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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