Sunday, April 26, 2015

Laddie injured

Yesterday, I wrote a post describing the first day in a five day retriever training seminar that Laddie and I were participating in. It was brief, and I didn't post links to it on Twitter and Facebook, because time was so short last night before getting to bed. Time was short partially because, after hundreds of miles of driving in the wee hours followed by the first day of the seminar, I had to check into a hotel, get unpacked, and take care of food for Laddie and myself. It was also short because of some terrible news I'd received about the sudden and unexpected death of a dear friend, leading to hours of emotional phone calls to various family and friends.

Today was the second day of the seminar, and before I withdrew Laddie from continuing, it contained the following, listed here for completeness of this blog as a training journal:

  • Three tune-up blinds for whistle sits, but with no Walk Outs needed.
  • Three all-age scale land blinds, in which Laddie had mostly excellent whistle sits but also some unusual lapses of performance, including a couple of poor initial lines, sometimes eating grass after turning on whistle sits, and a pop (when Laddie pops, it's normally on confusing marks, not on blinds). He also tried to carry his last bird to the parking lot rather than bringing it back to me on his return.
  • Three all-age land marks, in which Laddie did OK, I guess, but hardly put on the kind of marking performance he's shown so often in the past. Again, he also had some especially unusual behavior, such as arriving at the area of the fall and then circling the gunner before going to pick up the bird, which he did twice. His last return also started with a detour to the gate that led to the parking lot.
All of this had me in distress, though it's hard to know how much of my emotional state was due to Laddie's performance, which is what I thought was causing it, and how much might have been the continued effects of learning about the tragic loss of an old friend. Certainly I felt distressed because I needed the pro who was conducting the seminar to get a picture of Laddie's strengths and weaknesses so that he could help me, over the five day seminar and with guidance going forward beyond. Instead he was seeing was a dog doing so many odd things that whatever he happened to do exceptionally well couldn't make up for the array of erratic behaviors.

That's what had me distressed, but I realize now that that's not what should have been causing me distress. It wasn't until we got to the next series of work in today's session -- six water blinds escalating in difficulty -- that it finally became clear that Laddie was injured. Although he wasn't limping, his gait seemed cramped when he first got up from lying in the grass. As he moved around, that went away, but when I then tried to run him on the drill, his behavior was so erratic -- I was finally able to see that he was exhibiting one avoidance behavior after another -- that I called it off before he even got into the water on the first blind.

And then I began to remember some isolated incidents over the last several days that I had barely noted, but were floating around in my memory. A few days ago, there was an incident where he had difficulty jumping up into his crate in the back of our van. Then, when I picked up a rental car for our trip, I remembered an incident now where he had difficulty jumping up into the back seat. And finally, last night, when I invited him into bed with me in the hotel, he put his front feet up on the bed but didn't seem interested in getting all the way up. I realize now that it wasn't that he wasn't interested. He just wasn't able to.

Consider, too, that Carol, our holistic vet, had noticed some general pain around Laddie's rear during an appointment just last weekend, including noting that Laddie might not be carrying his tail as high as he normally does. Carol's observations weren't definitive enough to take any action, but she said I should keep my eye on Laddie especially after swimming, in case it was a condition known as dead tail. That night, I researched dead tail and it didn't really match up with Laddie's symptoms. But the vague symptoms she was seeing were one more data point.

By now, you must be asking yourself, what in the world was the matter with Lindsay? How could he have all that information and not have realized long before this afternoon that Laddie was injured, and had no business running across the lawn, much less running a pair of triple retrieves at all-age distances? Believe me, I'm asking myself the same question.

I have no answer. Perhaps the difficult personal circumstances -- the long drive, the lack of sleep, the sad news about an old friend -- made it hard to pull all the Laddie info together in a cohesive way. Or perhaps it was similar to motivated reasoning: my desire for Laddie and me to benefit from this seminar and then perform well in our next competition next Friday may have overwhelmed my ability to notice that we had no business participating in either the seminar or the competition.

It is so clear to me at this moment that what Laddie needs now is rest and an opportunity to heal. But the timing is so unfortunate that I just could not see it until he behavior became so striking that I simply had to sit back and figure out what was going on.

Now I'll pack up and drive us back home, and perhaps Carol will take another look at Laddie in the light of the info I've gathered and be able to determine what's causing the problem and what, other than a couple of weeks of rest, might be called for. I'll post again when I know more, and when Laddie is able to resume his training and competition.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Training seminar, day 1

Today was the first day of the second retriever seminar that Laddie and I have taken. Here's list of Laddie's retrieval work today:

Tune-up blinds (three), including two Walk Outs for slow whistle sits.

With the pro and the group: Four land marks, run by Laddie as a single and a triple: he nailed the single and the go-bird of the triple, but he got lost on both of the retired marks

With the pro and the group: Two land blinds: Laddie did well on both, including good whistle sits; however, for both of his initial lines -- usually one of his strengths -- he took a line too far to the left. Also, he vocalized on the first or one of the first casts of each of the blinds.

With the pro and the group: Three water marks, run by Laddie as a double and a single; he tried to run the bank on his first water entry, to which I responded not be whistling and casting him into the water but by calling him back to heel and sending him again, which he correctly interpreted to mean "get it right this time." Aside from that he did a good job on all three marks.

One water blind featuring a cheat-y water entry and other water crossings. This wasn't actually set up as a water blind. What happened was that one of the other trainers threw a bird onto an island for a dog he was working with and the dog couldn't retrieve it, so he went in search of someone with a dog who could get the bird off the island, and Laddie was available.

Although Laddie did lots of good work, I was somewhat discouraged by his performance on the land triple and his attempted cheat on the first water mark. These are things we've worked on for years.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Water blinds with devocalization, re-entry marks, and tune-up land blinds

As today was the last chance I'd have to train Laddie on water before our trip to another training seminar on Saturday, I picked up an assistant and the three of us drove to the closest training property in our area.

Here are the retrieves I ran Laddie on:

  1. Water blind with point of land. This blind required a difficult angle entry into a channel, a diagonal swim along the length of the channel to a point of land on the other side, and crossing a second channel to a bumper on the far shore marked with a lining pole. Laddie needed to be cast right to stay in the channel after every entry, and the first four times, he vocalized on that cast and I called him back in. The fifth time, he took the cast without vocalizing and then took the remaining casts to complete the blind without vocalizing again. In fact, he did not vocalize again the rest of the day.
  2. Five LWLWL marks, all in different locations. The first, third, and fifth of the marks involved crossing a channel and then a strip of land, followed by a difficult re-entry into a second section of water with an inviting opportunity to run the bank. Laddie ran all of those on a good line without attempting a cheat. The second and fourth of the marks involved crossing two coves with a point of land between them. Laddie ran each of those by swimming around the point, so they didn't really function as re-entry marks as I had intended.
  3. Water blind with point of land followed by keyhole between a clump of grass and the shore. Laddie ran this blind without vocalizing.
  4. Three land drills over the sides of mounds and then thru keyholes made by pairs of trees, all in different locations.  The combination of mounds and keyholes virtually guaranteed that Laddie would not be able to line these blinds. The purpose of running them was three-fold: To give Laddie practice taking a line over a mound; to give both of us practice maneuvering thru a tight keyhole while maintaining forward progress; and to use Walk Outs if Laddie had any slow sits. He had no trouble with the mounds and no slow sits requiring Walk Outs. However, he did miss the keyholes several times, requiring me to call him back partway or all the way to try again.
After today's fairly demanding session, I won't have time for much, if any, training with Laddie the next two days. So hopefully he'll get plenty of rest in preparation for our five-day seminar starting on Saturday, followed by a rest day and then our next qual.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simulated pond corners, tune-up blinds

After a day's rest, I wasn't able to arrange to take Laddie to technical water today as I had hoped. But I did find a place on an old golf course with a gulch next to the lawn. The gulch was filled with boulders and a few branches, but I felt that Laddie could get across safely if he had a chance to get used to traversing it.

The valuable point about it was that it presented a picture similar to a small cove of a pond for an entry or re-entry, with a long section of land in front of it. It was the kind of picture where I want Laddie to go straight, across the cove, rather than running around it, and if anything, the boulder-filled gulch provided greater resistance than a pond would to taking the straight route.

We ran this as a poorman mark several times at distances from 20y to 110y, the last one featuring a diagonal run down the side of a hill. The few times Laddie tried to run around the gulch, I called him back and sent him again. He never needed to try it more than once at each new distance, and usually, including the last time, he took a straight line the first time.

After that, we ran three tune-up blinds. I wanted factors to prevent Laddie from simply lining them, so I used keyholes that had fallen branches in front of them. When he started to veer around the branches, I stopped him and cast him back on line, so that he would pick his way thru the branches and then they the keyhole. My plan was to use a Walk Out if any of his sits were too slow, but they weren't.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Land triples and bird-boy blinds

Today Laddie and I worked with three bird-boys on a local field. I set up two big land triples, and then ran Laddie on three bird-boy blinds.

All marks today were 3" white bumpers thrown into cover.

Here are descriptions:

Series A. Land triple featuring hip-pocket double, both memory birds retired

The first throw was on the right, thrown RTL at 310y. The second throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 210y and into a ditch. The third throw was in the center, thrown RTL at 150y. The line to the thrower of the first mark was thru the fall of the third mark. The gunners for the first and second mark retired as Laddie was returning from the first mark.

Laddie nailed the go-bird, and required a fairly long hunt on the second mark and a short hunt on the third mark.

Series B. In-line triple, both memory birds retired

The first throw was on the right, thrown LTR on an angle back at 150y. The second throw was in the middle, thrown LTR at 120y, a third of the way toward the first thrower. The third throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 90y, a third of the way toward the second thrower.

