Saturday, December 13, 2014

Laddie injured, left foot this time

I ran Laddie in the Maryland Gun Dog Championship last Sunday, and had him entered in a Super Singles competition tomorrow, because both events would be opportunities to work on Laddie's steadiness with flyers.

For training this week, I ran Laddie on three singles, all around 300y, on Tuesday, ran him on six blinds of around 180y on Thursday, and also brought him to an excellent training group we're lucky enough to be able to train with, which was meeting this morning.

The first setup today was a tight ABCD drill, plus a 150y+ blind, featuring a hay-bale keyhole and suction to wrap behind a wooded section near the end.

Unfortunately, we never got that far. Laddie raced out on the first single, but began limping badly on his return, and halfway back stopped, sat down, and dropped the bird. I came out and lifted him into my arms, intending to carry him to the van. But halfway there he began struggling, and when I put him down, he did not seem to be limping any more.

I checked his paws for foreign objects at the suggestion of another trainer, and then decided to try him out on another single. Again he raced to the bird, and again he began to limp badly on his return. He limped to an area of shadow behind a hay bale near the second fall and lay down with the bird. I again walked out to him, but rather than picking him up this time, in deference to my recently injured back, I slipped his lead over his head and slowly walked him back to the van.

Luckily, our holistic vet, Carol Lundquist, who lives less than an hour from where we were training, was able to make a few minutes to check Laddie out. First I walked him around outside, expecting to show Carol either that Laddie was not limping, or that he was limping on his chronically injured right foreleg. Instead, he seemed to be limping on his left foreleg, which he's never injured before as far as I can remember.

Carol then examined him in her office, and discovered that two of the toes on his left foot were badly swollen. She told me that it made sense he could run out on his retrieves without seeming to limp but would limp on the way back in. That's because when a dog canters or gallops, if one foot is sore, the dog can lead with the other side and not appear to limp. But trotting back, the dog needs to put weight on both front legs alternately and an injury shows as limping.

Carol gave me guidance such as icing and various pain meds, and no training for at least a week, which will hold us until our scheduled appointment next Saturday for both Lumi and Laddie. Of course Laddie won't be able to run in the event tomorrow either. 

How did the injury occur? Carol mentioned several possibilities, such as a misstep that resulted in a sprain, or banging his foot against a rock or tree root. She said the injury also could have occurred earlier, such as when I aired him, but wasn't painful enough to cause limping till he ran hard on the first, and then the second, send outs.

It's unfortunate we'll have to miss the event tomorrow, but the timing and/or the injury could have been a lot worse.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Laddie receives finalist ribbon in MDWFA 2014 Gun Dog Championship

In this year's MDWFA Gun Dog Championship, held yesterday in Cheltenham, Laddie was one of six dogs (of the 22 entries) to reach the 2014 finals, and received another ribbon for his already overstuffed bulletin board.

I had never seen a Gun Dog competition before, and I expected hunt test-level setups, which I've been planning to avoid since I want to focus on field trial competition for the remainder of Laddie's career now that he has his MH. But when I learned flyers would be used, I decided to enter.

My reason was that, after Laddie broke in his first and so-far only all-age competition last July, I picture in my mind's eye that I saw the instant when he was about to break that day, and possibly could have stopped him by calling "SIT!" at that instant rather than waiting till he had actually launched. He would still have been DQed, but in a much better way from a training point of view than actually getting the bird as he did. But I'm not yet certain my reflexes are fast enough, or that he would have responded, so I thought this competition might be an opportunity to test that theory.

In fact, we had not one but a total of three flyers during the competition (one as the go-bird in the first series double, and two in the third-series double), but Laddie was rock steady on all three, so I didn't get to try that experiment. However, I've entered Laddie in another competition next weekend that also will also use flyers — a Super Singles event — so maybe we'll see then.

In terms of my overarching goal of finding out how far I can take a field receiver using positive training methods, I don't think this ribbon tells us much. On the one hand, some of the dogs in the competition were all-age competitors, including at least one field champion with a Second in an Open this fall, so Laddie prevailed over some good dogs. On the other hand, the scoring system was so quirky — based mostly on number of whistles — that Laddie survived a first series blind he would never have survived in a trial.

On the positive side, besides the ribbon and the steadiness, Laddie marked well throughout the event. In the second series triple, he nailed all three marks and lined the blind. He showed no aversion to the cold water, which figured prominently in the third series, leaping into the water on every entry on the way out. Note: Laddie doesn't leap into the water during returns, with an article in his mouth. He used to when he was a puppy, but I think he must have hurt himself doing that once, and it took a year — a year! — to re-train him even to enter the water carrying an article. Now he does so without hesitation, but he alligators in, rather than using the big-air entries he makes when he's not carrying anything.

As another good sign, all of Laddies returns, both land and water, were satisfactory. He did drop the bird at the line a few times, which is not cool, but not something that seems to matter much in scoring at trials, as long as he then picks it back up for delivery to hand.

Also, Laddie never vocalized on any of his retrieves, including the water blind with a point in the picture in the third series, which is, I think, an important improvement from the summer and hopefully shows that my decision not to compete this fall, and instead concentrate on devocalization, is paying off, and perhaps shows that the approach I used does seem to have the ability to address that difficult, possibly genetic, tendency. However, he did bark twice when I was lining him up to run the blind he ended up lining. Anthropomorphizing, it felt like he was saying, "Let me go, I know where it is, it's frustrating that you won't just send me," but of course I can't really know why he barked, other than, I guess, some kind of stress. To be honest, while I understand that vocalizing is a fault, it remains thrilling to work with such a highly motivated competitor.

In every series yesterday, at least one dog never saw the go-bird thrown. One more positive for us was that Laddie saw every throw.

As for negatives from the competition, I found that despite my best efforts in training to prepare Laddie for running blinds with difficult factors (including two 300+ yard blinds at a training session last week), I still cannot control him if the suction in a competitive blind is too strong. In the case of the third series yesterday, the gunners threw two flyers right-to-left, and then the dog had to pick up a water blind in front of the left downed flyer. It was one thing to pull Laddie off the go-bird flyer on the right. It was something else to deny him both flyers, something we've never seen before at any level of competition. Besides that suction to the right, the point of land and adjacent running-depth water also provided additional major suction to the right, and the stiff wind blowing LTR didn't help, since no dog likes to take a cast into the wind. Anyway, after Laddie picked up the left flyer, eliminating him from any chance of winning the event, the judges permitted me to rerun Laddie on the blind, and this time he three-whistled it. That was better than the dog who won the event, though of course that dog did it with both flyers still on the ground, so it proves nothing other than that Laddie can run a difficult blind well if a flyer isn't lying nearby.

The other negative is that Laddie scraped up his nose in the first series. It looks painful, but it doesn't seem to be bothering him. I'm afraid it will scar, but he already has other scars on his pretty puppy nose, so this is just one more.

In summary, Laddie was steady on all three flyers (as well as a 25-yard dead bird as go-bird in the second series), had good returns, saw every throw, marked well, didn't vocalize running a difficult and frustrating water blind with a point (or running any other blind), lined one of the blinds, had a perfect score in one series, and added a Finalist ribbon to his bulletin board. I guess that's a good day.
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