Friday, May 2, 2014

Dodging a Bullet for Laddie's Third Master Pass

Laddie earned his third Master ribbon last weekend. I had thought it was a pretty straight-forward pass, but I learned later that I'd come close to getting him disqualified.

First, a quick summary:
  • 59 dogs entered
  • 51 dogs ran
  • Laddie ran as #56
  • Series A was a land triple with honor plus a single land blind, no flyer, no walk-up.
  • In Series A marks, Laddie nailed #3. When I sent him to #1 next, he veered around and picked up #2. He then nailed #1.
  • Laddie nearly lined the Series A blind. I stopped him with a safety whistle as he raced past the blind on the upwind side, then cued angle-in to the bird.
  • 41 dogs called back from Series A
  • Series B was a water double with flyer go-bird, walk-up, diversion shot, and double water blind which you could pick up in either order after picking up the marks.
  • Laddie nailed both Series B marks, but had mediocre returns, dropping the bird in front of me to shake off instead of delivering to hand, then taking time picking bird back up. (We've worked in that in two water sessions this week.) For some reason, returns and deliveries on the two blinds were fine.
  • Laddie ran the second water blind on a different line than any of the other dogs (see below)
  • 40 dogs called back from Series B
  • Series C was a water triple.
  • Laddie nailed #3.
  • I had planned to run Laddie on #1 next (out-out-in), but he locked in on #2, so I sent him there, and he ran it well, taking difficult angle entries to maintain a fairly straight line rather than squaring the bank on the two channel swims.
  • I then ran him on #1, making that last retrieve of the test. I needed to handle Laddie, but I thought little of it till I happened to chat with the judges later and asked them if they had any thoughts on Laddie's performance. That's when I discovered that we'd nearly gotten knocked out of the test on that mark (see below).
  • 40 dogs qualified
Now a little more detail on a couple of items:
  • The line for the second water blind was across a point, with a tempting cheat on the left rather than reentering the water. One of the judges had specifically said during the instructions, "This is a water blind," which I interpreted to mean not wanting to see the dogs run the bank after arriving at that point. I believe about half the dogs did run that bank, but I guess the judges decided not to knock them out for that. Some handlers did not handle the dog when the dog reached the point, or cued "back" from the point, both of which risked the dog squaring the bank of the second water section and then running the bank some part of the way to complete the blind. Other handlers (including me) cued "over" from the point, with the intent of casting the dog into open water off line but well clear of the bank, and then handling the dog to the bird from there. In most cases, that still resulted in the dog beaching early and running the bank to the bird. But Laddie's line was unique. Once he had taken the cast off the point, he began swimming parallel to the bank, like a channel swim. I waited until he was even with the bird, then cast him with a straight over to complete the blind. I liked the fact that he didn't get close to the bank at all until he was swimming directly to the bird, and I felt he'd successfully "challenged the line" with his no-whistle initial line from the start line to the point.
  • The reason that Laddie's performance on the last water retrieve was much riskier than I had realized is that, when Laddie crossed the two channels and arrived on a strip of land a few feet from the left-most bird, he didn't realize it was still in front of him. Instead, he chose to turn right and run toward the center of the field on that strip of land. I waited a few seconds to see whether he would turn back, and when I realized he wasn't going to, I blew the whistle and handled him to the bird, which had rolled just over the bank, behind a ledge that made it difficult for several of the dogs to find the bird even when they were close. As mentioned, it seemed like a fairly routine way to end a test, handling on the last mark since we hadn't need a handle on any of the other marks in the test. However, what I hadn't noticed was that when Laddie made that right turn, he was headed straight for the old fall of #2. My delay in blowing the whistle in retrospect had no advantage. I could just as easily have blown it as soon as Laddie turned away from the line, and I should have. Instead, I waited until, without my noticing it, Laddie had come perilously close to what is called "returning to an old fall", which is a DQ. How perilous? The judges told me later that if Laddie had put down his nose, they would have had no choice but to knock him out of the test.
I can only hope that I learned my lesson, and will be more aware of the possibility of returning to the old fall, even when my thoughts about what's going on are elsewhere. Meanwhile I count my blessings that I didn't have to learn this lesson at the cost of a ribbon, the price I've paid for so many other handling errors in the past.

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