Laddie nailed the go-bird, ran the second mark wide but circled directly into it, and nailed the long mark.

Bird-boy blinds

It's possible to use a single bird-boy (or bird-girl) to run a dozen or more tune-up blinds in a short time, but in this case, I happened to have three bird-boys, so I just sent each out to set up a blind, distances of 100-180y. In two cases, I felt Laddie's whistle-sits were too slow and used Walk Outs to deny the retrieve and try again.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Don't send the dog if he's not lined up correctly

[For completeness of this journal, I'll mention that yesterday Laddie ran six tune-up blinds, and this morning one more, all featuring keyholes late in the blind, with Walk Outs a couple of times for whistle sits that were a bit too slow. However, it turns out we didn't run any blinds in today's trial.]

One reason it is so hard for a beginner to put titles on his dog is that, no matter how good the dog is, the handler has so much to learn. The learning process begins when trying to earn a JH, and then a whole new cycle is needed for the SH and then the MH, and now, as my history shows, yet again on the path to QAA, which so far still eludes Laddie and me.

Today, in a qualifying stake about four hours from here, I learned yet one more in what seems like an endless array of lessons for handlers. This one's pretty simple, and I wrote it in the title of this post. But how could I make such an elementary error? Here's the story:

In the seminar Laddie and I took several days ago, one of the last bits of advice I received was to avoid delaying sending Laddie when he was locked in correctly. Apparently I had done that several times during the seminar, and the pros felt our results would improve if I sent Laddie as soon as he was locked in on the correct line rather than delaying and making doubly and triply certain.

So in the days since, training both alone and in a group, that's something I've worked on, and we've had good results. Sure enough, if Laddie is already locked in on the correct line, I don't need to delay, I can send him immediately and get a good performance.

Well, today's qual started with an interesting triple: #1 was a 170y duck thrown LTR on the right; #2 was a 110y duck thrown RTL on the left, the gunner to retire during the dog's first return; and #3 was a 140y flyer duck thrown RTL in the center. The wind was almost a headwind, but blew at a bit of angle over the left (retired) mark toward the field to our right.

One challenge the setup presented was on the first retrieve: Do you send the dog to the go-bird in the center and risk the dog veering over to the closer bird on the left, possibly becoming confused and needing to hunt one or both marks? Or do you send the dog to the bird on the left, even though it's not the go-bird, since it's a lot shorter, and also because the gunner is still visible at that time but will be retired after whatever first bird is picked up?

Since we were #16 in the running order, I had the opportunity to watch both of those possibilities as well as others play out, and also to watch the results handlers had of having the dog watch the throws from the handler's left vs the handler's right.

So when it was our turn, I determined to run Laddie on my left, so that I could push him visually past the flyer to the bird on the left, if necessary, after the first bird was down. And I also decided that I would run him to the flyer as his first retrieve unless he showed a strong preference for one of the other birds as soon as all the birds were down. Of course, I also started our time at the line by giving him plenty of time to study the positions of all the gunners, cueing him to take extra time to study the field on the left, since that was where the gunner would retire.

I then locked Laddie in on the gunner on the right, cued Sit, and called for the throws. I watched Laddie continuously during the throws except for glancing up to see where the flyer fell, and I saw by Laddie's reactions that he had seen all the marks. I was also pleased to see that he was on high alert yet steady. I saw no hint of a break stirring. All good signs.

When the judge called "16", Laddie was locked in on the flyer, eliminating any question of where to send him first, so I sent him immediately rather than double- and triple-checking his line. I was rewarded by that implementation of the advice I'd gotten from the seminar by the best retrieve of the day on that difficult flyer, a dead-eye direct line. Laddie also picked the bird up, brought it back, and delivered it nicely, without marking the various hay bales and clumps of grass, or other dawdling.

Now it was time to send Laddie to the short retired bird on the left, and here's where I went so wrong. When I lined Laddie up on that bird, he tried to lock in too far to the right. He and I have a variety of ways of getting him lined up, and I worked with him on it, but he continued to look to the right of the fall. You would think that my behavior in that situation would be so obvious that it would be impossible to get wrong: Don't send him yet.

But I'd been practicing send-outs for days that were quicker than any we've practiced over the years, and something inside me was pushing me to send him without unnecessary delay. Of course the operative word there is "unnecessary", but that's where my wires got crossed. After several attempts to get him lined up correctly, I finally shut down those efforts and sent him, feeling an inappropriate confidence. Sure he's a great marker, and that was the basis for my confidence. But I had released him while he was locked in too far to the right! For the behaviorist, it was a classic example of operant conditioning (strong and recent reinforcement for eliminating delay) taking precedence over logic.

The results were predictable and disastrous. With Laddie's great speed, he ran right thru whatever scent from the left bird might have been coming across the line he was on and, since he was on the wrong line, he never arrived at the bird and just kept running straight. That took him further and further right, and when he finally began to circle back toward the start line, he found himself at the flyer station. It would have been pointless to handle him -- we had no chance of being called back -- and I didn't want to reinforce his returning to the old fall by then picking up the bird on the left.

I might mention that I then had a great deal of difficulty getting him back to me without a bird, and I guess I would rather he just came when called. But coming back without the bird is not a skill that will help a dog win a trial, so I guess I'm not that worried about it.

I'll finish this post with one last point of interest, at least to me. When I first packed up and headed for home, my state of mind was, You win some, you lose some. Even a great marking dog sometimes takes a wrong line, no? It was just bad luck that had wasted his fabulous mark on the flyer. Oh, well.

Didn't I realize immediately that I had caused that wrong line myself? No. In fact, as I described above, I had actually experienced a sense of confidence when I sent him, as though it didn't matter what direction he was headed, since he was such a skillful marker and we'd had such good luck with reduced-delay sends for days.

No, it took hours of driving, and also talking on the phone about the day and other things with a friend, that I suddenly remembered what I'd done. The realization fell on me like a ton of bricks, and now I'm not feeling so good after all.

Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. How many more do I have to make before Laddie gets a chance to move up to the next stage of competition? We don't have forever.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Preparation for trial

Today Laddie and I trained at two properties, an hour apart and both an hour or more from home. The weather was variable between sunny and overcast, with temps in the 50s and 60s, and a light wind.

First, I ran Laddie on three tune-up blinds. On the first one, I used Walk Outs for slow sits. The rest of his sits were fine.

Next we trained with a group, running an easy land double and a land blind behind the short gun. Still training with the group, we then ran two tight land blinds described by the other trainers, including a pro, as Am blinds. They were apparently a bit more difficult than usual because of a headwind, but Laddie ran them well. The pro said he'd be called back if he ran those blinds in an Am. That was discounting one half Walk Out for a slow sit as we began the series. It was Laddie's last slow sit of the day, with scores of additional whistles.

He also had no vocalizing on land nor on easy water. We did run one difficult setup that included over one point and past another, a lot of noisy Canada geese, a long swim, and a final uphill land segment. Though we tried it five times, he could never get off the first point without vocalizing, and I finally let him finish the long swim, the run uphill, and the retrieve even though he vocalized as he took the cast into the water. We'll work on vocalizing again after the weekend.

That difficult water blind was mixed in with hours of other work, including other water blinds that involved going over a point without vocalizing, and several keyhole land blinds that in some cases first required Laddie to go over the slope of a mound. Combining a mound with a keyhole required tight sits with precision casting, a valuable combination of skills for both of us to work on.

Laddie did a lot of good work today. It was enjoyable and satisfying for me and I hope for him. Except for some planned tune-up land blinds tomorrow, I think we're done with our preparation for Saturday's qual.

Tune-up blinds, land blinds, water blind, re-entries

[Note: If I'm going to continue to record every Laddie retrieve, or even most of them, I have to be careful not to take too much time.  This post, for example, took nearly two hours to write, even though I tried my best to be brief. The risk of continuing to need so much time for these posts is that either I'll record less, or that at some unconscious level I'll reduce Laddie's training to save time later needed to record.]

Yesterday afternoon I drove Laddie to a good friend's property, to train with a group that included a pro who was staying there overnight on way with 20+ dogs to a field trial further north. It was a sunny day with temps in the 50s and 60s.

When Laddie and I got there, they had already run a set of marks with a flyer. They were now running an all-age-level double blind thru the old falls from the marks.

While others were still running their dogs, I took Laddie to an unoccupied area to air him and to run three tune-up blinds. Each was 100y or more, and each featured one or more tight keyholes. On two of them, Laddie was a bit slow on his whistle sits, resulting in Walk Outs. He stopped on a dime for all his whistles on the third blind.

I then ran Laddie on the double double land blind, with a gallery watching. Both blinds were 300y+ to a pile of bumpers. Each one went down a hill, thru a tree line at 180y, and back up another slope. The left blind, which everyone was running first, was more difficult, because a crate of live birds sat at the tree line, a little to the left of the line to the blind, and then a holding blind, behind which was a bag of birds, was further up the hill, again on the left of the line to the blind.

Before Laddie ran, the pro graciously mentioned to me that Laddie would be running a more difficult series than the others had, because he hadn't run the marks and therefore would not benefit from an advanced dog's tendency to stay away from old falls.

Laddie ran both blinds reasonably well: He took good, long initial lines; in general he had good, tight whistle sits; he had relatively little trouble being cast back on line when pulled left to the live birds and then the holding blind; he took all the keyholes; his overall blinds were within a narrow corridor; and he never vocalized. He did slip one cast around the bird crate, and I called out Sit, which he did. With all those other trainers present, I decided not to take the time to walk out, but just continued the blind. As for the second blind, he two-whistled it.

