After corresponding with a friend about Saturday's competition and my earlier post on the subject, I've come to realize that probably, the most serious handling error I made on the last mark was one I had not even realize until she pointed it out.
True, perhaps I should have realized that Laddie had not really been convinced of what initial line to take, and if I had, I might have taken more time before sending him, or perhaps switched him to my other side.
And true, perhaps I should have thought in advance that if he did need to be handled, I should go ahead and handle him, and take my chances that we could still end up with a placement, even a high placement.
And true, if I had made that calculation, then it also might have made sense to handle him earlier in the mark, before he got into the wooded area, or even while he was still in the water.
But above all, the most serious error, and really unforgivable I think because it was not a matter of speculation but just an outright error, was that I did not let the judges do the judging, but made the decision to call Here when I saw that Laddie had returned to the old fall.
I later justified the decision in my own mind as a training decision, a "correction" for Laddie performing an incorrect behavior.
But that's not right. In the first place, it's possible that Laddie did not realize it was an old fall, since he approached it from a completely different angle, and it's even possible that he doesn't understand the abstraction, "don't return to the old fall." Either way the "correction" might have meant nothing to him and would have no training benefit.
In the second place, I didn't actually make a conscious decision to call Here. What really happened was that when I saw where he was, I reacted to a moment of shock and deep disappointment that I had been completely unprepared for, both in this series and in my general experience.
But somewhere in my mind I did know the rule, even though I may have never needed it before: Let the judges do the judging.
I didn't have to do anything, I could have just watched. Laddie might have turned with minimal delay and gone to pick up the bird.
Or I could have blown the whistle and handled him to the bird.
I think a case could be made for either of those decisions. It's entirely possible the judges might have decided Laddie almost returned to the old fall, but not quite.
Or they could have DQed him. That's fine.
But it wasn't my job. That's the real lesson. Sigh.