Thanks to everyone for all your good wishes to Laddie on me on Friday's Master test. We made it to the third and last series on Saturday. Laddie picked up all the birds without a handle (he had needed a handle in the first series triple), but he didn't get the pass. Final result was 76 dogs entered, 34 dogs qualified.
As we experienced in other levels of field events, we're on a ramp, and we've reached the stage where we're getting called back deeper into the test and even passing sometimes (Laddie has two Master legs), but we're not yet at the stage where we can pass every test.
We'll try to keep learning the countless nuances of handling. For example, in this test I learned (or re-learned), don't let the marshal tell you to "get your dog" to run out of turn and then stand around, while your dog gets more and more pumped up by the nearby gunfire, as more and more other handlers insist on running ahead of you. Let your dog relax in his/her crate until the marshal really has established a place for you in the line-up. The excitement of an event significantly deteriorates a dog 's performance under the best of circumstances. Don't let that excitement level be raised even higher by the marshal having you bring your dog out just to stand around waiting unnecessarily.
And we'll continue to strengthen Laddie's training -- for example, Laddie's ability to be controlled at the line under sometimes extremely compelling distractions (in this case a scent or perhaps the sound of movement in the cover in front of the line, especially while the dog is in a highly excited state). This is a proofing challenge -- I need to find ways to expose Laddie to an ever-widening range of really difficult distractions. Perhaps our continued visits to dog parks will help with this.
Being on a ramp like this is frustrating and discouraging, because of course you don't know what lies ahead. Will I continue to improve as a handler, and continue to strengthen Laddie's skills, and as a result have better and better results in competition outcomes? Or are tests and trials so different from one another that the idea of a trend line is meaningless?
Only the future will tell. I see only two choices: Quit, or keep trying. At least for now, we'll keep trying.