The other trainers told me that it was one of the best performances on that series that day, perhaps even more meaningful because of the pro's observation about Laddie not having seen the marks. I assume, however, that the verbal Sit would have prevented us from being called back in a trial.

The group then moved to a different location, where the pro set up a 180y qual-level water blind. The blind featured a long land section, an angled water entry, a point of land on the right that the dog needed to swim past despite a section of running-depth water near the point, a second point of land also on the right that the dog needed to get up onto, a cove behind the second point shaped to create suction to the right, and a short land section leading to a pile of birds on the side of a mound.

In addition, the pro stationed a gunner off line to the right of the line to the blind, at the base of the second of the two points, and for those handlers (including me) who requested it, the gunner would sluice the water toward in front of the point after the dog was lined up to run, similar to a diversion shot but with more suction, since the dog could see the splash from the sluice and could think that a duck might have been thrown near the line to the blind.

Laddie could have lined the blind to the second point, but I felt he was too wide of the first point based on the standards I learned at the seminar, so I handled him toward it, yet was still able to stop him and straighten him out before he got onto it, which I thought was a pretty good bit of work. Laddie then had a good line to the second point, but as he approached he began to veer left, and rather than letting him think he could swim around it, which would be his preference, I whistled and cast him onto it. He then had good momentum over the point, and I think he would have been fine if I'd let him continue without handling, but the pro had commented earlier that in a trial he would always handle a dog to the left when the dog was about to exit over the point, rather than try to rely on momentum and watch the dog come up on land to the right a few seconds later. Accordingly, I did stop Laddie on the point and cast him off with an angle left. He took the cast with his usual exuberance, but he went straight back toward the blind rather than to the left. We ended the blind with a little more handling to minimize hunting as Laddie got close to the birds. The pro commented that it was impressive to see Laddie sit after he was able to wind the birds.

This was a fairly routine water blind for Laddie, and he ran it well except that he vocalized several times, both as he entered the water on his own and also on a couple of the earlier casts. The pro told me that some judges would have had a problem with it while others would have ignored it.

That ended the group's day, but I took Laddie back to the pond for a three poorman water marks, each featuring an initial cheating angle-entry across one cove, then a strip of land, and then another cheating angle-entry across a second cove (the re-entry), with the line to the fall only a few yards from land as Laddie swam across the coves. To my pleasant surprise, Laddie took every entry well, never showing any tendency to veer off line and never requiring a handle.

I then dried him off and we made the drive home.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bird-boy blinds

Today on the phone I spoke to one of the pros from our just-finished seminar about possibly taking another seminar with him in the near future, and we also talked a little about the training Laddie and I would benefit from in the meantime. He suggested a drill called bird-boy blinds, or BB blinds, and described a version that would be particularly helpful for Laddie and me.

I believe a BB blind is typically to help relatively inexperienced dogs gain confidence running cold blinds. But the version the pro suggested for us was to work on whistle sits and vocalizing.

With distances of 100-140y, and a bird-boy (or in today's case, a bird-girl) carrying a bunch of orange bumpers and setting up one blind after another in quick succession, we were able to run eleven blinds in much less time than the usual training day setups would take to get that much practice.

As Laddie has learned, a show sit results in me walking out and escorting him back to the start line, while vocalizing results in me calling him back. Either result in denying him the opportunity to continue the retrieve. The result in today's session was that his whistle sits were mostly tight with only three times for me to walk out, and his vocalizating ended after a single call-back.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Tuning up Laddie's whistle sit

After a great deal of training the last few days, I was primarily interested in resting Laddie today. However, I did take him out to run a tune-up drill on his whistle sit.

We ran three land blinds, 100y each. In each case, the early going was open, while the last 15y was difficult, in each case requiring Laddie to traverse heavy cover while also going thru a keyhole. In two cases, he was also simultaneously going diagonally up a slope.

Entries to those final sections required handling as I had hoped they would. Then, if Laddie didn't stop instantly when I blew the whistle, I called out Sit and walked out to him, and we walked quietly back to the start line together, where I reran him.

On the one incident where Laddie vocalized when taking a cast, I didn't walk out but I did call out No, Here. Thanks to our months of training last year, Laddie is able to discern in those cases that I'm not calling him back because of his cast, which was fine, but because of his vocalizing, and he doesn't repeat it the next time.

It was interesting to me that, having participated in the seminar the last few days, I now saw the field we were training on in a different way than I had previously. Now I saw lines for blinds that were tight and had factors I hadn't realized were usable before, whereas previously I had seen primarily long lines and one obvious keyhole between two trees in the middle of the field, and I had used lining poles and white bumpers to create diversions. It was as if I were seeing a different field, even though it was really one we'd used many times before.

Before, Laddie had a reasonable chance of lining even long blinds that I set up on the field. Now, he was sure to need handling to get thru the difficult red-zone finishes. That in turn gave us opportunities to tune up his whistle sit in preparation for our next trial on Saturday, as well of course as practicing casts into difficult terrain and keyholes.

Training seminar: triple land blind, land double plus land single

Yesterday was the fourth and last day of the retriever training seminar that Laddie and I have been taking. Taking advantage of the superb training grounds, the two pros set up series that they said would be suitable for pre-National [Open or Amateur] training.

The morning series consisted of three land blinds, challenging individually and  even more so in combination with one another. The afternoon series consisted of three land marks that could be run in various combinations. Two of the marks required handling for several of the dogs.

Here are descriptions of each series and Laddie's performance in each.

Series A. Triple land blind

The first blind was a hen pheasant down the middle at 60 yards, and had the unusual feature of a bird boy in white jacket sitting five yards behind the blind in plain sight. The second blind was on the left, on orange bumper at 180 yards. It had a tight corridor and suction on both sides that various dogs had trouble with. The third blind was on the right, a duck at 320 yards. Since all three blinds were in a 30 degree angle, the longest blind also featured a narrow corridor and significant suction on both sides at various points along the blind.

For the short blind, I chose to keep Laddie on the right side, because if he ran it to the left of the line to the blind, he would be running on the line to the second blind, which he would be running next, and I didn't want that to happen. In terms of competition. I let him run it a couple of yards too wide to the right, and we never crossed the line, but he one-whistled it and I was happy with our start.

I had run Laddie on a whistle-sit tune up drill earlier in the morning, and planned to walk out to pick him up and rerun the blind if he took too long to sit on any of my whistles in the training series. That wasn't a problem on the first blind, but he did have a slow whistle on the second blind and I did walk out, though only half way since I was holding the group up. Laddie then ran one of the best versions of the second blind that day.

Laddie's third blind had some excellent work, but he did slip a whistle when running thru a swampy bottom and I had to yell Sit to stop him. However, he had just gotten thru some difficult factors that had defeated several of the other dogs, and given the fact that a walkout would take a long time that far out, I decided to continue handling him. He responded with an excellent finish in a triple blind setup that had been intended particularly as a "red-zone" challenge.

Series B. Land double plus land single

These three marks could be run several ways, of course. The pros agreed that a double and a single was the best choice for Laddie, so though I felt a more difficult series was well within his capability -- I had proposed adding a side throw and running a round-the-horn quad with an out of order flyer -- I knew that the pros had trained many dogs to win in field trials so I went with their advice. This then is how Laddie ran it:

For the double, the first throw was a tried mark on the left, a duck thrown LTR downhill and into a marshy area with a high degree of auction up the hill to the left. The go-bird was in the middle, a flyer duck thrown RTL at 180y and little suction other than, I guess, a big field behind it.

Laddie ran an excellent line to the flyer, stopping at the right distance and turning left a couple yards to the bird. The bird had not been active when thrown and Laddie may not have realized it was a flyer. But it turned out to be a cripple and he jumped when he started to pick it up, causing a laugh from the pros and gallery. However, he picked it up promptly and delivered it to hand without killing it, despite its wings flapping in his face as he ran up the hill for the return.

I took a good but if time before sending Laddie to the retired memory bird, a point that the second pro commented on with some disparagement later. My concern was that every dog running before Laddie, I believe, or at least most of them, had given into the left suction and ended up on the hillside, some even needing help or handling to get back to the right. I was determined to communicate to Laddie that he should stay off that hill. When I sent him, he took a good line, then faded right and deeper into the marshy area, the only dog till that point to run that side. He overran the distance a short way, then circled around to the bird, I believe the best job on that difficult mark of the day except for one dog that came later and nailed it. Of course my memory may be failing me and there might have been other marks as good as Laddie besides that one, but I'm pretty sure that they would have come around on the left, not on the right.

For the single, the throw was a retired mark on the right, a duck thrown LTR at 250y. This was arguably the most difficult land retrieve of the seminar: the start line was almost in the woods on the right, the tree line and the terrain to the fall, plus the flyer station, created strong suction behind the gun that several dogs gave into, and the throw was so far too the right that the dog had to bend around the tree line to find the bird.

I again took my time making sure to communicate to Laddie not to fade left, and he then ran a nearly perfect mark, staying in front of the holding blind where the gunner had retired, then scenting the bird as he reached the area of the fall, thanks to an RTL wind.

I jokingly commented as Laddie was returning, "See, we should have run the triple." The pros didn't take it as a joke, and one if then said, not in a particularly humorous way, "But if he'd had trouble, you'd have said you should have run it as singles." I don't like to annoy people. Obviously I wish I hasn't made that remark.

We didn't receive any final report card, but I'll try to supply a short one. First, the seminar provided countless valuable tips, a few of which I've highlighted in bold in these posts. It was also conducted with sublime professionalism. As for Laddie and me, I'd say we made measurable improvement, though not as much as it may have seemed because Laddie's first two days of the seminar were unusually weak for him, whereas the second two days were closer to his usual performance, though still perhaps raised a notch. I won't comment on how I might have improved, other than hopefully I showed down a bit on my handling. I did gain a renewed appreciation of the importance of tightening Laddie's sits, and plan frequent tune-up drills every day for the foreseeable future.

