Going into today's qual, I was uncertain what level of performance Laddie would show against the other 23 dogs entered.
Well, we came away without a ribbon, but here's how Laddie did.
The first series was a land double with a flyer go-bird and a retired memory bird that required a diagonal swim across a small, angular pond and thru a section of thick high cover, a mark difficult enough that nearly half the field (ten dogs) picked up because of it. If the dog completed the double, the dog then ran a land blind, and ended the series by honoring. Laddie did a fine job on both the double and the blind, and was rock steady on the honor. Of the dogs I watched, about 2/3rds of the field, he appeared to me to be in the first or possibly second spot.
Next came a water blind consisting of a diagonal downslope into water, a diagonal channel crossing, climbing over a half-submerged log, crossing a swampy point, taking an angle entry into run-depth water, continuing as it transitioned to swim-depth, and finally picking up the bird at the far shore planted among thick, high cover. All but two of the remaining dogs passed this blind, so it was not hugely difficult, but Laddie still did a particularly good job, I thought. His initial line carried all the way to the angle water entry, and from there he handled well, though with one cast refusal. I think Laddie was still in one of the top spots at that point.
Finally came a water triple, around the horn with a half-retired long memory bird, an indented, retired middle gun, and a go-bird positioned difficultly enough that several dogs did not even see it thrown. Laddie got a good look at all the throws, then nailed the go-bird and the middle bird. He needed only one more solid retrieve for what I thought was a probable placement, and possible high placement, though, again, I had not seen all the dogs work.
But I did not particularly want another JAM, and I blew Laddie's chances for a placement as a result. I knew that in some of the quals we had run, it was impossible to get a placement if you handled on any mark. Therefore my mindset was to let Laddie hunt. But that led to a disastrous mental error: When Laddie took a line that was too wide on the long memory bird, it took him into the trees and shrubbery past the far shore of the pond, and from there, when he next appeared, he had broken the wrong way during his hunt, popping out at the old fall of the middle mark.I called Here, knowing that returning to the old fall was a sure DQ, but Laddie is difficult to pick up without the bird. Within seconds,, he ran over to the last bird and picked it up. Then he swam in.
Should I have handled before he got into the woods and shrubbery, maybe even while he was still in the water? Given that I didn't care whether we got another JAM to add to the seven Laddie already has, in some tests I believe the answer would have been no. I think it would have been the correct strategy to let him hunt, and we just lost the gamble.
But what did not occur to me until later was that on this test, with such difficult land and water marks, most of which Laddie had nailed and the most difficult of which he had made look routine, to go with two good blinds, a solid honor, no airing on returns, no dropped birds at the line, and his usual exuberant style, a placement might have been possible even with a handle. For all I know, not a single dog might have run the entire test without a handle, and a high placement was even possible. Risking a green ribbon or not, at least in this test, it was my job to protect Laddie from returning to the old fall.
I didn't do that and so we fell just one retrieve short. One of the judges commented gently as we left the line, "He had an excellent test, Lindsay."
So I think it's pretty clear that Laddie can do this work. The only question is whether I'll ever get good enough as a handler to stop holding him back. Sadly, so far the answer is no.