Today we trained with a field trial group, during which Laddie ran two triples, modified to improve their value for training. When the other trainers were done, I stayed to use one of the ponds for continues work on Laddie's devocalization training.
The course I decided on was 70y of swimming, with a point at about halfway across. I had Laddie swim it seven times in one direction, with the point on the right, then six times in the other, with the point on the left.
In each case, most of the swims were run as sight blinds to a lining pole with a ribbon at the top and a pile of white and orange 2" bumpers at the base. The others were run without handling, and sent with Laddie's name as on a mark, from a wider angle so that the line was next to the point instead of across it. For those, Laddie never vocalized and never attempted to get into the point. That shows, I think, Laddie's strong preference for staying in the water while swimming in the proximity of a point and is related in some way, I believe, to his vocalizing, though I'm not sure of the exact explanation.
My reasons for mixing swims in with the sight blinds, in which I handle Laddie onto and then off of the point, is first, to keep up Laddie's enjoyment of the training, and second to reinforce his inclination to stay of a nearby point, which I consider beneficial for running marks.
I used verbal cues rather than my whistle for both "sit" and come in, and almost all silent casts. I immediately called Laddie back to the start line for any incident of barking or loud, plaintive whining, but did not interrupt occasional quiet whines.
On the first couple of sight blinds, I came around the shore so that I could handle Laddie onto the point with an over and then off the point with an angle back. After that, I started at the start line for all handling.
Laddie did not vocalize today on any verbal "sit" cues nor any silent "over" cues onto the point, which was a new milestone. He did bark on the silent back or angle-back cue used to send him from the point into the second cove often, and each time I called him back, usually all the way to the start line. I tried calling him toward me back onto the point and resending him, but he found that too confusing so I stopped doing that.
On the thirteenth retrieve of this drill, the sixth with the point on the left, Laddie finally ran the sight blind without a sound, and after a long day, I decided to end the session, except for happy bumpers on both land and water, games of tug, and towel drying, the usual relaxation elements of all our water sessions.
I felt that the last sight blind was a significant milestone in our work, since it didn't require a call-back for vocalizing. Instead, Laddie ran it noiselessly on his first try. Except for the verbal "sit" cues, fairly short distance, minimal factors and excitement, and visible lining pole, it was our closest approximation yet to a true competition water blind over a point.
Whether it can be repeated consistently, or will always be mixed with other attempts that include vocalizing, is one question yet to be answered. The others are whether we can switch to a whistle "sit", add distance, add diversion factors and the inevitable elevated excitement level of an event, and remove the lining pole, converting this to a schooled blind (where the dog has run the same line before) and eventually a normal cold blind on new lines each time. Perhaps any of those requirements will be impossible to accomplish reliably without vocalization.
Yet it feels as though at least we have already come a long way in these last three weeks, considering that Laddie had reached the point where he couldn't consistently noiselessly take a simple, silent "over" cast while sitting directly in front of me by the time we began this effort at devocalization.