Laddie's a good dog. That's one thing everyone seemed to agree on.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Training seminar: double water blind, four land singles, video review

[Note: Although I feel these seminar posts are a responsibility of my renewed commitment to record Laddie's training, it is time-consuming to write them in the evenings after a long day of training, and I am unable to invest the additional time it would take to edit them as well. As a result, and with my apologies, they contain many typos, confusing syntax, and incidents of unnecessary verbosity. To paraphrase a famous writer, "Sorry for the long post. If I'd had more time, I'd have made it shorter."]

[Another note: As I believe I've mentioned from time to time in these posts over the years, I do not own a range finder and instead rely on estimates of distances. But I feel it would be unnecessarily verbose to constantly qualify every distance specification with "about" or "approximately" or "estimated". So I just state the distances as facts, with those qualifications implied. I believe I'm fairly accurate in my estimates because I have walked off many setups over the years in order to tune my visual estimating ability, and I also adjust them according to input from other trainers, such as the pros at this seminar, whenever I can. As a rule, my estimates tend to be conservative. That is, I try to err on the low side of the distances I estimate, and try to avoid making estimates that describe the retrieves as longer than they actually were.]

For Day 3 of the retriever training seminar Laddie and I are attending, we had perfect weather, with sunshine, temps in the 60s and low 70s, and enough wind to improve the learning experience.

The schedule for the day was a pair of water blinds, lunch, a group of four land singles (AKA the A-B-C-D drill), and an evening of pizza and watching videos of some of our work from Day 1 of the seminar.

Here's a description of the two series, Laddie's performance, some additional work I did with Laddie on my own, and the video review session:

Series A. Double water blind

The first blind was 330y. It started with a 120y land entry where the line to the blind first brushed past a shrub on the right, then went past three trees on the left, forming an narrow corridor. The line then went diagonally across 20y of water and back onto land for another 70y, then back into water for a 100y swim, where the dog needed to come up on the left side of a mound. Finally, the dog had to continue past the line rather than wrapping around it, and on a short distance on land to the blind.

I saw this as essentially a land blind to the last tree on the left, followed by a water blind the rest of the way, and considered moving up so that we'd just run the water blind part. But since no other dog had been run that way, and most of them had had little trouble with the land portion, I decided to run the whole blind. I don't remember much about how it actually went, but I'm sure Laddie had some slow sits, some vocalizations on casts, and some refusals on casts near the far shore, that is, at 300y+.

The second blind was 350y and its line crossed the line of the first blind. It started with a 90y land entry that dropped off on the right side. The line was then a channel swim for 40y, including swimming past a point of land on the right at 30y. The line then crossed a point of land 30y in width, with a 45° entry onto the point and another 45° re-entry into the water, which, combined with other factors, created suction to the right that would take the dog out of sight if the dog did not stay on line or to the left. Next came a 160y swim, between two small islands at 140y, and once the dog reached the far shore, a short run on land to the blind.

Laddie had several difficulties with this blind. First, he took a wrong initial blind to the right, so severely offline that I called him back. The second pro asked me why I had not "no'ed" Laddie off the diversion in that direction, and I told him that I had not noticed Laddie glance in that direction, so that was a useful lesson to watch better. But when I sent Laddie again, he again took a wrong initial line  :0(  , this time to left. This was not a good sign for things to come, because Laddie typically takes an excellent line, and had done so in previous work in this seminar.

I then used a technique I've been experimenting with recently to get Laddie back on line, which became a topic of conversation during the evening get-together. Instead of using an angle back toward the blind, I used a straight over with a light tweet-tweet-tweet on my whistle, the intent being to cast Laddie to the right but not with the drive that he usually launches into, from which I can't stop him fast enough on the kind of short cast I intended. With his slower dash to the right, I then stopped him directly on line to the blind and cast him straight back with an emphatic verbal "Back".

From there on, Laddie struggled most of the way, not getting too badly off line in the early going, though not on as tight as a line as some of the other dogs, but eventually handling especially poorly at 300y and beyond. The key problems were: (a) I would tend to cast too quickly after my whistle, in some cases even before Laddie had turned around in the water. (b) Laddie vocalizing on casts both on land and on water, with body language that suggested a high level of agitation. (c) Laddie's slow sits or sit refusals, constantly putting him out of position for the next cast.

Series B. Four land singles

Series B was a group of four land singles, AKA an "A-B-C-D drill". The first mark was on the left, a pheasant thrown RTL at 250y, with the gun retired while the dog watched from the line after the throw, before the dog's number was called. The thrower for the second mark was on a line slightly to the right of the line to the first mark, but this mark was a 3" orange bumper thrown LTR at 90y. The third throw was on the right, a duck thrown RTL at 150y. The thrower for the fourth mark was on a line thru the fall of the second throw and a little to the left of the fall for the third throw, and the mark was a duck thrown LTR at 320y into a swampy depression.

Laddie's performance on Series B was bizarre. On the first mark, he took a good line but then had a strange pop, seeming to peek back toward the line from around a tree. Receiving no handling from me, he then ran past the bird on the upwind side, and not scenting it, continued thru an opening in the tree line onto a dirt road on the other side of the line of trees enclosing our field. From there he quickly looped back, still on the front side of the retired gunner, and required a hunt before finding the bird.

On the second mark, he nailed the send-out, but once he had the bumper, he did something he hasn't done since he was a puppy. He began running around the field carrying the orange bumper, paying almost no attention to me calling me from the line. It's possible he was looking for a bird that he could trade up to from his bumper. It was a strange breakdown for a dog at his level, and it took a lot of calling, and me walking a good way out, to get him back.

I don't remember how he ran the third mark. I'd guess he either nailed it or needed a small hunt.

Laddie's send-out on the fourth mark elicited compliments on his marking, but his return was abysmal. After he seemed to have picked up the bird, he disappeared amongst the swampy shrubs and didn't reappear for long seconds. Over the radio, the gunner told us that he'd been lying in the water, apparently cooling his belly again, as he had done the previous time I ran him thru a swampy area during this seminar. Not only was his return an embarrassment, but I'd also say that his marking on that long mark, though good, was not exceptional, in that most of the other dogs did just as well, with however much better returns.

Look, I don't know what to say about Series B. We work on land marks year round, and I've been told countless times what a good marker Laddie is. Laddie's performance in Series B was strange and unsatisfactory, but it's not representative of his work on land series in general. Perhaps he's tired from a string of long days both before and during the seminar, broken up by only one rest day last Tuesday. He's older than the other dogs at the seminar, and maybe that's a factor, despite my efforts to keep him in shape at all times. At least as likely in my mind: All the trainers, dogs, and their vehicles, plus the two pros and their loudspeaker, plus the unknown location and, for Laddie and me, unusual kind of terrain, produced a level of excitement, and perhaps anxiety, that I think may have caused Laddie's fragile return skills in particular, but all of his skills more generally, to deteriorate.

Series B.1 Two water blinds

After Series B, the seminar broke up, with plans to meet in a hotel conference room more than an hour later. The second pro had suggested that Laddie might benefit from running one of the water blinds again, though when I asked him whether during the lunch break was a good time for it, he suggested that it would be better to do it with a fresher dog. Since Laddie was now four singles more tired than when the pro gave that advice, I'm sure he wasn't thrilled that I decided to go ahead and run Laddie on one of the Series A blinds that afternoon after all. But I doubted I'd have another opportunity any time soon, and Laddie appeared to me to be strong and eager for more work, so that's what I did.

Twice during the day, I had also taken short breaks to set up relatively short land blinds, run Laddie on them, blow whistles, and walk out if he didn't stop immediately. As a result, his whistle stops on Series B.1 looked good to me, and I didn't feel the need to call Laddie back for stopping too slowly.

However, since we were alone and not at risk of taking up too much of other people's time, I consistently walked out and picked Laddie up for vocalizing on the land entry, and called him in from water for vocalizing as well. I was extremely pleased to see that this worked as I would hope: when I'd resend him, then handle him again, he wouldn't vocalize on that cast. Yes, somewhat further along the blind, he would vocalize, but then I'd just bring him back again.

The reason that was a nice surprise was that, in the past, up till last fall, calling Laddie back for vocalizing had no effect of reducing his vocalizing during the next send-out. That is, in the past, he apparently did not know why he had been called back and how to avoid it happening again. But now, after our months of devocalization training dating back to last July, but suspended for the last several months because of the cold weather, it appears that Laddie has retained the understanding he finally developed during those months of training, that when he gets called back for vocalizing, he needs to avoid vocalizing on the retry or he'll get called back again.

By the way, while I think that analysis is accurate, I don't think Laddie consciously thinks or reasons about any of this. Rather, I think I'm just seeing complex behavioral conditioning play out, with Laddie unaware of the process except for the emotions he feels as he participates in it.

In any case, at last he completed that huge water blind with a satisfactory performance from the point of view of both his whistle stops and devocalization. His line was too wide in places to get called back in a competition, at least against many of the other dogs in the seminar, but he ran the whole blind without barking once.

Afterwards, I ran him on another blind that also had a point of land for him to swim past, and another point of land for him to go over, though this blind was only 80y. He never vocalized and made good whistle stops the first time we ran it, so I never needed to call him back on this blind.

Video review

The first pro had taken videos of line mechanics while the dogs ran some of the Day 1 land marks, and again while the dogs were running the double land blind. During this evenings session, over pizza provided by the seminar's organizers, the pro projected the videos onto a screen in a hotel conference room while all the seminar participants joined both pros in a thorough discussion of each team's work as well as a wide-ranging discussion of other field topics.

