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.