Yesterday afternoon, Laddie completed the last series of the DelBay Master test, nailing every mark of an inline land/water triple and receiving a round of applause from the gallery, to wrap up his fourth Master Hunt Test qualification. One more will earn him a Master Hunter title.
Preparation the last week included some marks and some blinds, but most of my focus was on trying to minimize the chances that Laddie would break on a flyer. I also continued work from last week on practicing good deliveries.
I'll digress here to say that except for one bird Laddie dropped before completing delivery and needed to pick up again, Laddie's deliveries were perhaps the best they've ever been in a competition - come to heel, hold reliably, sometimes sit sometimes not, but no diving or otherwise rushing needed.
As for steadiness, this test was hardly a severe breaking test, thank goodness, but still had some challenges:
- an out-of-order flyer on a walk-up land triple in the first series
- an honor for the water double in the second series
- a go-bird flyer on the land/water triple in the third series
Laddie was steady as a rock for all three. Here are the initiatives I took this last week attempting to accomplish that result:
- After Laddie broke on a flyer last Saturday, we trained with flyers on Sunday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Altogether, Laddie saw approximately 25 flyers last week, including nine honors.
- Except for the last few marks on Thursday, Laddie wore a collar with a tab (very short lead) attached, and I held it slack as he watched each bird, moving with him if he stood. I only let it become taut, so that he would feel it hold him back, if he tried to break, and he only did that twice all week.
- On those two occasions, I yelled at him. I would have preferred not to do that, but some of the people I train with have always preferred that Laddie suffer some consequence for trying to break, and I decided to do it this week. I don't know if it mattered, but I acknowledge that it might have been a useful part of the training.
- In general, the way we trained was as follows: Laddie would run a triple with a very close flyer as either the second or third bird thrown/shot, then honor the same setup with Laddie and me positioned as close as possible to the shooter. I used long delays before sending him, and I encouraged the working handler to do the same on Laddie's honors. We used those kinds of setups nine times during the week, and never used the same setup twice.
- We were shooting the birds for the first two sessions, but we used clipwings in Thursday. For the triples that day, the flyer was thrown with the shot of a shotgun popper. Using poppers instead of live ammo may not have been as good preparation for a test, but we ended up with several live birds after we had run all the triples and my friend, who had been running his dog for Laddie to honor, had to leave.
- So at the end of the Thursday session, I had my assistant repeatedly throw a clippie, using duck call and primer blank pistol, just a few yards in front of Laddie's field of vision, then I sent Laddie to retrieve the bird. We did this half a dozen times or more, always moving to a different positron. Laddie became so steady during this process that I decided to take his collar off. My feeling was that that would be bad if Laddie then broke, but it would be good if it helped him experience steadiness with no collar, since he can't wear a collar in competition. He was rock steady; I saw no evidence that the collar made any difference to him. I believe this last bit of training, with one bird after another thrown at close range, may have been one of the most important parts of the week's preparation, if not the most.
- In the test that Laddie passed earlier this year, I ran Laddie on long blinds both the day before the test and the morning of the test, and then took him for a couple of long walks while waiting our turn. My goal was to possibly take some of the edge off Laddie's energy and therefore possibly reduce the chances of a break. I didn't do that for the two tests where Laddie broke. So for yesterday's test, I did that again, with additional exercise between setups, arranging to time the exercise even though Laddie was #1 in the running order. Laddie was by no means exhausted at the line and honoring, but he may have been slightly less springy than normal, and perhaps that helped.
- Finally, during those walks and also while walking to the final holding blind as we approached the line for our turn, I repeatedly cued Laddie to sit, working to strengthen the cue as much as possible for when he's be watching the birds. I don't believe that drilling was sufficient to prevent a break, but I do believe it may have helped.
Laddie is entered in several more Master tests this spring, including one next weekend. I will make every effort to repeat last week's initiatives during the coming week, though we may only train with flyers once (on Thursday perhaps) and we may use clippies again. If by some misfortune Laddie breaks next Saturday, then I'll know we have to repeat training with shot flyers and live ammo after all in preparation for subsequent tests.
Here's hoping that won't be necessary and Laddie will complete his MH next weekend.