A great deal of fascinating discussion occurred during this session, which by the way has been true of all the time we've spent running our dogs as well. I have only relayed the tip of the iceberg of topics and details we've heard explained to us, with my focus on the points that applied to Laddie and me, and even then an incomplete report. I don't have the time or memory to be more thorough in this training journal, though I hope I've assimilated much of the information and it will come to me when I needed. Not all of the info, mind you. I'm sure some of the info either didn't sink in, or did at the time but will be lost to me in the future, having not been repeated enough times for me to make it my own.

I will, however, mention that the pros explained to me during the review session that the approach I had invented, and used on our blinds during the seminar, for getting Laddie back on line stood a good chance of resulting in disqualification for many field trial judges, who would interpret the three tweets as a come-in whistle, or, even if they didn't, would observe that the dog was being sent in a horizontal direction rather than advancing toward the blind. Since continuously advancing toward the blind is a requirement for dogs at Laddie's level, we need to go back to using angle back casts rather than overs.

The pros suggested, however, that if I can tighten up Laddie's whistle sit, I might find using angle back casts more workable, since I probably invented the straight-over, slowed-down technique to compensate for not being able to stop him fast enough when he's crossing the line on his way back from one side or the other. All of that makes sense to me, and I think the pros' key advice that I tighten Laddie's whistle sit may be the most important benefit I get from this seminar, despite the vast amount of other valuable material.

While giving that advice, the second pro kind of shook his head and said quietly, "But I don't know how you're going to do it." He believes, I guess, that it can't be done without an ecollar. However, I believe that walk outs do in fact tighten Laddie's whistle sit. I just need to be more consistent in using them, and more systematic in arranging training situations that all me to use them.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Training seminar: land triple, water triple, water single

Today was Day Two of the training seminar that Laddie and I are attending. It started with an extensive discussion of solving a particular training problem, and then proceeded to two series separated by lunch.

The discussion concerned the case of a dog scalloping toward shore rather than staying on line to the end of a pond on a mark, and associated peripheral issues. One example of how the discussion proceeded was a debate over the efficacy, versus potential side effects, of letting the dog who had scalloped go and some seconds later reach land, whereupon the dog would receive a strong collar correction. Most of the methods discussed, though not all, were outside my interest. However, the second pro made an assertion that I found interesting: calling a dog all the way in is a strong correction. That, of course, is similar to one of the primary methods I use, though I've found that walking out is more effective than just calling the dog in. Of course walking out is not possible for correcting a water retrieve, so calling the dog back to the start line has to do, and I'd agree with the pro that even that has a strong effect on improving performance.

Here's a description of the two series and Laddie's work on them:

Series A. Land triple

The first throw was on the right, a duck thrown RTL at 180y on an angle back close to a pine tree, with the line to the fall thru a swampy area as well as other difficult terrain. The second throw was on the left, a hen pheasant thrown LTR at 150y into an area of high cover. The third throw was in the center, a duck thrown RTL at 250y, with the line over a mound. The field was dotted with trees, limiting visibility, obstructing paths, and generally making the triple more difficult than it would have been without them, especially for a dog like Laddie who has never trained on fields with trees scattered around inside the area of the series. The first and second guns both retired after their throws.

Laddie has been running triples for years, including these kinds of distances, and he's been running retired guns for years, including having two or even three guns retired. Admittedly he may never have seen the long middle gun as the go-bird, but I don't think that was a hugely difficult factor, though of course having the long gun stay out while the dog was picking up the two shorter retired memory marks on either side was an interesting challenge. However, though I felt that on paper the series was well within Laddie's experience and capability, it was actually much more difficult because of the trees, the swampiness, and other elements of the terrain. I knew as soon as I looked at the setup that, despite Laddie's proven skillfulness in marking, this series would be a major challenge for him and might be over his head.

So why did I let him run it without requesting modification, such as running it as a double and a single, or even as three singles, or possibly as a triple but with the guns out, or possibly by moving up? I don't know. Perhaps because I want so much for people to see what a great dog Laddie is that I take unnecessary risks like this one.

In this case, the risk did not pay off. The series was in fact too difficult for Laddie, so instead of showing how skillful he is, it showed how badly his behavior can break down. Yes, he nailed the long go-bird. But next I elected to run him on the left bird that had been thrown in cover, on the grounds that I thought it was a bit easier than the right mark, and one of my criteria for choosing between memory marks is to run the hardest one last. That way, if I have to handle, I'll already have the easier mark out of the way and the series won't be as disrupted by the possible need to handle on the last mark.

But that strategy failed because Laddie took a line behind the gun station and then a big circle that brought him to a return to the old fall in the middle before I could get him under control with the whistle. First I had called for help from the gun, but it turned out the bird-boy had a great throwing arm but did not know how to help the dog effectively, so I was late to handling. Eventually Laddie found the bird in the cover and returned with it, but the triple was blown. What to do now about the right memory mark?

I made the terrible decision to just go ahead and run Laddie. It turned out that he had forgotten the mark entirely, somewhat surprisingly since Laddie usually has a great memory for marks. That actually wasn't the worst part, however. The worst part was when Laddie decided to lie down in the swampy section, I guess to cool off his belly. I can't even remember whether that was before or after he had the bird. Ugh. I can't remember any more about how Laddie did on Series A. I think maybe the pros, incredibly considerate as always, tried to help Laddie and me get something useful out of the setup by having us come back and run a modified version, but maybe they did something else that was also incredibly considerate. I guess I've blotted it out of my memory.

But I did learn something, which unfortunately I've learned before but I have to keep learning it: When we are training with a new group and running difficult setups, I should err on the side of modifying the work so that it's too easy, and then gradually allow incrementally greater challenges in subsequent setups, rather than risk over-facing Laddie and running into a disaster. Never mind how the other dogs are doing. I'm supposed to be doing what's best for improving Laddie's performance, not trying to win training day or show off what a great dog Laddie is.

Besides, everyone can already see what a nice dog Laddie is. In fact, the pros both commented on it today  :0)  , somehow managing to see thru the disasters I had engineered.

Series B. Water triple followed by water single

For the Series B water triple, the first throw was on the left, thrown LTR at 110y with a difficult shoreline that required a re-entry into the water to stay on line. The second throw was in the middle, thrown LTR at 100y and across a channel, a configuration I've heard called a "bridge". The line to this mark, too, was cheat-y, consisting of a mound that pushed the dog left and onto running the shoreline toward the gunner rather than entering at the end of the channel and over to the bird. The third throw was on the right, a duck flyer thrown RTL into the water on the far side of the same strip of land that 50y further along was the where the second bird had been thrown. This meant that if a dog sent for the flyer ran along the strip of land to the left instead of traversing it to get into the water on the other side, the dog would pick up the second bird instead of the flyer. I believe that the first gun was retired for dogs running Series B as an advanced triple.

For the Series B water single, the throw was in the middle of the field, thrown RTL at 320y with a channel swim between two points, an angle exit onto land, a series of island hops that created suction to the left, and a diagonal swim across another channel to the shoreline where the bird had been thrown. For the advanced dogs, this gun also retired after the throw.

After my repeated misjudgments of what Laddie was capable of on earlier setups yesterday and today, this time, when it was our turn, I expressed that this setup was probably over Laddie's head, especially considering that he's only been training in water for a couple of weeks since the weather became warm enough for it. So instead of running it as a triple and a single, the pros' suggested that we run a double consisting of the outer marks, then the short middle mark as a single, and finally the long middle mark as a single, but with none of the guns retiring, and using a large white bumper for the long throw, a bird planted there in advance for the dog to pick up when he got out there.

For the double, Laddie took a good line to the flyer go-bird until he reached the last strip of land before the water where the flyer had landed. Then, to my surprise, he ran back and forth a bit on that strip of land before finally leaping into the water to pick up the flyer and complete the retrieve. I don't know why he did it, but I guess it was the same reason that some of the other dogs also had trouble going all the way across that strip of land and into the water on the other side. If the water had been cold, that might have explained it, but temps have reached the 80s two days in a row, and I doubt the water was particularly cold in mid-afternoon, even with the brisk wind all day and the cold nights we've been having. At least Laddie finally got into the water on his own and didn't need to be handled, as several of the other dogs did.

The cheat-y memory bird on the left was too hard for Laddie. I'm pleased to say he took a good initial entry rather than trying to cheat around, but once on land again, he veered left rather than holding his line and taking the re-entry. Getting him to take the correct line was a struggle whose details my mind seems to have suppressed. Oh, well.

Given Laddie's difficulty with the re-entry challenge on the left mark, I opted to move our start line for the short single bridge mark to make it less cheat-y. Laddie then nailed it. I guess that's good, since I didn't have to handle him, but my immediate reaction was that I'd made it too easy.

For the long single, Laddie took a nice line thru the channel and between the two points, and came up on the far shore of the middle section of land at the correct point. However, he then veered left, which I interpreted as his intent to island-hop until he got across the channel from the bird for a short swim across to it. Therefore, as soon as he veered left, I blew my whistle and cast an angle back to the right and back on line, which he took nicely and carried a good distance. Just before reaching the diagonal channel crossing, he veered left one more time, and I again handled him back on line, enabling him to complete the mark nicely. By the way, all of his returns on the Series B marks were reasonable, in marked contrast to some of the awful return performances he's delivered earlier in the seminar.

So Series B didn't go quite as well as was hoping it would. I was trying to make modifications so that he could run every mark without handling. In the end, even with the modifications, he needed a lot of handling on the left mark and two handles on the long mark. But I guess it was a good training series, if I don't mind the fact that I still didn't get to show off what a great dog he is.

