Yesterday I started Laddie with a time-up land blind, then trained on marks with the pros the rest of the long day. Their setups were similar to one another, and the third included perhaps the most difficult mark Laddie has ever run.
All three were tight doubles, apparently a favorite configuration for these pros and one that results in corrections for most of their dogs. We had at least some water on every mark. The pros had a few of the dogs run the doubles with the long gun retired, including Laddie on the second series. That was the first retired mark he has run well since we have been training with these guys, so that was nice to see.
In addition, with several day trainers participating, I heard several more times what I've heard over the years, what great natural talent Laddie has and how much I've accomplished training him with my experimental approach. One person also echoed another common theme, that with the right training, he'd have been FC/AFC and could have competed at national level. Sigh.
As for the tough final mark, the line was a land segment through shoreline cover, an 80 yard swim diagonally across a moss-filled rectangular pond with rounded corners surrounded by high cover, across a dike, an extremely difficult angle water entry into a 200y shoreline swim, again in thick, moss-filled water, up through high cover onto the step embankment, and a short land segment to the thrown bumper.
Laddie was the last dog to run this, and the pro suggested I run it as a single. After watching many dogs get corrections coming out of the first water to soon, and then again not getting into the water after crossing the dike, I came up with an approach to running it involving observation and reporting on the radio by the gunner, since the handler could not see the second water entry from anywhere near the start line. In retrospect it was not a good plan. There was little chance that Laddie would take the second entry, and little I could do to provide quality training if he tried to cheat it.
As a result, this became a painful experience for both Laddie and me, not at all the kind of training experience I want us to have.
I should have walked him down to the dike and just run him on the second water. Then, I could have decided if he had gotten enough out of that, or we could come back and run the full mark afterwards.
It was a great example of 20/20 hindsight. I just hope I've learned my lesson.
The pros apparently give their dogs a lot of practice with tight doubles and water re-entries on long marks. In my experience, both are rare configurations in quals, though I wouldn't be surprised if they're common in all-age stakes where I'd like Laddie to run someday.
In the meantime, perhaps having so many setups that exceed Laddie's ability is helping prepare him for the stakes we will be running this fall. I hope so.