Today the pros only ran one series for their dogs and the day trainers, since they were doing private yard work with the pups they're training in the afternoon. But that one series consisted of four singles, three on water including one with a flyer, and we had a lot of dogs. I threw for several hours, then ran Laddie next to last.
The first throw was a simple mark on land. I don't know why it was included. No dog had trouble with it as far as I know, though maybe some of the young dogs broke on it.
The second throw was a short flyer thrown almost straight back behind the gunner into open water. I suspect some dogs broke on it because it was so close, but I couldn't tell because I was hiding behind an umbrella till the last throw when I was in the field. When it was Laddie's turn, the pro took a long time to call "dog" and then I also took a long time to send him to really challenge his steadiness and he did fine. But the flyer, a cripple, had drifted into sight directly between the gunner and the thrower, on a line over the duck crate lying on the ground between the two men. So that's the line Laddie took, jumping over the length of the crate as he raced thru the gap. I never saw a dog do that before. :0)
The third single consisted of a long land segment, a difficult angle water entry, a water segment, and a steep climb up the embankment to the bird, which in Laddie's case was accidentally thrown too far into high cover instead of onto the open slope the first time he ran it. I was pretty confident Laddie would run it well because he's had a lot of practice with such lines, but many of the dogs had cheated on the water entry, and after all, Laddie had cheated on a similar water entry the day before. The difference was that yesterday's was a RE-entry, with long, difficult swims both before and after, whereas this was an entry from land to a relative short swim.
But I didn't have a crystal ball, and I didn't want another bad experience like yesterday. So, with the agreement of the pro, first I moved up close to the water and let Laddie run it. Then I moved back to the start line to have it thrown again, and he nailed it on a perfectly straight line. I think that's what he would have done anyway, but we'll never know.
When it was time to run the fourth mark, that gunner put down the umbrella she'd been hiding behind and threw the mark sideways onto the embankment. Once again I had Laddie run this twice, once from near the water and once from the regular start line, since it featured a particular entry point into a long swim that a lot of the dogs were cheating. Laddie nailed it both times, even though the bird was thrown once high on the embankment and then near the shoreline behind some high reeds.
Unfortunately, despite Laddie's pinpoint marking on all six retrieves, the pros were concerned with only one thing, and that was Laddie's returns and how I dealt with then.
As I've mentioned before, years ago I was informed that judges don't care what route a dog takes on his return, so I made the decision to let Laddie come back any route he wanted. I've stayed with that decision without regret all these years until two weeks ago, when these two pros insisted that if I wanted Laddie to improve in his qual finishes, he had to start taking a straight route back in training. So I've been handling him all the way back ever since as necessary, and as it happened in these marks, it took a lot of handling.
I know from long experience that Laddie doesn't like to be handled, and I was/am confident that he will require less and less handling on his returns provided I am 100% consistent in requiring straight returns. But that's not how the pros saw it. The pro I usually talk with (the other is his mentor) told me that it was counterproductive to handle Laddie so much because it wasn't positive training, and Laddie was just learning to ignore me.
What can I say? Laddie wasn't ignoring me, he took every cast. It's just that he kept experimenting to see if I'd finally let him cheat, and I'm sure it was annoying to trainers who could solve the problem so easily with an ecollar. I understand that they were sure Laddie wasn't learning anything. However I'm equally sure he was; it's just a long process to overcome years of intrinsic positive reinforcement for taking the easier, faster land route when available.
But next time I obviously better not take the continuous handling approach while training with these guys, who are providing me with such an incredible valuable experience. So I'll stop Laddie as soon as he starts to cheat on his returns and move up to a point as close to him as possible where I can call him to me across the water. Then once he's on land, I'll put him in a sit, run back to the start line, and call him the rest of the way in. Hopefully the pros will like that better and I see no harm in it. I would guess that at some point it won't be necessary any longer, and meanwhile the annoyance factor will hopefully be eliminated.