I'll end by mentioning that the pros were kind enough to arrange for myself and another trainer to run our dogs on that left mark again after all the other dogs had completed the series. Amusingly, when it was Laddie's turn, I voiced my request that the thrower make a nice, big throw so that the re-entry wouldn't be too difficult. The way it turned out, the second pro commented, "Be careful for what you wish for." That was because the throw turned out to be too big, so that Laddie could stay online to the bird without getting back on land just by swimming past the point. So much for the "re-entry" practice. I went down and re-threw the bird myself with Laddie in a Sit waiting for me to come and run him, but again he cheated the re-entry. I called him back and sent him yet again, and this time I handled him to complete our work for the day. I wanted him to run that retrieve as a re-entry mark. I never got that in this session.

And now it's again nearly midnight, so time for bed and Day Three of the seminar starting at 8am tomorrow.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Training seminar: land marks, land blind, water blind

Today was Day 1 of the retriever training seminar Laddie and I are taking, not counting our private session yesterday with one of the pros conducting the seminar. In the posts about the seminar, I'll refer to him as the first pro and the other guy as the second pro, though they were sharing the leadership role. Both had run dogs in several nationals, and the second pro had won one. I'm not sure whether the first pro has as well; he may have.

The day was cool and overcast with occasional showers and a bit of wind that changed strength and direction during the day.

I've never been to a retriever training seminar before, so I didn't know what the format would be like. It turns out that this seminar, at least, was conducted much like a training day, and thus much like a competition, except that the pros wore microphones that broadcast thru a loudspeaker so that we could hear them make short announcements about each dog, and then hear them converse with each other, with the handler as a dog was working, and with other trainers as questions were asked. That continuous stream of information and ideas resulted in a hugely valuable training experience, compared to the much more minimal feedback I normally get when running Laddie. True, some of the info would not work for Laddie and me given the way I train, but even if I might not address a particular problem in the same way, seeing and hearing the problems discussed with such insight was still of great value, and of course a discussion such as which way to run a dog past a hay bale that was right in the middle of the line to the blind applied just as much to me as to anyone else.

I suppose it goes without saying that both pros were open to questions and forthcoming with friendly, thoughtful, expert answers, which was great. Yet that attitude is actually not automatic. I've often trained with experienced trainers, pros or advanced amateurs, who were more likely to be annoyed by questions than to welcome them, and whose answers were correspondingly far less helpful, whatever help they might have been able to give if they'd actually wanted to. Granted those weren't seminar situations, and maybe that's the reason their behavior was different. Or maybe that's why they're not giving seminars.

My experience on today's work was an emotional roller coaster. Here's a description of the setups, Laddie's performance, and my thoughts about them.

Series A. One land single, one land double, and one more land single

The first land single was on the left, thrown RTL at 160y behind a strip of cover. The first throw of the double was on the right, thrown RTL at 180y, with that gunner retiring after the dog turned to watch the second throw. The second throw of the double was in the middle, thrown LTR at 150y behind a different strip of cover. The final single was also in the middle, on a line under the arc of the double's go-bird, thrown LTR at 290y.

These were the only marks of the day, and I'd have expected Laddie to perform well on them, since he has been a strong marking dog all his life. It should not have mattered that the majority of the dogs were QAA and running all-age, in some case with some placements. Nor should it have mattered that most of the dogs were trained by pros or with a lot of help from pros. This should have been Laddie's wheelhouse.

Instead, Laddie's performance was one of three or four worst of the day. For starters, he ran far outside on the first single, avoiding the strip of cover like many of the other dogs but taking a wider line than was necessary to do so, and relying I think on his nose, rather than his memory of the fall, to swing back to the bird. He also paraded somewhat on his return, something he has been generally better about in recent years than he was when he was younger.

Before I go on, I'd like to highlight one comment from the first pro that was a revelation to me and that I hope I'll remember: He said that a trainer should be extremely cautious about correcting a dog for running around cover, and if you are going to do so, you should go take a close look at it and make sure that you're seeing what the dog is seeing, not just what the cover looks like from the distance. He said that in the case of the two marks thrown behind cover in this series, a dog wouldn't benefit from being corrected for running around either of them. He added that he's seen dogs whose training suffered from being corrected for running around cover, since the dog in some situations can't understand why the correction is occurring and therefore can't avoid the correction.

Some of the dogs did run around one or both of the strips of cover, and some didn't. It didn't seem to correlate with the experience level or ability of the dog by other measures. No one attempted to handle or correct if the dog ran around. That said, on that first mark, ran too far to the outside even if running around the strip of cover was not a problem, and since I've worked with him on taking cover when it's on line to a mark many times, I'd have liked to see him do it.

On the go-bird of the double, Laddie again ran around the cover, this time between the gunner and the end of the cover (but without hooking the gunner), then picked the bird up with a minimal hunt, about the same as most of the dogs. However, he then pretty much broke down entirely on his return. At the time I didn't know why, but it became apparent a little later.

When he finally returned, I sent him to the retired memory bird, and once again he took a line too far to the left, which, by the way, meant he was fading with the wind. He got a bit past halfway toward the old fall of the go-bird, and I would have called for help if he had (unlike most of the other trainers, most of whom handled if the dog needed help), but he turned back on his own and soon hunted up the bird. Then he broke down twice to go to the bathroom on his return, even though I had aired him twice in the morning (once at the hotel and once when we arrived at the seminar), and he was running Series A as #1, so he had not needed to wait in his crate too long before running.

At last he was back at the line for the final single, and now the first pro said, Hey, Laddie has several long pieces of straw coming out of his behind. It looks like he's been eating straw and now it's coming out. I didn't know what to do, and the pros didn't seem to be indicating to me what I should do, so I just decided to go ahead and call for the long single. Laddie yet one more time took a line a bit too far to the left, that is, fading with the wind, then hooked the gun and ran straight to the bird. His return was once again a mess, but by now it was obvious that he was under distress because of not being able to clear out his behind.

In retrospect, I think that might have affected his marking throughout all or part of the entire series, but I'd like to mention one other point. As I mentioned earlier, the wind shifted both speed and direction throughout the day. Yes, Laddie went out too far left on every mark, and even hooked the gun on the long mark. And true, most of the dogs that went after him did not have those problems. Yet two, or possibly three, more dogs did exactly the same things as Laddie had done on the memory bird of the triple and the long single, and in fact none of them had recovered as well as Laddie had from taking a line too far to the left. The interesting thing is that those two -- or three -- dogs were the last ones to run. In each case, the dog took a line too far to the left on the memory bird of the double, and then hooked the gun on the long single. So I think a reasonable hypothesis is that the wind was stronger, and/or in a different direction, when Laddie and those last dogs ran than it was for the dogs between them. I am not suggesting that this excuses Laddie's relatively poor marking. But it may explain to some extent why he did so much worse than many of the other dogs. That plus the problem he was having with eliminating.

Series B. Double land blind

The first blind was toward the left at 160y, with a fairly narrow corridor constrained by hay bales at different distances along the way on either side of the corridor. The second blind was at 310y, with a hay bale at 25y right in the middle of the line to the blind and other hay bales again constraining the corridor to the blind.

The pros identified this setup as more difficult than a Qual. I've never seen a double land blind in a Qual in any case, but I'd say that each of the blinds was a tougher combination of length and narrowness than most if not all Qual blinds that I've seen, which admittedly is only a tiny fraction of the number the pros and most of the other trainers have seen.

Thanks to a rotating running order, Laddie was one of the last dogs to run this, and again, he was one of the worst. I had come to the line a bit intimidated by how narrow the corridors were, and my confidence had been shaken by his weak performance on Series A. I was right to be concerned, as Laddie showed two serious problems: First, his whistle sits were far too loose, with Laddie taking several steps before looping around, thus putting him far from the position intended by the whistle, and generally in a worse position. And second, he vocalized on several of the casts. I was a bit surprised by that, since he normally vocalizes on casts in water, not on land, as I had discussed with the first pro the day before. The second pro had not taken part in that conversation, and the first time Laddie vocalized, the second pro exclaimed, "Whoa, what was that?" and then I think suggested to the first pro that this dog might have been corrected too harshly in the past. But the first pro said no, Laddie has never had a collar on in his life, and when I could take my eyes off Laddie after he had the bumper and was returning, I confirmed no collar, no heeling stick, no force fetch, no physical corrections at all. That led to a fairly prolonged discussion between the pros, and with some of the handlers also commenting I believe, trying to make sense out of what was causing the vocalizing. I'm sorry, I don't remember much of the discussion.

As for the second blind, Laddie ran it about the same way. His whistle sits were too slow, he vocalized on one or more of the casts, and though he didn't go out of control or anything and completed the blind, he was too wide and too slow on his sits to compare well with most of the other dogs. Perhaps that is to be expected, given that they are further along in their competitive careers than Laddie despite generally being younger than him. Yet I also know that I run Laddie on zillions of land blinds year round, unless the weather makes it totally impossible, and I know he is capable of running either of those blinds significantly better than he did.

I also got one take-away, which I've heard many times in the past and which I sure wish would sink in so that people don't have to keep telling me this: slow down. I think I had a legitimate reason for quick casts when he was younger, since they were his +R for sitting, and I needed more reinforcement for Laddie sitting than most dogs need since I don't use a collar. But I don't think that applies any longer, and I think Laddie's handling unquestionably improves when I take that advice. It's just that I tend to forget it over time and have therefore received it many times.

