The next increment in Laddie's devocalization training seems to be casting off a point to a bumper further back, initially a visible bumper.
Since our local pond is an oval and has no peninsulas or islands, I've been thinking that we'd have to make the five-hour foray to a training property in rush hour to take the next step.
But this afternoon it occurred to me that the oval pond could be used for this increment after all.
First I ran Laddie on some simple L-shaped drills, casting him into the water from shore. Yesterday morning he would not have been able to do that without vocalizing, but he came a long way yesterday and this afternoon he could easily take those casts silently.
Next I threw two bumpers into the pond as well as one on the path in front of us. Then I would cast Laddie to the one on the path, stop him before he reached it, cast him over to the shorter floating bumper, stop him before he reached that one, and finally cast him to the longer floating bumper, another "over". After a vocalization or two, always immediately followed by "no, here", he was able to do the three-bumper drill without noise.
The final version of that involved throwing the long bumper up on land so that it was no longer visible, but Laddie had seen it thrown and at some level of his doggie mind, knew it was there. It took a few tried to get that cast without a bark, but eventually he was able to do it. I ran it again in mirror image so that he wouldn't be overbalanced on one side.
By the way, after Laddie picked up the long bumper, I sent him to pick up the other two without handling, to prevent him from starting to anticipate a whistle as he reached his target. I've seen dogs that always look at the handler when they reach a bird, even on marks when no whistle is blown, because the trainer overtrained requiring the dog sit on a whistle next to the bird. In an event, looking at the handler without a whistle counts against the dog as a pop, and on a mark, blowing the whistle counts as a handle, so that is an undesirable anticipation for a dog to have. Apparently it's a difficult habit to untrain.
In any case, once Laddie could do the three-bumper drill in silence with the long bumper hidden, we were ready to try a simulated on-and-off the point, as follows. I'd put Laddie in a sit at the start line. Then I'd walk a little way around the curvature of the pond, about 60y, and toss a bumper where Laddie could see it. Then I'd walk back toward him, and at about the halfway point, I'd toss a second bumper next to some water plant a few feet from shore, again so Laddie could see it. Then I'd return to Laddie, line him up on the shorter bumper, and send him.
Just before he reached the shorter bumper, I'd stop him, use an "over" cast to get him into the open and away from the shorter bumper, and then a "back" cast to send him to the longer bumper. These are the identical casts I'd use for an on-and-off the point, so the oval pond was a good stand-in for a technical pond in this case.
I might mention that for all of today's work, I used the whistle for sits and silent casts except for the send from my side.
By the way, a storm was coming, which meant a stiff wind was blowing. Some of the over casts, depending on which side of the pond we working on, were into a headwind. So these were difficult casts, and the first several tries produced vocalizing and an immediate recall. Yet Laddie maintained his motivation and eventually was able to take all the casts without a sound. When he returned with the longer bumper, I'd immediately send him for the shorter one, making this an exciting game for a dog like Laddie.
After a few of those setups on various parts of the shoreline, the rains came and chased us back to the van. I think it was a good time to stop anyway.
We still need have a couple more increments with these simulated on-and-off the points -- having Laddie watch the long bumper thrown but not visible when he's taking casts, and finally, being able to take a cast to a bumper he has not seen placed, that is, a cold blind, taking the cast on faith.
That will be a major milestone. When Laddie can do that in silence, I think the next step will be proofing his new skills for distance, distractions, and changes of location. I believe Laddie will then have the foundation for taking just about any cast in silence. From then on we'll work on building fluency with lots of practice.
I shouldn't get ahead of myself. Over the next few days, Laddie and I must simply continue to progress thru the incremental steps. But the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to come into sight.