether Laddie would go OOC near the line in training or not. Obviously it's not something I've noticed, and that may be because it's recent or because it only happens when we get to water in a Master test, which hasn't happened that many times. Of course I'll begin to watch for it in training, and hopefully get it fixed. Now that I see the pattern, it seems to me that it's some sort of avoidance behavior, whatever that implies as a possible point of departure for a solution.

Following thru on that idea brings to mind a new thought: What if Laddie actually finds water aversive, and maybe both the lifelong vocalizing, and the more recent line control issues, are actually manifestations of that same emotion? This thought is so alien and so unpleasant to me - a retriever with Laddie's superb pedigree uncomfortable with water? - that I can barely stand to consider it. Besides, what about his bold, crashing big air water entries? What about his many competitive successes? What about his lifelong attraction to water at times that I didn't want it, such as going swimming in a pond instead of completing a land retrieve, a training issue I had to contend with when Laddie was younger? Yet I must consider the possibility that something about water, if not everything about water, is a problem for Laddie and that some of his behaviors, maybe even others besides vocalizing and going OOC at the line, derive from that emotion.

For now, I plan to work on the control issue as a training problem and accept the vocalizing as a flaw that will block us from success in some situations. A more general understanding may come with time.

With respect to competition, I think we will end our season today, despite it being on an unsuccessful note. Any remaining tests would be a very long drive and would probably involve retrieving in very cold water, which doesn't seem like the wisest strategy at this time.

Then again, Laddie's pick-ups and returns have improved hugely the last couple of tests, he hasn't broken in a long time, and he's gotten thru all his honors his entire career without any apparent issues with the nearby presence of another dog despite all my worrying. In addition, we did make it to the third series in both our last two tests, and we did get two Master passes this year. Those are real positives to reflect upon as we enter the winter months. We can resume our pursuit of an MH title in the spring.


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