Series B.1 Solo work on whistle sits

After Laddie had run Series B, I did some thinking and realized something important: It's not uncommon for Laddie's whistle sits to deteriorate at time, and it's actually fairly easy to repair, but it takes some time away from the other handlers in the group, making me reluctant to do it in a group situation. The solution is simply to call out "Sit", then walk all the way out to him while he has to sit there bored and in full knowledge that he will not get to complete that retrieve. Then I call him to heel and we walk all the way back, and then we run it again. I've been doing this with Laddie for years, and his sits invariably improve immediately, though it then wears off over time. Sometimes it doesn't improve as much as I want it to. In that case, all I need to do is to walk out again, and the next time his sit is even tighter. I can tighten it to a satisfactory level of performance if I just take the time for those walk-outs.

So while the pros were setting up Series C, which would be a water blind, I drove Laddie to an adjacent field, out of sight and sound of the seminar, and ran him on three blinds, all between 150 and 200 yards, and all with some significant factor that I knew would pull him off line and require a whistle. On the first one, he veered off within 30y, I blew the whistle, he didn't sit fast enough, and I stopped him and walked out to pick him up. The same thing happened at increasingly longer distances before he finally had satisfactory sits all the way to completing the blind, which took about five send-outs.

For the second blind, he again needed a couple of walk-outs, but then completed the blind.

For the third blind, he needed two or three whistles and they were all tight. He completed the blind and was ready, I felt, to return to work with the group.

By the way, Laddie didn't vocalize at all on any of this solo work. To me, that says that the presence of other handlers, other dogs, and the pros has a pretty good chance of playing a role in why he was vocalizing on Series B. But it's not so clear what that role is. For example, I mentioned that I was not feeling confident when we ran Series B, whereas B.1 was a typical drill for us out of the lime light, and Laddie could have been responding to the difference in my emotional state rather than the actual difference in the situations.

Series C. Water blind

This blind was to orange bumpers at 180y. The line was on flat ground, then down a bank to water's edge. The handler (and spectators) had to move up after the dog cleared the ridge to see as the dog ran to the water. The line into the water was thru cattails and other foliage, and the pros pointed out a cluster of high cattails that they would expect an all-age dog to stay to the left of on the water entry, which would keep the dog crossing the pond quite tight to the bank on the left. More cattails and other water plants occurred in the water and along the bank on the far side of the pond. The line up the far bank went thru additional high cover, then a section of low cover, and finally the blind itself on the side of a mound at the top of the far section of land.

The pros identified this as a typical "National water blind". I can't remember if they said National Open or National Amateur. I'm not sure they said either one. They weren't saying that this was necessarily more difficult than a weekend match's all-age water blind, but just that it was the kind of blind National judges might set up to get some answers without needing a great deal of time, possibly early in the stake, possibly later on. My interpretation is that they felt it would be challenging for all the dogs at the seminar, but that we'd be able to get all the dogs thru it fairly quickly, a consideration since it was getting fairly late in the day.

When I was able to talk to the first pro in private for a moment, I mentioned that I had gone off to tighten up Laddie's whistle sits, and he seemed pleased that I had. I also told him that Laddie had not vocalized during that work, which also seemed of interest to him (I like this guy!). I said that for this series, I would like to plan on walking out if Laddie showed a slow sit, or if he vocalized, but that I would understand completely if he didn't feel the group had enough time for letting me continue to run Laddie again after a walk-out, possibly several times.

The pro was completely on-board, and made a great suggestion: Would I like to go last, so that the others could go home if they wanted, and then I could take as much time as I needed? He assured me he's stay and work with me if I wanted to do that. Of course, that sounded great, not only because of the training and educational opportunity, but because it eliminated any pressure I'd feel to keep working when I should really be walking out.

So all the dogs except two others ran the series, and I had the opportunity to watch almost all of them, sharing in the learning experiences and really getting to know the setup. Then two less experienced dogs, not ready to run this blind, were given some marking work in the pond. Finally I checked with the pros and they agreed I should go get Laddie.

So first of all, unlike every other dog, Laddie took a perfect line over the edge of the bank and down to the water, not getting off line until nearly to water's edge, and then not by much. I blew the whistle and put him in just where the all-age dogs would have been expected to enter, though several of the other dogs, even advanced ones, had not been able to be positioned to that entry point. However, he vocalized as he leapt into the water, and then again when he started to veer too far right and I handled him back onto an excellent line. But I said loud enough for the pros to hear me, "I just don't think I should stop him in this situation. Those casts were too good." Behind me, the first pro said that he totally agreed. You can't correct a dog who's doing that well.

Laddie needed a little more handling on the far hillside, and I think he even slipped one whistle over there, but I guess it wasn't too bad. As Laddie was coming back, the pros both told me that Laddie had done a great job, one of the best all day, including the best initial line of the day (meaning all the way to the water). I mentioned another dog who had also taken a great line and the first pro reminded me with a laugh that that dog had, however, stopped to urinate on the way (that was something you rarely see from a good dog on the way out on a blind, and this dog was QAA twice). So, yeah, I guess Laddie had done a nice job.

In fact, the pros were also happy with his whistle sits except for that one slip, and remained in agreement that Laddie's two incidents of vocalizing were not in the kind of situation where you'd want to correct a dog. They also had no suggestions they wanted to make about our line mechanics or my handling, and I'm pretty sure that's because they were OK rather than because they were so awful that the pros didn't know where to start.  :0)  At least I hope that's the case.

So that's how the day ended. After the emotional downs of the first two series, a really nice performance on the water blind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Private session with pro: four water blinds and a land casting drill

Although years ago, prior to getting involved in field work, I often took Lumi to private and group classes in agility, musical freestyle, and even some tracking, I've never taken either private or group training classes with either of my dogs in field work. However, this spring I've enrolled in a group field training seminar starting tomorrow, and today Laddie and I took a 2-hour private lesson with the pro.

It was totally enjoyable, had no negatives as far as I could tell, and I got some good advice already, hopefully setting the tone for even more benefits during the next four days.

To record how it went:
  • After a little getting to know one another, the pro asked me a spectrum of questions that gave him a pretty solid understanding of my thoughts about Laddie and our work together. One of his most predictable questions, yet one I could not provide a good, thorough answer, was for my thoughts on why Laddie got JAMs rather than placements in his various trials, especially the two times he got Reserve JAMs. Another was for me to provide a list of Laddie's strengths and weaknesses. Of course I tried to answer those questions, but the fact is that I'm not really sure of the answers to those questions. I did mention my concern about Laddie's vocalizing when being handled in water, and that continued to be a topic of discussion throughout the lesson.
  • Next, the pro set up four water blinds and showed them to me, and then he had me get Laddie from the van and run them. The pro stood near me so that he could ask questions and also make occasional suggestions. Obviously this was a tremendous luxury and of incalculable value. In the past, trainers "helping" me have been more likely to complain that about Laddie's meandering returns or questioned how I could hope to train without "corrections", and I had feared similar interaction this time. But it was nothing like that. The pro was nothing but respectful of my choice in how to train, and his suggestions were all rational and valuable, things like, "If you use a quieter voice for more routine casts, you may be able to influence the dog better with a louder voice when a more difficult cast is required." In fact, it wasn't even in the form I just wrote, that is, as a suggestion. It was often more along the lines of, Here's what I tend to do and why. He was unfailingly kind and respectful, yet also direct and helpful. That's another concern I had, that he'd "hint", and I'm no good at taking hints. But I didn't feel that was happening.
  • Finally, the pro showed me a drill that somehow I'd never seen in quite that form. He called it as casting wagon-wheel, as opposed to a lining wagon-wheel (which I did use with Laddie in his training when he was younger). The casting drill is basically the same as the baseball drill, but whereas the baseball drill only has three points -- back, right, and left -- the wagon-wheel has eight points, all the way around the dog, who still starts in a sit facing the handler from about ten yards distance. The pro didn't have me bother with bumpers at the three front positions, so we were only using five points. From what I understood, the pro wasn't as interested in how accurate the casting went as he was in how agitated Laddie might get in case of being confused or stopped for taking an incorrect cast. I think the pro was also curious whether Laddie would vocalize on this land handling, since he had vocalized quite a bit on the water blinds. It turns out that Laddie never vocalized at all on the wagon wheel drill, took pretty good casts, and didn't seem to become agitated or otherwise less able to work when things didn't go perfectly. The same could not be said for me. Several times the pro requested that I send Laddie on a straight back, spinning either left or right, and two of those times I blew the whistle to stop Laddie when it appeared to me that he was diverting to an angle back only to realize, after I'd blown the whistle, that Laddie was still completing his spin and was headed for the correct bumper. I guess I reacted to my own error with some agitation. Not a big deal, hopefully, but not, shall we say, calm. I think the pro feels that's something I would benefit from working on.
Now I'll try to describe the four water blinds and my perceptions of how the work went:

A. 70y, consisting of 60y downhill thru uneven footing and thick, low cover plus 10y across the right edge of a small pond, an obvious cheat available to the right. When I sent Laddie, despite his being lined up well (at least I think he was) and locked in on the correct direction, he took a line far to the left, which I would interpret not as a misunderstanding of what line the blind was on, but as an overwhelming desire to take the water entry fat rather than taking any risk of being too close to the right shoreline and getting whistled for cheating. When I stopped him 20y out to cast him straight over, he vocalized loudly when I blew the whistle. The pro later commented that whereas it might be difficult for Laddie to understand what it would mean if I called him in for vocalizing while taking the correct cast, he'd suggest that I might call him in if he vocalized at the moment I whistled. I think that was a good insight and will try to watch for it. In any case, once Laddie was back on line, I think he ran a good blind from there, though there may have been additional vocalizing. I can't remember the details of how he ran the rest of the blind, but I think that means it was pretty routine. He definitely didn't make any effort to run the bank. In fact, to my surprise, he didn't run the bank on his return, either. Once he had gotten across the pond, he ran up the hill, picked up the bumper, turned around, and carried it back into the water to bring it back.

B. 90y, consisting of a similar land entry, across the same pond as A but on a line further to the left of the right edge, over a strip of land, and across a second pond close to the right edge, between that edge and a small island, with the bumper on the far shoreline in the corner. The line crossed A's line. I don't remember the details of how Laddie ran B. I think he again took an initial line too far to the left and for the same reason, he again vocalized, and I believe I used several whistles to keep him on what I considered a tight line. I cannot tell you whether in fact I was using too many whistles and a more relaxed line would have been OK, nor whether the line I actually kept him on was tight enough for a typical Qual or All-age judge. There is so much I don't know! Anyway, Laddie made no effort to cheat around the water at either entry, nor to beach on the island. Again, I can't remember the details, because I think a lot of the pro's concern was with Laddie's vocalizing: He raised interesting questions such as what is the context and trigger for Laddie's vocalizing, would longer delays between the whistle and the cast reduce the vocalizing, is my level of excitement and tendency toward animated casting making the vocalizing worse, and so forth.

C. 120y, consisting of a start line at 4 o'clock beside a mound, the same downhill land entry as for A and B, across a strip of land, the right side of the small island mentioned in B, and onto another strip of land, with a total of two water crossings, none very long. The line for C crossed both the previous two lines. Before we ran it, this looked to me like it might be difficult, but I can't actually remember Laddie having a problem with it. I think Laddie again vocalized at least once. I think his initial line was better than for A and B, which I would guess was because he didn't feel a need to be so concerned with avoiding the right edge of the first pond. I think he had some problem getting past the island, and I would guess that that was because the water was a bit shallow near the left end of the island, allowing his feet to touch the ground and thus greatly increasing suction onto the island in comparison to swim-depth water. Seeing him turning toward the island, I used three emphatic tweets rather than a single tweet to stop him. It worked, but I'd guess it hurts scoring compared to a single tweet, since in effect, he's slipping (refusing) the first two whistles. But actually they're too closely spaced in time for him to have time to react. I did it just for emphasis in communication. I'd think the pseudo-refusals are less damaging to his score than if he got up onto the land.

D. 140y, consisting of a line across some swampy mud, then a downhill land section, across the same water and strip of land as C, past the same island but at more distance, and then this time, past the left end of the second strip of land and with the blind on a third strip of land further out. The line for D crossed all previous lines. This time, though again lined up and locked in correctly, Laddie took a wrong initial line to the right, apparently preferring to take a water entry into a different pond on the right of the swampy corner than to run thru the mud. I called him back to the start line and ran him again, and this time he took a good line. I'm sorry, once again I cannot visualize the details of how Laddie ran this, which makes me think he probably ran it reasonably tight. I'm fairly sure he vocalized one or more times, as he had on all the water blinds. I'm also fairly sure I used several whistles rather than letting him build any momentum on an incorrect line. And I'm fairly sure that he never attempted to run a bank or in any other way show any water aversion. The pro had me working on calmer handling with more time between whistle and cast, and if he was either happy or unhappy with Laddie's work, I don't remember him mentioning it.

That's my perceptions of how today's lesson went. Now Laddie and I must wait another 12 hours for the seminar to begin, tomorrow morning at 8am.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Rerunning land and water blinds

Because Laddie was eliminated twice in a row on Qual land blinds, I decided to include additional work on handling to the next trip to our closest training property. That was yesterday, a beautiful, sunny day with temps in the mid-70s. Since I wasn't planning to work on multiple marks, I just brought one assistant, who could throw water marks over corners as well as set up, and perhaps act as a distraction for, our blinds.

We ran about ten setups, including land blinds, water blinds, and water singles. I ran all the blinds with especially narrow corridors, and systematically reran Laddie on blinds, even when he completed them, if I wasn't satisfied with how he had run them.

In the past, I haven't generally rerun the same retrieve once it was complete, since I'm concerned that it might encourage returning to an old fall when running competition marks. However, in this session, I decided that I really wanted Laddie to learn how to run extremely tight blinds, and he could not always accomplish that the first time he ran some of the blinds.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Land blinds

On the way home from our second qual, my emotions were far quieter that the previous day for some reason. That, despite the fact that once again we were caught in terrible traffic during the drive home, adding hours to our trip.

I wanted to record that, on the way home, I thought I'd take Laddie to our usual training property to try some land blinds, since it's not far out of the way. However, I spotted a huge business park thru the woods from the Interstate as we were driving, so I turned around and brought Laddie there instead, hoping to save some time.

We ran four blinds in various locations, and twice I walked out when Laddie refused casts, greatly strengthening his performance on the retry. Sometimes, I think, I don't do that enough.

The fields we used had ample distance, hills, wind, wraps, and keyholes. Unfortunately however they were on lawns with occasional pavement crossing, rather than the kind of rough terrain of a trial setting. Still, I felt it was a beneficial session. Besides, it was fun for both of us.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Knocked out on the land blind twice in two days

Another Qual in southern Virginia.

Overcast, windy, temps in low 60s.

18 dogs entered
Laddie running #3

Once again Laddie is the only Golden, but he's the only second oldest dog, with a total of four dogs 6-8yo. We also have two Chessies along with 15 Labs entered.

Series A. Land triple with honor

First bird was on the right, a duck thrown LTR at 190y. Second bird was in the middle, a hen pheasant thrown LTR at 190y. Third bird was well over to the left, a duck flyer thrown RTL (into the wind) at 160y.

Like yesterday, the terrain was hilly and dotted with trees, consisting of uneven ground, variable length grass (much of it still brown and dry from winter), meandering ditches, and small pools of water.

The honor could not have been much more difficult from the standpoint of a possible dog conflict: the dog in front of us was a black lab, the honor placement was unusually close to the start line, the path from the holding blind to the start line was partially blocked by the judge's chair forcing the dog even closer to the honor dog, the honor position was on the right (which means that for many teams, including ours, the honor dog would typically not be separated from the working team by the honoring handler), and the logic of the setup was for the working dog to be on her handler's right so that the handler could influence the dog to watch the middle bird rather than swinging her head all the way over to the flyer after watching the first throw. In other words, a possible scenario was for the honor dog and working dog to be next to one another with neither of their handlers between them. 

We did get one break on honor  at the expense of the #2 dog. That dog needed to be picked up and was therefore honoring on lead, so there was virtually no chance of Laddie getting attacked by another black Lab, as he had been in two other competitions.

Laddie's performance: His line manners coming to the line were fine, showing no interest whatever in the honor dog and taking his seat on the mat ready to work. As I watched, he got a good look at the flyer station (of course) and then barely glanced at the center station as he turned to make a quick study of the right station. I like letting Laddie study the setup with minimal guidance, but I felt that he needed more time studying the center mark and locked him in on it for several seconds. Then I had him lock in on the right bird again and called for the throws.

He watched the first throw and held his gaze there well, but when I turned to the middle bird, I saw him swing his gaze past it and toward the flyer. I stepped forward a bit and that was successful in turning his gaze to the middle station in time to watch the throw, something I would not have been able to do if I had run him on my left. Finally, now on his feet, he watched the flyer but held steady until the judge called his number and I growled his name (my usual release).

He nailed the flyer and had a good pickup and somewhat slow but responsible return. He took a good initial line to the middle bird but halfway out started to show some hesitancy, I guess because the wind carried the duck scent from the flyer station while the pheasant had little scent and, after all, Laddie is a Golden with a Golden's typically excellent nose. The hesitancy became a short pop, during which I froze. Laddie then needed a short hunt but picked up the middle bird with little difficultly. Finally he took a great line to the memory bird on the right, successfully negotiating a clump of trees and a patch of muddy water on the way, but made his most meandering return, including airing once. On the positive side, Laddie delivered all the birds to hand without a drop.

For the honor, I elected to stand on his left, rather than his right as we usually do, thus placing myself between him and the next dog, which, in fact, neither of us ever saw until Laddie watched the dog leaving the line after the birds were thrown. Laddie was alert and interested in the throws (I would have been fine if he'd been uninterested in them when honoring), but showed no inclination to break. So we got thru what I was concerned would be the riskiest aspect of the stake without a hitch.

I didn't see most of the other dogs run Series A, but Laddie couldn't be particularly high up in the scoring at this stage because of the tentative middle mark and pop.

16 dogs ran
13 dogs were called back, including Laddie

Series B. Land blind and water blind

Laddie went OOC (out of control, stopped responding to whistles) on the difficult land blind (a double, diagonal mound followed by a narrow keyhole thru mud at the halfway point). I called him in and we headed for home.


A note on my state of mind, with my apologies. This is not so much for readers, as for completeness of the journal and whatever benefit I might get from talking about it.

Yesterday was as devastating a dog competition experience as I can remember, though heaven knows I've had plenty of disappointments in my abilities as trainer and, above all as handler, in the past. From a virtually flawless first series yesterday, which I felt surely put Laddie in first place either with or without other dogs tying him, my mistake in understanding the requirements of the land blind, thus failing to handle him tightly enough at the key moment, sent us crashing down and out of the competition without ever getting to water.

I was so unhappy at that point that I couldn't bear the thought of hanging around alone till the next morning. So I canceled my hotel reservation and made the 200 mile drive home, though knowing I'd have to be back here again the next morning for the second of a double Qual.

It turned out that a major accident had apparently occurred en route and our trip back home took six hours thru heavy, Friday-afternoon rush hour, when even the four hours I had expected would have been grueling.

Add to that only a few hours sleep two nights in a row, and the fact that I learned by phone that Lumi's ashes are ready to be picked up from the vet, and it is no exaggeration to say that I feel simply crushed.

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